"It will be a long, hard slog."


Is War on Terror a Religious War?

Aired October 22, 2003 - 16:30 ET

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

In the CROSSFIRE: A general's comments about Islam and terrorism provoke a political firestorm.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Ask him to take on another assignment.

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: He does not see this battle as a battle between religions. He sees it as a battle between good and evil.

ANNOUNCER: What do you do when a general exercises his freedom of speech?

Plus: getting these guys to lighten up, advice from Jay Leno's writer -- today on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.



The Pentagon has decided not to reassign General William Boykin, even while he's under the investigation for the unspeakable crime of saying what's true.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, what General Boykin apparently thinks is true is debatable. He says that the war against terrorists is a religious war. That's a view that puts him in opposition to the commander in chief he swore to obey. Well, was General Boykin just expressing his religious views? Or, as a top general in the war on terror, was he undermining American foreign policy? That is our debate.

We'll get to the debate right after the best political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." In a memo to his senior staff, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reveals how deeply dishonest the Bush administration has been about the war on terror. President Bush says -- and I'm quoting him here -- quote -- "We're making good progress" -- unquote -- in hunting down al Qaeda. Rumsfeld writes -- quote -- "We're having mixed results" -- unquote. Mr. Bush says -- quote -- "Our nation is waging a broad and unrelenting campaign against the global terror network" -- unquote.

Rumsfeld writes -- quote -- "We've not yet made truly bold moves" -- unquote. Mr. Bush says, "We're winning the war on terror." Rumsfeld writes, "We lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing." And while Mr. Bush speaks of his success in Afghanistan and Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld admits -- quote -- "It will be a long, hard slog."

So, now we know that the Bush administration, at least one member of it, is capable of telling the truth, just not to us.


CARLSON: Now, you should keep in mind that both Rumsfeld and Bush are members of the same administration. I will say, I'm amazed that you could actually read the Rumsfeld memo and not come away impressed by its pure honesty.

This is a guy who is not looking to cover his tracks or cover his failures or cover the administration's or America's failures. But he really wants to know how we can do better. It's a very serious memo by a very serious guy. It made me think a lot more of him. I think everyone ought to read



BEGALA: I agree with all that. Everybody should read it. But then they shouldn't believe the public P.R. B.S. that they feed us, because that's a line of bull. They ought to just tell the truth not just in memos to themselves, but to the rest of us.


CARLSON: Actually, it was a memo leaked to everyone, including us.


CARLSON: Retired General Wesley Clark issued yet another overheated press release today attacking the foreign policy of an administration he supported, in fact, lavishly and publicly praised, just last year. Of, he wasn't running for president then.

Politically convenient conversions like this are annoying, so it's no surprise that Clark has famously few friends from his years in the service. That's a problem. This weekend, Clark made the case for his own popularity, as he told "The Washington Post" -- this is a quote -- "How do you think I could have succeeded in the military if everybody didn't like me? It's impossible. Do you realize I was the first person promoted to full colonel in my entire year group of 2,000 officers? I was the only one selected. Do you realize that? Do you realize I was the only one of my West Point class picked to command a brigade when I was picked? A lot of people love me."

Now, repeat after me: "A lot of people love me. A lot of people love me. A lot of people love me." Good luck.

BEGALA: You know who some of those people are? General Alexander Haig, no liberal. He wrote glowing performance reviews of then Major Wesley Clark, General John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Barry McCaffrey, a hero from the Vietnam and the first Gulf War.

CARLSON: That's great. That's great. I agree.

BEGALA: There's lots of generals who


CARLSON: That's great. I love that as a campaign platform. "A lot of people love him." Well, you know, Paul, a lot of people love me. OK, Sally Field, settle down.



BEGALA: But he was asked why everyone he served with him didn't like him. That's not true. This is a right-wing smear campaign.


CARLSON: No, no, that's not true. It's not a right-wing...

BEGALA: It's a smear campaign against a fine man and a great general.

CARLSON: It's not a smear campaign. It's actually true.

BEGALA: This is what we expect from the right.

Well, the Bush White House has for weeks maintained that there's no need for an independent investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's name. They say the investigation is being handled by career prosecutors, not by John Ashcroft's political pals. But in congressional testimony yesterday, Justice Department officials admitted that Mr. Ashcroft has been regularly briefed on key details of the investigation.

Mr. Ashcroft has been informed of the names of those interviewed by the FBI and has taken a more hands-on role than previously disclosed. It looks like Mr. Ashcroft wants to cover up more than just the boobs on that statue of justice.


CARLSON: I think that's a completely and unfair inference.

BEGALA: Absolutely true.

CARLSON: This is -- you have no evidence at all that the attorney general of the United States has corrupted the FBI. That's a very serious thing to allege. And there's no evidence. When evidence arrives, I'll denounce them all as corrupt.


BEGALA: Let me tell you what I allege, Tucker. I allege that they're misleading us about the role he's playing in this investigation. They say career people are handling it. But when they're under oath, they have to admit that Ashcroft is being briefed on the details.


CARLSON: He's the attorney general of the United States.

BEGALA: He recused himself from the Enron investigation, for good reason. He should recuse himself from the Bush investigation of the CIA leak as well.

CARLSON: Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul...

BEGALA: He's even closer to Bush than he is to Enron.



CARLSON: This is such a crazy conspiracy theory. He's the attorney general. No one has alleged that the FBI in any way is doing anything less than a very serious job.


CARLSON: If they're corrupt, present the evidence. Otherwise


BEGALA: Mr. Ashcroft is hopelessly compromised.

CARLSON: OK. People love me, truly.


CARLSON: Well, Mike Leavitt was nominated more than three months ago to be the new EPA administrator. He's still not confirmed, due largely to the efforts of Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman says he has unresolved questions about Leavitt's fitness for the job. And until he gets answers, Lieberman says, he'll continue to stall Leavitt's nomination. Here's the interesting part. Lieberman doesn't know anything about Mike Leavitt because he hasn't bothered to learn. According to a piece by ace reporter Sam Dealey in this morning's "Hill" newspaper, Lieberman has missed 25 of his 27 committee commitments this year. He even skipped all seven legislative markups, where bills are actually written. He didn't even show up at Leavitt's testimony.

When Levitt tried to schedule a meeting with Lieberman, the senator declined. Instead, Lieberman has been running around the country desperately trying to shake down donors for his doomed presidential campaign. Fine. Good luck, Mr. Lieberman. But if other people actually want to run the country, let them.


BEGALA: Like who?

CARLSON: Like Mike Leavitt. Seriously.

BEGALA: Like George W. Bush, who...


BEGALA: George W. Bush is about to break Ronald Reagan's record for vacation days. His view is, hard work never killed anyone, but why take a chance. He's the laziest man we have ever had in the Oval Office and you're going to bang on Joe Lieberman?


CARLSON: That's great. OK. OK. Bush is Satan.

I'm just saying, if he's very serious about Mike Leavitt not being fit for the job, at least meet with him.


CARLSON: Come back from your Malibu fund-raiser and meet with the guy just once. Come on. It's ridiculously unfair.


CARLSON: Anyway, people love me.

Is religion a factor in the war against religious extremists? One general dared say yes and he may lose his job for it. We'll debate the question just ahead.

And later, just how can politicians get in touch with their comic side, given that they have one? We'll get advice from an expert.

We'll be right back.



Lieutenant General William Boykin is leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden. And he's also an evangelical Christian. Last June, while speaking to a group of evangelicals, Boykin reportedly said that radical Muslims hate the U.S. because -- quote -- "We're a Christian nation and the enemy is a guy named Satan," all of which is undeniably true and too much for the usual commissars of political correctness, who complain that Boykin is being insensitive to the terrorist community.

Well, should Boykin be fired for pointing out the obvious?

To debate it, we're joined this afternoon by Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. And in Lynchburg, Virginia, is the founder and chancellor of Liberty University, the Reverend Jerry Falwell.


BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us.

Jerry Falwell, you are always gracious about joining us. And I want to thank you for that.

Not to be ungracious, but I want to put you on the spot here. You know what General Boykin said, in my eyes, rather outrageous statements about Islam. He even called the god of Islam an idol, a false god. I want to play you a piece of videotape of our president, who has a very different view.

Here's President George W. Bush.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.


BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, I think President Bush is right and General Boykin is wrong. Who do you agree with?

JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, I agree with both of them.

General Boykin never said that Islam in general and the radical terrorists who composed two large a group among the Islamics are the same. As a matter of fact, he made quite a huge difference in that. And it was President Lincoln, during the war between the states, who was asked: Mr. President, are you praying that God will be on our side?

He said: No, I'm praying we'll get on God's side. It was Benjamin Franklin who called the Constitutional Convention to prayer in 1787, saying that, if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without God's notice, is it likely a nation can rise without his aid. It's only been in recent times that it's become politically correct to attack Christians and to have open game on anyone like General Boykin, who, in his own church, among believers, exercises his First Amendment rights and shares his faith, a faith, by the way, that scores of millions of Christians believe that there is a true and living God in heaven and that there is a real person named Satan and that there is good and evil.

CARLSON: And Mr. Falwell, I'm going to have to ask Hussein Ibish a question.


CARLSON: Let's consider what General Boykin said.


CARLSON: He said, first, that Islamic extremists are worshipping a false God. Undeniably true.

IBISH: No, he didn't say that.


CARLSON: Let me finish. Let me finish.

IBISH: All right.

CARLSON: He said, second, they are waging a religious war. These are Muslims, educated in Muslim schools, waging a war on behalf of their idea of Islam. In what sense is he wrong? He spoke the truth and it just offends you, but tough.


What he said was that the United States is a Christian nation that derives its power from Christianity, that we go into battle against our enemies in the name of Jesus, and that President Bush wasn't elected by millions of Americans; he was appointed by God. I have to say that those kind of statements, in a country that we live in, a democratic country, which is a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious, are unacceptable.

I think they bespeak a religious extremism that is totally inappropriate for the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a highly sensitive, highly important job. I think he revealed himself to be a religious extremist, a fanatic, and someone who is, frankly, irrational.


BEGALA: Well, Reverend Falwell, let me ask you about one of those comments that Hussein just mentioned. General Boykin said -- and I'm quoting him here about our president -- "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him." He's right about that. "Why is he there? And I tell you this morning, he's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."

Now, in case General Boykin is watching, and for our folks at home, let me show a couple of images here. First, this is God. God is depicted, actually, by Michelangelo in his masterpiece in ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. On the right side of your screen is William Rehnquist. He's the chief justice of the Supreme Court. He's the one who put George Bush in the White House, isn't he, Reverend Falwell? Not God.


FALWELL: Well, if -- if you don't take the Bible seriously, what you and Hussein just said would be true.

But the vast majority of believers worldwide, Christian, followers of Christ, believe that God rules in the affairs of men. And history would support that.


FALWELL: Wait a minute.

BEGALA: So God put President Clinton in office?

FALWELL: You worked for a long time for Bill Clinton. You worked for a long time for Bill Clinton.

BEGALA: So God put him there.

FALWELL: I think that we needed Bill Clinton, because we turned our backs on the lord and we needed a bad president to get our attention again.


FALWELL: To pray for a good president. That's what I believe.


IBISH: You know, I really think this kind of extreme religious rhetoric is very disempowering, because it says to us, whatever is happening is the fault of God. God did this. God elected Bush. God elected Clinton. No, he didn't. The American people did that.



CARLSON: Wait. Hold on. You're very quick...

IBISH: And whatever problems we have, we can sort them out for ourselves, without blaming God. This is absurd. CARLSON: Well, I notice that you're extremely quick to pounce on a certain sort of religious extremism. But you, like, I would say, most representatives of organized Islamic groups say nothing when it comes to Islamic leaders.

IBISH: I don't work for an Islamic group. I work for an Arab- American group that includes both Christians and Muslims.


CARLSON: I want to give you an example. This, as doubtless you've seen it, is the prime minister of Malaysia. This is part of what he said last week.

IBISH: Yes. Yes.

CARLSON: Here we go.


MAHATHIR MOHAMAD, PRIME MINISTER OF MALAYSIA: The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today, the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.




CARLSON: But it's outrageous. but there were no demonstrations by Muslim groups in the streets.

IBISH: Well, no one's demonstrating about Mr. Boykin. Mahathir Mohamad is the outgoing...

CARLSON: Actually, you are here demonstrating against him. Why aren't you in the streets denouncing that?

IBISH: No, no, no. I was invited here to discuss Mr. Boykin. Now you want to talk about Mahathir Mohamad? I'll say, I'm glad that, in 10 or 12 days time, he's not going to be the president of Malaysia anymore. And that's very good. Those kind of comments have no place


CARLSON: Is that right? Well, tell the foreign minister of Egypt, who praised him today.


IBISH: I certainly will, if he calls me up and asks me. Or if I'm invited on a show, I'll certainly be happy to say that.


IBISH: But I'm more concerned about our own government officials here in the United States.

CARLSON: I can see that.

IBISH: And that's our responsibility as Americans first. But I agree. Mahathir Mohamad's comments were absolutely ludicrous and outrageous. Religious extremism is all over the world. We don't need it in the Defense Department.


BEGALA: I'm sorry to interrupt you. I want one quick last question to Reverend Falwell.

General Boykin also talked about looking at a photograph in Mogadishu which he said included an unexplained dark mark, which he explains as a manifestation of evil. Do you believe that this general has photographs of Satan?

FALWELL: I don't believe he was saying that. I believe he was saying that men who are wicked enough to kill women, children, bomb buses with little children on them, and do the terrible things, bring down the Trade Center, bring -- and so forth, that people who do that kind of thing, like Stalin, like Adolf Hitler, like all the wicked leaders in human history, are satanically controlled, satanically possessed.


FALWELL: And General Boykin was saying exactly what born-again Christians all over this world believe. And I'm surprised there's nobody on that platform, besides Mr. Carlson, who doesn't know that.


BEGALA: That has to be the last word from Reverend Jerry Falwell, who joins us from Lynchburg, Virginia.

Reverend Falwell, always good to have you. Thank you, sir.


BEGALA: Hussein Ibish here in Washington, thank you as well, my friend. Good job on both parts.



BEGALA: Thank you.

Well, you've heard the debate now. We want to know, should General Boykin be fired for his comments? We'll have the results for you later in CROSSFIRE.

But first, is there any way to make George W. Bush amusing? Of course, other than dressing him up in a flight suit, like G.I. Joe. (LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, we'll ask one of Jay Leno's writers for his advice for our president and other politicians in a minute.

And then, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer will tell us what he's doing hanging out with actress Angelina Jolie today. Come on, Wolf. Come clean.

Stay with us.




BEGALA: Wolf, thanks a lot.

I think I've annoyed somebody at CNN. Wolf gets to hang out with Angelina Jolie, and I'm with Tucker Carlson.

Well, anyway, here I am with Tucker. We're here talking about humor in politics. Of course, President John F. Kennedy was famous for his wit. And nobody could deliver one-liners like the Gipper, Ronald Reagan. And President Clinton's routines at those Washington power dinners brought down the house. So how come so many of today's politicians can't seem to lighten up a little bit?

Well, we thought we would get an expert in to give them a few pointers. "Tonight Show" writer Jon Macks is a former political consultant, a consultant to the HBO show "K Street," and the author of the new book "How To Be Funny," which is outstanding and hilarious and great.

Jon Macks, welcome to CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: It is an outstanding the book. I read it. I loved it, actually.

"The Tonight Show" is off this week. If you were on tonight, what would you be writing about?

JON MACKS, AUTHOR, "HOW TO BE FUNNY": I think there would be -- to me, it's a shame we're off because of this whole story, the David Gest suing Lisa Minelli over -- I think suing for $10 million, saying that she -- that in these alcohol-fueled rages, she gained superhuman strength.

Right now, the Redskins are saying middle linebacker, definitely. We will definitely want to go with that. And then again, David can play on both teams. He goes it both ways. So he would be great.

(LAUGHTER) MACKS: Also, that whole last segment was amazing.

BEGALA: The debate we had with Reverend Falwell?

MACKS: Oh, the debate you just had was just -- see, in L.A., it's a little different, because when you speak of the almighty, we think you're talking about Steven Spielberg.


MACKS: I mean, it's totally, totally different out there.

BEGALA: Well, OK, let me ask for some free advice for our president. I actually think he's quite a funny guy. I disagree with his policies. But he's got a good sense of humor, doesn't he? What does he need to do to be funnier, or has he got it right, right now?

MACKS: I think the most important thing is, when you're the president, you're the No. 1 guy. And you can never make fun down. You always have to make fun going up. So when you're the president, there's only one person equal to you. And that's yourself. So you need to be much more self-deprecating. And I think...

BEGALA: In his case, Dick Cheney I guess would sort of be his boss.


MACKS: Either way, going up.

But he needs to be much more self-deprecating. He's got to talk about -- when he's talking about, for example, going to an undisclosed, secret location, that's Crawford, Texas, to me, things like that. He's got to be making fun of himself, talking about -- again, with this, he would be talking about the almighty. He would be referring to, of course: I thought they meant my mom.

Anything that takes it to his family and himself in a way, as opposed to anything that has an edge or a little mean to someone.

CARLSON: Is there any way to make Howard Dean funny? He seems like such a grouchy little guy.

MACKS: I think, with him, what's the one thing we know about Howard Dean? He's a doctor. You know that. And, in this case, if I were him, I would refer to that, because it's -- in a way, it's talking about one of his strengths.

But, on the other hand, you can make fun of it. So you he could say something, do a little story about how he was out there and he's a doctor and he's very successful. And he called his mom, at one point, his mom and dad, and said: You know, I'm going to be running for president of the United States. And they could be going: Where did you go wrong? How did you give this up? You had a good career.

(LAUGHTER) CARLSON: Well, speaking of good careers, Jon Macks, you have a great career, "Tonight Show" writer, former political consultant, author of "How To Be Funny." We wouldn't recommend it if it weren't worth reading. And it is.

Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MACKS: Thanks, Tucker.

BEGALA: Great job, Jon. Thank you very much.


BEGALA: After the break, we'll find out whether you think General William Boykin ought to be canned for his religious comments.

And, in "Fireback," one viewer has a new line of work in mind for General Boykin. We'll tell you what that is when we come back.

See you in a moment.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It's time for "Fireback."

Jon Macks, as he was walking off the set, said he just remembered why General Boykin's name sounded familiar. It was actually Clinton's nickname when he was commander in chief, General Boykin.

BEGALA: General Boykin.


First up, Dan Hoffard of Iowa writes about the question of whether this is a religious war: "A rose by any other name is still a rose. The Islamic terrorist will tell you it's a religious war. When they kill someone in the name of God, it is a religious war."

Well, that's right.

BEGALA: When a general undermines the president's foreign policy, he needs to be removed. He has a right to his religious views. God bless him for holding them, but he's speaking opposite of what our president wants to tell the world. He's got to go.


CARLSON: I generally -- I generally agree with that. I'm not sure that he crossed that line.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Well, it will be a long time before I defend President Bush again. But he's right about this and he ought to get rid of this general.

Judy Simmons of Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes about General Boykin: He "needs to decide whether he wants to be an active soldier or an active preacher. The two may not be mutually exclusive, but it's certainly confusing to watch someone fight and preach at the same time."

Well, that's a good point.


CARLSON: OK. A lot of people really kind of hate religious expression. It's interesting.

Stephen Charchuk of Yarmouth, N.S. -- that must be in Canada -- writes: "Even though I totally disagree with what Lieutenant General Boykin said, he still has a right to say it, even if we don't like it. He's just expressing an honest opinion and one most likely held by far too many Americans."

I'm not sure far too many. But I think a lot of Americans think Islamic extremism is evil. And they're right. It is evil. I don't know what's wrong with saying that.

BEGALA: Well, again, he's entitled to his opinion, which is the same opinion Osama bin Laden has, which is, he wants a religious war and he sees this as a religious war. Our president thinks it's not. I think the president is right.

CARLSON: But Osama is waging a religious war.

BEGALA: Sissy Riffin in Waco, Texas, writes: "Where is the human in human rights? We can't expect the world to respect the U.S. when our officials are ignorant of the basic tenets of all other religions. The religious extremists in this country are embedded in the Republican Party."


BEGALA: And she writes from Waco, Texas -- Waco, Texas.


BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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