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Obama Getting Iraq Options; U.S. & Iran Hold "Brief Discussions"

Aired June 16, 2014 - 18:28   ET


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Wolf, whether it likes it or not, President Obama will have to order additional military action in Iraq.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: There's only one problem. That's exactly what the terrorists want him to do. The debate starts right now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, can President Obama stop the chaos in Iraq.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is another 9/11 in the making.

ANNOUNCER: Even if it means taking the same side as Iran?

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Vikram Singh, who supports the president; and Danielle Pletka, an Obama critic. Who broke Iraq? What should we do to fix it tonight on CROSSFIRE.


JONES: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

CUPP: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right. At the White House tonight, President Bush is getting briefed about his military options. But first, let's go straight to CNN's Arwa Damon inside Iraq.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Iraqi government launching air strikes on some key locations, claim to have killed at least 200 ISIS spiders, while the organization has captured more key territory as it tries to push towards Baghdad. Although the front lines do remain still about an hour north of the capital.

Now ISIS also managing to capture the strategic Tal Afar, located between Mosul and the Syrian border. The organization seeming to be intent on making sure that people know what their fate will be if they dare stand in their way.

Yet another execution video has emerged, this one showing a bearded man with a weapon standing over five captives. He's calling them Maliki's dogs. They were border guards, and he's ordering them to repeat after him, Islamic state here to stay. The first two complied. The third appears to try to formulate the word but unable to do so. He seems to be severely dehydrated and almost unaware as to what's happening around him. He's shoved to the ground, weapon pointed to his throat. He and the four others were killed.

The man responsible proudly boasting on Facebook that he had killed Shia. Oftentimes we don't know who the victims are. But in this case we did manage to get in contact with the family of the man who was struggling to speak. He was 37 years old. He had three children, two sons and a daughter. And the reason why he had taken the job as the border guard was because he wanted to build them a home -- S.E., Van.

CUPP: Thanks, Arwa, for that reporting.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, guests who disagree about what's next in Iraq. As ISIS continues its killing spree, Secretary of State John Kerry's solution seems to be call Iran for help?


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Look. We're open to discussions if there's something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, and if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and the ability of the government to reform.


CUPP: Seriously. Here's just three reasons why this is absurd. One, Iran's only objective in Iraq is to prop up a Shiite regime. Talking to Iran is the fastest way to send Iraq's Sunnis running straight into the arms of ISIS.

Two, this is the same Iranian regime we're negotiating a nuclear deal with even after their leader bragged about duping the west on nuke deals in the past.

And three, the same Iran that's arming Bashar al-Assad in Syria, these are the guys we trust?

Now, the doves will say there's no harm in just talking, but talk is cheap until it's very, very expensive.

JONES: Well, you know, what's really expensive is rushing into wars, rushing into military conflict and doing what George W. Bush did. So we're going to talk about that tonight.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Vikram Singh who actually worked at the Pentagon and the State Department under President Obama. We also have Danielle Pletka, who's a conservative foreign policy expert. I want to start with you. I assume you probably agree with S.E. that we shouldn't be talking to Iran. But Iran is right there, right there on the border. They have an interest in stability. If we don't talk to Iran, we don't engage with them, what should we be doing?

DANIELLE PLETKA, OBAMA CRITIC: First of all, I have no objection to talking to Iran. I've said the same to you before, and I think it's true. I have absolutely no problem with telling the Iranians they need to stop killing people in Syria, that they need to end their nuclear weapons program, that they need to stop supporting Hezbollah, that they need to stop supporting militias in Iraq.

But if we think that they're going cooperate with us to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria -- because don't forget, they're in Syria and Iraq -- I think we're making a very serious mistake.

JONES: Hold on a second. Lindsey Graham, who is a big hawk, actually, he's on the other side of this thing. I want you to hear from him and tell me why he's wrong. Here's Lindsey Graham.


GRAHAM: Why don't we deal with Stalin, because he was not as bad as Hitler? The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn't fall.


JONES: And the reality is we're getting word now that there have now been talks between the United States and Iran. Lindsey Graham says it's the right thing to do. What's wrong with Lindsey Graham's reasoning?

PLETKA: Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with talking to the Iranians. But I disagree with Senator Graham, respectfully, about -- about the difference between Stalin's Russia and the ayatollah's Iran. They have been trying to kill Americans for the last 30 years. That has been one of their most important global missions.

JONES: Don't you think that, in a situation like this, where you have these kind of butchers just killing people and putting it up on YouTube, that we should take whatever help we can get to put an end to that?

PLETKA: I think that it is important that we have a situation in Iraq that is stabilized. And the truth is exactly the way I see it laid out, that the Iranians are a big part of the instability in the region. Without the Iranians, ISIS wouldn't be in Iraq or in Syria.

CUPP: Let me get Vikram in. Vikram, it feels like President Obama keeps putting us in these untenable situations where we have to rely on the world's worst actors. In Syria we took Russia's help in getting Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons. And now we might rely on Iran? I mean, why are we trusting these untrustworthy actors?

VIKRAM SINGH, WORKED AT PENTAGON, STATE DEPARTMENT: I don't think we're trusting untrustworthy actors. And I think this whole Iran debate actually gets away from the point of what's happening inside Iraq.

What's happening inside Iraq is that a terrorist group and terrorist sectarian forces that were unleashed largely by the chaos that came into Iraq after we started a war in Iraq, that we managed to stabilize to a point but Maliki managed to lose. Don't forget that Maliki is Iran's guy, and Maliki was our guy.

So at this point what's most important is to start focusing on the fact that this terrorist threat is real. It's real to Iraq, and it's real to the region and something we need to be worried about it. But the sort of the petty micromanaging of who should partner with or who should we not partner with...

CUPP: I don't think it's petty. And clearly, I mean, you can't argue that these are not trustworthy guys. You're not making -- you're not making the case that Iraq is playing -- playing it straight with us.

SINGH: It has nothing to do with Iran's trustworthiness or not. What this has to do with, just as in 2006 to 2008, we were able to work with all sorts of countries around the region to increase stability inside Iraq. Even Iran wanted that at that time. Iran encouraged sectarian governance by Maliki in Iraq, and that is coming back to bite Maliki and coming back to bite...


PLETKA: The reason he's able to do that, the reason Maliki is relying on the Iranians is because we pulled out, lock, stock and barrel, including, by the way...

SINGH: That is an astonishing thing to say. The reason Maliki is relying on the Iranians is because we took out a government in Iraq and installed government and took out governments that would be aligned with Iran.

PLETKA: I know you're not a...

SINGH: Saddam was a terrible dictator, but he certainly was no friend of Iran. So if we empowered Iran in Iraq, that's a product, a direct product of the war.

JONES: Don't you think he has a point, though? Here you had -- we didn't like Saddam Hussein, but there was a balance there between Iraq and Iran.

Bush goes in, blows this guy out, puts in Maliki, who everybody knows is a lap dog for Iran, and the guy does horrible things. So -- so don't you, as somebody who actually advocated for this strategy that's going in, have to take some responsibility for the fact that it didn't go well? And the vacuum that's been created wasn't created by us going in there and knocking out the Ba'athists?

PLETKA: Excuse me, but in 2011 when we pulled troops out of Iraq, we were in a very stable, very good situation. Nobody was calling Maliki a lap dog for Iran then. To the contrary, Maliki was most supported by the Obama administration in the White House.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. I don't have any objection to that. But I will stay that in an unstable situation when there is a power vacuum, we pulled out and the Iranians pulled in.

JONES: The power vacuum was created when we went in and knocked out the stable...

PLETKA: You cannot argue.

JONES: You want to start the clock -- you want to start the clock in 2011?

CUPP: Joe Biden -- Joe Biden said in 2011 that Iraq -- that Iraq could be one of the Obama administration's greatest successes because of the stability of the region. Now there's instability and it's Bush's fault?

JONES: Hold on a second. First of all, I believe that, if you're going to start quoting people, I believe somebody said we'd be greeted as liberators. Am I wrong about that?

SINGH: Look, the strategic thing that happened when Iraq was taken out, we made a choice, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, to go to war. In Afghanistan, in both cases, we were taking out big enemies of Iran. Iran was no friends with the Taliban, no friends with Saddam. And Afghanistan, on the Afghan side, that was probably a worthwhile thing to do.

On the Iraq side, the consequences have been really dire, because it's empowered and enabled Iran inside Iraq, and that was true when we were there with 160,000 troops.

PLETKA: I'm sorry, did we also promote -- did we also push Iran to support Assad in Syria, to kill 160,000 people? Have we also pushed them to support Hezbollah? Have we also pushed them to develop a nuclear weapon?

SINGH: No, we've opened up the space for Iran to conduct much more...

PLETKA: May I do something on behalf of your audience just for one second? Every time I come here, we have this incredibly anodyne, dry conversation about whether Bush was right or wrong in Iraq. I think we could argue that until the cows come home. Let's go have a cocktail afterwards and do that.

But in the interests of actually talking about the problem that faces us today in Iraq, why don't we talk about what it is we need to do there?

SINGH: I can agree with that. Because whether we went in or how we got out, that debate is not very useful for where we are today.

CUPP: I like to say, it's arguing over how you got pregnant. You have a baby. You've got to take care of it.

JONES: You know what, Danielle? I'm going to take you up on your offer. When we come back, we're going to talk about what to do next. I think there's actually a way to fix this whole situation that doesn't involve doing nothing or dropping bombs everywhere.

But first, today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz": when did Iraq become an independent country? Was it 1898, 1932 or 1956? We're going to give you that answer when we get back after the break.


JONES: Welcome back.

Now the answer to our CROSSFIRE quiz. Iran has been independent since 1932.

Now, tonight, as President Obama is getting briefed by the military on his options in Iraq, I want us to stop with some of these false choices we've been getting bombarded with, these two false choices. You've got the liberals saying, look, mess over, but just blame Bush, and don't do anything. That doesn't work. The conservatives say blame Obama and start bombing.

How about none of the above? OK?

Here's the smart move. We've got to pull the rug out from under ISIS. These nut-jobs got power because the reasonable Sunni leadership got sick of Maliki pushing them around. So, they charted (ph) the extremists out of desperation.

Now, we can win the moderates back over. We can give them back, but it's going to be hard to do that if we start bombing their towns and killing their kids.

So, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Vikram Singh and we got Danielle Pletka.

Danielle, you said you wanted to start talking about solutions. Let's start with this. You're a Sunni leader. You're a moderate Sunni leader.

You're looking at the world, trying to figure out what do. You've got butchers from ISIS to your left. You've got Maliki bullying you. And now, the U.S. says, we're going to start bombing you.

Why is this rush now to militarize this from our side going to bring the Sunnis closer to us? Isn't there a danger that we start bombing these ISIS folks who blended into the population, start killing kids over there and push the Sunnis away from us?

PLETKA: I understand why you're asking the question and I think there's real merit in asking these sorts of incisive questions before we make any decisions. We need to understand how to bring the Sunnis back into the Iraqi government. The problem is we have very little leverage in Iraq because we left everybody out to dry.

And we don't have to agree about that. I can tell you that that's the perception in Iraq. So the Sunnis feel that we left them, Maliki feels we left them. There's not a lot of trust.

We need to bring them back together. But one of the ways we're going to rebuild the trust is doing something about ISIS. Sunnis are going to be as many of the victims of ISIS as Shiite. CUPP: Well, and, Vikram, we've got ISIS who is in Iraq promising to

deliver the next 9/11 in New York. The president we know has claimed that al Qaeda is decimated. He's returning terrorists -- detainees from Gitmo. Al Qaeda, we know, is metastasizing around the world, in fact. And it feels like on our side at least, the war on terror is alive and well.

Why is President Obama under the illusion that it's over?

SINGH: Well, I don't think he is in any way. He has gotten us out of the illusion that the way to deal with the war on terror was massive deployments of U.S. forces into countries that we didn't understand what strategies that clearly wouldn't work. He said we're focused on getting the guys who are going to target us -- and that is going to include ISIS.

ISIS is a real threat. It's a threat inside of Iraq. I agree with Danny. We have to think about hard about it.

I don't think that anyone is saying, you just go on a random bombing campaign. I do think there is the potential for very limited targeted use of airpower. For example, when you see columns of ISIS moving through the countryside, in trucks and stolen vehicles. That's the kind of thing that's good for air power.

You can't go into cities with the airpower.

CUPP: No. That's right.

SINGH: But the problem here is the use of the word "we". America can't fix Iraq for Iraq. We couldn't do it with 160,000 troops. We can't do it now.

We can help. But Iraqis are going to have to do this and the Iraqi political leadership is going to have to find the way to bring the Sunnis back.

PLETKA: I agree with you completely. Look, we' agree for this. I don't think there's a role for U.S. troops on the ground except in so far as we can assist and targeting, avoiding bombing those Sunni villages that you talked about -- intelligence, training, counterterrorism, those sorts of things. I totally agree about that.

The problem is if we let things go too far, all of people that want to fight against the people we don't like aren't going to be empowered. That's what we see in the Free Syrian Army, we're not helping them, only the bad guys are getting help.

Same in Iraq. We're not helping them, only the bad guys are getting help.

SINGH: Well, we need to be helping the, but we need to be helping them smartly. And the way to help them smartly is to not just rush in and say, hey, we'll take over and do it for you, we'll deal with the hard problems because you won't make the hard decisions. We have to make it clear to Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, you guys got to find an exclusive way to govern. Because the only what that countries like Iraq can hold together is either through a brutal dictator, which we had before, or through some kind of inclusive governance, and that has been sorely absent from Maliki from the beginning.

CUPP: We all agree. What's great is we all agree, we all seem to agree that those current situations cannot stand. We've got to deal with ISIS. That's important.

Would you, Vikram, say that President Obama then needs to make the case both here at home to the American people, to Congress, and to our allies that we need some kind of intervention?

It's a case he did not make, he failed to make in Syria. He didn't make it here at home. He didn't make it Congress. He didn't make it to our allies.

Doesn't he need to learn from that mistake and convince the world that this is an urgent problem?

SINGH: Let's focus on ISIS. So, Syria is about Assad and that's a different set of issues. ISIS, a terrorist group, taking over ungoverned territory, in both Syria and Iraq.

CUPP: Right. But doesn't he need to build a coalition --

SINGH: So, absolutely. And the way you build --

CUPP: -- and world willpower to treat ISIS seriously.

SINGH: The way you build a coalition is by engaging countries on their common interests. This is one of those unusual situations where a lot of countries have a common interest and not think ISIS have control of large swaths of territory.

So, yes, he needs to do that. But that is exactly what the kind of announcements and the approach he's taking, is capable of doing. Just rushing in and having the Americans say we're going to fix it for everybody, that doesn't build the coalition.

PLETKA: That's fair. That's totally fair, except for the fact, that too often, when the president says we need to build alliances and we need to talk and we need to have political reconciliation, those are excuses not to do anything. And then the situation spirals out of control.

JONES: Let me just challenge you on that. First of all, I'm going to challenge both of you because both of you seem to be a lot more interested in military solutions earlier than later. And I actually think a lot of people in the United States are looking at this conversation and going, are these people crazy? We just got ourselves extricated from the mess that we had over, and now, we're now going to get slowly pulled back in.

I think -- you said you don't want to talk about the past. I do think it's important to talk about the past in this respect. The last time we rush need war with no plan to win peace, that was the problem with George W. Bush. He rushes in, he invades, he disbands the authorities there, he does pick Maliki, whatever you say about him, he was no Nelson Mandela, he did not pick anybody who's going to actually bring the country together, and there was no plan to win the peace.

Don't you think that people who'd bee advocating like yourself for these more hawkish positions have to have some humility about saying once again, we should get back onto our military pathway? What's the plan to win he peace here if we get pulled back in?

PLETKA: I don't think this is a question of pride or humility. I think this is a question of understanding what America's national interests are, and we need to understand that ISIS represents the threat to our national interest and the national interest of our allies in the Middle East and in Europe.

We need to have a plan, you're absolutely right. But we're not going to own it in the same way. So, we don't need to have a plan to put it back together. We need to tell the Iraqis, just as you said, just as you said, what they need to do. But we can't have our action be contingent on them doing the right thing.

CUPP: All right.

SINGH: I think Americans are legitimately worried that, you know, you could be slipping, going down a slippery slope. The key is that it can't be large scale invasions.

CUPP: OK. Stay here. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" questions. Should the U.S. form a strategic alliance with Iran regarding Iraq? Tweet yes or no using the #Crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of the day. I'm outraged about what California is telling college student to do before they have sex.


CUPP: Now it's time for the outrages of the day.

The latest legislative solution to the college rape crisis comes to us from kooky California. A new bill mandates affirmative consent, that is a verbal or written yes before and during each sexual encounter on state college campuses.

In addition to this sounding ridiculous and probably being unenforceable and unworkable, it also ignores the fact that most college rapes aren't the result of mere miscommunication. The vast majority of rapists are well aware their advances are unwanted and don't care. Worse, it's just another, quote, "solution" that threats college rape as an inevitability. This is more about proving after the fact that someone committed a crime instead of trying to prevent the attacks in the first place.

Colleges have systematically disarmed young women. Many barring them from using even pepper spray to defend themselves and now, they think the answer is a written contract. Shameful. JONES: OK. I'm a Californian and I think that's pretty silly.

But George Will is not helping very much either. On the other side of this thing, he outraged millions of people this month when he wrote a column that blamed the soaring number of sexual assault victims on the school themselves. He claimed that universities, quote, "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."

Now I don't know a single rape survivor who feels like the response she got from her school or from her society amounts to any kind of privilege, in fact, far from it. Now, George Will is doubling down on the dumb, responding to objections from U.S. senators who wrote this, "I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you do."

No. Implying that the majority of survivors coming forward are asking for it or see sexual humiliation as some kind of privilege status, that is the definition of not taking sexual violence seriously and it's outrageous.

CUPP: Well, it's definitely a problem you and I can agree needs working on.

All right. Let's check back on our "Fireback" result. Should the U.S. form a strategic alliance with Iran regarding Iraq? Right now, 40 percent of you say yes, 60 percent say no.

Quickly, guys, what do you think of the results?

PLETKA: I think the American people remember that the Iranians are out to kill American citizens, out to suppress their neighborhood, out to do no good.

SINGH: I think the American people are smart about Iran. They know they are no friends of the United States but they know we might have a common enemy right here for this particular moment.

JONES: Well, I think Vikram and Danielle.

The debate will continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.