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CNN Crossfire - Transcript

Location: Unknown



September 21, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: President Bush Delivers Message to United Nations

GUESTS: Richard Holbrooke, Peter King

BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala



BEGALA: Let me bring Congressman King into this.

Not to bore you with solipsism, but it seems to me at least Dan Rather can claim the integrity of admitting his mistake. And you know what? When CBS gets it wrong, nobody dies. Shouldn't the president have the courage of Dan Rather to come out and say: "I made a mistake in Iraq. I need a new strategy. I need new allies. I need a new direction"? Shouldn't the president admit his mistakes, the way Dan Rather did at CBS?

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: Actually, I wish Dan Rather were half the man that George Bush is.

Dan Rather is not guilty of a mistake. He's guilty of criminal negligence. For him to put that story on when both the person's widow and his son told him it was wrong, their own experts said that the documents were questionable, when they got them from such a questionable source, to put those type of documents on with that type of background to me shows incredible bias on Dan Rather's part.

And he should be ashamed of himself. As far as I'm concerned, CBS should fire him and we should find out what were Joe Lockhart and Max Cleland talking with this guy Burkett?


BEGALA: So you think it's worse-you think it's worse for CBS to publish and broadcast forged documents than, say, to tell the world that Saddam Hussein somehow is linked to 9/11 or that he had weapons of mass destruction or that had links to al Qaeda or that he had unmanned vehicles that could attack America or that he was six months from a nuclear weapons, all things the Bush administration told us? Come on. There's no comparison here.


KING: Paul, OK. Paul, actually, let's get this straight.

The Senate intelligence report itself said that there was no lying at all on Iraq. If there were mistakes made, they were also made by John Kerry, who also said that he thought they had nuclear weapons. He also said that Saddam Hussein could give these weapons to terrorists.

And the facts is, in the post-9/11 world, thank God that President Bush had the guts to realize you cannot give a dictator such as Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt. As Joe Lieberman said, Americans will eternally grateful and proud for what we have done in Iraq.


CARLSON: Ambassador Holbrooke, it seems to me that John Kerry's entire critique of Iraq rests on a single premise. And that is that the rest of the world opposes American foreign policy because they dislike President Bush, and once President Bush is gone, somehow we'll all be one big happy world community again.

That strikes me as untrue, one, and not very serious coming from a campaign full of pretty serious people like you. Do you believe that?

HOLBROOKE: Well, Tucker, what's untrue is your characterization of Senator Kerry's position.

Let's be very clear here. Senator Kerry has said quite clearly that Saddam Hussein was a terrible dictator and his removal was a good thing. What he has further said is that the way it happened was wrong and that the costs are so high that we're now paying a fearful international price.

I happen to believe-and I have traveled now to about 15 countries this year-plus, I've seen some leaders here in New York at the U.N. this week-that they would reassess American relations in a wider context if John Kerry were elected.

But the issue isn't that. It's not for foreigners to decide our presidency. It's for us to. The issue is the one that Paul Begala has already raised. And that is, was the president right to take us to war at that time in that way?

You know, a good objective, in this case, regime change, which John Kerry supported in 1998 and again in '02, a good objective badly carried out can create a major problem, as we learned to our great sorrow in Vietnam. What we face now is a great crisis in Iraq. And I think it's quite appropriate it's moved to the center of the stage. We've only had four elections during since the Civil War during wars, 1944, '52, '68 and '72. This is the fifth. And it's quite appropriate that we have the great debate that's now under way.

CARLSON: I agree with you on much of what you said, Ambassador Holbrooke. But, still, Mr. Kerry's plans for Iraq going forward rest pretty squarely, as you just put it, on foreigners. And right now, Iraq is really dangerous. That's why, as you put it, foreigners don't want to send troops to help us out. We have to make it safer. How is he going to make Iraq safer so that other countries will want to add troops?


HOLBROOKE: Tucker, let me be clear about yesterday's speech.

Senator Kerry-the four points you're talking about are what Senator Kerry said should be done right now. He also said in a sentence that didn't get much attention in the speech that neither he nor anyone else can predict what the situation will be next January.

Let me say-and I don't think my friend Peter King would disagree with this-that every assessment we are receiving is that Iraq will be worse on Election Day than it is today, that the policies we have are not working, and that we are putting Americans at tremendous risk for a policy that needs to be strengthened and restructured.

BEGALA: Congressman King, in fact, let me play you a piece of videotape. Senator Kerry today had a press conference with reporters. I remember what press conferences were when I worked in the White House. This president doesn't seem to want to hold very many. But Senator Kerry did.

And he spoke very directly about what he thinks the president's problem is in Iraq at the initial instance, which is, he says the president's not leveling with us. Let's take a look at what Senator Kerry said today.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But he seems to be in denial. He doesn't want to admit what even Prime Minister Allawi admitted yesterday. Terrorists are pouring across the border, ladies and gentlemen. That's what the prime minister of Iraq said.

And I believe that more than just Americans should be bearing the burden of getting and achieving this success.


BEGALA: Congressman, isn't it embarrassing for our president to be corrected about Iraq by the American-installed prime minister in Iraq?


What's embarrassing is for John Kerry somehow try to give the impression that he's going to be finding troops from other countries to come in. Listen, I debated John Kerry back on this very show back in 1997, and he said at that time that the French had no backbone, the Russians had no backbone, and the United States had the right to take action against Iraq whenever it was in our national interests.

And Bill Clinton just this summer said that Tony Blair was right to go to war into Iraq, rather than wait for the U.N. to go further, because, no matter what Hans Blix had come up with, he said the French and the Germans were never going to give any support in Iraq whatsoever. And that's the reality. That's the reality that George Bush faces. He's telling us the truth. It's John Kerry who's living in this fantasy world that he's going to find troops, when the fact is that none exist.

And he should level with the people and tell us what his real differences are, not come up with some fairy tale about troops coming from unknown countries.

BEGALA: Well, yes, sir. Let me come back, though, to the question. That's a blistering attack on Senator Kerry. You executed it quite well.

But the question actually was about the president's assertion that security is improving, we are making progress, the president's words, when even the prime minister of Iraq says that's not the case, that foreign terrorists are pouring across the border. Shouldn't the president level? Even John McCain, who I think you supported for president, John McCain says the president is not leveling with us. Isn't that a problem for him?

KING: Well, actually, John McCain was talking about Fallujah. And he thinks that the president should take toucher action in Fallujah. And I am inclined to agree with that.

But those are honest differences. But the president has never said it's easy in Iraq. That's why he has assigned General Petraeus, who I think is an outstanding military leader, to train the Iraqi army. And I think he's doing a very good job in doing that. This is not going to be done in the next one, two or three months, but it is going to be done.

And the president wouldn't have assigned General Petraeus to build up the Iraqi army if he thought everything was going great. Obviously, we know there's problems there. The president has always said that. We know there's problems. The fact is, is how do we cope with them? I think the president is doing the right thing in going forward. And I wish John Kerry-now he has Dick Holbrooke working for him, which is a great sign. I think Dick Holbrooke is terrific.

But having said that, I wish John Kerry showed some of the same consistency on this issue that Dick Holbrooke showed in the Balkans during the 1990s.

CARLSON: We're going to take a quick break to allow commerce to occur. We'll be right back.

Next in "Rapid Fire," why does the rest of the world hate us? We'll try and figure that out.

And just ahead, another American hostage is beheaded. Wolf Blitzer has reaction.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for "Rapid Fire," where the issues are big, but the questions are quick and so are the answer. Our guests, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke and New York Republican Congressman Pete King.

BEGALA: Congressman King, the latest "New York Times" poll says that 80 percent of Americans think that the president is either hiding something or mostly lying. Are they fools?

KING: No. I think you can find any number you want in the poll. All I know is that almost every poll shows that President Bush is winning, and by more than 2-1 they trust him over John Kerry. I'll take those numbers any time.

CARLSON: Ambassador Holbrooke, one of the main reasons the rest of the world hates us is because we support Israel. Will John Kerry change that policy in any way?

HOLBROOKE: One thing is for sure. Both President Bush and Senator Kerry have equal support of Israel. It is not a domestic political issue. It should not be and it will not be. When the Europeans say this to me-and I've heard it many times-my answer is, that's one of the fundamental differences between us and you.


Congressman King, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, says we are losing in Iraq. Do you agree?

KING: I disagree with Senator Hagel. I have a lot of respect for him, but I disagree with him on that.

But I certainly agree with what Dick Holbrooke just said about Israel. Both candidates are absolutely committed to Israel.

CARLSON: Ambassador Holbrooke, the United Nations has refused to send troops. No country will send troops to protect election workers in Iraq. Why won't John Kerry criticize the United Nations for that?

HOLBROOKE: Why didn't John Kerry criticize the United Nations for that?

CARLSON: Yes. Why won't he criticize the U.N. for that or anything else?

HOLBROOKE: I'm sorry, Tucker, but he has. He's repeatedly called on U.N. members to do more. And, remember, the U.N. is just a building on the East River of New York. It's the 191 nation states that have to do something.


HOLBROOKE: And it's been President Bush who has had difficulty getting them to support him.

BEGALA: Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who served us so admirably on that big building on the East River, thank you very much for joining us.

Congressman Peter King from New York.

Thank you as well, gentlemen, for an enlightening debate.


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