September 8, 2003 | Broadcast

New from CNN

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: With the president putting his cards on the table over the cost to rebuild Iraq, there is lots of talk in Washington about how much he is asking for and the timing of his request.

CNN’s White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is joining us now live from the White House to get a little bit further analysis on this day after the president’s big speech. What are they saying over there, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really the big question and the big debate is how are we going to pay for this $87 billion price tag the president mentioned yesterday. And we asked that question to Scot McClellan, the White House spokesman, earlier today, and he insists that with sustained economic growth, with controlled congressional spending, as well as international support, that it can happen.

He also says that they’re going to continue to fight to make those tax cuts permanent. And they also say that with the president’s economic plan, they’re going to be able to cut the federal deficit in half in five years.

Well, there are a lot of Democrats, and quietly some Republicans as well, who are saying something has to give here. This cannot actually work as the president has laid it out. Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who is with the Foreign Relations Committee, is saying the administration is going to have to eat crow on this one. They’re going to have to figure out some sort of creative way of funding.

And what we have heard, Wolf, is essentially people are calling to repeal the tax cut. That is something that you’re going to be hearing from the Democratic presidential hopefuls. It is also something that you might be hearing from Republicans as well — Wolf.

BLITZER: You know we heard Senator Biden — I believe it was Senator Biden — suggest not necessarily repeal all of the tax cuts that the president has put forward, but only those tax cuts for the wealthy, for the very, very wealthy. Go to them and say, look, this is an emergency, this is a war on terrorism, maybe put off for a few years the benefits you might have received.

Is there a slight chance at all the president of the United States would ever support that?

MALVEAUX: Well, the president certainly isn’t talking about that. He is talking about making those tax cuts permanent. And really what he has been arguing is, that as you make these tax cuts permanent, that you will have more money, that people will have more money, essentially. That you’ll have more jobs, there’ll be more demand, those people will go ahead and hire more people.

The real sticking point here is whether or not his plan is going to create the kinds of jobs that is really going to make this turn around. But the White House is not giving any indication that they are willing to do anything with those tax cuts. They believe that that is what has allowed the recession not to be as bad as they thought it would be before.

So this is something that they are sticking with. But Democrats, even some Republicans now, taking a very close look at those tax cuts.

BLITZER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux, our White House correspondent, thanks very much, Suzanne.

There’s no shortage of reaction today to what the president said and failed to say last night about Iraq in his prime-time address. Joining us now to assess the president’s performance, Cliff May, with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies here in Washington, and KGO radio talk show host Bernie Ward. He’s joining us from San Francisco.

What about the proposal to pay for the $87 billion, Cliff, by reducing or at least delaying the tax cut benefits for the wealthy? Not for the middle class, not for the upper middle class, but for the very, very wealthy. Is that going to fly, do you believe?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: I don’t know. Maybe not, because I think what the president is going to look at most importantly is which tax cuts are going to produce more economic growth. More economic growth means more revenue. So you don’t want to cut taxes in a way that will stifle growth.

I think everything has to be looked at. But I think it won’t be on a simple, well, middle class versus rich. It’s rather what prompts economic growth, and that’s got to be some tax cuts.

BLITZER: Bernie, what do you think?

BERNIE WARD, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, considering the fact that the tax cuts haven’t promoted any economic growth, it is interesting to me that we are already going back to that. Listen, it is $160 billion dollars in less than a year. We could fund and rebuild every school in this country, the roads and the bridges of this country.

We could take this money. You want economic growth? We could put most Americans back to work if we use this money. And instead, it has to go to a war that we didn’t have to fight, that we didn’t have to get into, and now the president says we can’t get out of.

MAY: Well, I mean, first of all, we are having economic growth right now in the next few quarters. It is rather high economic growth. Secondly, the idea after 9/11 that we really don’t have to have this war against terrorism strikes me as just astonishing that you would even propose it.

WARD: There is no connection between Iraq and 9/11.

MAY: Let me just point out to you, Bernie — Bernie, give me a second.

WARD: Cliff, why do you keep saying that?

MAY: Bernie, if you let me, I’ll…

BLITZER: Hold on, Bernie. One at a time.

MAY: Bernie, I will make a point and then I’ll let you respond. John Kerry, leading Democratic candidate, said something I think Republicans agree with. And that is, if 9/11 was for our generation what Pearl Harbor was for a previous generation, after Pearl Harbor you would expect a war that’s costly and it takes a long time. And right now, we’re fighting jihadists in Iraq, with has become the major theater on the war on terrorism.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bernie.

WARD: Yes, if we had Pearl Harbor and then we went to war with — we had Pearl Harbor and then we went to war with Japan. We had…

MAY: And Germany and Italy.

WARD: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) went to war with Belgium. I mean, Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th.

MAY: Bernie, you are absolutely right. A lot of people probably warned that after Pearl Harbor what were we doing invading North Africa and Italy? And the reason is because there were alliances between the…


BLITZER: All right. We’re not going to debate World War II.

WARD: Cliff, I asked you a simple question, Cliff. What did Iraq have to do with September 11th?

BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second. Let’s get to a caller.

WARD: No, I want to distinguish the connection between September 11 and Iraq.

BLITZER: We’ll get to that in a second, Bernie. Let’s get to June from Kansas. She’s on the air with a question. Go ahead, June.

JUNE: Yes. Before the war, in order to get the support of the people of the U.S., President Bush made the point that Iraq could pay for its reconstruction with its own revenue from the oil. And I want to know why he is asking for $87 billion now, which is the largest portion of it is going for reconstruction?

BLITZER: That’s a fair question, Cliff. Go ahead and answer it.

MAY: That’s a fair question. And the truth is that $66 billion of that is actually going to boost up the U.S. military. We have a very good military, but we need obviously a larger military in a time of war.

About $20 billion will go for Iraqi reconstruction. And later on, Iraqi oil will help with that reconstruction.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bernie. Why don’t you weigh in on that?

WARD: Well, I mean it’s just another one of the lies that got us into the war. They said that Iraq was going to be able to pay for it. They said we could do it with few troops, we could do it on the cheap.

And remember, he said the most important thing was that Iraq at any moment could launch weapons of mass destruction, fire drones against the United States, use chemical weapons, and all of those kinds of things. You’ll notice last night the president never mentioned that at all.

So today, Republicans across the board are saying, look, it doesn’t matter how we got here. Now we are here and we have to pay for it. What an amazing turnaround from only a few months ago.

MAY: Yes — I think on thing is important to understand, and a lot of people don’t — obviously you don’t, Bernie — is these various terrorist groups and terrorist leaders, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, they are not enemies, they may at time rivals. It’s a little like the Mafia families.

I mean, Tony Soprano may fight with the New York mob, but basically they are on the same side, especially where the FBI is concerned. And we’re the FBI.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s get a quick e-mail before we take a break.

WARD: Well, unfortunately, Cliff, George Tenet…

BLITZER: All right. Hold on one second, Bernie. I want to get to a quick e-mail, then we’re going to take a break. We’re going to continue this debate.

This is from Melanie in Maryland — a question for Cliff. “I was sickened by President Bush’s continued references to the war in Iraq as the war on terrorism. There has been no credible evidence revealed that Saddam Hussein or Iraq as a nation had anything whatsoever to do with the events of September 11, 2001 or any other terrorist activity against the U.S. If anything, the president’s war has created a new hotbed for terrorist activity.”

That’s from Melanie in Maryland. Go ahead, Cliff. Tell her why you believe she is wrong.

MAY: She is wrong. And there was a wonderful piece, actually, in “The Washington Post” on this.

There have been tremendous interconnections between all of the various terrorist trends and groups. You had terrorists being trained in Iraq at the Salman Paka (ph) terrorist training camp, for example. Ansar al-Islam, which is restoring itself, that was in the north of Iraq and that is al Qaeda connected.

All these groups are part of the same thing. But she’s right in one thing. Now Iraq is becoming a magnet for trained terrorists around the world. And there are tens of thousands of them.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I would rather that the 101st Airborne fight the terrorists in Baghdad than we fight them in Boston.

BLITZER: All right. Cliff, you are chuckling, I believe.

MAY: You mean Bernie.

WARD: No, I am.

BLITZER: I mean, Bernie. Excuse me. Cliff is not chuckling, but Bernie is chuckling.

WARD: No, I just think it is a riot. Here’s George Tenet, who testifies in front of the Senate that Saddam Hussein has nothing to do with al Qaeda. And, in fact, the only way you could put him in al Qaeda’s arms would be to attack him.

You have the north of Iraq, which is not controlled by Saddam Hussein. Cliff says that’s where the terrorists were being trained. And yet the United States did nothing about that, and neither did Turkey.

The reality is that the lady in Maryland is absolutely correct. We were lied to about why we went in. We were told it was going to be easy, we were told it was going to be on the cheap.

And we have hundreds of dead Americans, thousands of wounded ones. And, in fact, ask yourself this question: why hasn’t President Bush gone to see a single wounded veteran up at Walter Reed or at Bethesda? Does he not care about the wounded, or is it because it would bring up the fact that what they have done is a complete and utter disaster?

BLITZER: I’m going to take a break. But, Cliff, go ahead and quickly respond.

MAY: Just very quickly, George Tenet said — and I think this is a direct quote — we no longer distinguish among the various terrorist groups because we know they are a network that now works together and has for some time.

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to continue this debate.

MAY: He didn’t say that then, Cliff.

BLITZER: We have to take a quick break. We will continue our debate over the president’s plans for Iraq. Our two guests are standing by.

Continue to e-mail us at [email protected], or call us. We will continue this in just a moment.


BLITZER: How did the president do last night in his nationally televised address? We’re continuing our debate with two guests with very, very different points of view. Bernie Ward is joining us from San Francisco, Cliff May here in Washington.

We have a caller, Lee, in Michigan, who has a question. You’re on the air, Lee.

LEE: Hi, Wolf, gentlemen. I for one am getting more than a little annoyed at the constant criticism of the administration and the military, why we’re not getting Iraq up and running overnight. What I am not hearing is — other than the small police department that they put together again — what are the Iraqi people doing to help themselves out of this mess?

BLITZER: What about that, Bernie? Couldn’t the Iraqis being doing more to help themselves instead of simply relying on the U.S.?

WARD: It costs $100,000 in the United States of America to create a policeman. And that’s after more than a year of training and two more years of being in the field. The idea that you are going to bring the Iraqis on any time soon and that they’re going to be able to deal with this is fallacy. And the situation where the poverty is so horrible.

We could play them $20 a day, and our enemies could along and for $25 turn them back around, which, by the way, Wolf, is the experience that we had both in Germany and Japan. The Republicans like to talk about post World War II. In both Germany and Japan, we discovered that so many of the Germans or Japanese that we wanted to be able to work with us turned around and ended up working with enemies or people that were foreign to us, because they were able to turn them around with pay, et cetera.

And as for criticism of the military, the military did a wonderful job winning the war. They are doing a horrible job trying to deal with the peace.

MAY: Well, it’s not a peace yet. It’s still a conflict and it’s a very difficult conflict. Bernie is right on one thing.

WARD: Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot about the aircraft carrier.

MAY: Bernie, if you could let — Bernie, once in a while you have to let me answer you before you go on. Bernie is right about one thing. This is very much like the period that followed World War II in Germany and Japan, where th
re was terrorists striking out, where there was a very difficult situation, and it took years to solve it.

But here’s the most important thing you have to understand. The Iraqi people are looking around now and they’re saying, if I side with the Americans and Saddam or the Ba’athists or the jihadists, they come back into power, I will be killed and so will my family. They have to know the Americans will stay before they will help.

BLITZER: All right. Bernie Ward, we’ll have you back. Cliff May, we always love having you on this program as well. We’ll continue this debate. It’s not, obviously, going away.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.