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CNN CROSSFIRE

Iraq Getting Worse?

Aired December 7, 2004 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: somber assessments from Iraq. A classified CIA cable warns the situation is deteriorating. And legislators just back from Iraq say it's time for the Bush administration to come clean on what's really going on.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: We should tell the American people the truth. And if I sound like I'm angry, it's because I am, because it undermines -- failing to level undermines our mission here.

ANNOUNCER: But the president says patience is needed on Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're getting after the terrorists. We're disrupting their plans. We will stay at these efforts with patience and resolve, and we will prevail.

ANNOUNCER: Is the American mission in Iraq on the right track?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the Georgia Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: More doom and gloom from the Democrats on Iraq. Devoid of any ideas, the party continues to seize on any piece of bad news and try to spin it against the Bush administration. But the president has his eye on the big picture.

Most Iraqis know the country is headed in the right direction, and so do most Americans, according to the polls. Only those Democrats determined to undermine the American mission there refuse to see this.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: But, of course, it wasn't a Democrat who wrote a classified cable saying that Iraq is deteriorating. It was President Bush's own CIA station chief in Baghdad. But, however, our president continues to claim everything in Iraq is just peachy.

Sure, Mr. President. And has George Strait, our fellow Texan, sang, I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona. And if you will buy that, I'll throw the golden gate in free.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: We'll debate the president's credibility in Iraq today in the CROSSFIRE.

But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The Major League Baseball Players Union, meeting as we speak, indicated some progress today toward a tougher steroid policy. Senator John McCain has said that he would be willing to use the power of the federal government to force Major League Baseball to stop steroid abuse. In response, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he would support such legislation if owners and players can't fix things on their own.

Now, President Bush has been strangely silent on the issue. The former baseball team owner who once traded for Jose Canseco, known as the Typhoid Mary of steroid abuse, called for a tough steroid policy back in his January State of the Union address. But a search of the White House Web site shows he only mentioned steroids twice in the year since then.

It's been John McCain instead who has provided the necessary strength and consistency on the issue. And that's the difference between a real leader and a cheerleader.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I was wondering how you were going to get from baseball steroids to George W. Bush, but you did it.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Only you could blame the baseball steroid problem on George W. You know, the president was reelected. You have got -- you simply have got to get over it.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: And the idea that somehow or another, he's responsible for steroids is silly.

BEGALA: He just hasn't done his job on this.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Senator Harry Reid starts his new role as Senate Democratic leader saying that, although he personally admired his defeated predecessor, Tom Daschle, that doesn't mean he will imitate Daschle's abrasive style.

But that's just what Harry did on NBC's "Meet the Press." He said he could not support Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation if nominated for chief justice, calling Justice Thomas an embarrassment who writes poorly. But Reid said he could back Justice Antonin Scalia for chief justice. Now, since Thomas and Scalia are both conservatives and agree on most everything, why the difference? The implication is that Thomas is a black man who is not smart enough, while Scalia is a white man who is.

BEGALA: So, Harry Reid is a racist? Is that it, Mr. Novak? Is that what you're saying?

NOVAK: Well, that is what some black Republicans feel. And because maybe the fact is, it's just so embarrassing to Democrats to find a brilliant African-American like Clarence Thomas who is a conservative Republican.

BEGALA: He is an embarrassment. He testified under oath that he had never debated Roe vs. Wade, a decision that came out while he was in law school at Yale. Now, he said that under oath.

Either it's true, in which case he is an embarrassment and shouldn't be on the Supreme Court, or it's false, in which case he lied under oath.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Harry Reid said he's an embarrassment as a justice. I think he's a great justice.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, we disagree with that. Good for Harry Reid for standing up.

Well, "Media Week" magazine reports that, except for the Janet Jackson incident, 99.9 percent of all indecency complaints to the FCC have come from just one right-wing pressure group, the Parents Television Council. And a study used by the Bush campaign found that Republicans just love to watch the program "Will & Grace."

It's a sitcom that celebrates the gay lifestyle. And so, anti- gay George W. Bush spent a fortune advertising on "Will & Grace," engorging the profits of a pro-gay show. Now, this is kind of like learning that the supposedly pro-family state of Mississippi has the highest divorce rate, while the pro-gay state of Massachusetts has the lowest.

Now, I guess I know why some red staters are so angry. They hate gays, but they love them. They love marriage, but they get divorced. And they hate smut, but then they watch it. I don't know. That kind of hypocrisy, I guess, just gives you whiplash.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, you can massage all that stuff if you want. But you're a practical politician. And you know the Democrats were hurt on the cultural values in this election because you were wrong on same-sex marriage. You're wrong on gun control. You're wrong on the Pledge of Allegiance.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: So, why is Bush endorsing it by advertising on "Will & Grace," a pro-gay show? He's a hypocrite?

NOVAK: What do Bill Clinton and Mr. Rogers have in common? The former president and the late host of children's programs both have been nominated for a Grammy in the spoken word category.

President Clinton's entry is him reading out his interminable autobiography, "My Life." The book itself was a runaway best-seller, but much of it was unreadable. I know. I tried to read it. To make his deadline, Mr. Clinton just pasted together a lot of presidential schedules, agendas and other filler. How could anybody bear to hear him recite that in his cornball Arkansas accent? It would put you to sleep.

And maybe that is his real intent, to get a Grammy in the anti- amnesia division.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: First off, cornball? That sounds kind of like a little Northeastern elitism, Mr. Novak. Some of us from the Southwest, we kind of talk with a little accent. It's called speaking American. And, you know, I could -- I would like to hear Bill Clinton -- I would even like to him read your book. I can't wait for your memoir to come out.

NOVAK: Are you going to get that record from Bill Clinton and hear him recite his schedules? And then we went to Indiana.

BEGALA: And then we balanced the budget and then we created 23 million new jobs and then we reformed welfare.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And then we cut crime.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I can't wait. Go, Mr. President.

Well, just so, how are things going in Iraq? According to the people who are actually there, conditions are getting worse. But President Bush insists, in fact, it's really going quite well, that these people don't know what they're talking about.

Just ahead, we'll debate whether or not the Iraq mission is on the right track.

And then, if the annual pork barrel congressional spending spree seems a little like Groundhog Day to you, well, in one case, it really is. Later on in the CROSSFIRE, find out exactly why we're going to put a live animal in the CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: The Democrats would have you believe that Iraq and the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power. But what's really happening in Iraq?

Joining us, House members Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida. She's a member of the International Relations Committee.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Thank you both for joining us.

Good to see you again, Congresswoman.

Let me try to answer Bob's question. What is really going on in Iraq? For those of us, unlike you, who are not on the International Relations Committee, don't have access to secret information, we rely on the free press. And "The New York Times" has uncovered a classified cable from the Baghdad station chief in Iraq.

Here's what he says is going on. "A classified cable sent by the CIA station chief in Baghdad has warned the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon."

But here's what our president, just about a week ago, said, very different thing. Here's President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: A free and democratic Iraq is rising in the heart of the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: So who's telling the truth, Congresswoman, the CIA, that says things are deteriorating, or the president, who says it's rising?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Both things are true. And let me tell you why.

We're going to have elections in Iraq January 30. There are a lot of elements there who don't want elections to take place. Another news source quoting -- that you like to quote, "The New York Times" -- how about "The Washington Post," front page today, saying how Iraqis are looking forward to their election? That election is going to be a watershed moment, that, yes, it's difficult. Yes, as the president said, it's hard work. It's hard work.

But democracy is worth it. Freedom is worth it. And I agree with those CIA estimates. It's going to get worse, especially from now until January 30. Once January 30 takes over, look at Afghanistan. What happened yesterday? Karzai was inaugurated as the new president. There's hope. And we have a president who believes in hope, in freedom and in opportunity, unlike all of you guys.

(APPLAUSE)

NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressman -- Congressman Emanuel, President Bush...

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Well, we agree with one out of two at least.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: President Bush today was at Camp Pendleton to see some of the troops. Let's listen to something he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: You drove Saddam Hussein from his palace into a spider hole.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And now he sits in an Iraqi prison awaiting justice. Because of your bravery, because of your skill, America and the world are a safer place.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Something, Congressman, that I've been asking Democrats all during the campaign -- now the campaign is over. You lost. You got to get over it.

EMANUEL: Not really.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: I'm not sure we're going to get over that.

NOVAK: Are you -- are you -- would you have preferred that we didn't go into Iraq and Saddam Hussein was still in power in Baghdad as a threat to his neighbors and to us?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, I think everybody is pleased that Saddam Hussein is gone.

I think what we would have preferred is done it right, which I find ironic here. The situation is, I really wish we had sent enough troops to secure the country, rather than to have to send more troops to secure the election. That's what's wrong with this policy. And that's what's got it all backwards. And I think that, in fact, if we had done it right, which is what Powell had recommended, send overwhelming force, body-slam that country down when you deposed Saddam Hussein, we wouldn't be having the problems today and have the terrorism that are killing more troops after so-called the peace was accomplished, and that is overthrowing Saddam Hussein, than when people had in the war.

We did this wrong. And you didn't have to be this way. All the problems we face today of the deteriorating security situation were due for the way we secured this -- the way we pursued this policy, not because of the policy.

(APPLAUSE)

ROS-LEHTINEN: See, this is -- this is unbelievable to me.

You know, the Democrats are now put in a situation where they say, gee, you know, I would have supported it if we had just sent more troops.

EMANUEL: That's not what I said.

ROS-LEHTINEN: If we had had 100,000 more guys in there, then we would not be critical of this effort.

EMANUEL: First of all, it's not just Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: Bogus.

EMANUEL: In fact, it's many generals. It's many generals, who actually know about this.

NOVAK: Did you vote for it?

EMANUEL: I wasn't here when it was voted on, but I announced in the election I would have supported it. So that's not the point.

The point is whether we could have accomplished this objective without the loss of lives and treasure. And the answer is, you could have done it without the loss of lives and treasure that we have going on here. And it was pursued because we had some ideological objectives, that we wanted to prove you could do this with a light, rapid force, rather than really the right type of force that we needed.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Democrats as hawks, I mean, that's just a tough sell.

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: Members of the Armed Services said it themselves. We didn't do this the right way.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Oh, come on. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me shift to what the president said yesterday. He had a remarkable meeting with this interim Iraqi president, Ghazi al- Yawer. And they asked him about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, which is in Saudi Arabia, which my atlas says is a completely different country from Iraq. And yet here's what the president said when he was asked about this attack in Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They want us to leave Saudi Arabia. They want us to leave Iraq. They want us to grow timid and weary in the face of their willingness to kill randomly and kill innocent people. And that's why these elections in Iraq are very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now, a former official of the National Security Council described that connection between an attack in Jeddah and elections in Baghdad as fatuous, stupid, if you will.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Do you have any intelligence, as a member of the International Relations Committee, that the attack in Saudi Arabia had anything do with elections in Iraq?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I believe that there is a connection between all of these Islamic militant extremists who want to destroy America, who want to destroy the allies of America, including those in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia.

BEGALA: Any intelligence -- was the president referring to any intelligence that you know of that links those two factors?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm sure that we'll find out soon enough when we have some hearings about it.

(CROSSTALK)

ROS-LEHTINEN: But the fact is that the president is correct in his line of thinking, Paul.

And I think that the American people understand that, that there is a wave of people out there who hate us, who hate our values, who hate democracy, and will stop at nothing to deter us from achieving this goal. And I think it's a hopeful future for the Iraqi people. And it's a shame that the bombings continue. We're going to keep at it.

NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, we talked about the interim Iraqi president. Let's listen to something he said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GHAZI AL-Yawer, IRAQI INTERIM PRESIDENT: We are committed. We see that we have all the reasons to prevail. We see that our enemy is an enemy that has only a short time, because they have no roots in the Iraqi society. They have no ideology that they can sell to Iraq or the whole world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: There is a Democratic opposition to these insurgents. Why don't you, as a patriotic American, and I know you are, support these people, instead of undercutting them and whining about, this wasn't done the right way?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, I don't believe, Bob -- and maybe you're wrong -- but I happen to think having the right policies is important to protecting our troops, as well as securing Iraq.

And, you know, one of the things we learned in both Bosnia and Kosovo is that the right policies are as important as the right body armor. And the fact is, we -- I'm willing to criticize the policies when I don't think they're in the interests of the national security of this country and in the interests of our troops.

And we're supporting -- let me tell you this -- I voted many times to give the resources to support this policy which I don't think is being pursued correctly. And I think being critical of a policy doesn't mean you're not being a good American. In fact, that's what this country is built on, is, healthy criticism is welcomed, because that's how you get the right decisions.

NOVAK: We have to take a break.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Next, in "Rapid Fire," should the U.S. promise to never, ever launch a preemptive war anywhere ever again? Then find out why some members of Congress are mad at the world's most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil.

And, after the break, the 9/11 intelligence reform bill may be a step closer to getting to the president's desk. The House of Representatives preparing to vote tonight on passage. And Wolf Blitzer reports on it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, a secret CIA cable from Baghdad, why the message now has so many people so worried.

The U.S. House of Representatives nearing a final vote on intelligence reform. It's expected to pass soon.

And the future of the Middle East, my exclusive interview with Jordan's King Abdullah. All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come even faster than President Bush can give another rah-rah cheerleader speech saying things are great in Iraq.

With us today, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

NOVAK: Mr. Emanuel, are you Democrats against any preemptive strike, even against a country that has nuclear weapons and threaten us?

EMANUEL: No.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: You said to be quick. No.

NOVAK: All right.

BEGALA: I heard John McCain on my friend Don Imus' radio this morning, and he said that America does not have enough troops there and that our strategy there is too defensive, instead of offensive. Do you agree with Senator McCain?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I agree. And I think that we are sending more troops. Perhaps Rahm is right that we should have sent them before and not just to secure the election. But we are sending more troops, and we want to get the ones that are there back home in time for -- enjoy some quality time with their families. Both things are possible.

NOVAK: Senator Biden says we're going to be there for seven years. Do you think -- you're not -- you're not serious about that, are you?

EMANUEL: Well, am I? I think everybody acknowledges that, first of all, if you don't do this right, we're going to be there for a long haul. And we've got to be honest with the American people for it. And even Senator Hagel, who was on that trip, acknowledged that things are not going well.

This is bipartisan in the criticism of the policy, No. 1. No. 2, Rumsfeld today -- Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in the paper acknowledged that four years and possibly longer, we're going to be there. So I think there's consensus starting to build that this is for the long haul, Bob. BEGALA: Congresswoman, we're almost out of time, but the interim prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, suggested today that maybe we'll stagger...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The prime minister, interim prime minister -- that he would stagger the elections in different regions over 15 or 20 days, instead of having one national election day. Is that a good idea?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I think that we should follow what they want to do. I know the United States' position is firm that we should not let the terrorists make a slide into -- out of the January 30. But I think we've got to listen to the Iraqis. I think they're very important people.

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: This is like the House Republicans. Just hold it open until they win.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: On that point, Congressman...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Whatever works.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: ... democracy we're going to be exporting right now. Just hold it open until we win.

BEGALA: Rahm Emanuel from Illinois, Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen from Florida, thank you both very much.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Well, the old saying, that one man's pork is another man's discovery center -- well, maybe that's kind of a new saying. Up next, the country's most famous furry meteorolo -- meteor -- weather guy...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: ... will step into the CROSSFIRE and defend the pork going to Punxsutawney Phil.

Stay with us.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Leave it to the U.S. Congress to make pork out of a groundhog.

Punxsutawney Phil of Groundhog Day fame is in Washington on behalf of a weather museum planned for his Pennsylvania district. A $100,000 grant for the project is included in the spending bill Congress just sent to the president's desk.

Republican Congressman John Peterson of Pennsylvania is here with us, along with his constituent, Punxsutawney Phil.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And, Mr. Phil, Mr. Punxsutawney, come on, though. I love this. I love when you guys do this every year; 100 grand of taxpayers' money? Come on.

REP. JOHN PETERSON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, this is about a weather museum.

Punxsutawney Phil is the famous 119 -- 119 years in -- February will be the 119th time. But this community, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, hard-pressed community, has had the idea of a weather museum. It's been sponsored also by AccuWeather. And State College has been a sponsor of it. They have raised local money. They've had -- they're sponsored now by the state museum commission.

And they have a science center, weather museum. Young peoples come there. School groups come there and get educated on how weather happens, how it's predicted and how clouds are formed. It's going to be a great educational facility. And it's going to be a very good investment in our economic future.

NOVAK: Congressman -- Congressman, let me see if I can get this straight. I'm sure you're a very shrewd observer. People on the Hill, a lot of them are just outraged over some of this...

BEGALA: Bob, Phil is about to attack you. I'm sorry to interrupt, but Phil is giving you the evil eye.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: They're outraged about this pork barrel stuff. And you're bringing this animal to lobby for your project? Was that -- have I got this right?

PETERSON: He wants to make sure he doesn't become a pork chop.

(LAUGHTER)

PETERSON: And that he's not pork.

But, Phil -- Punxsutawney Phil is a separate organization. They've been very successful. It brings thousands of people to that community annually, economic impact. It's a part of our tourism in a rural, beautiful part of Pennsylvania.

NOVAK: You shouldn't -- you shouldn't take my tax money for it, though, just the same.

BEGALA: But a great Bill Murray movie, I have to say. He didn't quite -- Phil, you did a fine job in there. You didn't get the Oscar that you deserve, Phil, buddy, but...

PETERSON: Haven't we built museums all over America?

NOVAK: Was that the guy in the movie? No, this guy wasn't in the movie, was he?

PETERSON: Were you in the movie?

NOVAK: No.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The guy is eating your hand here, Bill.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Bill Cooper, by the way, is the president of the Punxsutawney Phil Association.

PETERSON: And a local banker.

BEGALA: And a local banker.

Congressman Peterson from Pennsylvania, thank you very much.

PETERSON: Yes. Thank you.

BEGALA: Mr. Cooper, thank you as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And Punxsutawney Phil.

PETERSON: February the 2nd.

BEGALA: February 2, Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

Our guest, special host tomorrow, former presidential candidate the Reverend Al Sharpton, takes a seat on the left. And I'll be here. My goodness.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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