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Obama Doing Enough in Iraq?

Aired June 19, 2014 - 18:28   ET


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Today President Obama announced a number of steps to prevent a terrorist takeover in Iraq.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Unfortunately, nothing he announced shows us he's moving out of George W. Bush's shadow. The debate starts right now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, chaos spreads in Iraq. President Obama offers U.S. military advisers.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The spread of terrorism has increased exponentially under this president's leadership.

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, and Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican. Will U.S. military advisers make a difference or draw America closer to war? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


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

CUPP: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two members of Congress.

Today President Obama spent more time talking about what we aren't going to do in Iraq and why than he did making a case that the terrorist takeover of the Levant has serious implications for us here at home.

How sad: George W. Bush may as well still be in the White House, because President Obama can't seem to make any foreign policy decisions without thinking of him first. He often explains his inaction by way of his predecessor's mistakes. This was Obama on Syria last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: The military plan developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq. And this is not Afghanistan.


CUPP: And here was Obama just today, on Iraq.


OBAMA: But what's clear from the last decade is the need for the United States to ask hard questions before we take action abroad. Particularly military action.


CUPP: Look, we know that he thinks Bush made mistakes. But this isn't 2006. It's time for Obama to finally become his own person and make the right decisions for America. And in Iraq, Bush is once again leading Obama towards dangerous inaction.

CUTTER: You know, I have to say I don't get it. What is wrong with understanding the consequences of going to war before you actually go to war?

CUPP: Absolutely nothing.

CUTTER: And that's exactly what the president is doing. The strategic blunders, the greatest strategic blunder in the history of this country was going to war without knowing the consequences in Iraq. And that's going to impact not just this president, but presidents for decades.

CUPP: Clearly. Clearly.

CUTTER: Because George Bush is going to be, as you said, walking around the halls or living in the White House for decades.

CUPP: We'll see.

CUTTER: In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Representative Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat and Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois. I think I got that right.


CUTTER: So Congressman, I want to start with you. Here's the plan the president laid out today. Three hundred military advisers, an increase in intelligence. Additional equipment, American-led diplomacy to get some political reforms on the ground in Iraq and position our forces for a military strike..

This is what I call a responsible approach. That we only come to by asking those tough questions. And you know, it might not make for good TV or satisfy armchair quarterbacks. But it's responsible. What more would you do here?

KINZINGER: Well, I would do air strikes. And look, I think it's a good start. I think it's a start that should have happened probably in January when ISIS took over Fallujah, we feel like we've been taken off guard and there's "Oh, my goodness, ISIS exists in Iraq." This has been existing for a very long time.

And so while he puts these out here, I agree with these initial steps, but meanwhile, you have this blitzkrieg by ISIS that's going on, taking over city after city, beheading people and creating their jihadist state. Again, I think air strikes would stop the movement of ISIS in the town.

CUTTER: One of the problems is knowing exactly where to strike.


CUTTER: And that's part of what this capability is going to allow us to do. So better to get it right than to shoot from the hip.

KINZINGER: Keep in mind, when we left in 2011, we pulled basically the plug on our ability to have intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. That's what I did, actually, over there; flew ISR.

So I think developing these targets now is good, and if he's not striking because we just don't have the intel, that's one thing. But if you have trucks moving out in the open. You can blow those up. You know pretty good. I mean, I've seen -- I know what they look like. You can blow those up and freeze ISIS in the towns they're in and stop their forward momentum.

CUPP: Congresswoman Sanchez, we have reports that ISIS stole over $400 million from an Iraqi bank. Their flag is now flying over the country's biggest oil refinery. And there are some reports today that allege ISIS has seized Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons factory. Which is frightening.

Isn't it as congressman suggests, a little late maybe for intelligence forces on the ground?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: No, it's not too late for intelligence forces on the ground.

First of all, this whole issue that ISIS came across, and is this blitzing sort of personality, if you will, a grouping. It has to do with the fact that they have been in the Sunni belt of Iraq. And so even the locals would prefer to be dealing with ISIS people, than they did with al-Maliki.

Al Maliki really did not take the opening, the space that we made for him, that our military made for him, the taxpayers of this country made for him. To be able to work on uniting and working through this country. Instead, by being so Shiite-oriented and really not working through with the Sunnis and the Kurds, he created the dilemma that we now find ourselves in. But I believe that these ISIS people...

CUPP: Congresswoman, don't you think that withdrawing from Iraq actually created one of the dilemmas that we're in now?

KINZINGER: I think it did. I mean, when we had -- you know, we could have done a status of forces agreement. If you want to see what negotiating a status of forces agreement looks like, look at what's happening in Afghanistan. It's been a year, and we keep going back saying we want this, we want this. President Obama said, "OK, you don't want 3,000 to 5,000 troops? Then we're out."

CUTTER: I mean, we couldn't get a status of forces agreement in Iraq when we had 150,000 troops on the ground under Bush.

KINZINGER: We didn't try.

CUTTER: Bush -- Bush is the one that signed the agreement pulling our troops out.

KINZINGER: Well, he signed the agreement in 2011.

CUTTER: The issue that this president didn't try hard enough is just ridiculous.

SANCHEZ: Again, it's easy -- to armchair quarterback and say, "Oh, he didn't try," how do you know? You weren't in the room when we were trying to get it done.

KINZINGER: ... a lot of people that were. And I'll tell you...

SANCHEZ: I'll tell you, look. That's just -- you know, this president tried; other people tried. This administration has more than just a president who were in the room. The military tried. And they did not want to go there. And as a congresswoman, when you were a troop, I wouldn't put you in a country like that without having a forces agreement like that. That is to protect you.

KINZINGER: Well, let's back up. Let's talk about the status of forces agreement. Bush signed it in 2011, and he did it to give the next president the authority to determine the future of America's role in Iraq. That's respectful.

The president did not do that in Afghanistan. He signed it to the end of 2016, because he wants to end it in his -- in his jurisdiction. But that hasn't been signed yet.

So the president keeps going back to his credit, to the Afghan government and saying, "Sign this." Karzai said no. He goes OK, we'll wait for the next guy. Sign this. And we think it's going to happen. That's what negotiating for a SOFA looks like.

And the last thing I'll point on that, the rumors are we were offering 3,000 to 5,000 troops, the political cost to al Maliki for 3,000, to 5,000 troops would far exceed what 3,000 to 5,000 troops could basically do. They could cook meals and protect the fences. They couldn't go out and take out bad guys.

CUTTER: I want to bring up something that General Petraeus spoke about, about U.S. involvement in Iraq recently at a conference in London. He said, and let's listen to this.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: If there is to be support for Iraq, it has to be support for a government of Iraq. That is a government of all the people. This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias or a Shia-on-Sunni Arab fight.


CUTTER: I think you both would agree that we have to approach this very carefully so that we're not empowering one side or the other. The whole idea here is to have a unified government, to end the sectarian violence.

But Congressman, how -- this is a bit like detonating a bomb. You said we should just go in and do air strikes. Who are we doing them on behalf of?

KINZINGER: Well, we're doing them on behalf of the people of ISI or al Qaeda. And so yes, I actually agree with what General Petraeus said. He said we do have to have a political solution. We do.

I'd love to see al-Maliki go. I'd love to see a coalition government. The problem is, and my concern, is that we can't wait until that happens before we now come in and stop this onslaught of ISIS. If we do, you may have a fall of the Iraqi state. If the Iraqi state falls, you'll never be able to build it back up.

CUTTER: Right. But you have to take this into consideration in terms of how you're dealing with al Maliki. And many of the ISIS, ISIS is moving it way across Iraq. A lot of Sunnis are joining them. And that's a problem. So we're having, we're joining Shia and fighting Sunni.

CUPP: Congresswoman, not long ago, President Obama and Vice President Biden were practically giddy about prospects for Iraq. Take a listen.


OBAMA: Iraq's not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am very optimistic about, about Iraq. I think it's going to be one of the great achievements of this administration.


CUPP: You know what? At the time they were absolutely right. Iraq was a success story. And then we abandoned it.

And now -- it seems as though, while they were happy to take credit for stability that, by the way, they did not create, now they want no responsibility for the ensuing collapse afterwards. It's all Bush's fault. SANCHEZ: Let's go back. That's not correct. Look, I'm the one

sitting here who took that vote on Iraq. OK? And I voted not go in.

First of all, the information, if people really wanted to get to the information, they would have understood we should have never gone in that way, the way that we did. So that's the first thing. And that was the Bush administration and his people.

And they may be trying to rewrite history today. But if you really go back and take a look, we should never have been in that country.

Having been in that country, however, there were some really tough things to get done. And we even put in the constitution, for example, vote for the Kurds to actually take a vote on how they would interact in this. And every single time that these Centcom commanders, who were at the time really running the show out there, would come before our committee and I would ask them what are you doing about Article 140, what are you doing this, what are you doing about unification, your know what their answer was? Their answer was, "God, Congresswoman, you've really gotten to the real meat of this thing. And it's very difficult to do, and we're trying to do everything else right now. And we're going to get to this."

And we left without ever having gotten to the real thing that we needed to do there. And that was, to work and making sure we left a government that was unifying the people, not pulling them apart.

KINZINGER: You pulled all your troops out.

CUPP: Right.

SANCHEZ: We pulled our troops out because there was no agreement.

CUTTER: We are going to come back to this after a quick break. Next some advice to the would-be Republican presidents who think they can do a better job than President Obama.

But first, today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz," when was Nouri al-Maliki named as Iraq's prime minister? Was it in 2006, 2007, or 2010? We'll have the answer when we get back.


CUTTER: Welcome back.

Here's the answer to the CROSSFIRE quiz: Nouri al Maliki was named Iraq's prime minister in 2006.

This afternoon, President Obama offered a responsible plan to help Iraq's leaders fight a terrorist takeover. And as soon as he finished, wannabe presidents like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio rushed to the Senate floor to offer rhetoric, but no actual plan. They want us to protect Americans, deal with the terrorist threat, and keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Those are all great ideas.

And then, there's this doozy from last night when another wannabe commander-in-chief said --


CUTTER: Specifically, what do we do now? Lots of people are for airstrikes. Are you for airstrikes?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: No, I think there are a number of ways, and we don't have to signal all the things that we're going to do.


CUTTER: I asked Rick Perry last night, about a half dozen times, what he suggests we do in Iraq -- and never got a clear answer. So thanks to all the wannabe presidents for your glittering generalities and statements of the obvious, but being president means dealing with the details, and thinking through the consequences of military intervention.

Sadly, I don't hear any of that serious work being done on the republican side of the aisle.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Representatives Loretta Sanchez and Adam Kinzinger.

Congressman, with the exception of you --


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I was going to say -- no offense.

CUTTER: You're a veteran of these wars. You served in the Air Force. You still serve. And we honor that service.

But there is no bench on the Republican side of the aisle absent just basically saying, let's send troops in terms of thinking of thoughtful, responsible foreign policy approaches to some of our greatest problems right now.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL), IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Well, I think that will come out in all fairness, when you saw President Obama talk about his plan when he was running, he didn't have a lot of details, either. He just said no Iraq --

CUTTER: He got it right.

KINZINGER: He called Afghanistan the good war. Now, he's in a hurry to leave it.

But I think we have a deep bench. It's going to be developed. It's pretty early. We still have Jeb Bush. We have Chris Christie. We have a lot of good candidates that as time goes on, they're going to develop their foreign policy chops.


CUPP: Congresswoman Sanchez, the president has assisted over and over again that al Qaeda has been decimated and the world is a safer place now and I think a lot of us would disagree. But he's fond of one particular metaphor to use when it comes to reasons why we should not be fighting terrorism abroad. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rather than try to play whack-a-mole, wherever these terrorist organizations may pop up, what we have to build effective partnerships, make sure that they have capacity.


CUPP: You know, I remember playing whack-a-mole, and it's a fun metaphor, but it's not completely honest. That implies that a terrorist group pops up somewhere, leaves and pops up somewhere else. That's not what's happening right now.

These terrorist organizations are multiplying and expanding. They're not just in Iraq. They're in Syria, they're in the Maghreb. They're Indonesia. Indonesia, (INAUDIBLE) they're in Nigeria. Isn't he being dishonest about how serious and wide-ranging this threat is?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D-CA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Look, threats are all around the world. And if we're smart, we understand that our military is just one of the tools we have in our bag of tricks --

CUPP: Sure.

SANCHEZ: -- to be able to handle situations. And, you know, our military is the best educated, the best equipped, and the best trained that the world has ever seen. Historically has ever seen. And so, everybody's rush to -- well, just put the military in there. What they forget is that our military is also a scarce resource.

And so, we do have to work where we can to multiply the effect with other troops, with other people. We have to work on the diplomatic side. We have to work on the diplomatic side.

KINZINGER: The military is scarce, but we're fierce and we're really good at what we do. And you cannot have diplomacy with ISIS or al Qaeda or the Taliban, which is a whole other issue. Diplomacy doesn't work on people that are dead-set on killing people that believe what we believe. You can't send an ambassador to ISIS.

SANCHEZ: But there are economic situations, there's military strength which you can magnify in different ways. And you know, quite frankly --


SANCHEZ: I'm the wife of a veteran who spent 23 years. He's a retired colonel out of the Army. I'm going to tell you we have plenty of friends who are military families. They're tired of holding the line for the rest of us. We have got to get better about diplomacy, about who our friends in the world are -- KINZINGER: If we could wish a world where there was no war, trust me,

I'd take out the magic wand and wave it. The problem is what we're facing today is groups like ISIS, groups like al Qaeda, groups all over Africa that are metastasizing and killing people --

CUPP: Al Nusra, Boko Haram, yes.

KINZINGER: -- everywhere.

CUTTER: I think what we're saying, guys, is that it's not one or the other.

CUPP: Right.

CUTTER: And it's a responsible approach is both.

KINZINGER: Right, I agree.

CUTTER: And that a way to fight terrorism is to develop some of these poor economies in Africa, for instance, so people don't have to turn to terrorism. There are other options there.

KINZINGER: I fully agree. In the absence of economic development terrorism thrives. That's very important in the long-term.

CUTTER: Or isn't that what you're saying?

SANCHEZ: Or sanctions, for example, that we've seen work against Iran to deter them from building a nuclear weapon? Or when we follow the finance trail with respect to how some of these terrorists are financing their situation? Intelligence, actionable intelligence in particular is so incredible before we go in and send our military.

CUPP: Do you think we're missing actionable intelligence in Iraq now then?

SANCHEZ: We are. We are missing actionable intelligence for exactly the very reason that my colleague said, that we moved out and we don't necessarily have everything that we know that we used to have on the ground. So, we need to go in and figure out real fast what's going on.

CUPP: Real fast.

SANCHEZ: But we need to figure it out --

KINZINGER: It should have been in January.

CUPP: Hopefully not too late.

SANCHEZ: You know, it's always nice when the milk is spilt and you can say, oh, we shouldn't have spilt the milk. But the reality is you have to move forward from --

CUPP: All right. Stay here, guys. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Should the U.S. send military advisers to Iraq? Tweet or no using #Crossfire. We'll have results after the break.

We also have our outrages of the day. And today, Stephanie and I stand united.

CUTTER: It's true.


CUPP: Now, it's time for today's outrage. Sometimes the stars align just right and a story emerges that can unite Democrats and Republicans in outrage. Well, not so much outrage as amusement and tonight is that time.

CUTTER: In a new interview with "National Journal", former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is quoted as saying that, "Men in the South, they're a little effeminate." He also offers apropos of nothing that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sets off his gaydar.

CUPP: What?

CUTTER: And he likens Dianne Feinstein to a sex worker for the CIA.

CUPP: Oh, boy.

Holy over-share. Did no one tell Brian Schweitzer he was thinking of running for president as a liberal?

Add to that, his famous line about guns that he owns more than he needs and fewer than he wants. And I don't think there's a guaranteed spot at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

CUTTER: Now, Governor Schweitzer has been a guest host on this show. He was a good governor of Montana and always refreshing in an outside Washington kind of way, but on this, he's over the line regardless of whether he's running for the president from the right, the left or from the left of left.

CUPP: Yes, and apparently he just apologized on Facebook, but guns, gaydar and hookers sure would have made an interesting presidential platform well.

CUTTER: Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Should the U.S. send military advisers to Iraq?

Right now, 35 percent of you say yes, 65 percent of you say no. Now, those numbers aren't very high. And it's a little surprising when you're talking about military advisers and not putting troops on the ground, but it is reflective of how anxious the American people are of getting into another war.

Does public opinion matter in this?

KINZINGER: I think it matters. But, you know, also when it comes to foreign policy, America's war leery in general. And it takes a leader to come out and make the case. And that's what the president's got to do. He's got to make the case of what are these advisers going to do. And polling I've seen actually says that Americans support the idea of airstrikes. Of course, they oppose reintroduction of large number of troops.

CUPP: Well, that's not a scientific poll, we should need to tell our viewers. But what would you do to convince the American people that sending in military advisers is a good idea?

SANCHEZ: Well, first and foremost, we have to ask ourselves what are the U.S. interests there. You know, we sent 275 to the mission that we have there to protect our people and what we have there. Now, we have to ask ourselves, you know, do we want disintegration of Iraq? What does that look like? Do we want to be working with Iran? Are we helping Iran instead of -- it's difficult.

CUTTER: But thanks to Representatives Loretta Sanchez and Adam Kinzinger.

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

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

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

Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.