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Obama's Foreign Policy: Realistic or Reckless?

Aired May 28, 2014 - 18:28   ET


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Wolf, President Obama today clearly explained his pragmatic, responsible vision for U.S. policy overseas. Not that it will satisfy all its critics.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Actually, it was a good explanation of a policy that is very unrealistic. The debate starts right now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, President Obama fires back at his foreign policy critics.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.

ANNOUNCER: Is America safer with this commander in chief?

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Ted Strickland, a former governor of Ohio. And Dr. Ben Carson, the author of "One Nation."

In a dangerous world, is the president realistic or reckless? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


CUTTER: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a former governor and someone mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate.

Today, President Obama could have started an important national dialogue about America's role in a dangerous world. Instead, he made claims that were either absolutely delusional or factually incorrect. Here's just one of them.


OBAMA: Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences. Without building international support and legitimacy for our action.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: His assertion is absurd. It's a repudiation of, among others, Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. You can't start an honest dialogue about the implications of U.S. power in the world by making factually dishonest statements -- Stephanie.

CUTTER: Well, you know who you left out there? George W. Bush, who misled the nation into war in Iraq, took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan, mismanaged that war. We're now spending more than $2 trillion.

GINGRICH: You mean the war that Hillary Clinton voted for?

CUTTER: The war that --

GINGRICH: I just want to make sure I understand.

CUTTER: That was that we were misled into, based on faulty evidence on WMD.


CUTTER: But we can do some revisionist history there. But I think this is a well-known fact.

But in the CROSSFIRE, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, and Dr. Ben Carson. He's a retired neurosurgeon and the author of "One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future."

Dr. Carson, welcome.


CUTTER: I want to pose the first question to you.


CUTTER: You heard Newt criticize the president, and, you know, there is a lot of reactionary reflexive criticism that's not based on facts. So I just want to point out a couple of things -- a couple of things about the president's record on foreign policy.

He has successfully handled many international crisis. Just take a look. He's ended the war in Iraq. He's ended the war in Afghanistan. He's brought Iran to the table on nuclear negotiations. He's rid Syria of chemical weapons and prevented us from getting into a bogged- down war there. And he's isolated Russia through the Crimean/Ukrainian crisis.

Do you believe any of those decisions have hurt the American people? Those bad decisions?

CARSON: Well, I guess, based on the litany of accomplishments that you just mentioned, I guess we would really be looked at very respectfully by all nations right now. And we should have risen to quite a prominent position in the world in terms of our leadership. And I guess that would really be the criteria to decide how to interpret all of those things.

CUTTER: And do you believe that those were good things for this country? That he should be given credit for? I mean, you never hear Republicans, for instance, cite any of those accomplishments, but these are tough decision that he made, and many of these decisions he built coalitions globally to accomplish them.

CARSON: Well, what I would say is I don't like to sit around and criticize people. What I prefer to do is talk about what should be done.

You know, we had a situation in 2009 where the Iranian people were revolting against the government, crying out for help. We lifted not a single finger to help them. That would have changed the entire landscape there.

We had a situation in 2008 where Putin invaded Georgia. For those who are not sophisticated, we're talking about Georgia over there, not Georgia over here. And then remained there. That should have given us some significant insight into his intentions. We should have then decided we needed to have strong relationships with all the former Soviet portions and, you know, tried to get them into NATO, tried to get them into situations where there would be less likelihood of a Ukraine-type situation occurring.

TED STRICKLAND, FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: Sounds to me like he's criticizing the policies of George W. Bush, not Barack Obama. George Bush was the president when Putin went into Georgia. And very little was done about that.

And so I believe Stephanie's right. I'm sure Newt will disagree with me, but I believe Stephanie's right that this president has taken a mess that he inherited, two wars -- and as Stephanie said, one of those wars started as a result of false information and, I believe, purposeful deceit on the part of members of the administration. And he's bringing those wars to a close. And that's good.

GINGRICH: Wait a second. I understand this is the litany on the left. So you believe that Colin Powell set out to mislead the American people?

STRICKLAND: I'm disappointed that Colin Powell went to the United Nations and said what he said, because I believe -- I was a member of Congress then, Newt, and I sat in in a lot of those briefings with Cheney and Rumsfeld and Thompson and all those. And never, never did they tell me or us, as a Congress, that they had proof that Saddam Hussein was in any way involved in the attack upon our country.

GINGRICH: So let me ask you this. We just saw a minute ago current news about what is potentially an American suicide bomber in Syria, one of the places where I think Obama's clearly failed to meet the goals he stated a year ago. You can go from Nigeria to North Korea. You can go from Ukraine to the South China Sea. Tell me where you see America being strong in that entire zone.

STRICKLAND: Well, it depends on how you define strength, Newt. I think in terms of our country's values, in terms of our country's commitment to justice and freedom, we're a very strong country.

And, you know, the good doctor here compared our country to Nazi Germany, and -- and that's the kind of rhetoric that is divisive and really tears our country apart at a time -- when it comes to foreign policy, we ought to be one nation and we ought to be pulling together.

GINGRICH: Do you want to explain that?

CARSON: Yes, let me address that, because what I said is that most of the people in Nazi Germany did not believe in what Hitler was doing. But did they speak up? Did they say anything? And making the analogy that that could happen anywhere where people don't speak up, particularly when they disagree with what's going on, No. 1 --

STRICKLAND: Doctor, you speak up --

CARSON: No. No. 2, you said that what I had said previously, all of those things occurred under George Bush. The uprising in Iran occurred in 2009. The last time I checked, Barack Obama was president in 2009. And the invasion of Georgia occurred during the transitional period. So, how can you say that those are George Bush's fault?

CUTTER: It actually didn't. But let me just clarify one thing.

CARSON: During the political season when we were in the process --

CUTTER: Right, we had a current president at that time. It was George W. Bush.

But let me just clarify. Are you saying that America is like Nazi Germany? I'm confused by that comment.

CARSON: No, what I am saying, and to me it doesn't sound like a conflict statement at all. I said that people in Nazi Germany did not, most of them, believe in what Hitler was doing. But instead of protesting, instead of registering their displeasure, they simply decided to go along to get along. That is a very dangerous thing to do.

CUTTER: And is it happening --

CARSON: And I was using that as an example of how dangerous that can be. And I'm making a point to the American people that if, in fact, you feel differently about what's going on, you should not be shut up. You need to talk about --

STRICKLAND: Doctor, no one is being shut up in America. You're on FOX News. You write books. Newt talks, Stephanie talks, I talk.

CARSON: What is that?

STRICKLAND: I don't engage in political correctness. Maybe you do. But, Doctor, these are your quotes. You said, "We live in a Gestapo age, and we're" -- this is a quote -- "we're very much like Nazi Germany." And then you write a book about America the beautiful. That seems to be such a contradiction. CARSON: Did you read the book?

STRICKLAND: I have not read the book, no.

CARSON: I rest my case.


CARSON: You don't even know what the book is about.

STRICKLAND: The fact that I haven't read your book?

CARSON: Because you're making these claims and then using the fact that I write a book to back up your claims and you haven't even read the book.

STRICKLAND: I'm using the title of your book, "America the Beautiful," and that's a beautiful phrase.

CARSON: Did you ever hear the phrase that you can't judge a book by its cover? Do you know why people say that? Maybe because you need to read the book.

STRICKLAND: Then maybe you can't judge a book by the title. I don't know.

CUTTER: So, Dr. Carson, I do have another question for you about where we stand in the Republican Party. I know that you're not a Republican, but I wanted you to comment on that. We're going to come back to that.

When we come back, I'm going to put Dr. Carson on the spot about his own future and the country's future.

First, today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." How many cadets graduated from West Point today? Just over 500? Just over 1,000? Or just over 3,000? We'll have the answer when we get back.


CUTTER: Welcome back.

Here's the answer to our CROSSFIRE quiz -- 1, 064 cadets graduated from West Point today. That's where President Obama delivered the commencement address. He was responding to the hollow criticism coming from people who believe they should be commander-in-chief.

The president made his case for a responsible course in foreign policy.


OBAMA: It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: The president is rejecting the extremes and the Republican Party, from the isolationism of Rand Paul to the saber-rattling of among others Marco Rubio. What people need to ask these would-be commanders-in-chief is, what happens when a candidate's politics are confronted by real life or death situations?

Are we really going to retreat from the world? No. But can we use the military to solve every situation? Of course not.

Sadly, these are unrealistic and irresponsible extremes that are the normal of presidential politics.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Ted Strickland and Dr. Ben Carson.

Dr. Carson, I want to come back to you. You are clearly considering running for president. And I'm not going to force you to give me an answer.

CARSON: I appreciate that.

CUTTER: All right. You can continue considering it.

But I do want to ask you, since we're talking about the commander-in- chief, do you feel like you're qualified to be the commander-in-chief?

CARSON: Well, let me put it this way. I'm not sure that anybody is qualified to be the commander-in-chief by themselves. I think you have to surround yourself with the appropriate types of people.

You know, just demonstrated by all the things that, you know, the current president said he would do when he was running that turned out to be quite different, because, all of a sudden, you're given quite a lot of information that you didn't have before, a lot of intelligence. Those are important.

I think you have to have various principals. For instance, you really have to have the back of our troops. One of the reasons I don't think something what happened in Benghazi should be a partisan issue is because what we did basically is send a message that if our troops get into a difficult situation, we don't have their back. And we also said that we are willing to put our people in harm's way without the ability to protect them.

CUTTER: So, I didn't hear an answer from you about whether or not you are qualified to be commander-in-chief.

CARSON: Yes, you said.

CUTTER: You said nobody is qualified.

CARSON: I said no one in and of themselves. You need to have a cadre of the right kinds of people.

CUTTER: You believe you can do that? CARSON: I'm not saying that I'm even running for president, so I'm not sure that I really want to go there, quite frankly.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you something which is an extension of the commander-in-chief's responsibility. And that is the whole issue of taking care of veterans. And the problem we've seen today, the inspector general came back and reported that in Phoenix, alone, there were some 1,700 veterans who had lost their -- the records had been taken out, which I believe is a criminal defense, by the way, and were deliberately deleted.

Now, today, you had three Democratic senators, Mark Udall of Colorado, John Walsh of Montana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, all in very tough races. All came out today for Shinseki to step down.

How long do you think the president should protect and cling to Shinseki as marginal Democrats find themselves in more and more trouble over this issue?

STRICKLAND: Yes. And, Newt, it's tragic. What's happened, what you described, unacceptable. People should be punished and perhaps some people should be jailed. I don't know, depending on what the offense was and what can be proven.

I was on the Veterans Affairs Committee when I was in the House. This is a longstanding problem.

Now, in terms of General Shinseki, we need to treat him with great respect. This is a disabled Vietnam veteran. I'm sure he's doing what he thinks is right and the best he can. If he is unable to correct this situation, he needs to go, but this is a problem that is -- it's not centered on one person.

GINGRICH: No, but we've had at least 37 different places around the country now. We have a map in productions that literally has 37 places now and don't we owe respect also to the 1,700 veterans who were illegally dropped from the list?

STRICKLAND: And every person that's on a waiting list right now should be triaged and should get immediate care.

GINGRICH: Why would you do after failure to do it for five years that Shinseki is capable of doing this?

STRICKLAND: Well, if he was aware of what was going on, he absolutely should go.

CUTTER: Which is what we're trying the get to the bottom of, but --

GINGRICH: If he was aware -- I mean, if he was not aware he should go because he spent five years in ignorance. And if he was aware, he should go because he knows about it.

CUTTER: It seems as though people were lying about this. So --


GINGRICH: I can't believe you said that.

CUTTER: Is that the first thing you can't believe I said?

GINGRICH: Well, it's just so shocking.

STRICKLAND: What did you say?

GINGRICH: She said apparently people were lying.

CUTTER: Were lying about this.

GINGRICH: Apparently, Shinseki wasn't smart enough to know those were lies.

CUTTER: But we need to get to the bottom of that. And that's the process that we are following right now. And I think if Democrats want to stand up and call for his resignation, that is their absolute right.

I think the president is either keeping Shinseki in place or calling for his resignation has absolutely no impact on these Senate races. But since we are on a domestic topic, I do want to ask the good doctor a domestic question. This is a question that you have some expertise in, given your experience as a neurosurgeon. You've spent your lifetime worrying about children's health.


CUTTER: And Republicans are what I believe to be playing politics with nutrition standards for school lunches. Here is what the first lady had to say about this.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It's unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but as a mother. Parents have a right to expect that their kids will get decent food in our schools.


CUTTER: So should some kids be given healthier lunches while other kids have to -- are given junk food and file down the spiral of childhood obesity? Is that the type of country we want, where kids are treated unequally like that?

CARSON: Nutrition is very important. I have frequently said if everybody ate three balanced meals a day, drank six to eight glasses of water, exercised regularly, got a full night's sleep, and didn't put harmful stuff in their bodies, all of us in medicine would be out of business.

Having said that, it's a very good career because people are not going to do that. The question is, do we mandate or do we educate? And there are some who says, they don't know any better, we had to do it for them. And there are some who say -- CUTTER: We're talking about kids' health. Shouldn't we do both? Educate kids and parents and --

CARSON: Well, let me ask you this. We know that the human brain continues to develop until your late 20s.

So, maybe the first lady should be spending her time talk about marijuana, because marijuana has a deleterious effect on the developing brain.


CUTTER: Should just let that go?

CARSON: Childhood obesity is not nearly as bad as affecting the development of the brain.

GINGRICH: You guys have both got to come back. We have a whole new show right here. But stay here.

We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you think America should play a bigger or smaller role in world affairs? Tweet bigger or smaller using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrage of the day. I am outraged about what the U.S. State Department thinks you should be reading.


GINGRICH: Welcome back.

Now, it's time for the outrages of the day.

For several years, the State Department did not recognize Boko Haram as a terrorist group. We're still fighting over what caused Benghazi. And now, we learn that the same State Department tweeted out a link to an article by an extremist Muslim who is affiliated with Hamas and in 2004 he issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The State Department later deleted the tweet and apologized. But it's too little too late.

Maybe what we really need is to take part of President Obama's new $5 billion training program and retrain the people at his own State Department.

CUTTER: Instead of an outrage, I have an appreciation. I was at President Clinton's 1993 inauguration when Maya Angelou read a poem, and I quote, "Here on the pulse of this new day you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister's eyes."

Since that day, millions of Americans not only looked into Maya Angelou's eyes, but into her poetry and her writings and found inspiration. Her accomplishments are too many to mention here, but her commitment to equality, to education and to breaking down walls by speaking and writing the plain old truth, made us a better nation and a better people.

When I heard she died today at 86, I remembered these words of her, and again, I quote. "I've learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."

Those, as they say, are words to live by. And for that, I thank you, Maya Angelou.

GINGRICH: Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Do you think America should pay a bigger or smaller role in world affairs?

Right now, 26 percent of you say bigger, 74 percent say smaller. What do you two think of the results?

STRICKLAND: I'm somewhere in the middle.


CARSON: I say leadership is key. We need to concentrate on leadership. The world needs it.


Well, Newt, what did you say?

GINGRICH: I said bigger.

CUTTER: Right. Thanks to Ted Strickland and Dr. Ben Carson --

GINGRICH: What did you say?

CUTTER: I said responsible.

The debate continues online at, as well as Facebook and Twitter. From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich. Join us tomorrow for another addition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.