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Chinese Carrier on the Move; Obama Surrendering to Iran?; Can the U.S. Trust Iran?

Aired November 26, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight, on CROSSFIRE. U.S. war planes challenging China. Peace talks in Afghanistan, nukes in Iran. Is President Obama be being shaped by events, or is he shaping them?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's still enormous challenges ahead. We have to solve this problem.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE Peter Beinart, who supports the president's vision, and Bill Kristol, who doesn't. Obama's hot zone, will the U.S. get burned? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: And I'm Van Jones on the left.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got two guests who have very different views of the world. We also have got some pretty important breaking news.

The Chinese navy's only aircraft carrier is on the move. It's headed toward the South China Sea. Earlier today, CNN confirmed that the U.S. flew our B-52 bombers over another part of the Pacific Ocean that China's started to claim as its own. In other words, potential conflict between the U.S. and China at a military level.

This news comes just days after President Obama got the Iranians to the negotiating table over their nuclear program. It is a dangerous world out there. And I am glad tonight we've got a president who knows how to use defense and diplomacy. In times like this, you need a leader who can be tough without being a cowboy.

GINGRICH: Well, he certainly has a chance to prove that. Because he's got the challenge of Karzai turning down any reasonable agreement in Afghanistan. He have some interesting things developing with the Iranians, and he has this new challenge from the Chinese, which may be, in fact, the most dangerous of the three current activities. And that doesn't count Iraq, Syria, Libya, you name it.

JONES: I'm glad we've got a cool hand, no reckless cowboys. GINGRICH: We're going to discuss how cool that hand is in a minute.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, "Daily Beast's" senior political writer, Peter Beinart, and Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard."

Peter, let me take you to Asia for a minute, because I thought today that this was a very significant development. And frankly, speaks -- I think speaks well of the president but raises some serious questions.

The Chinese, as you know, have been claiming more and more and more expansive position. We have a map that shows our viewers. The Chinese currently are claiming all the way out into the East China Sea and into the South China sea. They claim islands that the Japanese claim. They claim, I think, within 100 or 150 miles of Manila. It is an enormous area, well over a million and a half square miles.

They now have announced that they are asserting that this is an air defense zone. The president has responded to that by sending B-52s through that area. The Japanese have announced they've told their airlines to not tell the Chinese they're coming and to just keep using the area.

Late today, as Van just reported, we've seen the Chinese send in aircraft carrier, I think with two guided missile frigates into the South China Sea, where they are simultaneously bullying Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

My question for you is, if the Chinese are determined to push, how far should the U.S. go in pushing back? And to what extent is this potentially at least as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than anything we're seeing in Iran?

PETER BEINART, "DAILY BEAST": I think over the long term, the U.S. confrontation with China will dwarf our confrontation with Iran. Because China is a potential super power. Iran is not.

But the good news is the U.S. faces this threat in China in a much stronger position than it was when President Obama became president, because we have a stronger series of alliances in Asia. We just signed a new defense agreement with Japan. We signed this fall also a defense agreement with India. Two years ago we sent for the first time, U.S. Marines to Australia. Our relations with South Korea are better than they've ever been.

The Obama administration has actually done a really good job of fortifying our relations with Asia such that China is the party which is isolated in this confrontation, not us.

GINGRICH: So if the Chinese, in fact, don't back down, to what extent would you be prepared to be -- to use military assets or to force our access to the areas the Chinese claim now are their own.

BEINART: We should be talking to the Chinese quietly and privately, so we can find an accommodation. But we should also be showing strength at the same time so we're negotiating from a position of strength. Seems to me likely that's exactly what the Obama administration is doing.

JONES: So I imagine that you would be very proud of the Obama administration. They are -- they are standing up. We are sticking with our friends in Japan. We flew our military jets. Are you going to give President Obama his first "atta boy" tonight on CNN? Right?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Absolutely. Except -- except, unfortunately -- look, I think our policy these days has been less bad over the last four or five years than most have been in the Middle East and other parts of the world. That's partly because they pretty much continued Bush administration policies in East Asia. Kurt Campbell, who's secretary of state for East Asia, is tough-minded, sort of old-fashioned Democratic hawk. There aren't that many like that anymore. And Hillary Clinton was pretty tough. They're gone now.

And I was in Japan by pure chance last week with a few other people, meeting with a lot of senior officials. And they were worried, actually, about something like this happening. And they would say privately in the meetings, that the policy these days was pretty good. If you say there'd be a pivot, you don't have much in the way of defense forces over here (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But the signal from elsewhere in the world is weakness.

And the Chinese go on the Internet, and they read what's happened. They read the president says red line in Syria. And then says we're going to use force, and then we don't use force. And they read about the negotiations with Iran. And the Japanese we talked to, and these are senior government officials, bureaucrats, not political one way or the other, said that they were worried about the Chinese feeling increasingly emboldened. And they did. They've done something very dangerous and very provocative here.

BEINART: Let me tell you what will be the Chinese feeling emboldened. First of all, the fact that President Obama had to cancel his trip to Asia in October, because the Republicans decided they were going to shut down the government and threaten debt default.

The second thing is that we have $20 billion of cuts, military cuts in -- from the sequester coming in January, and you know who's behind those cuts? It's the Republicans. It's the Republicans who will not accept any tax revenue as a way of getting off the sequester, even though the sequester is scheduled to hit defense in January.

GINGRICH: You guys seem to have this routine model. If the Web site doesn't work, the Republicans did it. If the Chinese are emboldened, the Republicans did it. I suspect presently if the Iranians break their word, the Republicans will somehow secretly have done it.

But the question is, I mean, the Chinese have been expanding their zone for the last three or four years. The Chinese have been pushing the Vietnamese, pushing the Indonesians, pushing the Filipinos, pushing Japan, pushing Taiwan. And they were with or without any Republican activity.

BEINART: Right. It's harder -- it's harder for the Obama administration to show strength when you have a Republican Congress which is so dysfunctional that it can't even keep the government running and allow a president to take a foreign trip to Asia and when they've set up a sequester, which is terribly not only for domestic programs but for defense, as well.

KRISTOL: I totally agree on defense. The Republican budget on defense has consistently been higher than President Obama's budget. President Obama's very proud of his defense cuts, which he imposed on the Defense Department in 2011, against the recommendations of the secretary of defense and is now imposing further cuts, regardless of sequester.


KRISTOL: I'm for --

Let's -- I'm sorry. The sequester was originally the Obama White House.

JONES: Why don't -- why don't we talk about Iran? Let's move on.

You talk about weakness and sending the wrong signals. Let's look at what this president has done with regard to Iran. You have unprecedented cyber-attacks on Iran. You have joint military activity out off of the shore of Iran. You've got this incredible set of sanctions that is the most brutal and severe set of sanctions anywhere on planet Earth except for maybe Cuba.

You have an incredible series of moves that were made by this president. The Republicans never were cheerleading for it. They never gave him any credit for it until now.

Now suddenly they say, "Well, wait, what you were doing before was great. We're mad at you for moving away from it. So when the president is putting these sanctions in place, got China, Russia, everybody on our side against Iran, you guys say nothing.

Then when he moves into the next step from the sanctions to negotiations, you start undermining him. How is undermining the president every time he does anything a smart thing for the United States?

KRISTOL: The sanctions were insisted upon by the Congress of the United States, especially by -- in a bipartisan way by an awful lot of Republicans.

JONES: And implemented by this president.

KRISTOL: And this president tried to water them down and reluctantly has implemented them.

JONES: You're not going to --

KRISTOL: But you're living -- honestly, Van, you're looking at an alternate universe if you think that the Obama administration has been tough on Iran. I mean, the Obama administration is proud of its outreach to Iran. Maybe you didn't notice that there was a little bit of an insurrection in Iran in 2009 when they stole the election, and the Obama administration's conspicuously did nothing?

JONES: And you want what? You want --

KRISTOL: Go talk to any -- go talk to any Middle East leader and try to tell them, "You know what? That Obama administration, they've been tough on Iran."

BEINART: No. Let's not talk to the autocrats in the Middle East. Let's talk to the people who led the Green revolution, who overwhelmingly opposed military action against Iran and overwhelmingly believe in diplomacy, one, because they know the best way of overthrowing this horrible government is, in fact, to end the cold war that sustains it in power. That is the overwhelming view of the people who put their lives on the line in Iran back in 2009.

KRISTOL: The best -- the best way to end cold wars is use Ronald Reagan's strategy, peace through strength, which was not accepting bad arms control deals. Reagan had the guts to walk away in Reykjavik and to say that we need to actually dismantle either the regime or actually, seriously roll back, roll back their nuclear program, not give it a slight pause.

BEINART: It's interesting -- it's interesting you mention that. Because as you know, Bill, Ronald Reagan was attacked viciously by conservatives in the late 1980s for being soft on Gorbachev. And, indeed, our friend Newt Gingrich called him Neville Chamberlain in 1985 the first time he met with Mikhail Gorbachev. So in fact, Ronald was --

GINGRICH: What I said was I said it was the most dangerous meeting since Munich, because of the danger --

BEINART: right. You still believe that?

GINGRICH: Well, it was a dangerous meeting, and Reagan handled it brilliantly.

BEINART: Meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in '95 [SIC] was the most dangerous meeting since Munich?

KRISTOL: A bunch of liberals who hated Reagan and hated --

BEINART: No, no I've written --

KRISTOL: -- are now saying --


KRISTOL: -- are now -- I'm sorry, a bunch of liberals who hated Reagan and hated Thatcher -- you were ten years old at the time, so you weren't involved.

BEINART: I've written very positively about Reagan in his second term on foreign policy.

KRISTOL: Yes, very selectively. But anyway, a bunch of liberals who hated Reagan and Thatcher. And people like President Barack Obama, who spent the entire '80s opposing their policies are now, when they are under legitimate criticism for a weak foreign policy, saying, "Hey, we're just like Reagan and Thatcher." Really? Maybe I missed that.

GINGRICH: OK. Next I want to tell you about a secret meeting that will make you understand how utterly phony the Iranian negotiations in Geneva were. Let me give you a hint. The North Koreans are involved.


GINGRICH: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol.

Here's the sad thing nobody will talk about. George W. Bush was right. There is an Axis of Evil. Today, one-time member Iraq is sliding back into chaos. The other two axis members, Iran and North Korea, are still hanging out.

Bill Gertz reports that as recently as late October, while the Iranian diplomats were making nice in Geneva, Iranian technicians were secretly in North Korea, working on a joint venture to build an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Now, the question I'd raise, Peter, is you don't build intercontinental ballistic missiles for anything but nuclear weapons, because they're not cost effective as a way of delivering conventional weapons.

The Iranians have been in North Korea for at least a decade. I remember seeing photographs, literally over a decade ago. Isn't it a fact that what you had was the deception wing was sitting in Geneva while the destruction wing was sitting in North Korea? And doesn't that bother you a little bit about the regime's ultimate intentions?

BEINART: There are a million things that bother me about the Iranian regime. I would like to see the guys go before the Hague as war criminals.

But the good news is, they -- even if they were able to build that missile, which I hope they don't, they're less likely to have nuclear- grade uranium on it, because this deal demolishes the 20 percent enriched uranium which Benjamin Netanyahu himself said is the most dangerous. And allows us to have daily inspections at the most dangerous Iranian sites and halt their plutonium nuclear program. It makes the Iranian regime less dangerous.

GINGRICH: Here's my question -- what you just said makes perfect sense as a way of thinking. But shouldn't the Congress, in fact, pass very, very tough sanction, conditioned on the Iranians breaking their word? That is as long as they do what you just said, as long as we have access on demand, which is not, by the way, included in the agreement, as long as we're able to actually inspect, no new sanctions.

But the minute they break their word, the president has a tool, already pre-passed sanctions, it would send a stern -- it would be a pretty powerful message to the Iranians we're not playing games.

BEINART: No, if the deal were to collapse at that point if you want to think about it, perhaps. But to pass sanctions now would drastically undermine Rouhani, strengthen the hardliners in Iran, and push them away from the compromises we need them to make to get a final deal.

JONES: Let me ask you about this deal. Obviously, he likes the deal, I like the deal. You don't like the deal.

But let's -- I want to really talk to you about this. First of all, because you can't --

KRISTOL: That's why I'm here, Van.

JONES: You can't hate all of it, OK? So, here's one good thing and you tell me what's bad about this.

We're going to have inspectors on the ground. We keep $100 billion of their money under lock and key. We give them back $4 billion. In return, we get inspectors on the ground.

There could be a situation where there's nothing left to do but a military strike, just imagine that scenario -- wouldn't you rather us to have good intelligence? Isn't it kind of clever of the president to get inspectors on the ground in case you got a worse-case scenario?

KRISTOL: They're not our inspectors. They're not allowed to give us intelligence.


JONES: By the way --

KRISTOL: -- military strike? I don't think so, Van.

JONES: Well, first of all, the last time --


JONES: In Iraq, in Iraq. Hold on a second. In Iraq, the international inspectors actually had more information and were better than you and your friends who thought that we had weapons of mass destruction there.

So, international inspectors are a good thing. But don't you think that having inspectors is a good thing. Isn't that part that you can celebrate?

KRISTOL: If there were real on-demand inspections at different sites, of course I'd be for that. But the deal as a whole is a very weak deal. They dismantle nothing. They pause certain parts -- they pause certain parts of the program. There's nothing about the weaponization program which is quite important, actually. They stop some construction on Arak but not all construction having to do with that.

JONES: One more question -- but anyway, the details of the deal are to be respected.

BEINART: It's not true that they don't dismantle anything.

KRISTOL: What they did they dismantle?

BEINART: They neutralize to 20 percent --

KRISTOL: I'm sorry --

BEINART: They take 20 percent of enriched uranium.

KRISTOL: What do they do to it, Peter?

BEINART: They turn it into a form that they cannot use it for weapons grade uranium.

KRISTOL: And how quickly can they turn it back into weapons grade --

BEINART: It would be very, very difficult.

KRISTOL: It's not very hard.


KRISTOL: I'm sorry. The demand of the international community has been for 10 years, ship the 20 percent uranium out of Iran so they can't turn it back into -- and stop enrichment.

BEINART: How effective was the Bush administration's policy of holding --

KRISTOL: It was not effective.

BEINART: It was disastrous, and got us 19,000 centrifuges.

KRISTOL: I'm sorry. It wasn't -- most of those centrifuges were built under Obama, not under Bush.

But I'm a critic of the Bush administration. But you know what? What does Obama --

BEINART: Right. But you're not offering any alternative.

KRISTOL: I'm sorry, I talk (ph) for an alternative.

What does Obama now? He's exactly doing what the Bush administration did in 2003 when they accept an interim accord with Iran, where they said, this is great. This is an interim deal, very much like this.

JONES: It's a freeze so that we can negotiate.

KRISTOL: It's not a freeze. It's a pause.

BEINART: It's a lot more of a freeze than we would get if we had no interim deal at all, in which case, Iran would be moving rapidly towards 90 percent enriched uranium, which is what they need for a bomb.

GINGRICH: Let me just ask you a question, because as you say, they're now with 19,000 centrifuges. At the end of these six months, they'll have 19,000 centrifuges or more.

Here's my question. You have Rouhani saying literally the same weekend, this validates our right to enrich uranium. Now, every Security Council rule had said you cannot do this. And the weekend they cut the deal, both the foreign minister and the so-called moderate president both explained that they are now being -- that they have now broken through. They will now be allowed to enrich.

BEINART: Because, Newt, enriched uranium is not what threatens Israel or anybody else. It's a nuclear weapon which threatens Israel and Saudi Arabia, and potentially the United States.

Iran having some low level of enriched uranium is not the threat. The threat is a nuclear weapon and your strategy -- excuse me -- your strategy of no serious negotiations and continued sanctions is the most likely to get us to that nuclear weapon or to military action which Bill has already announced he supports, which most security experts have called, in fact, Robert Gates called that catastrophic.

KRISTOL: Iran having the capacity to enrich uranium is precisely what they need to be able to develop nuclear weapon.

BEINART: Not if they're very tough inspection.

KRISTOL: I'm sorry and they're giving up none of the capacity here. That is the key. That's -- the U.N. Security Council wasn't like dreaming when they said you've got to give up the capacity on enrich.

Now, if you trust them, if you think -- they'll never get the inspectors out. They'll have all the centrifuges. They'll pause for six months and then if you just --

JONES: Let me ask you a question. Do you see any way out of this that doesn't involve a military strike?

KRISTOL: I think tightening that sanctions is just the best hope. But I don't think they work very well to delay the nuclear program. This regime wants nuclear weapon.

So, the only way out is regime change or a military strike to set back the nuclear program. Yes, I think it's the most likely thing that would work.

JONES: So, why don't --

KRISTOL: So, I am more -- JONES: No matter what this president does that is not a military strike, you are going to be a critic of it? Can we just stipulate to that?

KRISTOL: If he had been much more aggressive in 2009, if he were willing to push sanctions now, if the regime were to topple, I'd be fine with that.

But I -- you want my honest answer -- my honest analytical answer is yes. Military force will probably be needed to set back the program.

BEINART: With all due respect, given your track record, why should we get behind you in supporting a third war in the Middle East?

KRISTOL: You shouldn't get behind me. I'm sorry --

BEINART: You've called for military action.

KRISTOL: Were you against -- what is the first and second? Afghanistan, were you against the use of force there? Did I call for that? I said, there was 9/11 and irresponsible people like me said, gee, maybe we should --

BEINART: That's right. Some of us have tried to learn from these disastrous experiences of the last decade rather than suggesting the answer to an Iran which is willing to make a deal short of nuclear weapon's capacity is a third war.

GINGRICH: So let me assume for the moment, we have six months. This is an interesting experiment. If the experiment starts to not work and you are the Israelis, and you had seen this weekend the head of -- the real dictator, the man who's in charge, Khamenei, say, the Israelis are like rabid dogs.

To what extent would you be empted to look back to 1981 and think, you know, taking out the Iraqi nuclear reactor was the right thing to have done historically and maybe if this doesn't work, maybe Israel in self-defense will decide that it will cripple the program.

KRISTOL: And in 2007, they took out the Syrian nuclear reactor. That didn't lead to a major war in the Middle East --

BEINART: Right. Iran is not Syria, right? Luckily, we don't have to guess about this. We know what Iran's national security -- Israel's national security professionals agree. We know that Mayor Dagan who -- head the Mossad, Israel's spy agency, for 10 years has called the idea of military action against Iran stupid and said it would increase the chances of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

JONES: Listen, we are not done. I want you guys to hear because we got more to talk about on this.

We're going to come back for the final question for our guests. I've got one for Bill you don't want to miss.

We also want to you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. How would you grade President Obama's foreign policy? Tweet "pass" or "fail" using #crossfire.

We'll give the results when we get back after this break.


JONES: We are back with Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol.

Now for the final question, and I get to go first with you. So, actually, to Peter's point, we did a little research. In 2003, you said we should take military action with North Korea. 2006, you suggested that we should take military action with Iran. You're for military action in Syria.

If you go through the whole list of stuff you've been for in terms of military action, we would be in numerous land wars right now.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think that we would be safer and stronger and tougher as the America we are right now or in America taking your advice and be in six or seven land wars right now?

KRISTOL: It wouldn't be six or seven land wars. We would have been safer if we have been taken both the action in some of those cases. We would have saved an awful lot of lives in places like Syria.

And I want to get back to what Peter said, the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just want to for the record reject that. In Afghanistan, we made some mistakes during the course of the war, but we also did the right thing and we should stick it out. We've made the world safer and there hasn't been another attack from there.

In Pakistan, which is a very dicey proposition, has not gone totally off the rails.

And in Iraq, after terrible mistakes in the execution of that war, we had the surge, we had that secured. If we had managed to leave troops there, the Middle East would be much safer. Unfortunately, we pulled out. Stupid (ph) for the president, didn't leave any troops there and we whittle (ph) it away --

JONES: More wars.

KRISTOL: Not more wars, but being serious about the world we live in.

BEINART: Even Newt said Iraq is sliding back into chaos.

KRISTOL: Because we left no troops there.

This president was so concerned to say, I got us out of all these terrible wars.

BEINART: To have learned nothing from the last 10 years of history is truly astonishing.

GINGRICH: All right. Let me just say, I'm actually was quoting Hillary Clinton who said that. Two weeks ago --

BEINART: And she's right.

GINGRICH: Two weeks ago at Georgetown.

So, I want to thank Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol.

I want to urge you to go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. How would you grade President Obama's foreign policy? Right now, 29 percent of you say pass, I have to say as a former teacher, I didn't do many pass/fail things, 71 percent say fail, including former Florida Congressman Allen West.

I want to thank all of you for watching, in particular, I want to thank Allen West for participating.

JONES: That was brutal. So the debate is going to have to continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.