NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript


By:  Pete King Keith Ellison
Date: Sept. 16, 2012
Location: Unknown


GREGORY: Congressman…

REP. PETER KING (R-NY/Chairman, Committee on Homeland Security): Yeah.

GREGORY: …as a Republican here, supporter of Governor Romney…


GREGORY: …is this American weakness that brought this on? Is that the Republican view? Is that what the view of President Romney would be?

REP. KING: Well, my view is it was a large component of it. There has been-- this president's policy-- President Obama's policy has been confusing. It's been apologetic, and it's been misguided. From the day he started his apology tour back in 2009 where he was, no matter what people say, apologizing for America, somehow suggesting that we've been anti-Islam until he became the president throughout-- the fact that-- even talking about Iraq, the way he took our troops out of Iraq without even getting the status of forces agreement. He was given a glide path in Iraq. And yet he pulled the troops out, brags about the fact that troops are out, gives a definite date for getting out in Afghanistan.

What he is doing by that is telling our allies they can't trust us and he's also telling unaligned that the U.S. is not a reliable ally. And the fact that you would have the prime minister of Israel on this show explaining his relationship with the president of the United States at a time of such turmoil in the Middle East, we have never had a situation like this where there has been such a disconnect between the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister. And the fact that he won't even meet with him at the U.N., while he's going to meet with President Morsi, sends terrible signals.

GREGORY: Well, to-- to be fair, the prime minister of Israel did not describe that as a stub-- snub in that interview.

REP. KING: I'm saying it. I'm saying, I'm saying.

GREGORY: You're saying, okay. Congressman, your response?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN): Well, it's ridiculous. The president has been consistent. He's been steady. And he's had progress in the policy wins in the Middle East. I mean, this is a seriously deeply rooted phenomenon, the Arab Spring that is going to be unfolding for a long time. And the last thing we need is to start making quick emo-- emotionally-charged decisions. We need consistent steady leadership like the president has shown.

GREGORY: But there is a policy component, Andrea and Bob, to this. The New York Times writes about it in an analysis piece this morning. I want to put a portion of that on the screen because it does provide some context here. The upheaval over an anti-Islam video has suddenly become Mr. Obama's most serious foreign policy crisis of the election season and a range of analysts say it presents questions about central tenets of his Middle East policy: Did he do enough during the Arab Spring to help the transition to democracy from autocracy? Has he drawn a hard enough line against Islamic extremists? Did his administration fail to address security concerns?

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL (Host, "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS"): Well, first of all, I think we have to exce-- concede that George Herbert Walker Bush's relationship with the then prime minister of Israel was arguably much worse than what we're seeing now. So, Republicans as well as Democrats have had difficulty, Congressman, in the past with Israel. That..,

REP. KING: It's always the post-9/11 world.

MS. MITCHELL: ..but that said…

REP. KING: There's never been a relationship like this.

MS. MITCHELL: …that said. I think there can be a legitimate criticism that this president has not handled the Israeli-Palestinian issue well, but the Arab Spring has been a much greater, much broader troubling issue that arguably not any American president could handle very effectively. That is not the argument.

That is not the policy argument that-- that Mitt Romney has made. Mitt Romney's-- the criticism of Mitt Romney is coming largely from many Republicans whom I talked to, foreign policy experts, who say that in the middle of the crisis when the state department did not know where Ambassador Stevens was, when the body was missing, that he came out with a written statement and doubled down on it the next morning and that it was not presidential, it did not show leadership. That is the criticism…

REP. KING: When he put out the statement, he didn't know that the ambassador had been shot.

MS. MITCHELL: But then he shouldn't have put out a statement, you know, the argue…

REP. KING: Well, first up-- that's exactly the problem. Entire project-- I mean, if you don't know something, how can you-- I mean, it's not (Unintelligible).

MS. MITCHELL: But silence is often a good choice. Peggy Noonan said that as well.

REP. ELLISON: What about waiting until you know more? I mean, what about Reagan? Reagan said, you know, when we have a crisis like this, we should all come together as Americans and not sort of-- divide up politically and try to seek a-- a point.

REP. KING: You know, sometimes wait…

REP. ELLISON: That was in-- that was a-- that was a sad moment.

REP. KING: President Obama waited three days after the underwear bomber before he made a statement, and then he came out and said, this was a sole individual…

GREGORY: All right, let me get Bob to weigh in.

REP. KING: …al Qaeda operation.

MR. BOB WOODWARD (Associate Editor, Washington Post): There's a way to look at this neutrally, and I-- I just don't think the charge of weakness will stick. I mean, Obama's been tough on these things. Let's be realistic. The extremists in the Middle East who are causing all of this trouble are extremists. And no Republican, no Democratic president is going to be able to control them. The question is, what's the policy and what's the response? And you deal in the intelligence world and you ask the experts about this and they'll say you never know. Ten people are going to come together and take over an embassy, shoot someone and so forth. So the idea that government can-- has the puppet strings here is- is just--

(Cross talk)

GREGORY: But couldn't we've done well with-- well, but let's get-- gentleman, let's get to the point. Where…


GREGORY: Where are the extremists who are-- who are protesting about the fact that Muslims are being killed in Syria every day, as you don't see those protests? Is this about the United States or is it about them?

MR. GOLDBERG: It's about everything. I mean, the truth is it's about everything. It's unfolding. It'll be unfolding for a generation. And you're right. I mean, you don't see-- you don't see that level of anxiety directed at Syria.

Hundred-- in the last week, hundreds of Syrian Muslims have been killed by the Syrian regime. And you don't see Syrian embassies being attacked. Obviously-- obviously-- obviously, if you're-- you know, we talked so much about the Arab street, how the Arab street feels about America. We-- we have to start talking about the American street too, because this is going to have consequences for these governments that we support. You know, we Americans see these countries that are-- that we provide billions of dollars who're not protecting our embassies, and they're eventually going to say, the American people can say enough already with this.

REP. ELLISON: This is a good time to realize that the so-called Arab street is not one monolithic thing. You have some people in, say, Libya, for example, who are pro-- holding up signs, apologizing for what happened to Chris Stevens.

GREGORY: Right. We have some of them. Yeah.

REP. ELLISON: Yeah. And-- and-- and, we-- we need to understand that this is not-- everybody's not on the same side. You have some radicals who want to push back. Some con-- some of-- some loyalists from the old regime, some extremists, who want to exploit the situation, and you have people who want a Democratic society. They're both contesting for who's going to come out and the United States should stay on their side.

REP. KING: But-- but how do we appeal to the wrong people in the Middle East by somehow exalting this whole-- this whole idea of the video being the cause of the-- of the riot?

REP. ELLISON: It's a spark. It's not a cause.

REP. KING: Okay. But for us to be saying somehow putting that on the equivalence of the American policy or to say that our policy in this country can be determined by a fanatical Christian minister in the South or radical Islamist mobs in the Middle East, then I think, the president can do more.

MS. MITCHELL: I-- I agree with that.

REP. KING: The president should be dealing with the--

GREGORY: But, Congressman, is it responsible for Mitt Romney to say that a President Romney could have stopped this from happening?

REP. KING: I think it's responsible for him to say that he would set a policy which would not be as confusing as this one. Why (Unintelligible) with President Morsi? Why didn't the next day the president even mention President Morsi? He come out to not say a word about the fact that our supposed ally--he doesn't even know if he's an ally or not--was getting a billion dollars not to defend our embassy in Cairo. The president did not mention that.

REP. ELLISON: But when the president called-- but when the president called, Morsi listened.

REP. KING: But for the single (cross talk) said nothing about it…

REP. ELLISON: And I-- and I wouldn't…

(Cross talk)

REP. KING: No, everyone is being critical of Mitt Romney.

GREGORY: Okay, good.

REP. KING: President Obama made his statement, he did not even mention the failure of leadership in Egypt.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, Congressman, you're absolutely correct. I think that it is easy for the administration to try to point to the film. There is a much broader issue, as Jeffrey and-- and Bob has-- have been pointing to. The world is changing and it is changing too rapidly for any American leadership to figure out what to do. There is going to be a big argument over foreign aid, you know that. And whether or not that is even a sensible argument is another question.

They have a big problem with Morsi. Morsi needs economic aid. He has, I've been told, reached out to the New York economic club. He wants to give a speech here in 10 days. He knows he needs the IMF. He knows he needs the United States. But he's trying at the same time to placate the radical elements in the brotherhood.

GREGORY: Let me…

MR. WOODWARD: But-- but the core problem is there're angry people out there. And you can't identify them. And the-- the idea that you're going to have a government policy to deal with angry people in a-- in a way that will suppress them just is not going to happen.

GREGORY: Let me get a break in here-- let me get a break in here. We'll come back with the roundtable. More on this, the political impact right in the middle of the campaign. More with our roundtable right after this.


GREGORY: We're back with our roundtable. Some context here--look at this polling from CNN/ORC--better at handling foreign policy, a big advantage for President Obama as we go into these presidential debates. Jeffrey Goldberg?

MR. GOLDBERG: You know, I-- I was troubled by something that Susan Rice said before, which is talking about how people are offended by this movie and sort of apologizing for this-- this film. I think there's a-- there's a perpetual grievance machine working in the Middle East. Bob-- Bob points this out. People will be angry no matter what. And-- and at a certain point, I think the administration should just say, look, we have free speech in America. It is part of our value system. You know, opp-- opposition to blasphemy is part of your value system and we respect that as long as you do it peacefully, but we have free speech in our country and we're going to stand up for our liberal western values.

MR. KING: Suppose tomorrow with Salman Rushdie, we going to back down on that also, yeah.

MR. GOLDBERG: No. Exactly. You want to be-- you want to stand very strongly. And you want to also support liberal thought in the Middle East and that means engaging with-- you have to remember most Muslims in the Middle East aren't attacking American embassies, many want to be-- have more liberal open society.

GREGORY: Congressman Ellison, is our only leverage in the United States money and foreign aid?

REP. ELLISON: Absolutely not. We have a lot of influence in terms of culture, in terms of just the way America is a democratic society. We should use that. They, as a matter of fact, all the protests we saw were for people reaching for a greater level of democracy. But foreign aid is a part of it. And I think that for us to threaten to snatch aid now is dangerous and a bad idea.

GREGORY: Andrea Mitchell, the question of Iran as well, I want to get reaction to the prime minister. He said something among the significant things, there-- they have an equal commitment, he said, Mitt Romney and President Obama, to prevent Iran from going nuclear. That is not the wedge that Governor Romney has been arguing. He has said, "You re-elect President Obama they go nuclear, you elect me they do not."

MS. MITCHELL: And yet Mitt Romney himself misspoke apparently in another interview saying that he agrees with President Obama on what that imaginary red line is. I thought it was very interesting that Prime Minister Netanyahu said they are in a red zone. The football analogy, yes. But he was trying to smooth over the differences. But there are very real differences. Real differences in that while President Obama has made a commitment to stop them from weaponizing, from getting a-- from going nuclear, they believe somehow in this notion that they will have the intelligence, they will know when the Ayatollah makes a political decision, and they will still have the time. And arguably in the past, we've learned that intelligence is not that precise.

MR. WOODWARD: There is so much turns on the intelligence. It was this interesting your discussion with the Israeli Prime Minister, and he said, well, at six months and they'll have 90 percent. And the Ambassador Rice said, well, it's not imminent that they're going to get the bomb. If you study intelligence, as I have for about 40 years, and Jeffrey and I were talking about, some day we're going to write a book called "The Unintelligence of Intelligence" because it's just often wrong. And people are surprised. And we're-- you know, deep, deep uncertainty about all of this-- 90 percent, six months, it's not going to happen. We don't know.

GREGORY: What about-- what about this interference in our election? You're curious about that from both of you, because he takes on-- well, I-- I pressed him on that charge.

MR. GOLDBERG: Well, there's-- there's two issues. One is a legitimate issue, which is this debate over red lines. This is the debate that Obama and Netanyahu should have, a discussion, in private. And-- and that's-- that's legitimate for-- for Netanyahu to raise. What's illegitimate, and-- and let me put this as-- as bluntly as I can. I've been watching the relationship between the U.S. and Israel for 20 years, more than 20 years, very seriously and I've never seen an Israeli prime minister mismanage the relationship with the United States or with the administration the way this prime minister has.

Obama is not blameless. The first year, the peace process was a disaster. But, you know, one-- one person here is the-- one person here is the senior partner, one is the-- the junior partner, and Netanyahu has turned this into a story about himself and Obama.

REP. KING: No, I-- I disagree. I'm-- I'm not here to criticize our president. The fact is in 2009 when he went to the Middle East and suggested a moral equivalency between the Iranians and the Israelis, when he was harping on against the Israelis, the fact is the Israeli government does not trust the American government. And that's really the issue. Not when the red line is going to be or where it's going to be. The fact is there was not a trust between the Israeli prime minister and the American President. And this is a President who'd come in saying he was going to restore harmony among nations, he was going to have better relationship with our overseas allies…


REP. KING: …and adversaries.

GREGORY: Are you double down on the comment that this President has thrown Israel under the bus?

REP. KING: He has not shown-- yes, I will. In the context of politics, yes, he has, absolutely.

REP. ELLISON: That's-- that's absolutely wrong.

REP. KING: He absolutely has.

REP. ELLISON: There's no evidence to that.

REP. KING: The way…

GREGORY: What does that mean in the context of politics, it's either true or it's not.

REP. KING: It-- it is true.

REP. ELLISON: It's not true.

REP. KING: It is true. Let me tell you why it's true. You had an Israeli prime minister being-- when he went to the White House being put off to eat by himself, being ignored by the president. You have the president refusing to sit down with him at the U.N. This is an ally.


REP. KING: He's not going to treat Morsi this way.

REP. ELLISON: According to…

REP. KING: He's not going to treat the Arab League this way.

REP. ELLISON: According to…

REP. KING: To treat an ally like that is, yeah, like putting him under the bus.

GREGORY: All right. Go ahead, Congressman.

REP. ELLISON: ---military leaders the security relationship is as good as it ever has been.

REP. KING: We're talking about diplomatic relationship.

GREGORY: Hold on, let him…

REP. ELLISON: And-- and-- no, no, no. And so-- and so the point is this is a sad reality where we are putting Israel as a political football in an election, it should not be done.

REP. KING: The president…

REP. ELLISON: And-- and as a matter of fact, I think that the-- that the president-- President Netanyahu (sic) ought to be a little bit more careful (cross talk) himself.


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