Hot Stories for the Week of March 15 - 19

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", March 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Fred is going to join us a little later in a special report from Baghdad. And, of course, that is the topic of hot story number one, namely, first anniversary of the war.

This is my personal take on this war.

One, I supported it because I thought that war would ... weapons of mass destruction ... there that Saddam Hussein (search) could ... hand it off to Al Qaeda (search).

Two, there were no weapons of mass destruction, but what does that mean? I think it means that there was a massive failure of all the intelligence services of the West. I don't believe that George Bush lied about it.

Three, the aftermath has been more costly and in lives and treasure than the Bush administration ever anticipated. The place is not secure. But that is the way wars go, you know.

Four, the world and Iraq are definitely better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone. He was a long-term menace to the West, and he certainly was a menace to his own people. So the thing was fundamentally worth doing.

And five, we simply have got to win the peace and beat the bad guys who are trying to oppose us. Iraq has emerged as the central front in the war on terrorism around the world. If we lose this, the world as we know it is not going to be the same.

And, much for the worse.

So I end up agreeing with president, what President Bush said on Friday. Here he is.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any sign of weakness or retreat simply validates terrorist violence. And invites more violence for all nations. The only certain way to protect our people is by united and decisive action.


KONDRACKE: United. I think united means Americans as well as the international community. Now, there's going to be a fight about how we got into this and whether preemptive war is a good thing and all that, and that's a perfectly legitimate fight to have.

But as to the purpose ahead, the goal ahead, there can be no disunity in the United States.

BILL SAMMON, GUEST CO-HOST: Believe it or not, Mort, I agree with everything you've said. And, you know, the sad part about this is that we saw a lot of violence this past week to mark the one-year anniversary of the war.

I've talked to senior Bush administration officials who tell me that it's only going to get worse as we get right up through the June 30 handover to the Iraqis.

That's bad news for Bush, granted. But on the other side of that, I have a hard time seeing how that necessarily translates into electoral support for John Kerry. I mean, let's face it, every time the subject of the national conversation is national security, that usually redounds to the benefit of the Republican, not the Democrat.

So Kerry's going to have a lot better chance of winning this election if he's able to actually change the subject to domestic issues like the economy, Social Security, et cetera.

You know, it's funny, the parallels to the 2002 election, to me, are uncanny. Back then, remember, during the run-up to that election, the Democrats were demanding that Bush make his case, and what did he do? He said, OK, I'll make my case, I -- he went to the U.N., got them started on a resolution, went to Congress, got them started on a resolution.

And as a result, for months we were debating Iraq, and he was making his case for Iraq. Fast forward to 2004, we're in the run-up to another election. Democrats are still calling on Bush to make his case. It's a never-ending quest for President Bush to make his case justifying the war even after the fact.

The other thing about this is that when Bush made his case during the 2002 elections, he scored historic gains for the Republicans in both the House and Senate. He was supposed to get shellacked. So if that holds true for the 2004 election, it's going to be a problem for the Democrats.

The second hot story, which that brings us to, is shock and awe. And no, I'm not referring to shock and awe of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I'm referring to the shock and awe of operation re-elect George Bush.

You know, Mort, I got to tell you, when president started off his reelection campaign a couple weeks ago, I think he got off to a very slow start. He had those ads that used controversial 9/11 images, and he was on the defensive for several days.

This last week, he has succeeded in putting Kerry on the defensive day after day after day. The Bushies have come out with this incredibly aggressive coordinated series of attacks by the Republican National Committee (search), the White House itself, the Bush-Cheney campaign, these well- financed ads, the surrogates. It's just -- they've been swarming Kerry, and they've been keeping him on a very reactive stance for days.

The best example of this, of course, is this controversy that arose when John Kerry claimed to have been endorsed privately by a number of foreign leaders. And they pounced on him about that. Let's take a look at what Vice President Cheney had to say about that.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders.


SAMMON: Now, one day after he said that, Kerry put out a statement through his foreign policy adviser. And let me read what he had to say. "This election will be decided by the American people, and the American people alone. It is simply not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate in America's presidential election. John Kerry does not seek and will not accept any such endorsements."

Notice how Kerry's campaign is actually picking up the language of Cheney. It's another example of how -- it reinforces him as a flip- flopper, where first he says one thing, and then he says something else.

But the best example of flip-flopping is the $87 billion bill to fund our war on terrorism in both Iraq and Afghanistan that included a lot of money for body armor for our GIs over there. Well, this past week, John Kerry weighed in on this, and it was quite a flip-flop. And they ended up using it in a Bush ad. Let's take a look at part of that ad right now.


ANNOUNCER: Better health care for reservists.


ANNOUNCER: No. And what does Kerry say now?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.

ANNOUNCER: Wrong on defense.


SAMMON: Well, the Bushies are having a field day with that. It's a doozy. And this is just going to be a long eight months, Mort.

KONDRACKE: Yes. Well, I, you're right, there was a CBS-New York Times poll that indicates that many more voters think that when Kerry says something, it's out of political expediency rather than the belief system.

But there was some good news on the national unity front, I must say, that came from John Kerry this week. Watch this.


KERRY: To leave too soon would leave behind a failed state that inevitably would become a haven for terrorists, an instable state which would create its own set of problems for the Middle East itself, a problem for the region, and a dangerous setback in the war against terror.


KONDRACKE: Now, Kerry said, One, we're going to stay the course in Iraq.

Two, we're going to fight the War on Terror, and he used the word war with force, if necessary.

Three, we're not going to give veto power to foreign countries.

And four, he said that he wants the Spanish, his new best friend in Spain, to ... continue supporting us in the War on Terror.

Now, what this tells me is, one, Kerry is the Democratic nominee and is now moving toward the center, I hope, and I hope he, what he said was not just politics but that he actually meant it.

But two, John Kerry might actually be president of the United States. And therefore, he understands that the Iraq war and the War on Terrorism may be his to fight, and he's going to fight it, and he's going to fight it hard.

And I think that's good news.

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