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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview With Former U.S. Senator Jim Webb; Interview With Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers; Interview With U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Susan Rice

Aired June 1, 2014 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. soldier they did not leave behind and the Guantanamo Bay detainees they let go.

Today: The U.S. and the Taliban agree to a prisoner swap, five Taliban terrorists for the release of the only American POW in the Afghan war.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He wasn't forgotten by his country, because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.

Bringing home Sergeant Bergdahl with President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Then, reaction from a panel of seasoned experts, retired Marine Corps General and former National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and former Ambassador and Undersecretary of State Nick Burns.

And that other headline: Shinseki out, the mess at the VA still there.

JIM WEBB (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I'm here to help if they want some advice.

Former Senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb joins us.

Plus, updates from our reporters covering the angles of the Bergdahl story.

This is STATE OF THE UNION.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has arrived at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, while the Taliban prisoners exchanged for his release are reportedly on the ground in Qatar. These WikiLeaks photos match the names released by the Department of Defense. But the department would neither confirm nor deny those -- the accuracy of the photos. Joining me now is National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

It's great to see you again.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Good to be back, Candy.

CROWLEY: Walk me through when you first knew you had a deal.

RICE: Well, Candy, this evolved over a period of time. In fact, going back some years, we have had intermittent conversations through the government of Qatar about trying to obtain the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

CROWLEY: Right.

RICE: It was an extraordinary day yesterday and an extraordinary day for America, because a member of our armed forces who had been in captivity almost five years will now be reunited with his mother and father, whom we had the opportunity to see yesterday and who are over the moon.

So, it began over a period of months, back in -- this latest round began back in the end of last year, when we had the opportunity.

CROWLEY: The negotiations did.

RICE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: When did you learn -- when did they say, it's a deal, go get him?

RICE: Well, the -- over the last several days, during the course of this week, we saw it coming together.

But it wasn't done until it was done. And it wasn't until a little before 10:30 in the morning yesterday that we had confirmation that he was safely in U.S. custody.

CROWLEY: When the U.S. special forces went in to get him.

RICE: Yes. Yes.

CROWLEY: Point-blank, did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists in his release?

RICE: Candy, what we did was ensure that, as always, the United States doesn't leave a man or a woman on the battlefield.

CROWLEY: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: And in order to do this, it's very important for folks to understand, if we got into a situation where we said, because of who has captured an American soldier on the battlefield, we will leave that person behind, we would be in a whole new era for the safety of our personnel and for the nature of our commitment to our men and women in uniform.

CROWLEY: Sure.

RICE: So, because it was the Taliban that had him did not mean that we had any less of an obligation to bring him back.

CROWLEY: Right. In fact, it was the Haqqani Network, which is really listed as a terrorist. And this is not a judgment question. It's just a question. You had to negotiate with terrorists to secure the release of the sergeant.

RICE: We actually negotiated with the government of Qatar, to whom we owe a great debt.

CROWLEY: Well, right.

RICE: But the point is, he was being held by the Taliban. We had the opportunity to bring him back. He's back safely in the hands of the United States. And that's a great thing.

CROWLEY: Yes, and I don't think anyone argues.

I think the question now is -- and you point to the kinds of warfare we're having now -- that no longer can it be said that the U.S. doesn't negotiate with terrorists?

RICE: I wouldn't put it that way, Candy. I wouldn't say that at all.

CROWLEY: How would you put it?

RICE: Well, when we are in battles with terrorists and terrorists take an American prisoner, that prisoner still is a U.S. service man or woman. We still have a sacred obligation to bring that person back. We did so, and that's what's to be celebrated.

CROWLEY: Was there a particular reason why now? Is it simply because you got the deal? Secretary Hagel alluded to health problems, that Bergdahl's life was in jeopardy. Was there some heightened feeling about this, or why now?

RICE: Well, certainly, after almost five years in captivity, our concern was increasing with every passing day.

But we also had indications that indeed his health was growing more fragile. He had lost a good bit of weight, and we were very concerned that time was not something we could play with, that we needed to act when we had the opportunity. And that's what we did.

CROWLEY: Why didn't you notify Congress?

RICE: For that very reason, Candy. First of all, this opportunity...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Which, under the law, it says you should.

RICE: This opportunity is one that has been briefed to Congress when we had past potential to have this kind of arrangement. So, it wasn't unknown to Congress. The Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice.

And given the acute urgency of the health condition of Sergeant Bergdahl, and given the president's constitutional responsibilities, it was determined that it was necessary and appropriate not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirement, because it would have potentially meant that the opportunity to get Sergeant Bergdahl would have been lost and, therefore...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Well, why not? Is there no one in Congress you can trust with the information, or call up the chairmen of the Intelligence Committees, on the chairwoman on the Senate side, and say, I want you to know this is happening, we have to act now?

RICE: Well, we did do that. In fact, we had briefed Congress in the past about this potential...

CROWLEY: In the past, but when you knew you were going?

RICE: And when we -- when the deal was done and Sergeant Bergdahl was in U.S. custody is when we began making notifications to Congress.

CROWLEY: But the deal had already been made, and the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were already on route to a plane to go to...

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: No. Actually, Congress began to be notified when Sergeant Bergdahl was in American hands, which was actually before the prisoners had left Guantanamo.

CROWLEY: But not telling a couple of folks up on Capitol Hill, might that in hindsight not have been a good idea?

RICE: Candy, what we put the highest premium on was the safety of Sergeant Bergdahl.

This was held very closely within the administration. We could not take any risk with this losing the opportunity to bring him back safely.

CROWLEY: Did you -- so there was a conscious decision to break the law, as you know it, dealing with the detainees and the release of them?

RICE: Candy, no.

As I said earlier, the Department of Defense consulted with the Department of Justice. And it is our view that it was appropriate and necessary to do this in order to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back safely.

CROWLEY: Talk to me about these detainees, a couple of them very high-level interest from the U.S.

Senator McCain has said these particular individuals are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands.

Under what conditions did you release them to the government of Qatar? Are they currently being detained in a place? Are they free to walk around Qatar? In what conditions are they over there?

RICE: Well, Candy, we had a series of very specific assurances given to the United States by the government of Qatar. President Obama spoke to the emir of Qatar on Tuesday, when this looked like it was a real possibility, and those assurances were repeatedly directly and personally by the emir to the president.

They enabled us to have confidence that the Taliban that the prisoners will be...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ... confidence?

RICE: They enable us to have confidence that these prisoners will be carefully watched, that their ability to move will be constrained. And we believe that this is in the national security interests of the United States.

CROWLEY: So, beyond not being able to leave Qatar for a year, one of the conditions we know about, are they free to be in the country, free to communicate with whoever they want? Or are they in detention in Qatar?

RICE: There are restrictions on their movement and behavior.

I'm not at liberty to get into detail about the precise nature of those restrictions. But suffice it to say that we're satisfied that that substantially mitigates the risk to the United States and to our national security, and we feel confident that the assurances given to us will be upheld.

CROWLEY: And, in the end, when you were having these discussions amongst yourselves, did you worry that this deal would encourage other terrorist organizations like the Haqqani Network to seize Americans, be they military or civilian Americans, in order to get more folks released from Guantanamo Bay?

RICE: No, Candy, the fact of the matter is, Sergeant Bergdahl is the last of the Americans that had been held in Afghanistan. And we felt that, as the war is winding down, it was our sacred obligation, given the opportunity, to get him back, that we do so. And we did so in a way that has brought him back safely into American hands. We did so in a way that resulted in the Taliban prisoners being monitored and kept in a secure way in Qatar.

CROWLEY: Right. But the question is, has it encouraged..

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: I understand the question. But you asked, did we worry?

CROWLEY: Right.

RICE: And I'm telling you that we prioritized, as we always have, bringing back our men and women from the battlefield, to the greatest extent we can. This was the right thing to do, and we feel that it will, in fact, enhance not only Sergeant Bergdahl's life, but, in fact, our larger security.

CROWLEY: And to the -- any terrorist group or terrorist out there who says, you know what, we have got X, Y and Z sitting in Guantanamo Bay, we have U.S. troops in many, many places, if we grab one of them, we can work a deal with the U.S. government, what's your message to that?

RICE: I think the terrorists are intent on doing what they are going to do.

But, Candy, we have a commitment to close Guantanamo Bay. The president has been very clear about that. The -- the existence of Guantanamo Bay itself is a detriment to our national security, which is why the president has prioritized closing it and why we intend to get that done.

CROWLEY: And, finally, I have to ask before you leave, as you know, there's a new committee that is going to look into Benghazi. I know you have said, my interest in Benghazi now is making sure that everywhere is more safe for our diplomats.

Looking back to those talking points on the Sunday talk shows that have been so much discussed, were you ever angry that you were not given full information or that someone didn't check back? Did it ever -- did you ever feel like you were put out there with bad information?

RICE: Candy, no, we have been through all of this. And I have had the opportunity to discuss this at great length.

The fact of the matter is, I'm now serving as the president's national security adviser. I have all of the issues that you can imagine that are on the world stage on our plate. My primary responsibility and sole interest and that of the president is ensuring that Americans around the world who are serving in dangerous places are safe.

CROWLEY: Right.

RICE: And we have embassies, we have diplomats, we have service men and women, as we have just been discussing, who are doing the business of the United States at great risk.

And my hope is that Congress will focus on how we can ensure that we have the resources and ability to keep them safe going forward.

CROWLEY: If asked, would you testify?

RICE: I'm not going to speculate on something that hasn't happened or what Congress might do or not do. I'm focused every day, Candy, on doing my job on behalf of the American people and trying to keep our people safe.

CROWLEY: The president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, it's good to see you.

RICE: Good to be with you.

CROWLEY: And congratulations for bringing home a U.S. soldier.

RICE: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

Up next: Coming home, but in what condition?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB BERGDAHL, FATHER OF SERGEANT BERGDAHL: We look forward to continuing the recovery of our son, which is going to be a considerable task for our family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us from Boise, Idaho, near Bowe Bergdahl's hometown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I'm joined now by CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, the other part of this equation, that is these five ex- detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison, what do you know about them?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, here is what the U.S. is telling reporters about these men, who they are and what they have done.

Let me walk through it with everybody here. First up, there is a former Afghan minister of interior during the Taliban rule. He was a governor, a military commander. He is alleged to have had ties to Osama bin Laden. That's one of them. Next up, a deputy minister of defense under the Taliban, a senior military commander. He was wanted, is wanted by the United Nations in connection with the killing of hundreds, if not thousands of Afghan Shiites during the Taliban times, all of these guys Taliban members.

Another one, a third senior Taliban commander during hostilities in those initial months with the U.S. and the allies back in late 2001, especially operating in Northern Afghanistan, another one, former deputy director of Taliban intelligence with possible links to al Qaeda. And, finally, we have a member of the Taliban who was associated, said to be associated with al Qaeda and was their chief of communications.

You can see all these men were senior operatives in al Qaeda and had quite a breadth of responsibility during those early days.

CROWLEY: One of the complaints, Barbara, that we're hearing now from not so much critics of the deal, but real skeptics about these guys being contained, they say, look, these are folks with American blood and Afghan blood on their hands. Is that true?

STARR: That is absolutely the contention. That is the belief. The administration's case, as you heard Susan Rice say, is that this was an exchange, that these guys were given back to the Qataris for the absolute necessity of getting Bowe Bergdahl free -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

And we have got CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's on the phone with me now from Boise, Idaho, about two-and-a-half-hours from Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey.

Ed, as I understand it, the Bergdahls are headed your way?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have been told by their military liaison that they had here in Idaho for nearly five years that the parents of Bowe Bergdahl will be landing here in Idaho later this afternoon and speaking with reporters.

It's not clear whether they will take questions or make a statement, but, as you can imagine, a great deal of people here in their hometown and in their home state anxious to see them. I have talked to many of the Bergdahls' friends in their hometown, and many of them haven't even had a chance to communicate with the Bergdahls yet. So, they simply say you imagine how crazy the last 24 hours has been for them. So, they're anxiously awaiting to see them and hear from them.

CROWLEY: So, what are you hearing in general, either from the community -- or there must be other members of Bergdahl family. Have you been able to contact any of them?

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, they are just anticipating and now kind of transitioning to preparing for the next phase of Bowe Bergdahl's transition back to -- to civilian life, regular life, if you will, in his home state. And his father started to allude to that yesterday from the Rose Garden ceremony at the White House, where you heard him say that he understood that his son was having trouble speaking English and that sort of thing, and, obviously, the mental anguish, the physical reparations that need to -- that need to go on.

So, obviously, they are very interested, very -- will be fiercely protective of Bowe in the months and years ahead as they try to figure out just what he needs to do to get back to normal, if you will.

CROWLEY: Ed Lavandera in Idaho for us covering the Bergdahl family, a very happy family at this point.

Up next: a general, an intelligence chairman and a peacemaker on the dilemma between getting U.S. captives home and negotiating with terrorists to do it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: With me now, my group of wise guys, General Jim Jones, Obama's first national security adviser, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state and current Harvard University professor.

So, you all know what the story is. It does seem to me that we had a clash of mottoes: the U.S. doesn't negotiate with terrorists, leave no man behind.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I mean, obviously, we should be happy for the family. They have gotten their loved one back. That's very, very important.

The methodology and what we used is very troublesome. Remember, al Qaeda in the Maghreb...

CROWLEY: And by the methodology, you mean...

ROGERS: Negotiating with terrorists.

CROWLEY: OK.

ROGERS: Remember, this was an individual who was held by a terrorist group in another country, Pakistan. We know that to be true.

Across Northern Africa, the number one way that al Qaeda raises money is by ransom, kidnapping and ransom. We have now set a price. So we have a changing footprint in Afghanistan, which would put our soldiers at risk for this notion that, if I can get one, I can get five Taliban released.

And the problem is, the way we're changing our footprint means we get less intelligence. And that's already starting to happen. And we will get more degradation of the ability to collect intelligence to even stop force protection efforts for our soldiers. That's why so many of us are so concerned about what really is a break with U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

CROWLEY: I think some people would argue that Ronald Reagan did negotiate with terrorists when he negotiated with Iran and the whole Iran-Contra thing.

But, nonetheless, in this current day, General, is this troublesome to you, in the sense of, do you believe it puts U.S. military folks at risk or Americans in general?

GEN. JIM JONES (RET.), FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think, first of all, I identify with the congressman's feelings about the family. This is something to be celebrated. And -- and we're really happy for them.

But we will have to talk about what this means in terms of risk.

CROWLEY: So, talk about it. What...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Well, we are.

It is -- it is -- people will judge this in different ways. But, in my lifetime, Americans are always at risk. They're more -- we're more at risk than any other country.

And -- and if they think that the value of taking action against Americans and holding Americans is going to somehow help them achieve their goals, then they're going to do that. So, I think Qatar plays an important role here. These are bad -- these are bad people. And they do have blood, American blood on their hands.

CROWLEY: The Guantanamo Bay detainees that the U.S...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: And it's absolutely -- it's absolutely important that, now that we're embarked on this path, we make sure that these people, that Qatar helps us make sure that these people do not return to the battlefield.

CROWLEY: Look at this from the point of view of diplomats, because it's not just U.S. soldiers who are out there.

As we all know, being a diplomat can be a dangerous position. So, when you look at it from that point of view, do you think that this makes being an American riskier in this day and time?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, it could.

And, first of all, we rejoice in the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl to go back to Hailey, Idaho. That's a great thing.

But this is a substantial risk for the administration, because I was told as a young diplomat -- we were going out to the Middle East -- 30 years ago, if you're taken hostage, we're not going to negotiate for your release. I agree with that policy.

All of my contemporaries have. It's been U.S. policy for decades. We don't want to reward or encourage terrorism. The problem we have got is, we're still in Afghanistan. We still have troops there. The president has just announced they will be there for at least two more years.

And we have seen now that the al Qaeda core has metastasized and that these affiliate groups that the congressman referred to, the chairman referred to, in North and West Africa and the Middle East, you have all these more virulent, if it's possible, than Osama bin Laden terrorist groups. We don't want to see our diplomats or our soldiers put in that situation.

CROWLEY: General, here -- there is also need -- leave no soldier behind, leave no man or woman behind.

Can one make a distinction and say, well, this is -- as I think we heard Susan Rice try to do earlier, which is, we were in the middle of a war, they had one of our soldiers. And she didn't ever say we're negotiating with terrorists, but, obviously, even if you put Qatar in the middle, the U.S. was negotiating with the Haqqani Network, with the Taliban.

It kind of seems to me that there's a difference that they're trying to make between diplomats and a soldier in the performance of duty in a war.

JONES: Well, Afghanistan is going through a major transition right now.

And how Afghanistan turns out is extremely important. And, at some point, most conflicts do resolve themselves in an exchange of prisoners at the end of the conflict. We are not there yet, although we're going to be substantially reduced.

But we will still have 10,000 or so Americans exposed. And people will -- will -- this will have to play itself out to see exactly how it happens, how it happens in terms of the security of those people.

CROWLEY: And -- but the truth is, we weren't really ever at war in Afghanistan against Afghanistan or Pakistan or any country.

We were at war with a group -- expand it to groups -- but, nonetheless, in the world of asymmetric warfare, where we are fighting groups and not nations, we used to do prisoner exchanges with nations all the time when we were at war with them.

Why not now?

ROGERS: Because, again, the Haqqani Network is a terrorist organization. It's not a nation-state. They don't control government services or -- or anything that even closely resembles...

CROWLEY: But we were at war with them, yes? ROGERS: Well, we're with war with anyone that declares war against the United States, which is al Qaeda and its affiliates and those who have provided resources to do bad things.

CROWLEY: Right. And, therefore, if you're at war with this group, as you would be with a state, you know, with Germany, you know, in the past, don't you of necessity have to negotiate a prisoner exchange?

ROGERS: No. Here is where I disagree completely. Now, we have other means to use, and remember, they came to Congress about a year ago and said, we're thinking about doing these negotiations. And by the way, they didn't get a very warm reception from either party in the national security committees. They said, this is fraught with trouble.

Well so this all of a sudden comes a year later. They didn't notify congress. I think they violated the law in two different places here. Why is because this is a -- this is morphing into different places. So, an al Qaeda affiliate in now Africa looks a lot and functions a lot like the al Qaeda affiliates operating out of the tribal areas in Pakistan.

You can't -- if you negotiate here, you've sent a message to every al Qaeda group in the world that says, by the way who are some who are holding U.S. hostages today, that there is some value now in that hostage in a way they didn't have before. That is dangerous. And so our argument is, listen, we don't fight this like we would fight a nation state war. You can't, and you shouldn't negotiate with terrorists for this very reason.

CROWLEY: I want to get back to something you said but I want to (INAUDIBLE) before we close out this first segment and ask you, so much depends on whether Qatar can deliver in the corralling of these five men. Do they have the wherewithal?

You know, they won't tell us what the restrictions are other than they can't leave Qatar for a year. But it's unclear to me -- Susan Rice talked about certain restrictions, et cetera, et cetera. Do they have -- is this a country equipped with the kind of surveillance or watchfulness that could handle five folks that have some blood on their hands?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, this is a key question because the deal -- if you favor this, you're going to have to understand that Qatar is going to be able to keep these people under wraps, essentially house arrest. They won't be able to contribute either by phone or in person to the battlefield because our soldiers are there. It's a very small state, a tiny state. I'm not sure they have the apparatus to be able to contain five people like this. And would be -- I think it would be helpful to know from the administration what are the conditions that...

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: ...they've agreed to. CROWLEY: Right. Right. Apparently those are part of the secret of their containment and they wouldn't tell us. We do want to continue our conversation. I want to wrap up about this. I've also got a couple of questions about the V.A. that I think you all can chime in on. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Back with General Jim Jones, Mike Rogers and Nick Burns. I want to play you a quick sound bite from Susan Rice earlier in this show. The question was why did -- there's something you brought up. Why didn't you go to members of Congress and tell them that this deal was in the making. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Is there no one in Congress you can trust for the information to call up (ph) the chairman of the intelligence committee or the chairwoman on the other side and say, I want you to know this is happening, we have to act now?

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, we did do that. In fact we have briefed Congress in the past about this potential.

CROWLEY: In the past. But when you knew you were going.

RICE: When the deal was done and Sergeant Bergdahl was in U.S. custody is when we began making notifications to Congress.

CROWLEY: But the deal had already been made and the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were already on route of a plane to go to --

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: No. Actually Congress began to be notified when Sergeant Bergdahl was in American hands which was actually before the prisoners have left Guantanamo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Congressman, she said, look, the DOD, the Pentagon went to the Justice Department, asked them if it was OK given the laws surrounding who needs to be consulted about the release of these Gitmo prisoners and the Justice Department said, fine.

ROGERS: Well, there a reason that Congress is involved by law, by statute, by constitutional authority in these decisions prior to the notification has to be -- to keep Congress currently informed, number one. And the reason is you don't want to talk to each other about something as sensitive as this. That's why Congress is involved in these issues. And it happens frequently on some very sensitive issues.

Everything from the Osama bin Laden raid which was briefed to those members of us with the clearances literally months and months in advance and followed up to the day of the raid. So some notion that this was so secretive and so sensitive that it couldn't happen is just wrong.

And you know, she said she notified. I'm mystified by that. They didn't notify Congress appropriately and here is why. Other places that we have let the Gitmo prisoners go to these particular countries, by the way, which we paid them to take them, has been a disaster. It hasn't worked, which is one of the things that last year we brought up to them, it's not working.

So, if we're ever going to continue this, you need to change it. Well, they didn't like the advice and counsel they got from Congress and apparently decided they were going to go their own direction. I always think that's dangerous, just like the secret negotiations with Iran has huge consequences with our allies, this is going to cost huge consequences as well.

And I just don't understand why you wouldn't engage with people who have done this for a long time and bring, I think, good advice and counsel could have alleviated some of the problems that they're going to get into in the next days and months ahead, including the risk to our U.S. soldier.

CROWLEY: I think part of the pressure here (INAUDIBLE) agree with me is the U.S. is getting out of Afghanistan. The president made a speech at West Point this week and said our combat troops will be out. We still don't know exactly how many troops will stay in there, if any. And the feeling that perhaps the U.S. felt, A, he seems to be getting sicker, and B, our leverage is -- we're losing leverage here. Would you agree with that?

BURNS: You're leaving 9,000 to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2016, I didn't think it was smart to say then, in the West Point speech, then we're going to leave lock, stock and barrel, nobody after 2016. You do reduce your leverage.

We've made a lot of sacrifices, soldiers and civilians since 2001 in Afghanistan. This new government that's coming in is going to need our help. We still have to fight al Qaeda up on the Afghan-Pakistan border. So, I think we ought to leave that small force in and not signal to the Taliban and others that, we're going to leave on this date because that robs you of leverage you need for situations just like this.

CROWLEY: General, a quick wrap up question on this subject, and that is, how worried are you that these five men now in Qatar will end up either on the battlefield or influencing the battlefield wherever that battlefield may be?

JONES: We know the previous detainees who have been released have returned to the battlefield.

CROWLEY: Some of them?

JONES: Some of them have. And as I said earlier, I think it's very, very important for the -- for the government of Qatar to make sure that these people are kept under control and do not return to the battlefield. CROWLEY: Let me turn you all to the V.A. quickly, the other big story this week. All of you understand bureaucracies in Washington, the military bureaucracy, the diplomatic bureaucracy, the congressional bureaucracy. Do you feel in the end that the resignation of General Shinseki was a political necessity or was it absolutely something that had to be done for policy purposes?

BURNS: Well, it seemed to be political. You have so many members of Congress calling for his ouster. He (ph) is a very capable, effective, honorable gentleman that served his country all the way back wounded in Vietnam. And I think what happened at the V.A. over the last decade or so, you have this tremendous infusion of people from the Iraq and Afghan wars and the V.A. is simply stretched -- I don't know if it has got the budget that it needs or the personnel that it needs. And I was sorry to see Secretary Shinseki go.

ROGERS: He was there for five years. His service to his country is unparalleled, no one should question that. But the management of the V.A. in the last five years has not been good. An eight percent increase in veterans, 34 percent increase in funding. Someone has to be held accountable.

Now, I didn't call for his resignation. I thought he should come to Congress and lay out a plan to fix it. That never really happened and he becomes a distraction. This is as serious a problem as I have ever seen and the culture is rotten to the core that would allow double lists and veterans to actually die sitting on those lists. Something is rotten at the V.A. and we need to get to the bottom of it.

I would bring somebody from the outside to get a handle on this thing and it should be quick. It should be severe. This notion that nobody gets fired in this town and everybody is a wonderful human being and the way they manage is just simply not the way the world works. If we want to get to the bottom of it, people I think need to be held accountable yesterday and at the same time a plan of implementation to get it fixed.

CROWLEY: General Jones, you probably knew General Shinseki and know him well. Do you think this was about politics or do you think this was about his service at the V.A.?

JONES: Well, I think frankly, Ric Shinseki, who I do know well, he was chief of staff at the army when I was commandant of the Marine Corps. We've been associates for a long time. There was no finer soldier that I know.

But what's happened at the V.A. is something that I know that he is deeply troubled by and was surprised by. It really suggests a systemic problem of enormous proportions. And we have a saying in the military that, a leader is responsible for all that his unit does and fails to do. No one has lived up to that more than Ric Shinseki. And that's why I think that probably today in retrospect he really feels that he should have known, and he regrets he didn't and -- but I think there's a lot of problems in the chain of command that kept him from knowing what he should have known.

CROWLEY: Well, got (ph) to (INAUDIBLE) chain of command, I think. General Jim Jones, Congressman Mike Rogers, Former Ambassador Nick Burns, you have added immensely to our discussion today. I really appreciate you coming.

JONES: Thank you very much.

CROWLY: When we return, President Obama says, fixing a dysfunctional V.A. is not rocket science.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It requires execution. It requires discipline, it requires focus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Vietnam war veteran and former Senator Jim Webb on improving care for America's warriors, plus his new memoir. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: He is a decorated marine combat veteran, a former Democratic senator from Virginia and an author with a new memoir. Jim Webb joins me now. Thank you for being here.

JIM WEBB, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: Good morning.

CROWLEY: Busy day for us. I know you know the news of a U.S. soldier after five years being held by the Taliban, specifically the Haqqani network now free in an exchange for five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. What do you think of it?

WEBB: Well, I've been following the conversation on your show. I think that obviously everyone should be happy that our soldier is out of harm's way. I think there have been very good points that have been made about the exercise of presidential authority. And they actually apply region-wide and the concerns I have had over our foreign policy in that part of the world. You go back particularly to Libya. You know, we're going to see these hearings on Benghazi and what happened in Benghazi but I was saying for many months before we actually saw the use of force in Libya that this was beyond the extremes of a presidential, unilateral exercise of power from anything we've seen just to begin with.

You were going to have problems when you have this very vague --

CROWLEY: We helped in kind of an international effort --

WEBB: When the President, on his own initiative, without coming to the congress, there were no treaties, we were not under attack, we were not under imminent threat of attack, we weren't rescuing any Americans, under this vague notion of humanitarian intervention which has come out of this administration, we saw I don't know how many weapons from Gadhafi's storage areas now out through the region, we've seen a lot of bad results including Benghazi.

CROWLEY: You see the release of Bergdahl is obviously a good thing, a U.S. soldier comes home but also is raising questions about an overreach of administration that did not seek out congress.

WEBB: Well, I mean, that's what I'm saying. In terms of foreign policy at large, there should be a better debate on that. You can also include in that, by the way, the agreement that they're talking about signing in Afghanistan for the size of our troops in the past. That should be something that the Congress should examine.

CROWLEY: Just quickly on this, because I want to move on to the V.A., but do you think that U.S. military folks or even civilians worldwide become more at risk now as a result of indirect or otherwise negotiations with terrorists?

WEBB: Well, that's always been the concern. In the way that you've seen the discussion, I think General Jones made a very good point in that respect, and I think, again, we're going to have to see a much more vigorous discussion from the Congress on presidential authority. What we've seen in the past is that Republicans don't particularly want this discussion because they're more aggressive in terms of this use of force in that part of the world. The Democrats don't want it because they don't want to be disloyal to the presidency, but we have to have that discussion. This is a piece of a -- or a reason why we need to move forward there (ph).

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you now about the V.A. What do they need most there? Do they need an outside civilian corporate tough guy to go in there and just say, OK, this whole department, you're fired? Or do they need someone who is more prone toward, here's what these veterans need, let's get it to them?

WEBB: Well, I've been working in veteran's law since 1977. When I left the marine corps and went to law school I was a committee counsel on the House Veterans Committee for four years, and then worked pro bono for many years on these programs. It was on the Veterans Committee in the Senate, we wrote from our office the Post- 9/11 G.I. Bill.

CROWLEY: Right.

WEBB: I've been involved in these issues all my adult life. The biggest problem in the V.A. while I was in the Senate was backlog. The medical issue you're seeing now is a part of that. But when I got to the Senate, just in terms of getting their cases resolved, the backlog was 600,000. When I left it was 900,000.

CROWLEY: How do -- how do you -- how do you stop it? Do you just need somebody who is going to crack heads?

WEBB: You need someone who knows how to run institutions and who understands the nature of government bureaucracies. When I was in the Pentagon years ago, we saw a lot of people come from the corporate world thinking that they were going to apply the corporate standard -- involving weapons systems, for instance. You need to have both. You need to have someone who knows how to get to the heart of these problems. The facts are there. The demographics are coming from the Post-9/11 group and the Vietnam group. They need the system (ph) --

CROWLEY; Not to mention Korea. Yes. I want to get you to name names here in a second, but I have to take a quick break. And when we return, I'm also going to talk a little bit about politics that may be in the senator's future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Back now with former Senator and former Navy Secretary, Jim Webb. The author of a new book, "I Heard My Nation Calling," sort of a personal memoir of your time in service to the country.

WEBB: Yes. This is not a political book. You know, there's -- you have so many people come on -- maybe someone else (INAUDIBLE). This has been my profession for many years. To me this is a piece of literature, and I hope that people will still be reading this book 35, 40 years from now as they have been "Fields of Fire," my first novel.

CROWLEY: If you heard your country calling again and the voice at the other end of the phone said, I really need someone to run the V.A, would you say no? I know you're -- I know you're not asking for it --

WEBB: I'm always -- I'm always happy to give advice, but I'm really not interested in being in the administration right now.

CROWLEY: But you have answered your country's call, which I think is sort of why I'm asking.

WEBB: Well, as I say, I'm happy to give advice on it, but not looking for that commitment.

CROWLEY: Would you rather be president?

WEBB: Well, I think I'm better when I can have my own voice. I think that's one of the reasons that I stepped away from the Senate. It's the fourth time in my career. I've I've done a period of public service and then gone away and written and done journalism and kind of cleared my head. Mostly where I am right now is that we're back in the discussion. I spent an entire year without doing any interviews or op-eds or (ph) whatever (ph). And there's a lot of things to talk about.

CROWLEY: Right. You know, presidency doesn't -- you know, one of those long lonely (ph) runs for the presidency doesn't intrigue you at all?

WEBB: Well, we're taking this one day at a time. I'm very happy to be back in the discussion. It's the main (ph) thing (ph).

CROWLEY: Interesting. Maybe, maybe not. So, we'll talk to you again a little closer to 2016. Thank you so much.

WEBB: Good to be with you. CROWLEY: It's very nice to see you again.

WEBB: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thank you all for watching. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Be sure to set your DVR to STATE OF THE UNION if you can't be here live.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now.