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Tucker Carlson
OnPolitics Section
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With Tucker Carlson
CNN Political Analyst

Tuesday, March 11, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

Who will win the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination? Is Bush's decision to move toward war with or without the United Nations in America's long-term interests? In light of the growing tension between longtime NATO members, can it be concluded that the organization has outlived its use?

CNN political analyst and "Crossfire" co-host Tucker Carlson was be online to take your questions and comments.

In addition to his work on "Crossfire" Carlson has provided analysis for CNN's Inside Politics, writes for New York Magazine and is a contributing editor for The Weekly. Carlson's writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, George, The New Republic, Forbes FYI, Slate and The Washington Post.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Somerville, Mass.: Could you explain how and why Haliburton holding the Iraqi Oil Field rebuilding contract is not proof of corruption of the very first order in the Bush administration since the administration is filled with those that will benefit directly from Haliburton's gain? If, as I suspect, the contract was given without competitive bidding, there is no argument against it being a sign of corruption is there?

By the way, in classic Bush style, the Army says ALL details of the contract are classified so that they can't be held up to the light of public review.

Tucker Carlson: I hear variations of your question almost every day, and I still don't understand the logic. The implication, I guess, is that we're going to war for the benefit of American oil companies. Please. If anything, war in Iraq will hurt American oil companies. And in any case, you'd hardly need to send in 300,000 soldiers in order to negotiate favorable contracts with Saddam Hussein. The administration could do that fairly easily without war. As for Cheney, it was not Haliburton that sold oil field equipment to Iraq, but a company that Haliburton bought. I wouldn't defend this either way, but it wasn't illegal, and it wasn't part of any conspiracy. If you have other evidence, I'd love to hear it.
In general, I think the Left would do better to address the arguments for and against war directly -- is Saddam a real threat? Is he containable? etc... -- rather than resort to silly Jim Garrison-like theories.

Arlington, Va.: Why do conservatives feel it necessary to paint pro-peace Americans as unpatriotic? Are you guys suggesting that war-mongering is an American value?

Besides, this so-called preemptive operation, is nothing more than aggression. We gave up the term "War Department" a long time ago. We now have a Defense Department designed to do just that -- defend against aggression, not start wars.

Tucker Carlson: Again, another charge I hear thrown around all the time but never explained. Who precisely are these conservatives who run around questioning other people's patriotism? With the exception of Ann Coulter, I have never heard a single one. In fact, many conservatives (including some of my smartest friends)oppose the war. And virtually everyone on the right recognizes that there are two honorable sides to this debate.
So, again, who are you talking about? Sounds like a straw man to me.

Arlington, Va.: Tucker -- I am a devoted fan of Crossfire, so I know that you are a huge fan of the Rev. Al Sharpton's bid for Democratic candidacy -- however, if you had to name one individual Democrat (running or not) that you would see as the largest credible threat to Bush's re-election chances, who would that be?

Tucker Carlson: Yes, I'm a Sharpton fan. In fact -- and you heard it here first -- I expect to be the head of Amtrack in the Sharpton Administration, if not Secretary of Agriculture.

But on the off chance Sharpton loses the nomination (Zogby has him in first place in NYC right now), I'd bet on John Kerry. He may not be Irish, but he's more impressive than some people realize.

Warrenton, Va.: I've been a bit surprised that Bob Graham hasn't generated more interest among Democrats in his Presidential bid. He seems, to me, like the most electable Democrat currently in the race. Why don't you think he has gotten off to a stronger start?

Tucker Carlson: Graham is a serious, thoughtful guy who no one dismisses as a senator. But he's got a Dick Lugar problem: He's boring. And he's not aware of it.
Plus, he's regarded by the press (with some justification) as very eccentric personally.
I wouldn't write him off, though.

Portland, Ore.: In your opinion who, are the most knowledgeable Senators on foreign affairs, foreign policy, and national defense. Republican and/or Democrat. Thanks

Tucker Carlson: Joe Biden is by far the most articulate senator I've ever spoken to about foreign policy. His views aren't always consistent, and I think they're sometimes wrong, but he knows an awful lot about an awful lot. Really, really impressive in conversation.
John Kyl is smart as hell too.

Orono, Maine: Any thoughts on the jingoistic announcement -- made today by Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) -- that the House Restaurant will change the name of french fries and french toast to "freedom fries" and "freedom toast" in protest of our ally's stand on the conflict with Iraq?

To me, this is one of the stupider ideas to come out of Washington in a long, long time. But, it also suggests a lack of historical perspective (there would have been no American Revolution without the French) that is frightening.

Any comment?

washingtonpost.com: French Fries Get New Name in Congress (AP, March 11, 2003)

Tucker Carlson: I imagine it was meant as a joke.

Yes, the French have been allied with the United States for centuries. France was once a world power. But at some point you've to judge a country by how it behaves now, in the present. As you point out, France stood with the US during the Revolutionary War. England, of course, did not. Things change.

Arlington, Va.: Tucker, I find it hard to believe the conspiracy theories as well, but I still do not feel that the American public has been given enough reasoning for a preemptive occupation of Iraq. Isn't this a terribly dramatic shift in U.S. military and political strategy to take without rock solid justification?

Tucker Carlson: It's a huge shift, a total, radical reorientation. Agree with or not, it's hard to argue the public hasn't been offered a justification. A year and a half ago next week, Bush promised to seek out and destroy ANY perceived threat to the United States. The White House believes Saddam is a threat. Hence the war.
After many conversations, I believe it really is that simple.
Again, you can disagree -- many reasonable people do -- but it's a waste of time to dream up some secret motive, like oil, or avenging the first Bush, or (as Rep. Jim Moran recently said) the influence of the Jews.

Washington, D.C.: Since your show is at night and only lasts an hour, what do you do the rest of the time? Where are you physically writing this chat? Are you dressed for work, or will you wait until late afternoon for that?

Tucker Carlson: I write at home, in a t-shirt, next to a wood stove with my dogs. And I travel, next week, I hope to Kuwait.

Washington, D.C.: You should be forgiven for not understanding the nuances of the oil argument. The effective and real oil argument is not "war for oil". The argument is that, as one reason among many for starting this war, the US would like to gain more power and control over the oil resources in the Middle East. By having an Iraqi regime in place that is somehow beholden to the US, we can use oil as leverage on the world stage, regardless of whether the companies doing the pumping are US, Iraqi, Russian or French. I believe this power and control argument goes back at least as far as Carter, right?

Tucker Carlson: There are several arguments about oil. You're making another one. Sounds logical, but here are my questions:

1) Do you have any evidence at all that it's true? Have secret Pentagon Papers-type documents come to light showing that the White House wants war in order "to gain more power and control over the oil resources in the Middle East." Or are you just making that up?

2) If what you say is true, why is the White House interested in installing democratic regimes in the Gulf? Seems to me that if you wanted to control oil, you'd want to leave monarchies in place, since they're easier to deal with and control than democratic governments.

Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.: What's your take on the Dole/Clinton matchup for 60 Minutes?

Tucker Carlson: Lame. But very lucrative.

Greenbelt, Md.: Seems like the George W. Bush administration and his conservative keepers in the corporate media have developed a sudden case of amnesia. Now that our country is on the verge of war with the Middle East nothing is being said about the need to vaccinate Americans against smallpox. Apparently, the need to get Americans protected against biological warfare is not a factor in the President's war timetable? Little progress has been made on this front, even among health care workers.

Tucker Carlson: I'm not sure how I feel about smallpox vaccinations, but I am sure we'd never even be considering them if it weren't for the White House, more specifically Dick Cheney's office, which conceived the idea and pushed it. From what I heard (last week) the plan is moving slowly because doctors and nurses don't want to be vaccinated.

By the way, what's the "corporate media"? I've never met them.

Arlington, Va.: Our resident embarrassment, Rep. Jim Moran has managed to once again embroil himself in controversy, by blaming Jews for the anticipated war in Iraq. One, do comments like these have any affect on the Jewish community's historic allegiance to the Democratic Party, and two, since this is a safe district, do you envision a primary challenge to Rep. Moran? He's always enjoyed blind loyalty from a wealth of Democrats who ignore his every misdeed.

Tucker Carlson: I think Moran will stay, for three reasons:

1) He's charming and he knows the district very well. If his well-publicized "loans" didn't kill him, a little anti-Semitism won't either.

2) He's a Democrat. Many Democrats will continue to ignore his every misdeed.

3) A lot of people agree with him. Next time you hear an opponent of the war slam the "neocons" or single out Paul Wolfowitz, keep in mind that what they're really saying is: This is a war for Israel's security. Which is basically what Moran was saying.

New York, N.Y.: Tucker,

I like your answers in this forum a lot more than the ones given (from both sides) on Crossfire. Here, you seem to be a bit more balanced, a lot more open-minded and even have some nice things to say about the Democrats. I guess my question is more a complaint, though, and it's why can't you guys debate the issues thoughtfully, as opposed to radically, on the air? You know better than anyone that there's a lot of gray area in the world of politics (and in the world today) and you and Paul, or Bob and James (sorry about the informality of the names), debate in black and white 98 percent of the time. Maybe it's not good TV, but I feel like people would learn more about an issue that way.


Tucker Carlson: I agree. This is something I've thought about a lot and tried to correct. Partly it's the venue -- Crossfire exists to highlight clear arguments -- partly it's the medium: television isn't conducive to nuance.

Mostly, it's my fault. One of my co-hosts says something unfair or unreasonable, I get mad and harden my position, sometimes becoming unfair or unreasonable myself. I hate doing this. I've only been in television fulltime for two years, so maybe I'll get better over time.

Arlington, Va.: Tucker: Would you please play footage from the last Kentucky (68) vs LSU (57) basketball game for James. As I recall, he had a wonderful time showing the Kentucky loss to LSU in football.

Tucker Carlson: If you think James is unreasonable about politics, you should see him talk sports.

Somewhere, USA: Good afternoon.

Could you please tell me why you think the French are so bad? They have a plan to disarm Saddam without blood shed. (Their plan includes tripling the number of weapon inspectors and maintaining a long-term presence in Iraq.) What is so horrible about that?

Yes, I know. You'll probably go to the standard line, "Inspections don't work."

But they DO. The inspectors have FOUND and destroyed weapons.

Tucker Carlson: I think you're giving the French far too much credit. To the limited extent inspections have worked so far, it is only because Iraq understands the threat of (American) force is real. In other words, Saddam destroys his rockets only when he thinks he's going to die if he doesn't.

Chirac (as he said yesterday) would remove the threat of force completely, thereby destroying the effectiveness of the inspections.

As for the larger question of "Why are the French so bad," we don't have time for the full answer, though we could start with the fact that French companies were selling weapons parts to Saddam as late as this January -- with the full understanding they'd likely be used to kill Americans. That qualifies as "bad," as far as I'm concerned.

Washington, D.C.: Why is it that when Clinton "went to war" it was to distract everyone from personal scandals, but when Bush is going to war, everyone looks the other way from the failing economy?

Tucker Carlson: Because:

1) Clinton didn't "go to war." He made bellicose noises for political effect, lobbed a few missiles in, and moved on. And,

2) There is absolutely no possible way this coming war is a good political gamble for Bush. No consultant would advise it. No president would go forward with it if reelection were his highest goal. It's just too risky. Agree with Bush or not, you can't say he's invading Iraq for political reasons.

Cleveland, Ohio: When did the rest of the GOP suddenly take up the neo-con message on foreign policy? At one time the GOP leadership rejected it (and McCain) wholesale.

This IS McCain's foreign policy (called rogue state rollback) that we are seeing. When did the larger GOP decide to embrace it?

Tucker Carlson: Excellent question. You're absolutely right to see this as McCain foreign policy.

Why has the rest of the party signed on? I don't really know. Perhaps because McCain's ideas (neocon ideas) are more forceful than traditional GOP isolationism. Perhaps because of 9-11. Your guess is as good as mine. But you're right that Bush has basically come to McCain's position.

Bowie, Md.: Could you comment on why I'm a liberal:

Modern conservatism started in 1964 around the idea that the federal government was too big and more political power needed to be devolved to the states.

This was in response to the Civil Rights Movement, the one absolutely clear case in which the federal government was right and the states were wrong.

Hence, modern conservatism is predicated on being wrong on the most fundamental domestic issue of my lifetime.

Right or wrong?

Tucker Carlson: I hate to think you stopped evolving politically in 1964. But you're half right:

Some strains in modern conservatism began as a reaction to the civil rights movement. Opposing civil rights is bad. But that doesn't mean that libertarianism is racist. Of course it's not. Or that everyone who thinks government is too big or intrusive opposes civil rights.

In other words, it's no longer 1964. It's time to deal with the ideas in their modern context.

Mt. Rainier, Md.: The French are bad for selling weapons to use on Americans. So are Americans bad for selling weapons to use on Iranians? Certainly that should rate as commensurately bad?

Tucker Carlson: Huh? We're not the Iranians.

Montclair, N.J.: I have to ask about Jim Moran: have we really descended to the depths of political correctness that stating the obvious is grounds for outrage? I'm not necessarily saying the influence of Jewish organizations is bad (I happen to be Jewish). But they clearly have had a huge part in pushing aggression as the basic approach to world affairs. And their demonization of Moran is part of their influence: anyone who questions them is anti-Semitic. Why can't a congressman mention the truth? No wonder cynicism about politics is so prevalent.

Tucker Carlson: I half agree with you. The ADL and groups like it devalue their own dwindling moral authority by name-calling. We should be able to debate Israel policy without fear. We can't. This is a shame, and I hope it changes.

But what bothers me about Moran's comments is the implication that there's a Jewish conspiracy afoot, that Jews are acting as one to push America to war. This isn't true, as you prove.

Washington, D.C.: So if Turkey's democracy isn't a shining example to the rest of the Middle East, how can we expect a democracy propped up by a foreign power in Iraq supposed to be?

Tucker Carlson: As a guest we had the other night put it, "you can't expect Iraq to become Connecticut in a day." It won't. But it strikes me as cynical to assume the Iraqis are incapable of democracy, however imperfect.

Providence, R.I.: In the interest of media full disclosure (rather than playing for big ratings), would you unambiguously please state your personal feelings for your ideological opponents -- Begala and Carville -- on your show? At times, I sense you'd genuinely like to throttle them. At times, I wonder if you guys have just perfected your "act" of seeming to be outraged in order to provide an interesting show. So do you drop the outrage and hostility and go out for a drink after the show?

Tucker Carlson: My outrage is never phony. If I look angry, I am.

But I like James and Paul. James and I often (in fact, usually) go out to dinner after the show. Our daughters are in the same class, we live near each other and are friends.

And, yes, he is every bit as insane as he seems.

Speaking of work, I've got to do some of it. Thanks a lot for having me this afternoon. I appreciated it.

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