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Is the Environment Our Biggest Threat?; Kerry's Climate Warning

Aired February 19, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, fires in Kiev. Chaos in the Middle East. Challenges at home and abroad. But is the biggest threat to our national security something else?

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: In a sense, climate change can now be considered the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Joe Cirincione, who advises the State Department. And Bill Kristol, one of the president's harshest critics. Is climate change the biggest threat we face? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two guests help us clarify John Kerry's priorities. Today a traditional secretary of state might have called a news conference to address at length the near civil war in the Ukraine or the challenges we face in Syria and Iraq, or Iran's nuclear program. Even the problems in Venezuela.

A real secretary of state would focus on the real world. Instead we have a secretary of state who says the biggest threat we face is global warming. I want you to hear it again.


KERRY: In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.


GINGRICH: That statement is delusional. It's perfectly fine if you're in the U.S. Senate, which has a hundred members, and anyone can be randomly weird. But delusional thinking is totally inexcusable for any secretary of state.

JONES: Well, I am -- we're going to fight today. Because I think it's wrong to jump on him about this. First of all, I've worked on this issue, as you know, for ten years of my life. Climate change is a super serious issue. The Pentagon says it's super serious; the CIA says it's super serious.

And I'm surprised at you, in particular. You are one of the most pro- science people in public life. Here you've got somebody trying to elevate science to the global discourse. It's right to raise this stuff. I think you're wrong to jump on it.

GINGRICH: If you read the actual speech...

JONES: Which I have done.

GINGRICH: We're not talking about the sentiment, we're talking about the speech. In a world where you have a potential civil war in Ukraine, several thousand nuclear weapons in Russia, several hundred nuclear weapons in China, over a hundred nuclear weapons in Pakistan, a North Korean and Iranian effort to get nuclear weapons, to suggest that global climate change is anything comparable to the threat of nuclear weapons?

JONES: Well, first of all...

GINGRICH: I used the word "delusional" deliberately. It's really literally out of touch with the real world.

JONES: Well -- well, the Pentagon disagrees with you. And I'll tell you someone else who disagrees with you. There's a guy named Newt Gingrich who disagrees with you. I want you to hear yourself talk about this very issue just a few years ago.


KERRY: What would you say to Senator Inhofe and to others in the Senate who are resisting even science? What's your message to them here today?

GINGRICH: My message, I think, is that the evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon loading of the atmosphere.

KERRY: And do it urgently, now.

GINGRICH: Do it urgently. Yes.


JONES: Now this, I love. This Newt Gingrich guy, he's great. Now I would hate -- now he was talking to somebody who used to be called a flip-flopper. I would hate to think that Newt Gingrich is now competing with John Kerry for the title of flip-flopper in chief.

GINGRICH: Not at all. The difference between a conversation, a debate that was in the Senate hearing room talking about taking -- I used the word effective steps.

JONES: Sure.

GINGRICH: And suddenly elevating this -- I'm happy to say this is a serious topic and debate seriously. And look at this. To then elevate that to more important -- remember, the phrase he uses is very clear. That's why the speech matters. It's not a press release. He says this could be the biggest mass threat.

JONES: Perhaps, he says.

GINGRICH: Just plain not true.

JONES: We're going to be fighting tonight, but we've got some people to help us get through this. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we have Joe Cirincione, who's a member of the -- Secretary Kerry's actual international security advisory board. We also have "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol.

I'm going to go to you first, Bill. Don't you think maybe Kerry went a bridge too far. Don't you think he's gone 15 bridges too far, saying the secretary of state should resign over a line in a speech, when John Kerry is out there trying to get some peace in the Middle East and everything else he's doing?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, that peace in the Middle East is going great.

JONES: But don't you think that this is...

KRISTOL: The question why it's not just delusional but offensive. Weapons of mass destruction have been used when John Kerry was secretary of state. They were used by Bashar al-Assad. Secretary Kerry was very upset about this. Secretary Kerry said it was a unique moment. Secretary Kerry said we were going to go remove Assad and stop him form -- and destroy his weapons of mass destruction and prevent him from using them again.

And then, of course, President Obama made a U-turn, and we did nothing. And we have an agreement that's gotten a few but not most of the chemical weapons out and...

JONES: I know you're a critic.

KRISTOL: And 130,000 people are dead in Syria, and some of them are dead from weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons. And instead John Kerry gives speeches about global climate change. It's ludicrous.

JONES: Well, first of all, I know that you're a critic of this administration. I know that you wish that we had gone into war in Syria and a bunch of other places, but the Republican Party didn't support the president on a march to war. I'm asking you a specific question.

Do you think that John Kerry, who has shown the kind of creativity and the kind of energy that he has shown, should lose his job because Newt Gingrich doesn't like a line in his speech? KRISTOL: I think he's a terrible secretary of state.

JONES: Oh, my God.

KRISTOL: He is terrible. My only concern -- I mean, it's so farcical now. The peace process is going nowhere and a bad deal with weapons in Iran. An incredible flip-flop on Syria. And this speech. My only worry is that if we start criticizing John Kerry, people will decide that President Clinton -- President Obama's first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was a little bit better, which she was. She did nothing. She had no accomplishments. She wasn't quite as delusional. And we will inadvertently help Hillary Clinton by showing just how bad John Kerry is. That's my only -- that's my main concern.

GINGRICH: Let me put you on the spot just a little bit. Because the central premise of my criticisms and the toughness of my reaction is that a secretary of state is very different than a senator, in that a secretary of state speaks for the most powerful nation in the world. This is at an international event in Indonesia. And presumably, the speech had been thought through, written out, and I assume he's telling us what he honestly believes. That he honestly would rank global warming as a threat that could be the greatest single threat.

Now, holding him to that standard, then we can have an argument whether or not that, as I said, is delusional. But isn't that the right approach to a secretary of state's speech, that this is a serious state document that is designed to inform both the world and our own State Department about our priorities?

JOE CIRINCIONE, STATE DEPARTMENT OUTSIDE ADVISER: You know that in the State Department speeches like this are cleared by dozens of people. So clearly this was well thought out. I serve on an advisory board to the secretary of state, but my comments here are strictly my own and don't represent the U.S. government. And they're always happy when I say that.

There's no question that John Kerry is right on this issue.

JONES: That's right.

CIRINCIONE: Last year when the head of the Pacific Command was asked what our single-greatest threat was, he said climate change, and the reason is that the military sees climate change as a threat multiplier. It makes dire situations worse. It threatens fragile countries. It kills crops. it floods cities. It can destroy nations.

John Kerry is exactly right to be in Indonesia talking about this, because Jakarta is in danger of being drowned out if the flood waters rise as much as the Army Corps of Engineers predicts they will by the end of this century, five feet. That could change the planet.

KRISTOL: You think climate change is more dangerous than nuclear proliferation?

CIRINCIONE: I'm on record as saying that nuclear weapons and climate change represent the two greatest threats to our society.

KRISTOL: You think climate change is really as much of a threat as nuclear proliferation?

CIRINCIONE: Climate change is slow motion mass destruction.

KRISTOL: Unbelievable.

CIRINCIONE: Nuclear weapons destroy instantly. Climate change can change our planet forever.

JONES: Why do you disagree with the Pentagon's assessment on this? Listen...


KRISTOL: What general makes a political statement knowing that the -- let me ask you this.


KRISTOL: 1997, I believe, was a resolution in the United States Senate should there be binding limits, as Kyoto suggested the climate change agreement from -- what was that, '92 -- on carbon emissions? Ninety-five senators agreed that no, the U.S. should not -- should sign no treaty with binding limits. One of those senators was John Kerry.

Now he's secretary of state. He goes around the world. He's giving speeches. What is he doing? What is he doing? Is he putting any pressure on China or Russia to change their policies?

CIRINCIONE: They are, yes! He just came from...

KRISTOL: He's having a great effect.

JONES: Go ahead. Explain what he's doing.

KRISTOL: Tell me how much influence he really wields.

CIRINCIONE: There's more and more agreement that this is a real threat to us, that this could fundamentally change geopolitics forever.

Let me give you just one quick example where nuclear weapons and global warming come together. South Asia. A hundred and 35 million people live in coastally-threatened areas. If the sea change rises -- is even close to what experts predict, those people are going to throw that continent into chaos. There's 200 nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan. You think it's dangerous now? Wait 20 years; wait 50 years.

KRISTOL: Fifty years? Can we actually focus on the fact that Iran is getting a nuclear weapon in the next two or three years?

CIRINCIONE: We are focusing on that. We're not doing one or the other. This is just one speech. I'm glad he gave it.

GINGRICH: But let me stay on your version of reality. First, do you believe any commander would be appointed who said climate change didn't matter? In this administration politically, it would be hopeless. So to have a senior officer say, "I'm now going to repeat what the president of the United States wants me to repeat" doesn't over whelm me. Second...

JONES: Hold on a second. The Pentagon's quadrennial review, which sets policy for the country, which is absolutely key to our national security and includes climate change, you're saying that document, the political document is wrong? You're saying...

GINGRICH: Here's what I'm saying. Here's what I'm saying. If you think...

KRISTOL: Of course it's a political document. It's actually not. The quadrennial review is...

JONES: I do know...

KRISTOL: ... political officials at the Defense Department.

GINGRICH: But here's a simple test. I think this is why this is a farce. You go to the Pentagon and say, "I just read your review. You said this is one of the two greatest threats to the planet. Good. We're taking half your budget, and we're going to put half your budget into fighting global climate change," they will all of a sudden say to you, "Well, you know, I don't think you quite understood the way in which we wrote this. Because that's a problem about 45 years from now, but this year we need three more ships."

CIRINCIONE: You know, this is a budget issue. We -- last year for the typhoon that hit the Philippines, we had 15,000 American troops there in relief. How do you budget for something like that? This is a problem the military actually is facing.


KRISTOL: We're now updating the totally discredited science playing that the typhoon is caused by global warming?

CIRINCIONE: You can't blame any particular...


CIRINCIONE: But overall the weather patterns are clear.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you -- Joe, let me ask you one other question. Last year is first year since 1962 that no major hurricane hit the United States. None. Now under your theory of all global climate change, how come it was the safest year since 1962 for hurricanes?

CIRINCIONE: Scientists will tell you individual years will vary, but it's the overall trends. Ten of the warmest years on record have happened in the last 12 years. Something is happening here. The climate is warming. We've gone up...

KRISTOL: No warmer, it's no warmer in the last 15 years.

JONES: We're going to keep -- we're going to keep arguing about this. When we get back, here is what Newt is absolutely missing. Any problem you're concerned about, any problem we can talk about will get worse, as you said, under climate change. I'm going to connect the dots for you globally when we get back.


JONES: Welcome back.

We are debating John Kerry's call to action on climate change and we're also debating Newt Gingrich's call for him to resign.

Now, here's a good question. Should serious people focus on global political instability, terrorism, failing states, nuclear weapons or should we focus on global climate instability, droughts, flood, extreme weather?

Here's the correct answer. Yes, both, because climate disruption will make every national security problem worse.

Big floods, crazy weather, that can destabilize governments, especially weak governments. That makes it easier for extremists to grab power or to grab nuclear weapons. No food, people riot. When the oceans rise, people flee.

You can imagine a world in some of these scenarios with a billion climate refugees. That's a dangerous place.

Look, all these issues are interrelated. It's not delusional to focus on climate disruption, it's delusional not to.

So, now, back in the CROSSFIRE, we've got Joe Cirincione, I think I got it right, and Bill Kristol.

I want to start with you. Let's just go back to this point about the Pentagon and its concern. You don't deny that the science of climate change. You believe that something could be happening here. We should take it seriously. Don't you think --

KRISTOL: Clearly, the Earth has warmed. I don't think there's anything different about that today over 150 years. It has flattened out over the last 70 years. The question is, how much you need to see (ph) matters? And what are the consequences of that warming are, are they good or bad.

JONES: But don't you think the Pentagon is right to take this seriously? John Kerry's getting beat up for saying this is a national security issue. Don't you think the Pentagon is right to take it seriously and would be wrong not to take it seriously?

KRISTOL: I love hearing Van Jones say the Pentagon is right. I'm going to have our guys at the "Weekly Standard" clip that and put that up online and they can really --

JONES: On this issue, they have miraculously got it right.

KRISTOL: Honestly, though, if this were as serious as you all think it is, shouldn't the president of the United States be actually spending political capital to do something about this, both internationally and domestically? The Democrats controlled the United States Senate the last I look. People think that cap and trade is a way to address this. Why aren't they trying to bring that up for a vote? Why are they trying to get a discharge petition in the House?

This is what I think is annoying, what's sort of infuriated Newt and I would share Newt's infuriation about -- I guess fury is the word -- fury about this, which is it's just talk.

JONES: It's not talk.

KRISTOL: It's nonsense. If this were as serious as you guys think, the president would be using all the political capital he has to actually change U.S. policy and he's doing nothing.

JONES: First of all, that's just wrong on the facts and you know it. He just talked about putting a billion dollars together to try to do something about this. He did go before Congress, the House actually passed a resolution, weren't able to get it through the Senate. This president has done more -- he put $36 billion in the stimulus package trying to move the ball forward on green energy and the price of solar has come down. This president has done a great deal.

The Republicans unfortunately have turned this into an article of faith, and some sort of litmus test. You have to be against any smart action and nothing gets --


KRISTOL: I actually don't agree. Honestly, the Republicans were -- honestly, were sort of on their heels after 2008. They were open to being persuaded. The science is cutting against the president and against you guys on this.

GINGRICH: But let me -- Joe, let me put this in context again, because my response was the notion of making this the biggest threat.

Now, let's talk about reality from a different angle. Right now, I think we ought to go to Kiev to show you.


GINGRICH: Kiev is literally burning. This is a live picture from Kiev.

One of the people watching Kiev burn who has a very deep interest in this is Vladimir Putin, who is described by former Secretary of Defense Gates who says when he looked into his eyes he saw a stone cold killer. Now, if you're Vladimir Putin and you're looking at the American back down in Syria, you're looking at the American back down on Iran where the Iranian ayatollah just Monday said the negotiations will accomplish nothing, doesn't mind if we talk. They'll accomplish nothing. And you're now seeing the secretary of state put his political capital on global warming.

Don't you think from Putin's standpoint as a guy who thinks of himself as probably the toughest guy on the planet that this is all sort of a joke? He has no interest in those things. His interest is what's going to happen to Kiev and he has no interest in the president once again drawing a line as he did this afternoon as he had done earlier in Syria because Putin doesn't believe the president is going to do anything.

CIRINCIONE: I think it's a tragedy that you're making this a political football. This is a very important speech on a very important topic. This one speech that the president gave. I was there October 28 when John Kerry at a Ploughshares event gave a very great terrific speech on nonproliferation, on stopping the spread of these weapons. And he's talked about Iran repeatedly and he's doing something about it.

Today, John Kerry spoke out against the violence in Kiev. Today, the president of the United States spoke out against the violence in Kiev. They're taking action trying to get targeted sanctions against the top officials of the Ukraine government. They're organizing with the E.U. and hopefully the E.U. will act tomorrow.

So, of course, they're doing all of these things. This is one of the important things you have to do.

GINGRICH: But the fact is, to govern is to choose. So, should they put their capital on climate change? Should they put their capital on Iranian nuclear weapons? Should they put their capital on dealing with Putin? They're clearly not capable of doing all of them simultaneously.

CIRINCIONE: But you don't doubt that John Kerry is trying to craft, you don't think he's going to get it, but trying to craft an Israeli- Palestinian peace framework. They spent much more time on that than on climate change. You don't doubt that he's serious about Iran, at least in the amount of time that he's spent down there, right?

KRISTOL: But he's delusional on all three. I mean, he thinks --

CIRINCIONE: Well, you disagree with his policy but he's clearing putting his capital --

KRISTOL: But the Israeli-Palestinian thing is crazy. I mean, the whole Middle East is blowing up. The one part of it that's reasonably quiet and stable for now is the West Bank and that's where Kerry is focused on.

CIRINCIONE: We don't want to go into why the Middle East is so unstable. For example, the war on Iraq, that was one of the greatest strategic blunders in U.S. --

KRISTOL: I'm happy to go into that if you want to have the rest of the debate on that. But it doesn't excuse Kerry one way or the other.


KRISTOL: Who voted -- which Democratic senator from Massachusetts voted for that?

CIRINCIONE: We're talking about --

KRISTOL: I believe his name is John Kerry.

CIRINCIONE: And it was a mistake. And he's been held accountable for that. You don't get everything right as you well know. But we're talking about capital and where you put that capital.

GINGRICH: You're just now saying that despite the speech, and again, I only reacted to what he said. I didn't make it up. Despite the speech, this is one -- this may be the greatest danger we're faced with, you're not saying, look, he's really putting his capital on Palestine or Israel, he's putting it over here.

JONES: The America's government has to do more than one thing at the same time. So, it turns out also when you have these interlocking problems, you have to do more than one thing. But I --

KRISTOL: He's not putting his capital anywhere. My problem is different from Newt. We're not doing anything about anything.

JONES: That is not true and I am --

KRISTOL: Joe had this nice list of all things we're doing and nine out of 10 things were things we were saying. The president spoke out about this. The secretary of state spoke out on that. We were alarmed by this. We were appalled by that.

Are we doing anything?


JONES: You would be the first person to applaud John Kerry. I think if you designed a secretary of state, you would design John Kerry. He's energetic, he's creative, he's going everywhere, he's talking -- he's trying to show American presence.

And you are sitting here saying he's the worst. I think you should say one positive thing about John Kerry, at least effort to do something about what's going on with Israel and Palestinian?



KRISTOL: He's a much worse secretary of state --

JONES: Terrible!

KRISTOL: He's the worst secretary of state -- GINGRICH: Hold on, wait --

KRISTOL: -- than Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and other Democrats.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you to stay here.

We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you agree with Secretary of State Kerry's assertion that climate change is perhaps the most fearsome weapon of mass destruction? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We'll also have our "Outrages of the Day", including the Obama administration's latest attack on freedom of the press.


GINGRICH: We're back.

Now it's time for our "Outrages of the Day".

I'm outraged over a field test scheduled for this spring with the Federal Communications Commission. It plans to study how local stations pick the news in order to, quote, "ensure that the information needs of all-Americans are being met.

This may be even more delusional than John Kerry's speech. The idea that we need the government bureaucrat to protect us from the very reporters who expose the misdeeds of bureaucrats is absurd. Thomas Jefferson would be enraged.

JONES: I think that's probably the first kind and caring thing you said about the mainstream media. So --

GINGRICH: Sometimes, I got to.

JONES: That's good.

Look, yesterday, I was outraged because of the Texas governor candidate Greg Abbott. He would not disavow Ted Nugent.

Ted Nugent, just a couple of weeks ago, as you remember, called President Obama, quote, "a subhuman mongrel." Well, today, the story is even worse. Sarah Palin has endorsed Abbott this afternoon, not instead of or in spite of Nugent. She says this, "If he's good enough for Ted Nugent, he's good enough for me."

Now, look, there are some people who fling around the word "racism" way too often way too easily. But when you call a mixed race black man a subhuman mongrel, that's racism. If that's not racism, nothing is racism.

And, Governor Palin, I want you to know something -- my kids are mixed race. They're not subhuman, they're not mongrels, and no Republican leader should support that kind of name-calling. You're a mom. We expect more from you than that. So -- look, you can go to Facebook or Twitter if you want to weigh in our "Fireback" question. If you -- do you agree with secretary of state's assertion -- Kerry's assertion that the climate change is perhaps the most fearsome weapon of mass destruction?

Right now, 52 percent of you say yes, 48 percent of you say no. I think that's about where the country is on this type of stuff.

GINGRICH: What do you guys think about it?

CIRINCIONE: On Kerry's assertion?

GINGRICH: And the country's reaction to it.

CIRINCIONE: I think it is about split and that's one of the reasons the secretary of state has to speak out about these things. They have to let the publics around the world know what the science and the immediate threat that we're facing from the warming of the earth.

JONES: Fair enough.

I want to thank you both for being here.

The debate is going to continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

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

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.