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Are Obama's Policies Keeping Us Safe?; Is U.S. Still Indispensable?

Aired May 27, 2014 - 18:30   ET


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Wolf, we're trying to make sense out of the Obama doctrine before President Obama goes to West Point to confuse us all again.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Actually, you can sum up the Obama doctrine with these words: no more dumb wars. The debate's going to start right now.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, a new deadline for U.S. troops to come home.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will bring America's longest war to a responsible end.

ANNOUNCER: Is President Obama making America stronger or weaker on the world stage?

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Peter Beinart, a contributing editor for Atlantic media and Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard." Is the president keeping us safe or putting us at risk? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


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

JONES: And I'm Van Jones on the left. In the crossfire tonight, we have guests with very different views of President Obama's record of keeping us out of war.

Now, big news this afternoon. President Obama has announced a firm deadline to get our troops home from Afghanistan. Now, remember, at one point we had over 100,000 Americans over there in harm's way. By the end of 2016, thanks to this president, only 1,000 are going to be left to guard the embassy. Now here's what the president had to say about that.


OBAMA: Americans have learned that it's harder to end wars than it is to begin them. And this is how wars end in the 21st century.


JONES: And hallelujah, ending war, that's what we want the president to do.

Now, let's recap, this president promised us no new wars fought on a credit card. Check. He also promised to get Osama bin Laden. Check. He promised to get us out of Iraq. check. And he promised to get us out of Afghanistan. Check. Promises made, promises kept.

This is a huge deal for military families who've had these military deployments hanging over their head. So on their behalf, I just want to say, "Thank you, Mr. President."

CUPP: Well, that was an impressive list, Van, but it's not quite mission accomplished just yet.


CUPP: In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol.

Peter, let me start with you and give you another list of sorts. Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Russia. Trust between our allies has dwindled. Our enemies in Iran and North Korea grow bolder every day. Our relationship with Israel seems to be crumbling. We've killed thousands or hundreds -- no one knows -- with an unaccountable drone war, and terrorism is on the rise.

Now, don't take my word for it. Let's listen to a Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, on CNN.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I see the intelligence. Terror is not down in the world. It is up, both deaths, injuries, in many, many different places.


CUPP: Peter, how can anyone say that President Obama's foreign policy has been a success?

PETER BEINART, ATLANTIC MEDIA: Well, I think the thing that most Americans care about most is that we have not had another terrorist attack anywhere near the scale that we had on George W. Bush's watch on 9/11.

Yes, there have been terrorist attacks around the world. Yes, al Qaeda and jihadists are still a very significant problem, but the major thing that most Americans are most concerned about, which is the homeland, Obama's record has been good and, of course, we got Osama bin Laden himself.

America's relationships with allies are actually considerably stronger, I think, than they were when Obama took office. Look at Asia, which is probably the most important area in the world. America's relations with Japan, South Korea. The Philippines have invited us back in militarily. Malaysia, Vietnam. America's allies where it counts most, I think, are actually stronger, considerably, than they were when Obama took office.

CUPP: But they've been pretty skeptical of us as we've dealt with Russia. We've made promises to get involved, and they've seen us sort of dither on those promises. And they've asked us -- people like Japan and the Philippines have asked us to, you know, assert ourselves yet again. Are we going to keep our treaties?

BEINART: Well, I think the people most concerned about what we're doing in Russia are our European allies, and in fact, I think we've done -- Obama's done a pretty good job of leading those European allies. He got them to support tougher sanctions than they would have otherwise.

And look what happened just in the last few days. There was a legitimate election in Ukraine. the Russians are saying that they're going to work with this new Ukrainian leader. The potential for them moving militarily seems way down from what we thought a couple weeks ago. It looks like the country has a much better chance of hanging together in a pro-European way, in part, I think, because of what America did.

CUPP: Bill.

JONES: I'm sure that you actually agree with this assessment, and furthermore, it seems to me that Republicans, in particular, love beating up on this president, saying he's not doing enough, but the American people are tired of war. And they don't want us to be more involved. You look at the polling on Ukraine. People don't want us to do more on Ukraine.

Isn't it, in fact, the case the president is right with the American people on being less interventionist?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "WEEKLY STANDARD": The president is supposed to lead. Do you think the president was right in 1994 not to go into Rwanda? I'm sure the polls showed not to get involved. So what if a billion people were slaughtered? The intervention in the Balkans weren't popular. Bill Clinton did it, to his credit. We supported it at "The Weekly Standard." Some Republicans opposed him. They were wrong in that case.

Look, the announcement today on Afghanistan is unbelievably irresponsible. It's one thing to draw it out to 9,800 troops. That's on the low side. Maybe that's enough to sustain the training and counterterrorism mission.

To announce ahead of time we're going to zero troops except for the troops guarding the embassy at the end of 2016 is beyond irresponsible. It's totally crazy. You're telling them we're getting out. What are they going to -- Wait a second. What is wrong with saying -- leaving it and saying, "I'm going to make a judgment based on conditions on the ground."

JONES: What's wrong with open-ended commitment for this country?

KRISTOL: We have sacrificed -- we have sacrificed blood and treasure in that country, and President Obama sent tens of thousands of troops there, and now he is making their sacrifice in vain. I find it sickening.

BEINART: I actually think President Obama was wrong to send additional troops to Afghanistan. And it was wrong. Ii think it was the single biggest failure of his presidency, Obama, because the truth is, we went to Afghanistan...

KRISTOL: How can you support a man who sends tens of thousands of troops to fight...

BEINART: How did you manage to support a man so successfully that sent hundreds of thousands...

KRISTOL: I support that war. Afghanistan was a disaster.

BEINART: Afghanistan...

KRISTOL: War in Afghanistan wrong?

BEINART: The war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, yes, against the Taliban, yes, against al Qaeda, no. It was a very important distinction. We don't have enough money in this country to pay people who are unemployed unemployment benefits, according to the Republican Party. Yet we have -- we can continue to send -- to afford tens of thousands of more troops in Afghanistan. When we see what's happening to those troops when they come back, the incredible...

KRISTOL: That's pathetic.

BEINART: That's pathetic?

KRISTOL: You're talking about the veterans as victims.

BEINART: No, I'm not talking about the veterans.

KRISTOL: That's what you said, we see these troops when is they come back. The troops are proud. President of the United States sent them there. The president of the United States -- let me finish -- sent them there, and now he is running a huge risk of undercutting all they achieved.

BEINART: Bill, my sister-in-law served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm very full aware of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of people who served in both wars. She left her small children to do so.

But the fact that our soldiers served honorably wherever they are sent does not mean wherever they are sent is wise in the national interest. The cost to the families and those people has been enormous. And there is nothing in Afghanistan, save preventing another attack on the United States, that is worth it.

JONES: Let me ask a question. How many more years would you be willing to have his relatives, my relatives, your relatives, serve over there? Five more years, ten more years, 30 more years, until -- until Afghanistan looks like Manhattan?

KRISTOL: How many more years do people serve in Korea? How many more years do we leave troops in Japan?


BEINART: There's no insurgency in Korea still.

KRISTOL: It's not clear that there's much of an insurgency left in Afghanistan right now. Very limited American casualties this year, thanks to the surge. And thanks, we just had a successful election in Afghanistan. You correctly touted the successful election in Ukraine. We just had a successful election in Afghanistan. For all the troubles of Afghanistan, it's been a very difficult war. There were mistakes made by Bush and by Obama.

Pretty successful election and what the president of the United States does right on the heels of that election is say forget it, we're gone. What signal does that send to anyone around the world who wants to...?

CUPP: Are you concerned, Peter, what will happen in Afghanistan is what has already happened in Iraq? You know, we successfully went in with a surge. We pulled our troops out too soon. We told them we were going to do so, and it has collapsed yet again into a den of terrorism. Why not commit to the job and leave when the job is done?

BEINART: There is no way that 10,000 more American troops in Afghanistan can defeat the Taliban insurgency and make that a unified country.

CUPP: Well, not when we tell them we're leaving in eight months.

BEINART: It doesn't matter. The reality is...

CUPP: Of course, it matters.

BEINART: It is far beyond America's capacity to build a unified Afghanistan, and I find it remarkable that, when people say we don't have the resources to do basic things like rebuild our infrastructure in the United States, they are willing to say that we should be doing that in Afghanistan. We don't have that capacity. Our focus should be on keeping America safe and rebuilding our alliance.

KRISTOL: I think it's sad -- sad for a spokesman for American liberalism to just wash hands of responsibilities around the world like that.

BEINART: That's exactly not what I'm doing.

CUPP: Twelve years of washing our hands? We've been there 12 years.

KRISTOL: Now you're celebrating -- whatever mistake have been made, you're celebrating the actions of the president who's saying, "You know what? Those 12 years, too far." BEINART: Multiple scenarios by which 10,000 more, 5,000 more American soldiers can defeat an insurgency that's been going on for years and years and years and probably will be for decades longer.

KRISTOL: It has been basically held at bay. It can continue to be held at bay. Most of Afghanistan is not under Taliban rule. There's no terrorist attacks coming out of Afghanistan. Pakistan has -- though it's a horrible place, a difficult place, it's been held better than it could have been. We're going to pay a big price for getting out of there.

CUPP: We'll see. Republicans aren't the only ones who disagree with Obama's foreign policy. Next, I'm going to give you a sneak peek into Hillary Clinton's new book. Is she trying to put some daylight between herself and her old boss?

Speaking of Hillary, here's today's "CROSSFIRE Quiz." If you add up all the miles she travelled as secretary of state, how far did she go? Is it nearly 500,000 miles, nearly 1 million miles, or nearly 2 million miles? We'll have the answer when we get back.


CUPP: Welcome back.

Now, the answer to our CROSSFIRE quiz.

Hillary Clinton traveled nearly 1 million miles as secretary of state. The exact number is 956,733. Take that home.

All right. Tomorrow, President Obama travels to West Point, where for the umpteenth time he'll try to explain his foreign policy. By coincidence, Hillary Clinton's publisher picked today to release the audio version of her author's note from her upcoming book.

Listen closely. Is she trying to distance herself from the administration?


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: While there are few problems in today's world that the United States can solve alone, there are even fewer that can be solved without the United States. Everything that I have done and seen has convinced me that America remains the indispensable nation.


CUPP: Does anyone else think that sounds a bit robotic, like it was auto recorded?

All right. While Hillary may think --

KRISTOL: On that point, if I could say a word --

CUPP: Yes? KRISTOL: No, when you read the four pages of her book that's released, it does not look to me like a scintillating read. I think we're going to trudge every single one of those 956,733 miles around the world with Secretary Clinton being impressed by her hard work and her consulting with allies, and working with State Department staff --

CUPP: Probably not a lot that's new.

BEINART: Wait for the movie.

CUPP: Right, OK.

While Hillary may think that we're an indispensable nation, does Obama? We abandon our red lines, we pull troops out of dangerous places before a job is finished, and we sit by as dictators taunt us and humanitarian crises spiral out of control. Is indispensable or irrelevant?

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol.

Peter, where exactly have we been indispensable in President Obama's foreign policy?

BEINART: Well, clearly, on the Ukraine. I mean, where the United States --

CUPP: You're giving us credit for what's happening in Ukraine?

BEINART: Absolutely. If the United States had not led the Europeans to do tougher sanctions than what they would have, which I think is what's changed Vladimir Putin's calculus. And now, remember, a couple of weeks, we were talking about potential imminent Russian invasion and the country spiraling to being divided into civil war, now we have a legitimate president who's had the legitimacy to take military action in the east and the Russians are saying they accept them. That would not have happened without Obama's leadership.

CUPP: Do you think Clinton's policies and, in fact, Hillary Clinton's policies helped get Russia into that mess in the first place, though?

BEINART: No, not at all. Russia has been pushing back against NATO expansion for several years. It did it under George W. Bush when it invaded Georgia. The question was, how effective would the U.S. response be?

It's true we could not get Crimea back to Ukraine, which is -- which is too bad. But the reality is --

CUPP: It's too bad, yes.

BEINART: But we'll see how good that turns out to be for Russia. But in reality, we've made Russia pay a significant economic price and that's changed Putin's calculation and I think we're going to have a unified Ukraine, which is basically what we want.

CUPP: Bill, are we indispensable in President Obama's world view? KRISTOL: Well, no, I think he'd like to have a world where we are dispensable, not indispensable, otherwise why would we simply get out of Afghanistan? Think about it, why doesn't he just say, you know what, I'm going to consult with the two candidates in 2016 and if they think it's prudent to leave 10,000 troops there, I'll let them make the decision what comes next.

It is so irresponsible -- he's closing the door on the possibility of salvaging things in Afghanistan after all the sacrifices we made, just as he did in Iraq. And that tells me -- that tells me this is driven by ideology. If you were a normal president, I've drawn down, he can take credit for the decline in causalities, he can draw down further. But a responsible president would say, you know what, we're going to take a fresh look in 2016 and see what we need.

To say zero troops after 2016 --

JONES: It's so interesting you talk about responsibility. You know what? As a father, when I want my children to be more responsible, you know what I do? I give them responsibility.

Giving the Afghanistan people responsibility for their own country is not irresponsible. And --

KRISTOL: They need our help, Van. They need our help.

JONES: They will get our help.


JONES: They don't deserve our blood and treasure for another 12 years.

BEINART: Look, it's basically -- truth is that the jihadist threat, which is what brought us into Afghanistan in the first place, I have enormous sympathy for the tremendous suffering of the people in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, but we didn't go there in order to do social engineering in Afghanistan. We did go there because that's where the terrorist threat came from.

The terrorist threat has changed. It has morphed and it is now spread into a whole variety of countries that it makes sense for us to spend more of our counterterrorism efforts more broadly, not on Afghanistan alone.

KRISTOL: We do need more counterterrorism, because unfortunately, al Qaeda is morphing out of control.

But in Afghanistan and Pakistan itself, it is important to have troops in Afghanistan to launch counterterrorism raids. Where was the raid to get bin Laden launched from? Afghanistan.

If we don't have troops in Afghanistan, you don't get bin Laden.

BEINART: And we will have counterterrorism issues in Afghanistan.

KRISTOL: We will not. We'll have 1,000 troops guarding the embassy.


CUPP: To bring up the spread of al Qaeda and terrorism in far off corners of the world, places like Mali and Nigeria, it's why we're watching Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Maghreb, or at least why we should be. Don't we have a responsibility, then, to intervene in those conflicts where terrorism, in places like Syria where terrorists feel emboldened by the chaos that we've left by abandoning our red lines? Don't we have a responsibility then to intervene in those conflicts where terrorism, people who would want to kill United States citizens are growing (INAUDIBLE) --

BEINART: What would you have us do?

CUPP: Well, in Syria, we would have us, three years ago go into Syria when the terrorist --

BEINART: And do what?

CUPP: When the terrorists and the rebels numbered in the dozen.

BEINART: And do what?

CUPP: Instead, now they number in the thousand.

BEINART: Go in and do what?

KRISTOL: We certainly could have armed the rebels.

CUPP: Of course we could have. When we're in the dozens we could have armed the right people, Peter. Now we don't know who they are.

BEINART: I think one of the lessons, there may well be that there was a case for arming the rebels early on.

One thing we have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq is we should have a little more humility about America's ability to decide who among the Syrian rebels are the moderates and --


CUPP: Where is Obama's humility in announcing a red line, then, in involving us in that conflict in Syria and then abandoning our involvement?

BEINART: The red line was a mistake, but we have 90 percent --


BEINART: -- of the chemical weapons -- I'm not going to defend everything Obama has done. But 90 percent of the chemical weapons are out of Syria today, which was more effective than what would have happened --

CUPP: But, Peter, a dictator used them -- KRISTOL: Assad --

CUPP: -- and recently used bleach on his own people. What responsibility --


BEINART: How would have America having killed several hundred people by sending in Tomahawk missiles simply because Obama set a red line have done anything for the people of Syria?

KRISTOL: We could have toppled Assad and it might not be (INAUDIBLE) --

BEINART: Those missiles would not have toppled Assad. Iran would just have doubled down more.

JONES: In terms of the Syrians of the war, are you on the al Qaeda side or the Hezbollah side? I mean, who over there now are you saying?

KRISTOL: Well, it's gotten to be horrible situation --

CUPP: Who knows now?

KRISTOL: -- which is going to spawn terror on the one side and give Iran a victory on the other. That's what happens when America does nothing.

BEINART: It's not giving Iran. In fact, Iran is much, much weaker.

KRISTOL: Oh, yes, Iran is shaking in their boots.

BEINART: Iran is totally isolated in a region that is completely than how they were --

CUPP: We are associating with a guy, Rouhani, who has bragged to the world scene that he has duped other world leaders to this exact position that we're in now.

JONES: OK. Stop, stop.

Stay here. We want you guys at home to get in on this conversation, this argument. Weigh in on the "Fireback" question for today. Do you think President Obama's foreign policy has been a success? Tweet yes or no using #Crossfire. Got to give you those results after the break.

Also, we've got our outrages of the day. McDonald's CEO has some thoughts about his employees' pay.

I got to tell you, I'm not loving it.


JONES: When we get back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JONES: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Now, it's time for outrages of the day. Here is mine. At his annual shareholders meeting, McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson stated we continue to believe that we pay fair and competitive wages.

Seriously? Donald Thompson made just under $9.5 million last year. Now, that's no surprise. The median salary for American CEOs has now jumped to about $10.5 million last year, according to a report that came out today.

Now, $9 million. Compare that to the average salary for a fast food worker, most of whom by the way are not teenagers anymore. They're between 24 and 54 years old. Now, how much they make?

About $18,000 a year, that is below the poverty line for a family of three. So, Donald Thompson, I think you ought to try getting by on a fair wage like that. It's outrageous.

CUPP: OK. My outrage. In Bladensburg, Maryland, there is a 40-foot monument made out of cement and marble erected in 1925 by the American Legion, commemorating the 49 men of Prince Georges County who died in World War I. Odd, it isn't a word I would use to describe it.

But Fred Edwards, national director of the atheist nonprofit United Coalition of Reason, did. Why? Because the solemn monument to sacrifice is in the shape of a cross. So, he filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to tear it down for violating the separation of church and state.

Look, I'm an atheist myself, but this cross isn't a violation of anyone's beliefs or lack thereof. And it isn't a violation of anyone's rights. The separation of church and state exists not to remove religion from the public square, but to protect religion from government oppression and kooks like Edwards.

JONES: Amen to that.

Let's check on our "Fireback" results. Do you think at home that President Obama's foreign policy has been a success? Right now, 38 percent of you say yes, 62 percent of you say no. What do you guys think about those results? I'll start with you.

BEINART: Look, the most important referendum came in 2012 when Mitt Romney hammered Barack Obama from the right saying he had been too weak, not interventionist enough. Obama pushed back and the American people clearly showed that, in fact, they wanted to turn the page on the kind of foreign policy we saw under George W. Bush.

CUPP: But they clearly don't like President Obama's foreign policy. That poll is not alone. It's not the only one.

KRISTOL: Yes. Peter is right that President Obama won in November 2012. So, in the last year and a half, some chunk of the people as perfectly reflected this CROSSFIRE segment --


KRISTOL: -- have obviously turned and come to the correct decision about President Obama's foreign policy as the real world consequences become more evident.

JONES: Well, I want to thank you, Peter Beinart and Bill Kristol. This 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.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.