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CNN Crossfire - Transcript

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September 7, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Bush and Kerry at War

GUESTS: Kendrick Meek, Peter King

BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala


CARLSON: Welcome back.

We're debating the politics of Iraq, Senator Kerry now calling it the wrong war at the wrong time. President Bush firing back that this is about Mr. Kerry's eighth position on the subject.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate it, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, member of the House Armed Services Committee, and also Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, who sits on the House International Relations Committee.


BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you again. Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Congressman King, obviously tragic news out of Iraq today. The 1,000th-each one is precious, but the media does tend to focus on these round numbers. The 1,000 service men and some women killed in combat today.

I want to hearken back to what the vice president promised us leading us into this war. He went on "Meet the Press" and he told Tim Russert this on March 16, before the war began, 2003, "We will in fact be greeted as liberators." Now that 1,000 troops have died, the president dismisses that as a mere miscalculation. Isn't that a pretty atrocious thing to say to 1,000 families who have lost a loved one, just, whoops, it was just a miscalculation?

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: The war itself was a noble effort.

Joe Lieberman has said that every American should be proud of what we've done in Iraq. Listen, every death is tragic. I have lost constituents of mine. Every death in Iraq is tragic. But I believe that overall war against terrorism, as far as trying to bring stability to the Middle East, what we're doing in Iraq is the right thing. And I think it's important that we stand together to the extent we can.

And I think if John Kerry does have a disagreement with the president, he should say it. Again, not just to make a political point, but the fact that he has changed his position a number of times I think is really lowering the standards of the debate we should be having. And I can understand why people disagree with Iraq. I support it. I can understand why people disagree.


BEGALA: So let me get to that.

The president, much more importantly, has shifted his position. He says it was a miscalculation. That is how he handled after the fall of Baghdad. He says he miscalculated. Now what has he done to change course or to correct, except attack John Kerry for wanting to change course in the face of President Bush's own admitted miscalculation?

KING: No, President Bush still says the war was the right thing to do. There's always certain miscalculations. The fact is, many things went right after we won.

BEGALA: But, so, what has he done to correct his miscalculation?

KING: General Petraeus is in charge of training Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police to make them become a strong domestic force. We have the Iraqi government in place with Allawi.

These are all things that are going forward. Every school has been opened. Every hospital has been opened. And we're doing the best we can to restore some sense of stability. And, again, many things did go right after we conquered Iraq or after we defeated Hussein. The fact is that some things did go wrong. That happens in every war.

CARLSON: Congressman Meek, the quote I was so struck by in John Kerry's speeches yesterday was that he would not simply withdraw the bulk of American troops over the first four years of his first term, but that he would pledge not to leave American military bases behind in Iraq. He said he had no long-term plan to leave military bases in Iraq.

Why would that be? After losing all these men in Iraq, why wouldn't we maintain a military base in Iraq? It's good for the United States. We attend bases all around the world. Why would John Kerry not want to do that?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Well, you know, it's difficult to crystal ball all of this, but Americans have gone through an awful lot in the wallet as it relates to Iraq, also as it relates to the loss of life.

And I think Americans are becoming more and more bitter with this war in Iraq, more and more bitter about the spin on the war in Iraq. The last conversation you exchanged at this table was about a position. Well, the president has changed his position more than 10 times. First, it was weapons of mass deception. Then it was possible threat of the U.S. Then it was a connection to 9/11 which the president himself said, after Dick Cheney kept saying it, there's no connection in 9/11.

Then they had the convention-or the Republicans had the convention and then said, well, we went into try to make the correlation between 9/11 and Iraq at the same time. So the bottom line is


CARLSON: I'll even grant you that smart people change their mind.

MEEK: Sure.

CARLSON: I'm not going to attack Kerry on that right now. I'll save that for tomorrow.


CARLSON: But for right now, he said yesterday that, again, he would not need military bases. And part of the rap on Kerry is, he is not vigorous enough in defending the United States. Our bases around the world and particularly in the Middle East are vital to American national security.

Again, a simple question. Why wouldn't he want us to maintain military bases in Iraq?

MEEK: The real issue is that Kerry is committed to protecting the U.S.

The real issue is that the real war is in Afghanistan as it relates going after the individuals that brought down the two towers. We want to focus on those sort of things. I know, in four years from now, there will be a different story. Three years from now, two weeks from now, it will be a different story as it relates to the outlook on Iraq and what we should do and what we shouldn't do.

But the bottom line is, we have more than a yeoman's amount of troops in Iraq. We're bunting the casualties and we're near 7,000 U.S. troops injured. Folks are talking about the 1,000. Yes. And a number of those individuals came from my district, too, and from my state, but I will tell you time after time again the individuals that are going through Walter Reed Hospital, those individuals that are coming in C-130s, no television, no cameras, no anything, these are individuals that are paying the price.

And so it's a heavy price in the wallet. It's a heavy price as it relates to physical casualties.


BEGALA: Congressman King, let's pick up this point about the price in the wallet. Congressman Meek is obviously right about the wounded and the dead. But on a much smaller level, it still matters to Americans how much money they're paying, particularly when Americans believe that they've been misled.

Here's what the Bush administration said again going into this war. This is President Bush's chief of international development, the person in charge of rebuilding Iraq. He told ABC's "Nightline"-quote-"The American part of this rebuilding of Iraq will be $1.7 billion. We have no plans for any further-on funding for this."

So far, we've spent $200 billion, not just $1.7 billion, but $200 billion. Is this another miscalculation and, if so, who should pay the price for that?

KING: First of all, I deny completely that President Bush misled us. We can have that debate a separate time.


BEGALA: He was just off by $198 billion?

KING: I'm talking about-I'm talking about overall as far as misleading. No.

Listen, there's always changes made as you go into a war. The fact is that, I don't care what it costs. If it's important to our national interests, we have to pay it. Now, we can have a debate over whether it is for our national interests. I believe it is for our national interests. And having been there and to stay there and to make sure we solidify a hold in the Middle East, that we bring some stability to the Middle East, it's important we pay whatever the price is.

If we cut and run now, like we did in Somalia, it leads to worse reactions later on.

BEGALA: This is an honorable view and this is an honorable debate.


BEGALA: But it is not honorable, I submit to you, to mislead the American people, to first tell our troops they'll be greeted as liberators, so they're not given enough allies and support.


BEGALA: And then tell the taxpayers it will be $1.7 billion, when it's going to be $200 billion.


BEGALA: When is this man going to tell us the truth about...


KING: First of all, we were greeted as liberators. That's No. 1. They were greeted as liberators when they came...


BEGALA: They have got a hell of a way of showing their gratitude.


KING: You're talking about 3, 4, 5 percent of the population creating an awful lot of problem. But the overall people in Iraq did greet us as liberators when we came in.

Now, as far as the cost, no one knew the full extent of the damage that was done to the Iraqi economy by Saddam Hussein. That was not even a major issue before the war, what the cost was going to be. So to say that we were somehow misleading on the question of the cost, it raises a question. You can go back to all the debates in November, December, January, February, leading up to the war. There was very little talk about the cost.

I agree. The cost...


BEGALA: They wouldn't tell us the cost. Senator Biden in the Senate and others kept asking. And they wouldn't give a straight answer.


CARLSON: I want to get Mr. Meek...


KING: On the other hand, an awful lot has gone better than was projected also.




CARLSON: Mr. Meek, John Kerry is making what strikes me as a fascinating argument. He's arguing on the one hand that we need to withdraw American troops from Iraq and replace them with foreign troops, Pakistanis, Jordanians, Turks. They should fight the war.

He's arguing at the same time, however, that the war itself is wrong. It's the wrong war. If it is the wrong war, why should other poorer people fight it for us?

MEEK: Well, the real issue here as it relates to the region, there are more countries that are surrounded around Iraq that are at greater threat than the United States from Iraq, and that this should be a U.N. mission.

This-we've been trying-well, first, we said we didn't want the U.N. And then we went back, kneeling on our knees, U.N., please come in and help us. And so now we have a problem. We have a leadership problem. We have a problem with other nations looking at the United States of America and saying, do I want to connect myself the United States and its present leadership?


CARLSON: I'm asking a question of principle, however. John Kerry is making a moral statement: This war is wrong. He said that yesterday. He'll say it again.

Simultaneously, he's saying other poorer people ought to fight it for us. My question remains, why should poor people fight a wrong war? I'm serious.

MEEK: I wouldn't say


CARLSON: He's saying that, not me.

MEEK: I don't think he's saying other poor people should fight...


CARLSON: He's saying the Pakistanis.


CARLSON: He's saying the Turks.


CARLSON: So why should they fight it?

MEEK: They're neighbors. They have a vested interest. If we have to fight the war on terror and they have to fight the war on terror, then they want it to keep the terrorism down in that particular area.

As it relates to the United States of America, Iraq wasn't getting ready to attack the United States of America. Saddam Hussein, President Bush said-it is not the Kendrick Meek report-there's no connection between 9/11 and Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

So what's the real issue? Why is bin Laden still running around free? Why can't we stop the funding to...


MEEK: Why can't we stop the funding to al Qaeda? We're allowing them to grow poppy plants, the largest crop


BEGALA: We have to take a break.

Congressman Meek, I'm sorry to cut you off.

MEEK: Oh, no problem.

BEGALA: Keep your seats for just a second.


BEGALA: We have to take a break.

And in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask just how long American troops should stay in Iraq.

And fighting the terrorists in Russia. Thousands rally in Moscow in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's war on terror in his country. But the man President Bush dubbed "Pooty Pute" says America is undermining his battle. Wolf Blitzer will give us an update after the break.

CARLSON: Welcome back.

It's time now for "Rapid Fire." The questions come faster even than John Kerry changes his mind on Iraq.

With us today, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, member oft House Armed Services Committee, and also Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, also a novelist. And he sits on the House International Relations Committee.

BEGALA: Congressman King, our president has called the war in Iraq-quote-"a catastrophic success."

What was it, a catastrophe or a success?

KING: It was a success. Certainly, it's an ongoing success. It's absolutely essential to the war on terrorism. And, again, I agree with Joe Lieberman. And I also agree with what John Kerry said for years leading up to that, when I was on this very show with him, where he said we had to take action in Iraq, whether or not the French and the U.N. blocked us.

CARLSON: Congressman Meek, do you find it odd or troubling at all that John Kerry argues simultaneously that the war was morally wrong, but he would vote for it again anyway?

MEEK: Well, the war has been operated wrong. And he has said that he would have treated the war totally differently as the commander in chief leading our troops.

BEGALA: Congressman, how long should Americans continue to pay 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the costs in Iraq?

KING: The reality is, in every military engagement in the world, we're going to end up paying 90 percent of it. In Kosovo, it was 95 percent; 95 percent of the missions in Kosovo were flown by the United States. The fact is, NATO is not a major military power. They can't provide more than 30,000 or 50,000 troops at max anywhere.

So the fact is, unfortunately, the United States is the world's only remaining superpower. And we will have to stay there as long-we have to-but the longer we stay there, the less chance there is of staying for a long time. People like John Kerry giving a deadline is what is going to force us to stay there longer.

CARLSON: That is such a great point, Congressman Meek. I want to ask you about it. You just said that it's wrong that America is absorbing the bulk of the cost in Iraq. Learning now that 95 percent of the missions were flown by American pilots in Kosovo, don't you want to rethink your support for that Clinton venture in Kosovo?

MEEK: Oh, no. Listen, Kosovo was a success. And we had a good leader in place to be able to...


CARLSON: But we didn't reach out. Shouldn't the U.N. have given...



MEEK: We reached out, but let me tell you something. Kosovo compared to Iraq is two different issues.



BEGALA: How many did we lose in the occupation of Kosovo?

KING: No, but the principle is the same. If 95 percent of


BEGALA: How many did we lose?


BEGALA: One thousand fewer than we lost in Iraq.


CARLSON: I'm sorry to interrupt.


CARLSON: Oh, I'm sorry to open up the Kosovo box.


CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm sorry.

OK. We're going to save this for the Kosovo show. We'll do that next week.


CARLSON: OK, Congressman Meek, Congressman King, all right.

Up next, one thing Bill Clinton may have not known about his doctor-and maybe it was for the best-he sort of revealed it before. We'll tell you the whole story when we return.

We'll be right back.


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