Return to Transcripts main page

State of the Union

Interview With James Jones; Interview With Senators Cornyn, Warner

Aired April 03, 2011 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: He did not say mission accomplished, but explaining U.S. involvement in Libya Monday night, President Obama indicated things looked good.


OBAMA: We targeted tanks and military assets that had been choking off towns and cities and we cut off much of their source of supply. And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gadhafi's deadly advance.


CROWLEY: But Tuesday into Wednesday, Gadhafi troops were back on deadly advance, pushing rebel forces out of cities they once controlled. Thursday, the defense secretary said other countries are capable of arming and training badly outgunned Libyan rebels and that the U.S. will soon take a back seat to enforcing the no-fly zone.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: Our role already has begun to recede to the support roles that I indicated. We will not be taking an active part in the strike activities. And we believe that our allies can sustain this for some period of time.


CROWLEY: Friday, sources revealed the CIA is reporting that Gadhafi is killing substantial numbers of people in towns outside media coverage.

Today what to do about Libya? We turn to President Obama's former national security adviser, General Jim Jones. Then, budget battles with Republican senator John Cornyn and Democratic senator Mark Warner. And the president about to kick the presidential race into high gear with Donna Brazil and Bill Bennett.

I'm Candy Crowley. And this is State of the Union.

In Libya, the fierce battle continues over the key oil town of Brega, and this morning, while the U.S. is part of an international coalition trying to stop Gadhafi from killing his own people, U.S. combat planes no longer flying strike missions over Libya, and no more Tomahawk missiles being launched from U.S. ships. So, is the U.S. too involved or not involved enough?

Joining me now in Washington, retired General James Jones, former national security adviser for President Obama and former NATO supreme allied commander. General, thank you so much for being here.

JONES: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: With us today.

JONES: Great to be here today. CROWLEY: Let me start with the first question that comes to everybody's mind since this all started. And I want to set it up. We saw Secretary Gates talking on Capitol Hill. And I wanted to play you just a quick glimpse of some of the reaction he got during his testimony.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: If getting Colonel Gadhafi out of Libya is an objective, how are we going to accomplish that? And how are we going to bring this to closure? I just don't see how this ends.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't really know where to begin, because I'm more depressed than I ever thought I would be. If something doesn't become a little clearer and more forceful, and a little more decisive, it's going to be very difficult to get authorization to approve the plan as it is.


CROWLEY: Is the mission in Libya clear to you?

JONES: Well, the mission is -- is clear. I think we are in the process of developing those key elements that allows us to go down the path to get to the end state. But we have to remember that the original premise for doing anything in Libyan was humanitarian, is to prevent a massacre that Gadhafi himself said he would conduct, and the United States decided to act to prevent that.

Now -- and it was supported by the U.N. in terms of the U.N. security council resolution, by NATO acting much quicker than I thought they would ever act. The vital interests of the United States, has been said, are not necessarily at risk here. The interests of the United States are at risk in the broader sense of what's going on in the region. Europeans have more of a vital interest than we do.

But to have major institutions come together so quickly to move in and do so fairly rapidly is pretty remarkable.

The problem is that while everybody wants to see Gadhafi leave, either be removed or leave on his own, that end state is not yet clear. We need to better understand who the opposition is on the ground. We need to make sure that the Arab League, the African Union and others who have much more influence on Gadhafi than we do, play their role. CROWLEY: But who are we kidding here, because I get that the mission is a humanitarian one and to stop him from killing his own people, but that is not going to happen until he's gone. So in the end, this mission really is about getting rid of Gadhafi.

I realize that there is the military mission and then there's what we want. And I realize that the military mission isn't to go bomb his headquarters, wherever he is. But we can't leave there, the coalition can't leave there, until Gadhafi is gone, correct?

JONES: That's correct. I mean, there is a certain sense -- there's a linkage here between the fact that NATO is now involved and -- and we know that the ultimate -- the end state is to have regime change in Libya. And how you get there from where we are now, which started out as a humanitarian mission to protect the people, without the partitioning of Libya, without Gadhafi staying in power, for a long period of time, that is the problem.

But unfortunately, most people want perfect clarity in a situation where clarity doesn't exist.

CROWLEY: Well, let me ask you what you thought -- we did in the open, sort of a setup. And we had Monday, and the president is saying things going really well. And we stopped him. The next thing we know, Tuesday and Wednesday, Gadhafi is back in full force. And yet by the end of the week, we're going OK, no more strike missions for the U.S., no more Tomahawk missiles from the ships.

And Congress said wait a minute, this timing seems terrible, because right when he's back and moving -- I mean, was that a mistake?

I mean, we understand the politics of U.S. not wanting to be in the lead. But the question is whether the timing was right to say OK now we're kind of backing off and letting others take the front seat.

JONES: Well, I would just say what we're doing here is making sure that our allies also take on their share of responsibilities, which they are. We have destroyed about a third of the tanks in Libya as I understand it. We do have a -- an adequate set of rules of engagement to go after these -- these heavy weapons that would inflict harm on civilians. We have some 40 ships, allied ships, of which about ten are U.S. The command and control system that NATO has is operating...

CROWLEY: But it didn't seem weird to you Gadhafi on the move and then us saying, OK, well we're done with the front seat stuff?

JONES: Well -- I mean, air power, we have a big alliance. I mean, air power -- the strike missions can be done by a lot of people. The U.S. is still flying as I understand it, about 50 percent of the missions, but they are mostly search and rescue, refueling, reconnaissance.

CROWLEY: The back up sort of stuff.

JONES: The supporting stuff. CROWLEY: What about arming, what about the...

JONES: If I could just make a point here, I think what's really important is that there three Arab counts that are also flying strike missions. And so this -- the participation of the Arab League in this mission I think is hugely important, and the African Union has to step up also. This is -- this is their neighborhood. And they need to play a major role in how this is going to work out. In the meantime, I think what we're doing is buying space for the opposition to get organized. We're learning more about the opposition every day, who these people are, to what extent are, you know, people that do not have the same interests we do of trying to shape the outcome of this.

And it's very, very -- it's a moment in time where there is no real clarity, but the things being worked are on being worked on to get that clarity.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you first about arming -- the U.S. helping in arming or training -- do you think that's a good idea or bad idea?

JONES: Depends on who we are arming and training.

CROWLEY: So that mission depends on what we find out in the current mission?

JONES: Exactly. Yeah, yeah.

CROWLEY: And isn't this in the end all about Iran? Isn't the president's Middle East policy and how he's dealing with these separate nations really with one eye on Iran most of the time?

JONES: I think -- Candy, I think you really asked a good question here. I think there are three -- three major pillars here. One is what's going on in North Africa and the Gulf and this uprising of popular opinion, and people who want a better life for themselves and want to be governed differently, in different countries.

Second, we shouldn't forget that the Middle East peace process is always at the center of this issue. There is no cause and effect relationship here, but if you really want to change the momentum where Iran is not quite as happy as it right now, because there are a lot of things that are going on with the Iranian government, you are probably reasonably happy with.

CROWLEY: Like for instance?

JONES: Chaos.

CROWLEY: Chaos helps Iran.

JONES: Trying to -- first of all, Iran is a little bit off -- it's flying under the radar right now, because you know you don't hear too much about their nuclear program, because everybody is focused elsewhere. But you can bet that Iran is affecting virtually everything and trying to play in every one of these countries where we're having some -- some difficulty. Even though under the banner of democracy and change, Iran is going to be -- is out there agitating things.

JONES: So the Middle East peace process, if there was any progress that could be made between the Palestinians and Israelis, would be a huge set back for Iran.

And to your question accounts Iran is the big shadow here, on the whole region, from Yemen to Egypt to Tunisia to Libya, and it's a factor that we should not -- we should not take our eye off of.

CROWLEY: Are we -- has the president been tough enough on Iran? Do you approve of the way he's been handling Iran?

JONES: Well, I -- as you know, I served in the administration for better part of two years.

CROWLEY: But you haven't been totally thinking that we -- you have suggested perhaps we've turned one too many cheeks in Iran.

JONES: Well, you get to that point where -- we got to the point I think in the middle part of last week, where the Iranian regime showed itself for what it is. The fact they walked away from Istanbul you know was a huge -- for me, a huge moment that said, look, this is the way these guys are. They're not serious. And we really do have to pay attention to their nuclear program. And while you leave the door open, I'm not terribly optimistic they will walk through it.

And all of the trouble going on in the region right now, has allowed them to slide under the radar. But I know for sure that the administration is not taking its eye off Iran in the long-term.

CROWLEY: Would you like to see policy a little tougher on Iran?

JONES: I think we -- I think they deserve to be treated with the firmness that their direction seems to be taking them. Yes, I think we should be very concerned. A nuclear capable Iran, nuclear weapons capable Iran is very dangerous. It would cause a -- certainly cause a nuclear arms race in the Gulf. And, third, I'm afraid that they would not hesitate to export that technology to their surrogates. And that would be very dangerous.

CROWLEY: General Jones, we're going to switch gears in a moment back to 2007 when you said this, "if we don't succeed in Afghanistan, you're sending a very clear message to terrorist organizations that the U.S., the U.N., and 37 countries with troops on the ground can be defeated." We want to talk more about Afghanistan and much more than that, when we come back.


CROWLEY: We are back with former national security adviser General James Jones.

Let me ask you about other places in the region in particular, Yemen, poorer country than most of those that are now seeing some of these uprisings. And there is the thought in all of the articles I've read and the reports we've seen coming across CNN, that al Qaeda is more of a threat here.

I mean, here is a guy we've paid money to, President Saleh to help combat al Qaeda. What happens there? Because, does he seem, a, like a goner to you? And, b, what does that mean ion terms of U.S. national security?

JONES: Well, in the near-term I think Yemen is very worrisome, and I think the administration is certainly watching this carefully with great concern. I think the trend lines are probably not terribly positive. We'll have to wait and see.

Saleh has been able to get himself out of similar fixes in the past, but this one is with the defection of his generals is going to be difficult.

CROWLEY: And what's the danger?

JONES: Well, the danger is that Yemen now will become a save haven for terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. We have the notorious al-Awlaki who operates out of there. It's a spring board for terrorist organizations in North Africa. We've seen al Qaeda in Somalia, in Sudan. We've seen them move across North Africa into Maghreb region. I personally believe that they have aspirations toward Nigeria on the west coast of Africa.

And I think this represents a 21st Century international security challenge that has to be met by and can be met really -- I think there is good news here, if the international organizations that exist can be more proactive in doing those things that affect the outcome in certain countries -- economic development, governance, rule of law, and security. And I think proactive engagement is much more economical than waiting until it metastasizes and you have another Afghanistan or something like that.

So the good news, I think we know a lot about where these organizations are going. The question is, what do we do about it, and when?

CROWLEY: You bring up Afghanistan. I wanted to ask simply because you had said, if we don't succeed in Afghanistan -- succeed in Afghanistan, it's a bad message to the rest of the world. We are coming up against that time where the president said we're going to start the drawdown in Afghanistan. We are now lead to believe that perhaps the military view is that it should be a small number of troops, whereas the White House view is it needs to be larger than that. You found yourself in that position before, probably familiar to you. From what you know, what is going to happen?

JONES: Well, I think the most interesting development happened -- that I've seen in a while -- it happened in December in Portugal at the NATO summit where all of the countries agreed that by 2014 we would honor President Karzai's wish that he be in full control of his country. And that means a dramatically reduced international presence. Hopefully it means a presence that is mostly based on economic assistance and governance and rule of law...

CROWLEY: But could a military...

JONES: And that the Afghans will be responsible for their own security.

So we are embarked on a strategy as I understand it, at least when I left the White House that what it was, to make a -- a reduction in forces, and now that the so-called surge in Afghanistan has actually been I think reasonably successful on the ground, ample evidence that al Qaeda leaders are tired of fighting or I'm sorry, Taliban leaders are tired of fighting.

The big problem happens on the other side of the border from my view. Pakistan is in a position to where it can significantly, depending on what it does or doesn't do, affect our success rate in Afghanistan. And to me, it's always been the unanswered question about what is Pakistan willing to do about the safe havens in its own country that are inimical to its own interests.

CROWLEY: Which it hasn't stepped up to the plate so far in a big way.

JONES: It hasn't fully stepped up to the plate, despite a tremendous amount of work and very generous offers on the part of the United States to help Pakistan economically and to actually help that society to transform itself to be better governed, live in a peaceful region and be secure.

CROWLEY: What is your gut feeling about U.S. withdrawal of combat troops in Afghanistan? Can there be a big drawdown this summer? Or do you tend toward the smaller one?

JONES: I think the important thing is that we're starting down the track to 2014, where Afghanistan is going to be what it is by then that is going to have to be good enough. And I think after all of these years of international involvement, not just the United States, I think we can make -- I think General Petraeus will make a recommendation that will be substantive and also symbolic which is important to show that we are on this track.

CROWLEY: But you are locking at 2014 really now. You don't see this summer as the big deal, 2014.

JONES: No, I think 2014 is, but I think symbolically this summer is important. And, you know frankly, Candy, after all of these years, we can't want for the Afghans what they don't want for themselves. So this is a period of time where I think the Afghans have to step up, where President Karzai has to step up and they have to kind of shape their own country.

We will help them, we'll do everything we can, but we can't make them want freedom more than we do.

CROWLEY: Retired General James Jones, thank you for stopping by.

JONES: Thank you, Candy. Great to see you, thanks.

CROWLEY: Up next, the budget battle here in Washington, and the race to avoid a government shutdown.


CROWLEY: President Obama called Republican House speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Harry Reid yesterday, urging them to work together to avoid a government shutdown. Midnight Friday is the deadline. Another temporary extension seems unlikely. Passing a budget to carry the government to October may mean putting together a coalition of Republican and Democratic moderate. At a Tea Party rally in Washington, it was clear that for some Republicans, the talk about budget cuts are not enough.


REP. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA: If liberals in the senate would rather play political games and shut down the government, instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say shut it down.


CROWLEY: In the meantime liberals like Democratic Senator Tom Harkin worry that the budget cuts are too much. The president, Harkin said, has got to take out his veto pen and say below this I will not go and I will veto it.

Up next, two senators involved in the deal making, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.


CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, both members of the Senate Budget Committee, which is a very busy committee this year, let's face it.

Right off the bat is there going to be a government shutdown on Friday?

WARNER: I hope not. I mean, I think that earlier segment where you had General Jones talking about Libya, talking about America's interest in trying to promote Democratic governments across the region, what kind of signal would it send if we were to shut down our government, basically over a couple of social policy riders that were added to the budget bill? I think there seems to be some agreement around the top line number. We ought to show that we as the American government can get our act together and make sure there's not that shutdown.

CROWLEY: Senator Cornyn, did I read you wrong, at least some of your comments this week, that you're kind of on board with the $33 billion figure?

CORNYN: Well, I'd like to cut more, because we're still spending 40 cents out of every dollar the federal government spending is borrowed money, adding to the deficit and to the debt. But really the -- I think it's up to Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate. The House has actually already passed a bill that would fund the government through the end of September, but he's refused to take it up.

I hope we can solve the problem, because frankly, people are looking for a little bit of adult interaction and interested in solutions to our debt and to our deficits and not just games. And that's what we're getting it looks like.

CROWLEY: Well -- you know, in fact, I think the public probably just can't quite grasp what this is. This is a bill -- I mean, this budget should have been done last October. You had more than a year to deal with it and it's like every two weeks, it's like OK, let's cut another -- this is no way to run a railroad as I think both of you will admit.

And the real problem here I think is that you haven't even started dealing with the big problem this year.

WARNER: Absolutely. Because when we're talking about, you know, $70 billion, or $73 billion, or $75 billion in cuts, versus $1.6 trillion deficit, we're really only playing at the margins.

WARNER: And all of this debate so far has been only on one small portion of the budget, what's called the domestic discretionary budget, which only makes up about 12 percent of what we spend. So you're never going to get to the kind of debt reduction and deficit reduction we need unless we can broaden this debate to include all the areas that government spends.

It's security, in mandatory programs, in entitlements. And I believe until we also take a look at tax spending, which is basically tax deductions, and look at tax reform as well.

CROWLEY: Gosh, it all sounds so sensible, doesn't it? And yet so hard to get Congress to sit down. And part of the reason is what we did in kind of the setup part, which is that Harry Reid has to the left of him Democrats who are saying too much, too much, too much; and you have to the right of you, Republicans going, this is not enough.

Can you all get together on this one little piece of -- of budgetry (ph), and are you willing to sort of stand up to those on the right of you and the tea party, et cetera, and say, this is the best we can get, it's time to move on?

CORNYN: I agree with Mark this is small ball compared to the big issues of the debt. We're going to have to vote on whether to increase the debt limit or not. We've maxed out the federal government's credit card at $14 trillion.

And these are the big issues and we ought to be looking at everything. And I respect what Mark and others are trying to do on a bipartisan basis in the Senate. But it's not going to happen without the president of the United States. He basically has ignored his own fiscal commission report that came out in December 2010, entitled "Moment of Truth," which describes in sobering terms the challenges we face as a country. But it's not going to happen without the president engaging. And we'd like to do something significant with divided government in a bipartisan way.

CROWLEY: And, again, you all sound so -- you know, you sit down here and everybody I get here sounds really reasonable, and somehow you get up to Capitol Hill and it becomes toxic. And everybody says, no, it's your fault on left and it's your fault on the right, and the American people get I think angry at that.

So in the end, can you two, can enough Republicans and Democrats come together to, A, avoid a government shakedown -- or shutdown... (LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: That too. Yes or no? And then when you get to the debt ceiling, which is the next one, can you get that -- can you move past that?

WARNER: Well, I hope the answer to the first is yes.

CROWLEY: But do you think it's yes?

WARNER: I think it will be yes. Because, again, what kind of message do we send to this world if we are saying, we've agreed on a top line budget number, in terms of what we're going to cut this year, but then we're going to have these extraneous factors come in that have nothing to do with budget, the so-called "policy riders," and that causes a shutdown.

I don't think American people will accept that. And, secondly, on the debt limit, it just frightens the heck out of me that anyone responsible would say, let's go ahead and light the fuse that might create the next economic meltdown.

Because with the markets as uncertain as they are, with the circumstances going on in Europe in terms of Greece and Ireland and Portugal, with the unrest in the Mideast, the notion that America would even potentially think about defaulting on its debt, and what that could do in terms of driving up interest rates, it would just be totally irresponsible.

You've got to believe cooler, saner heads will prevail on the debt limit as well.

CROWLEY: Let me just put a little explainer in here and then have you comment. And that is that this debt ceiling, if you all do not act to raise the debt ceiling, that is, the amount of money that Congress allows the U.S. to go into debt, it will cause us to default on things.

There is no way that this debt ceiling can be allowed not to -- let's see, let me put this positively. There is no way you can't pass this, right? You have to lift the debt ceiling. CORNYN: I intend to vote against the -- raising the debt ceiling unless we can get some systemic reforms, the kinds the president's own fiscal commission recommended in December of 2010. I think we need to pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution that 47 of my colleagues and I rolled out this last week.

I hope we can get bipartisan support. We came within one vote in 1997 of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution which would force it the federal government to live within its means instead of spending money we don't have.

But that's the price that's going to have to be paid, systemic reforms, in order to get Republican support for raising the debt ceiling, otherwise I think you are going to see Democrats having to do that all by themselves.

CROWLEY: Up next, I want to talk to you all about how Republicans want to change Medicare and Medicaid. How Democrats want to change the tax code. Much more with our two senators.


CROWLEY: We are back with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

As I understand what Senator Cornyn was saying, the price for many Republicans of raising the debt ceiling so the U.S. can continue to borrow money to pay its bills, is a balanced budget amendment, that they want those two together. Is that OK with you?

WARNER: Listen, I was a governor. We had to balance our budgets. I don't think a federal balanced budget amendment gets us to where we need to be. I do agree that we need a long-term plan, but I would not tie it directly to the debt limit. Messing with the debt limit with the instability in the bond market at this point could create be -- could create a financial havoc and crisis.

CROWLEY: But to get their votes?

WARNER: What I think we need to put in place, though, is a plan that says how -- and basically working off the president's debt and deficit commission, how do we put up a five- to 10-year plan in place that will bring down our spending, that will reform our tax code, that will generate the revenues and the spending cuts we need to start chipping away at that $14 trillion debt.

Every day we fail that, we add $4 billion with a "B" to our national debt. So I agree that we need a plan, that's what we're working on that in the Senate on a bipartisan basis. Three Democrats, three Republicans.

CROWLEY: A gang of six working on debt reduction.

WARNER: Saying let's get -- yes, let's get out of this small ball box, and let's go ahead and take on these tough issues around defense spending, around entitlements, around tax reform. I think we're going to get that plan moved forward.

CROWLEY: What is the status of that? I mean, how -- because this has been going on for a while.

WARNER: This has been going on for a while. But, you know, it's -- these are huge issues. You see why they've not been bit off in the past. But I think we're working in good faith. I think we've made some progress in the last week. Chances are when we roll out our ideas, we'll get some grief from both the left and the right.

But if we don't find a way, as we started this conversation, to kind of link arms, Democrats and Republicans, and kind of take a giant leap together, then these questions around debt and deficit are going to continue to haunt us. It's not going to be a question of whether we do debt...


CROWLEY: Will you see something that's...


CROWLEY: ... for you guys?

WARNER: ... deficit reduction, it's only a question of when. I think you'll see something very shortly.

CROWLEY: This month?

WARNER: Very shortly.

CROWLEY: We have got a whole month. It sounds to me like you are quite willing for Democrats to go ahead and vote to lift the debt ceiling, which is necessary.

CROWLEY: But you, kind of -- you Republicans are going to stay away from it and let them do it and then take the heat in the election. That's what it sounds like to me.

CORNYN: Well, we can't continue business as usual here in Washington. And we need presidential leadership. Dick Durbin and Kent Conrad, part of the gang of six, were on the president's fiscal commission and agreed with his recommendations.

Really, what we're lacking is presidential leadership on this issue. You know, the irony, Candy, is if he were willing to work with us on a bipartisan basis to embrace some of the recommendations that Mark and the gang of six are going to make, or his own fiscal commission, I think it would actually help the president politically.

Instead, you see the president really, you know, MIA, and you see him planning his announcement for his re-election bid next week, and it's just, kind of, like, you know, where are your priorities?

And this has to be the nation's number one priority at this point, because the debt is a national security problem, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said.

CROWLEY: Well, there are plenty of Republicans out there, too, we might add, for the presidential race.

But Congressman Paul Ryan has put out, or is about to put out a Republican plan for the 2012 budget, which is going to include some of these on entitlements, some of these things that you want the president to step out on.

It would be an overhaul of Medicare, which would give people subsidies to go buy private insurance -- so senior subsidies to go buy private insurance; about $1 trillion -- several trillion dollars' worth of cuts in Medicaid, giving them block grants, to states, rather than paying per person. Roll back spending to 2006; cut corporate tax rates but close loopholes; and make permanent the Bush tax cuts.

Starting point?

WARNER: I think, Candy, I'm anxious to see Congressman Ryan's plan. My understanding is he's going to do all of these things and not look at defense spending, not look at major tax reform that would actually raise revenues.

I don't know how you get there without taking basically a meat axe to those programs who protect the most vulnerable in the country. So I'll give anybody the benefit of a doubt until I get a chance to look at the details, but I think the only way you're going to really get there is if you put all of these things, including defense spending, including tax reform, as part of the overall package.

CROWLEY: Is there tax revenue that you would look at to say, yes, I think we can gain some more revenue by raising this tax?

CORNYN: You know, we can't raise taxes enough to close this deficit or pay off this debt.

CROWLEY: No, you can't, nor can you cut spending enough. Isn't that the point?

CORNYN: No, I think we can, but I agree with Mark that we need to look at everything on the table. But the reason why Congressman Ryan is leading with this budget proposal is because the president refuses to lead and so Republicans in the House are going to have to lead.

The political strategy is clear. Then Chuck Schumer and others are going to attack them for the proposals they've made, rather than to try to work in a constructive way like the gang of six is doing in the Senate. I just think it's -- it's a real shame and a lost opportunity.

CROWLEY: I'm going to give you 15 seconds to defend the president, because that's three times he's said he's not involved.

WARNER: We will not get there without the president. The president will be involved. But we've got to make sure that the House comes along as well. So I think we'll take the first set of arrows, but we will see the president very engaged in the debate.

CROWLEY: OK, soon -- coming soon.

Thank you so much, both of you. I appreciate it.

Up next, we'll shift gears to the 2012 election. All those Republican candidates may have a challenger pretty soon.


CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Bill Bennett, CNN political contributor and host of the national radio talk show "Morning in America" and the author of the new book, "The Fight of Our Lives: Knowing the Enemy, Speaking the Truth and Choosing to Win the War Against Radical Islam."

Well, having said all that, can we start with 2012 just because I've been dying to, like, have a conversation about it.


Because it's here. We understand the president is probably going to start to, you know, maybe, file the FEC and begin to start that so he can start raising money.

First of all, let's just size up the president's chances at this very moment. He's an incumbent. We all know that means he has a fairly good chance of being re-elected, at least historically.

But I want to show you the president's most recent job approval rating. This is from Quinnipiac: 42 percent give him a job approval rating -- approve of it; disapprove, 48 percent.

Not a great place to start a campaign, but it's a snapshot in time. What does he need to do?

BRAZILE: Well, four factors -- first of all, the economy. And last week, we saw some more good news. The economy grew again. That's going to play a large role in 2012, along with the change in demographics of the United States.

We saw with some of the recent census figures the Hispanic population has grown. That should help the president who won the Hispanic vote.

The third factor, I think, is money. The president will have to raise a substantial amount of money.

CROWLEY: Which is why he's starting this process this week.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And of course, the effectiveness overall of the political campaigns. Right now, against a generic Republican, the president is leading 47-37, because we don't know what Republican will win the nomination. But I think the most important thing right now is the president to lead, to ensure that the economy continue to roll and to reach out to independents. That's the key to winning in 2012.

CROWLEY: What's the president's problem at this point, politically?

BENNETT: I agree with some of that. The jobs thing is good. It doesn't settle it because there are other issues on the horizon, the price of gas, inflation, other things that can happen; this business around the world in the Middle East is precarious; and what are our commitments and what else is going to happen?

But, you know, he's not doing badly. Those numbers aren't terrible. I think Republicans can win if we get the right candidate, get the right message.

What I most agree with Donna about is for the president -- is to lead, and I would say lead in the way that your last two panelists talked about, take a lead on this all-important budget matter and step in, either say he's with what his commission recommended, what the gang of six is recommending.

Because, in my lifetime, I have not seen the public recognition so deep. And I think it is deep, Democrats and Republicans, that we are facing a very serious tidal wave here, economic tidal wave, and that a catastrophe has to be avoided. And you can't step away from that if you're the president.

BRAZILE: But, you know, 10 years ago, only 35 percent of the American people said the economy was number one. Today, it's 71 percent. Now, the focus has to be on job creation, because that's the best way to get us to a stable economic recovery.

But spending is very important.

BRAZILE: That's why both sides have come up with serious cuts that will dramatically impact our lives from food safety to Head Start, you name it.

But I think the president has shown this weekend, he called Speaker Boehner, he called Senator Reid, he -- you know, there's a figure out there now.

CROWLEY: He sort of called them and said fix this.

BRAZILE: Well, because, look, it's in their hands. The president has said, look, here are some cuts. This budget is going to dramatically cut where we started at in 2011. We're already six months into the fiscal year. This will have a deep impact. He's come three-fourths of the way where the House Republicans wanted the Democrats to come. And now Mr. Boehner has to bring his Republicans to the table. If you need Democratic votes, fine, but take those sweeteners off the table, those so-called riders.

CROWLEY: Let me roll you along, just because I want to ask you, because you brought up the subject matter. I get that jobs and the economy are a very big deal, but does foreign policy come into play? If you're advising a Republican candidate, how big a deal is it for them to also take the president on when it comes to foreign policy?

BENNETT: Well, as we cite in the book, 2009 saw more terrorist attempts on us and on American interests than ever before. So if you have a terrorist attack, god forbid, that's successful, this could change everybody's thinking and can change the whole political dynamic.

And again, what's going on in the Middle East, with how many countries did you cite in your earlier segment with General Jones, how many problems areas, there are two issues and certainly foreign policy and the threat of terrorism is one much those issues.

I just said to Donna in response here, the president needed to do more than he did when he had his moment, which was the State of the Union then say a $400 billion freeze for ten years. That doesn't do it. Everybody knows that doesn't do it. The commission knows it doesn't do it. The Gang of Six knows it doesn't do it. Look, it would help the president politically for 2012 to be more engaged rather than we're in the final four now, just outside shooting.

CROWLEY: When you look at the Republican field, because I want to touch on that briefly, who do you look at and think that would be a really strong candidate against the president?

BRAZILE: Well, this week, of course, I'm celebrating Donald Trump and Michelle Bachmann. I think they are the star players.

CROWLEY: Not who would you like to have run, who do you think is the strongest person?

BRAZILE: But you know at this point, they all look good in comparison to each other. There's no question that Mitt Romney is going to get a lot of traction because he's a mainstream Republican out there in the field where the conservatives, the Tea Partiers will probably dominate the early contest in 2012.

But there's no question that it's too early to tell. I have my personal favorites. You know, Haley Barbour is a friend -- I'd like to see Haley Barbour run, because I like southerners in the race.

CROWLEY: And you might vote for him, right?

BRAZILE: No, I -- unless Bill Bennett decides to run, I think I'm going to stay out of it.

BENNETT: There you go. CROWLEY: I saw an article recently that said watch these three, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty and who was the third one...

BENNETT: Newt? CROWLEY: No, not Newt. No, Newt interestingly wasn't in it. But if you had to pick your top three.

BENNETT: Well, you know, conventional wisdom... CROWLEY: Mitt Romney first.

BENNETT: Yeah, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and who did you say the first one was, whatever.

BRAZILE: Why are you dissing...

CROWLEY: Haley Barbour.

BENNETT: Haley Barbour -- yeah, I don't know.

See, I think -- I'm not saying he'll be a candidate, but I think -- a literary critic said once after the Brothers Karamazov everything changed, your life changed. I think next week changes a lot. Paul Ryan will emerge I think as the single most important Republican in the country. He's the chairman of the budget committee. This budget that we will see from Ryan, and it'll be the subject of great debate, is much more ambitious than anything even Ronald Reagan ever proposed. So that's going to shape, I think, a lot of the 2012 race for Republicans.

CROWLEY: How so?

BENNETT: Who is with him? Who is for it? Who walks away from it? Does everyone endorse it? Do they think this is serious or not? And I think that's going to have an awful lot...

BRAZILE: I guarantee the Republicans will run away from it. They ran away from it last year when Paul Ryan put out his road map. They're going to run away because they will not support the drastic cuts in Medicare about to rise in the system and the severe cuts in Medicaid that will cripple the economy even further in terms of health care costs.

So I think it's going to be an interesting debate. I love to see the internal fights within the Republican Party. They're civil wars are a lot more interesting than the Democratic civil wars.

BENNETT: Well, we are having internal debate, but it's a good debate because I think we are winning the debate so far on the need for cutting, on the need for reducing spending. And we are going to have to resolve this inside our own house. But I think everything changes next week. We'll see. We'll see how fast people run away. I hope they don't because I think it's going to be a responsible budget.

BRAZILE: They've managed to change the conversation. It is true that they have charged the conversation. We're talking about spending cuts and not cooperate loopholes, we're not talking about agri business, oil subsidies, that's fine. But at some point, you're right, we are going to put everything on the table.

BENNETT: Everything does go on the table.

CROWLEY: Which will be another interesting conversation.

Democratic strategist, CNN contributor Donna Brazile thank you. Bill Bennett, CNN contributor, Republican strategist, author of a new book "The Fight of Our Lives." Available in their book stores I'm assuming?

BENNETT: Yes indeed, thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, a check of today's top stories. And then Fareed Zakaria GPS at the top of the hour.


CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories. After three days of protest in Afghanistan over the burning of a Koran by a Florida pastor, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus today condemned disrespect to the Koran and the Muslim faith.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY: That action was hateful. It was intolerant. And it was extremely disrespectful. And again, we condemn it in the strongest manner possible.


CROWLEY: The demonstrations have left more than 20 people dead.

Workers at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant used a chemical compound mixed with sawdust and newspaper to try and plug a crack behind the facility's number two reactor that is leaking highly radioactive water into the Pacific ocean. An earlier effort to fill the crack failed. Meanwhile, the bodies of two plant workers missing since the March 11 earthquake have been found.

A massive penguin rescue operation is under way on an island chain located in the south Atlantic Ocean. Tens of thousands of northern rock hopper penguins are threatened by an oil spill from a cargo ship. At least 300 penguins have died.

And Southwest Airlines flight cancellations continue today after the airline grounded 79 more of its 737s for inspections. A gaping hole tore open in the fuselage of one of its 737s Friday. An initial investigation in the case of structural failure caused the hole. The plane made a safe emergency landing in Arizona.

Those are your top stories today. Thanks for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley. Up next for our viewers here in the U.S. Fareed Zakaria GPS.