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CROSSFIRE

Militants Threaten Baghdad; Iraq Wants U.S. Airstrikes

Aired June 12, 2014 - 18:28   ET

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


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Wolf, we're debating what to do with the latest Middle Eastern crisis that Barack Obama has made in worse.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Oh, you mean the one George W. Bush should never have started in the first place. The debate starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, on CROSSFIRE as Iraq falls apart, who gets the blame? On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and Rick Santorum, who ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Will chaos in Iraq lead America back to war? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

We begin with breaking news from CNN's Arwa Damon inside Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ISIS still maintains full control over Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. We saw a stream of refugees continuing to flee from there, not necessarily, they said, because of ISIS's presence but because they were that fearful of Iraqi government retaliation.

ISIS also trying to gain more control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. They're being pushed back by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighting force. And gaining control also of Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Really moving through and into these various predominantly Sunni areas with the support of other former insurgent groups.

And this is very much a Sunni versus Shiite dynamic that has been brought about because of Shia Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's polarizing politics, further fueled by what has been happening in neighboring Syria.

But this most certainly is arguably the most challenging situation Iraq has ever found itself in in its recent history -- Newt, Stephanie. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRICH: Thanks, Arwa Damon.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, guests with different views of the crisis in Iraq.

President Bush's strategy in Iraq was wrong in many ways. Disbanding the Iraqi army, trying to reorganize from the ground up, set the Sunnis against the Shia. And President Obama's strategy in Iraq has been wrong in almost every way. Caution cannot become disengagement, because our enemies fill the vacuum.

And as we just heard, ISIS fighters are capturing more and more Iraqi cities. So we have no choice at this point. The United States must quickly begin air strikes. The alternative is to accept that Iran will come marching in, and Iran will end up dominating both Iraq and Syria. We need a new strategy that is not benign neglect.

CUTTER: You know what else is wrong? The fact that we went to war in Iraq in the first place. Can you finally admit that that was a mistake?

GINGRICH: No, I don't think it was a mistake.

CUTTER: It was a huge mistake. Now we have endless sectarian violence where there was none.

GINGRICH: I think a world without Saddam Hussein is a lot better.

CUTTER: Absolutely. But there are much better ways to do that.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum. He's the author of "Blue Collar Conservatives."

Senator Santorum, the first question for you: you ran for president. What would a President Santorum be doing today to change the situation and avoid some of the same mistakes that Newt pointed to that we made 11 years ago?

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I would say that the problems that we're confronting right now is the fact that we exited without an exit strategy. We exited without any kind of stable government in place. We exited without any kind of continuing -- what I felt was a...

CUTTER: What would you do today?

SANTORUM: ... continuing presence. The problem right now is we don't have a whole lot of options. I think Newt's idea of providing some support for the government, I do not believe we should be sending troops to Iraq. I think that -- that's not a viable option right now. But we should be, just like we should have at the beginning of the Syrian conflict, we should be helping out folks who are standing against the al Qaeda types... CUTTER: And you know the president has already committed $14 billion in military aide: Apache helicopters, F-16s, reconnaissance drones, bombs, you know, that's all part of the package that they currently have. So there is assistance going on.

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, the Iraqis have asked for drone -- they've asked for drone strikes and were turned down for those drone strikes.

CUTTER: Do you think that we should give those to them without Maliki making any changes, any reforms? To actually have that stable government?

SANTORUM: The bottom -- the bottom line was that we had been very unsuccessful. One of the big problems with this administration, they've been unsuccessful in getting -- and frankly, the prior administration, getting the Iraqis to come to the table and do anything to make a, if you want to say bipartisan Sunni-Shia collaborative government. So that is a big problem.

But at this point we need to -- we need to hold back al-Qaeda, and we need to support the government in doing so.

GINGRICH: Congressman, let me ask you. Because this is a group which al Qaeda said was too extreme, too crazy. I mean, which is really a tough standard to meet.

The Iraqis have been warning for months. They lost Fallujah for the first time in January. This has been building now for six months. I mean, the president's now thinking about doing something. Do we wait until we lose Baghdad? I mean, do we wait until the Iranians come in and decide they will be the protectors of Iraq? How long does the president have to just wait?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, he hasn't been waiting, as Stephanie pointed out. I mean, first of all, we have been giving a substantial amount of aid to the Iraqis.

And it's important to point out that we didn't just pull out of Iraq because the president made a decision. Iraq refused to sign a status of forces agreement. This is the same battle that we've got going on in Afghanistan, which hopefully, once they get the new president in place, they will sign. We're calling it a bilateral security agreement. But Iraq wouldn't sign it. We had no choice. You know, President Bush was able to get a three-year deal in 2008 to 2011, and the Iraqis said no more. We had to go.

So aid was the only way to help, first of all. Second of all, if you don't have a better government in Iraq, a few drone strikes are not going to make any difference. The Maliki government is responsible for this mess. They pushed the Sunnis out. They're corrupt. They're incompetent. The Iraqi forces, for the most part, have fled the battlefield and handed the weapons over to ISIS.

GINGRICH: So you'd accept an Iranian-dominated Iraq? I mean, Maliki can turn to the Iranians and say, "Why don't you send in the revolutionary guard," as they already have in Syria. SMITH: And he may well do that, and Iran will have to make that

choice. But for the U.S. to insert ourselves militarily into a situation we're without a reliable partner. I mean, we have to have a reliable partner.

Now I'm willing to look at that one thing. If we're looking at ISIS, in terms of how they threaten the broader region, if there is a place where we can effectively strike them, and frankly, it could be in Syria, you know, going back and forth across the Syrian border. That's something I think we should look at, but a full-scale commitment to the Maliki government?

CUTTER: You know, that's an interesting point. The president has asked for a $5 billion counterterrorism fund from Congress, and I think that's something that you would support, and dealing with ISIS, that's the type of agility that we need, would you support that?

SANTORUM: I think we need to devote more resources to this problem. And the problem, as you know, is spawned out of Syria and the fact that we have been inactive in Syria in doing what we are should have done. And I talked about during the campaign in 2011, which is coming into Syria early on in the process so the radical elements within, the Sunni elements in Syria didn't fester, which they have, and it now has bled over to Iraq.

So this is -- this is a continuing policy failure on the part of...

CUTTER: Would you work with your fellow colleagues in the House and the Senate to get this $5 billion counterterrorism level passed?

SANTORUM: I can't say that, you know, I'm not involved in the day-to- day level like Adam is on these things, but what I would say is that we need to be engaged in this process, and we cannot let Iran, as Newt just talked about. Iran is ready, able, and willing to step in and be the puppet government of Iraq.

GINGRICH: Just for a second here, a $5 billion program is for North Africa.

CUTTER: It's not just for North Africa; it's counter-terrorism.

SMITH: Let me just say about the situation in Iraq and what's going on, in terms of whether or not we should have been more involved with Syria up front. I personally think we should have been. More involved with Syria.

Understand, this is a full-scale Sunni-Shia civil war. Across the wide -- any notion that the U.S. could have chosen some set of policies that would have stopped it, I think, underestimates the depth of the problem. We can make smart choices, but to imply that somehow, if Obama, had done something different, everything would be fine, I think misreads the...

GINGRICH: OK. I'm probably going to confuse that, OK? We have a $14 billion program, so we're really doing a lot, but it doesn't seem to be helpful. We're about to add a $5 billion program to the $14 billion program. The fact is, ISIS is now stronger and gets stronger every month. They are on offense. This is an amazing picture...

SMITH: Let me help you with your confusion. Because No. 1, we need to try to contain the situation. And I don't argue with that at all. That's the $5 billion fund. That's the $14 billion to try to help the Iraqi government as best as we can. That's the notion of trying to, you know, find these terrorists and take them out if possible.

But I think the implication that somehow it's all because of Obama's policies, you know, the Sunni-Shia civil war that's going on is beyond the ability of the United States to put one policy in place and fix. We can make it -- we can help. But this notion that somehow it's his fault...

GINGRICH: We had better develop a strategy pretty soon, because you're now seeing a group which is self-declared worse than al Qaeda taking over power in eastern Syria and in western Iraq with no effective American strategy.

And if I could just very briefly, John Boehner captured this today as far as I was concerned. Just take a look at what John Boehner said, because I think it gives you a flavor of where a lot of us are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's not like we haven't seen, over the last five or six months, these terrorists moving in and taking control of western Iraq. Now they've taken control of Mosul. They're 100 miles from Baghdad. And what's the president doing? Taking a nap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: Now I don't think the president's been napping, but doesn't it concern you that this crisis began the first time they took Fallujah, in January. And yet, to the best of my knowledge, there's no effective U.S. strategy, writing checks, sending equipment. It clearly isn't working.

SMITH: But again, what -- OK, John Boehner says that. If he wasn't taking a nap, what would he do, exactly? Would he send in the U.S. military? What is the option? You know, for stepping into the middle of this and making it better? That's what's absent...

CUTTER: Arming the Iraqis...

SMITH: ... which is what we've done. I mean, I'm not -- I'm not saying that, you know, this is a perfect situation. I'm saying that you can criticize the situation, but what's totally lacking for me is here's what I would have done.

CUTTER: Wait a moment.

GINGRICH: When we come back, we'll dive into this.

CUTTER: We'll absolutely dive into this. I promise. Wait a moment. I want to play something that John McCain once said. Do you remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran."

(singing) Bomb, bomb, bomb.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: He was just getting started. Next I'll ask Senator Santorum if Republicans have learned anything since John McCain did that.

First, today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." What was the peak level of U.S. troops in Iraq? Was it under 9,000? Under 57,000? Or 214,000? We'll have the answer when you get back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: Welcome back.

Today, Iraq is begging the U.S. for airstrikes to stop ISIS -- a terrorist group kicked out of al Qaeda because they were considered too extreme.

Now, they've been moving towards Baghdad. No one is suggesting American boots on the ground yet, which brings us today's CROSSFIRE quiz: U.S. troop levels in Iraq peaked at 157,000.

Some of my Republican friends like to forget they pushed us into Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist. And what do we get for that? We get endless sectarian violence and extremism, like we're seeing today. And somehow, this is all President Obama's fault, when he was the one -- one of the few that have the courage to stop and opposed the war.

The truth is, too many Republicans never met a crisis they didn't want to turn into a war. Every 2012 Republican president candidate, except Ron Paul, would have gone to war with Iran, two of you sitting here at the table tonight, in fact, threaten war with Iran.

And this brings me to my question for Senator Santorum, where do you draw the line? You know, the president has said that we can't be the world's policeman. You know, we have limited funds, we have limited troops, yet there are people out there calling for troop commitments in Iraq, permanent troop commitments in Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, and the list goes on and on.

So, where do you draw the line? What should America's foreign policy be with these limited constraints on us?

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It should be to focus on making sure America is safe. And when you have elements in that region of the world who are attacked and who have threatened to attack us again in the future, then we have an obligation to make sure that doesn't happen, that's why --

CUTTER: So, that's Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan --

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: I think our obligation is different. I agree with the statement, we need to protect America. So, we have an obligation to contain the threats. We do not have an obligation -- well, it's not even on obligation, it's matter of the ability. I mean, you just pointed out how much troops we had in Iraq. And there was still heck of a lot of sectarian violence going on then.

And I'll even disagree slightly, Iraq war or not Iraq war, Saddam Hussein was not going to last forever. This was coming, OK? The Sunni and Shiite split that is happening, you know, it's happening. In Syria, it's happening in much different places. What we need to do in this country, how do we contain that threat --

SANTORUM: It's not just the Sunni-Shia, it's radical Islam.

SMITH: Oh, yes, that's fine.

SANTORUM: You're talking about ISIS, yes, they're a radical group. The Iranians are no -- you know, no picnic, and we're talking about not going to war with Iran. What we are talking about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, which is a very different thing.

And this president has not done that.

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: -- obviously has stopped them.

SANTORUM: In my opinion, we have done very little. This temporary agreement is just not even a speed bump.

CUTTER: It's more than we have ever had in Iran.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Setting aside Iran --

SANTORUM: I disagree with that. After we attacked Iraq, Iran did shut down their nuclear program. Why? Because they were afraid of the United States.

SMITH: So, all we have to do is to invade another country?

SANTORUM: No, I'm not suggesting that. I'm showing the strength is important and we have not shown strength in region where strength matters.

SMITH: And how would you show strength exactly? What country would you like to invade?

SANTORUM: No one suggested --

SMITH: OK. Let's back up, back up. Start with the first part, how would you show strength?

SANTORUM: Well, what the president did when he ran for office in 2008 -- SMITH: I'm still waiting.

SANTORUM: He said we're getting out, it is the wrong war. You send a message to the Iraqi government and, by the way, the Iranian government. And terrorists were out --

SMITH: So how many troops would you like us to have in Iraq?

SANTORUM: You're asking a question in a vacuum that was created by President Obama.

SMITH: You are assuming that our military presence, the U.S. military presence, in a Muslim country is going to make us safer. The president and I disagree with that presumption. I think we have ample evidence in Iraq and Afghanistan to prove that.

SANTORUM: I'm not too sure that you have ample evidence in Afghanistan. Obviously, we have not been attacked since 9/11 in a serious way here in this country. So, I think there is evidence that in fact a lot of --

SMITH: I don't have any problem with going into Afghanistan and taking out al Qaeda. But the notion if we simply stayed there forever, Afghanistan would be a peaceful place, or if we stayed in Iraq --

SANTORUM: I'm not suggesting that.

SMITH: Then what are you suggesting?

SANTORUM: We have to have some sort of security agreement to make sure that the Taliban and other things do not --

SMITH: No, that's fine. I think the ramp-down in Afghanistan makes sense.

GINGRICH: Let me frame this --

SANTORUM: Ramp-down, let's not ramp out.

GINGRICH: Let me frame this differently. We found out a little while ago that under Secretary Clinton, Boko Haram was not a terrorist group. We now know they are.

In fact, the original base camp was called Afghanistan because their model was the Taliban. We now, the president recognizing there is a threat across the whole region in virtually every single country.

And the question becomes, and I'm very sympathetic to how hard this is. The question becomes what is the strategy? For example with ISIS. ISIS is not an Iraqi problem. It is at a minimum an Iraqi- Syria problem.

SMITH: Well, I can tell you --

GINGRICH: But I don't know how you contain a group if you start with the idea you're going to contain a terrorist organization.

CUTTER: Well, let's hear from the congressman.

GINGRICH: I'm going to in one second. I don't know how you can contain a group because it's phrased as containment, if you have a group which could well be in charge of a huge territory with theoretically containing while they control it?

SMITH: Yes. No, look, there are areas, as you mentioned, this is a wide swath problem, Mali, Libya, obviously, Nigeria we've heard about. The best to contain this is we have got to build up local partners. That's why I kind of agree that we should have done better in terms of identifying the Syrians we could work with and that there were a bunch of places, a bunch of countries, we're in there now in Mali, special operations command is really good.

I realize your question ran us out of time. But the point is, we partner with local nations. We have a small footprint. This notion of dropping in the U.S. military in large numbers is not the right approach.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: No one has suggested that.

SMITH: I keep going back to the fact that we're not suggesting that, and then you don't suggest anything.

GINGRICH: I suggest it pretty directly that we should --

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: The president has a strategy, and that is the strategy, working with local countries in small numbers.

GINGRICH: Unless they need it --

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: The strategy was getting out. That was the strategy. Not continuing.

GINGRICH: Unfortunately, this will be good for another two segments, unfortunately.

Stay here. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Does the U.S. have an obligation to help the Iraqis? Tweet yes or no, using #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of the day. I'm outraged about 60,000 children coming across our border with no Obama administration effort to stop them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GINGRICH: Welcome back. Now it's time for the outrages of the day. I'm outraged about the

increasing lawlessness along the U.S.-Mexican border caused by the Obama administration's decision to stop deporting young illegal immigrants.

One official tells CNN he expects 60,000 unaccompanied children will cross the border this year, 60,000. Holding centers in Texas can no longer accommodate them. At a facility in Arizona, children are sleeping on bare concrete floors.

The border is completely out of control. Yet, President Obama repeatedly has promised he would do something about illegal borders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The president needs to stop bragging and get the border under control before children start dying.

CUTTER: Tonight, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is being flown to a military hospital in San Antonio. But I'm outraged by some of the stupidity of some Republicans who are making light of his medical condition. Just listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF MILLER (R), FLORIDA: You're trying to tell me that he is being held at Landstuhl, Germany, because of his medical condition?

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Congressman, I hope you're not implying anything other than that. The fact is --

MILLER: I'm just asking the question, Mr. Secretary. You won't answer --

HAGEL: I'm going to give you an answer too. And I don't like the implication of the question.

MILLER: Answer it. Answer it.

HAGEL: This guy was held for almost five years in God knows what kind of conditions. We do know some of the conditions from our intelligence community, not from, by the way, Bergdahl. This is not just about can he get on his feet and walk and get to a plane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: Congressman Miller is implying that Bergdahl wasn't somehow in need of medical help after five years being held prisoner by the Taliban. He was implying that Bergdahl was staying at a military hospital in Germany because the administration was somehow hiding him. You know what? We're Americans. Regardless of the circumstances of his capture, he was still an American soldier, caught on the battlefield and tortured in captivity for five years. He deserves our respect. There will be time to get answers to the many questions. But let's get him healthy and home first.

John McCain said recently that spending five years in isolation will take a long time to recover. Congressman Miller, maybe you can set aside your partisanship and listen to a guy who knows a little bit more about this than you do. You could learn a lot from him.

GINGRICH: Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Does the U.S. have an obligation to help the Iraqis? Right now, 32 percent of you say yes, 68 percent no.

How would you two have voted?

SMITH: I would say no. It's a more complex question than that. But an obligation, I don't believe.

SANTORUM: I think obligation -- I think we have an obligation. It's in our security interest in helping an ally, in this case maybe, but I would say obligation is too strong.

CUTTER: Thanks to Adam Smith and former Senator Rick Santorum. The debate continues online at CNN.com/Crossfire as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

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

Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.