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300 U.S. Advisors Sent to Iraq; Cheney Critizing Obama; Redskins Trademark Cancelled; Benghazi Suspect on U.S. Navy Ship; U.S. Team Under Fire for Lack of Flops
Aired June 21, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Three years after the last U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq, American military advisors are heading right back in. The first of up to 300 advisors could heading to work today as soon as today. Their mission, help Iraq stop Islamist Sunni militants who have overrun town after town and are now just about 40 miles from Baghdad.
I'm Michael Smerconish. Let's begin.
My first headline is from ABC. Obama to send up to 300 U.S. military advisors to Iraq. The president emphasized that these special forces will not be in a combat role, but to many, that sounds familiar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three American helicopters are shot down. Three American advisors are killed. And 63 South Vietnamese died after shooting at each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got U.S. military advisors flying combat missions. We got advisors that are accompanying South Vietnamese forces in the field. So by this point, their role had gone beyond simply advising.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: My first guests are Colorado Republican congressman Mike Coffman and Iraq war veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, also Philip Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former deputy director of the CIA counterterrorism center.
Phil, that footage was from that tremendous special right here on CNN about "The Sixties." Is it deja vu all over again. Is that what you're thinking of when now it's 300 advisors going to Iraq? That it could be a Vietnam in the making?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think so. I think the president has been clear. In my old world at the CIA, there is a fundamental distinction about being in a command center and being in the frontlines for example trying to take back a city like Mosul. What I, we worry about more than Mission (INAUDIBLE) was mission focus. We have the potential for an insurgent group that might expand, gain safe haven, threaten New York City. I want people who are looking at that group and potentially taking out targets. That is different than getting involved in a civil war at the behest of the head of Iraq, Al Maliki. So the distinction between are you running specific counter insurgency operations against threats to the U.S. or are you slipping into support for a civil war? Big difference in my world.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, I'm glad that Phil uses the verbiage civil war. Because today's "Washington Post" has a troubling story saying that Shi'ite militias are now cooperating with the Iraqi Army. In other words, and you know the subject very well, Maliki is now relying on those who once launched attacks on U.S. soldiers.
REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: Well, I think if you look at the Iraqi Army, itself, it is not far from being a Shi'a militia at this point. A lot of the Sunnis have deserted from the army. This is a Shi'a-dominated government. Fighting a Sunni Arab population where there is a popular base support for this uprising. And so, you know, we've had this coalition before where we had the jihadist elements wherein the local Sunni Arab militias, tribal leaders come together as one.
This really requires a political solution. I think the president was absolutely wrong to send these advisors in and take sides in really is a sectarian civil war. We need to be putting pressure on the Maliki government to reach out, to lay a foundation for reconciliation. And I'm so pleased to see that (INAUDIBLE), the leading Shi'a cleric in the country has come out and said there's got to be a significant change in this government.
SMERCONISH: Your position is he shouldn't have sent the 300 advisors, but is it your position also that we should have maintained more of a military footprint there to begin with?
COFFMAN: Well, I think obviously hindsight is always easy. I don't think the president wanted the narrative that he had ended the war in Iraq. I think that would have been helpful. But you know, the situation is what it is right now. We can do a lot of finger pointing to this administration, to the prior administration in getting us into this. I think right now, we got to focus on looking forward.
In looking forward, I think we need to understand that depth of the antagonism of the hatred between the Shi'a and Sunni populations of this country. And we need to see it in those terms and we need to see it in terms of political reconciliation. I think the Sunni Arab (INAUDIBLE) by and large want to be part of Iraq.
SMERCONISH: Phil Mudd, Michael Crowley wrote the cover for "Time" this week on the subject that the congressman was just referencing. And my take away was that this really is not about Iraq. This is about Sunni radicals seeking to establish a (INAUDIBLE) in that entire region. The sooner we come to terms with that, the better off we'll all be. Your reaction?
MUDD: I think that is correct. We think of the world in terms of statelines, the people that I used to fight against don't. They believe that the war was passed down through a religious document and boundaries don't mean anything. On the flip side of that, you are looking also at the Shi'a and how they are viewing the world. Think of this crescent over the course of a few decades.
You have Iran at the center, the center of the Shi'a universe. On the one side, we got the Americans getting out of Afghanistan. They have a lot of historic influence. We have Nuri al Maliki, a Shi'a, taking over for Saddam Hussein, who is a Sunni in Iraq. You have cementing power for Assad. He looks more and more powerful every day. One more step in the south in that past three or four decades. You have the rise of Lebanese Hezbollah, which is a Shi'a group and a surrogate of Iran. For them, this world Sunni-Shi'a is looking pretty good.
SMERCONISH: And so, Congressman, what I glean from that and from Phil's analysis, is that no number of U.S. military advisors or frankly troops on the ground is going to be able to answer this age- old question of who should have been the successor to the prophet Muhammad in the year 632.
COFFMAN: That is probably right. Let me just say this having worked with the Sunni Arabs in Alanbar province in 2005, 2006, that when they saw hope in terms of their future in Iraq with an inclusive Iraqi government, they turned on the radical elements, the jihadists and sided with us. So, that can occur again if, in fact, they see a future in an Iraqi government.
Again, I'm encouraged by Al Histani in his statement about a fundamental change in the government to make it inclusive. I think that we need to recognize that this is a political solution that is required and not a military solution. Sending in the 300 advisors without a foundation for reconciliation is taking sides in a sectarian conflict.
SMERCONISH: I hear so much in terms of a political debate here at home, Phil, about how well, you know, Bush got us into Iraq. Well, Obama took us out prematurely. I'm wondering wouldn't we be in this same position, maybe not at this juncture, maybe five years, 10 years down the road, whenever Saddam Hussein would have died. But it seems to me that the world was headed in this direction anyway. Your thoughts?
MUDD: I think that's correct. Look, like it or not, Americans have a view about democracy. All democracy is good all the time. When you're dealing in countries whether it's Lebanon, whether it's Syria, whether it's Iraq that have fundamental divides on a religious basis or an ethnic basis, there is a transition from democracy to stability. And that is revolution.
You are not talking about a year of revolution. You are talking about 10, 20, 30, 50. So we got in the middle of a country that has Kurds, Sunni and Shi'a. And before we get to the (INAUDIBLE) we're going to have revolution. That's what we're seeing now.
SMERCONISH: Congressman Mike Coffman, please stick around, we'll talk to you later in the program. Phil Mudd, thank you as always.
You remember the headline that we began with - Obama to deploy special forces to Iraq. What I would have written, 300 military advisors won't pick Muhammad's successor. Dick Cheney is at the front of the line as Republicans blast Obama over Iraq. I'll talk to former ambassador Joe Wilson about Cheney's take and what the U.S. can do about Iraq.
Plus, the latest party to be offended by the name Redskin. A branch of the U.S. government.
SMERCONISH: Let's get right to our next headline. The collapsing Obama doctrine. It comes from the Dick and Liz Cheney's op ed this week in the "Wall Street Journal," criticizing President Obama over Iraq. Now, one man familiar with Dick Cheney's handling of Iraq is Ambassador Joe Wilson.
Joe Wilson is the former chief of mission to Iraq during Desert Shield. Let's recall the important role that Ambassador Wilson played in the run up to the Iraq invasion. In February of 2002, the CIA sent him to Nijir to investigate reports that Iraq had purchased uranium yellow cake. Wilson soon concluded that those reports were unsubstantiated.
Shortly after President Bush made charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa, in his 2003 State of the Union address, Ambassador Wilson openly questioned the American justification for going to war with Iraq in the piece that he wrote for the "New York Times." Eight days later, his wife Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA officer. The betrayal of her identity resulted in the conviction of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff on charges of perjury, lying to federal investigators and obstruction of justice. Earlier, I had the opportunity to ask him about the crisis in Iraq.
AMBASSADOR JOE WILSON: Well, I think those who talk about the president having withdrawn our forces too soon forget that in fact it George Bush who initiated the (INAUDIBLE) forces agreement or as the Iraqis call it the withdrawal agreement prior to his leaving office. The bigger picture, I think now is that Iraq is in a very perilless situation. And I think it's only going to get worse.
Prime Minister Maliki has purged the Sunnis from any important positions. His troops clearly in Mosul and in the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq. His troops have treated them rather badly. There has been an opening for this terrorist group that did not exist in Iraq prior to our occupation to lead a charge, which is I think emerging as an uprising of the Sunni tribes as much as a terrorist action.
I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. If I were advising the president and the administration, it would be to plan for the worst-case scenario and put in place all the humanitarian supplies and personnel and food and supplies you need. Bolster the efforts of our allies to the Turks and the Jordanians. Because I fully expect there's going to be a major refugee crisis between now and the end of the year. SMERCONISH: What I don't hear you saying, Mr. Ambassador is that there
ought to be boots on the ground that there should be a military footprint of any kind. How far should the U.S. go with the military response to Iraq.
WILSON: Well, I'm not exactly sure what the mission is of these 300 advisors. But I think the mission should be limited to one thing. And that would be decapitating the leadership of the ISIL terrorist organization. They should certainly restrain from becoming involved in what is increasingly a sectarian war.
SMERCONISH: You've spent decades in the foreign service in service to the United States and I think you are well qualified to answer this question. Mr. Ambassador, what impact does it have on our world standing when a former vice president of the United States says about a sitting president of the United States says that "he makes empty threats, has exercised meaningless red lines, had led from behind, has appeased our enemies, has abandoned our allies or apologize for our great nation." All things which Vice President Cheney said about President Obama in the "Wall Street Journal" this week.
WILSON: Well, I find it unseemly to say the least. The vice president instead of just receding into the background and being an elder statesman decides he's going to be a political (INAUDIBLE) instead. I think he is probably trying to salvage his rather tattered reputation. I actually think more than convincing any weakness on the part of the government, what the vice president has done is shown what a fool he is.
SMERCONISH: And finally, educate the rest of us as one who has been the chief of mission in the country that we are all discussing, what is it you think perhaps many Americans don't appreciate that you have knowledge of.
WILSON: The Iraqis are a very proud people. They defended themselves against Iran in the 1970s. They now fought two wars against us. I think they are probably very embittered. I think we will have Iraqis as enemies for the foreseeable future. And I think it is a very, very dangerous situation.
It is entirely possible between now and 18 months from now, you may well see Iraq break into three different pieces.
SMERCONISH: Does that mean that Joe Biden was prescient?
WILSON: I think a lot of people in the run up to the war in 2003, people who knew something about the region predicted that as an one possible outcome.
SMERCONISH: And finally, did we break it and therefore do we own it?
WILSON: I don't think there is much we can do to repair it right now. I would be - I think it's really up to the Iraqis to try and find some middle ground. I think we can perhaps be helpful diplomatically. Although it is pretty clear that Maliki is not one to share power. I don't believe we should own it to the extent that we put a lot of military assets on the ground except to deal with (INAUDIBLE) and the ISIL threat. I think rather in anticipation of some point trying to improve our relationship with the Sunni Arabs, we should be putting our efforts in the humanitarian relief for those vulnerable civilian populations that will be caught in the crossfire of this looming civil war.
SMERCONISH: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for your time.
WILSON: Thank you. Nice to be with you.
SMERCONISH: That was Ambassador Joe Wilson. So recall, we started with that headline on the Cheney op-ed. The Collapsing Obama doctrine. What I would have written - Real Americans don't call a sitting commander in chief weak.
The Redskins get sacked by the federal government, but while taking the trademark force the team to change their name? Don't count on it.
Also, a snatch and grab in Libya. The U.S. grabs a terror suspect and puts him on a slow boat to D.C. but is that legal?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Should the Washington Redskins change their name is our first question.
SARA SILVERMAN: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Sara Silverman says -- alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody says yes.
SILVERMAN: It feels weird at first.
SMERCONISH: You know, there's a linguist in the Smithsonian Institute who looked at the history of the term and concluded, a guy with real credentials. I'm not an expert but he said this is actually a phrase and an expression that Native-Americans, we didn't call them then, coined for themselves. I think the history is not as clear as people complaining to day make it out to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Well that is what I said a couple of weeks ago on "Real Time with Bill Maher." The Washington Redskins took it on the chin this week, but the real damage could be to their bottom line. That after the patents on their own name were tossed out. Here's the headline from "The Washington Post." Federal agency cancels Redskins trademark registration saying the name is disparaging. My guest this morning is writer Simon Moya-Smith. He's a member of the Ogallala Lakota Nation. You heard what I said on Bill Maher's program. I was making reference to this Ives Goddard report on the origin where he said that it began with very benign connotations. You obviously don't find that persuasive.
SIMON MOYA SMITH, OGLALIA LAKOTA NATION MEMBER: Of course not. Look at where it is has been. Redskin meant scalps, dead Indians. We have scalps, to trade, to sell, festoon your walls with scalps with fresh Redskin. So it has a very brutal history. So we can't ignore that. It is a dictionary-defined slur and it's been empirically proven to hurt the mental health of our kids.
SMERCONISH: I read the patent opinions on this decision this week. In the dissent, Mark Bergsman made the point that the question is not whether it's disparaging today in 2014, but rather was it disparaging in for example in 1967 when those trademarks were initially protected. In 1967, you know, I doubt you were around or paying attention at that point.
SMITH: No, I wasn't born.
SMERCONISH: Good for you. Of what significance if then it wasn't regarded as a disparaging term?
SMITH: OK. Just because people weren't listening doesn't mean that our elders and our leaders were not fighting and raging against all forms of stereotypes. The Redskins and Cleveland Indians and Indian mascotry as a whole. So we have the late American Indian leader movement Russell Means, Suzanne (INAUDIBLE). It is just now with the media, the proliferation of the media, everybody can hear us. There is a Native- American voice and it is in real time. Our letters to the editor don't go ignored. People are ignoring our voicemails. The Native-American has never stopped speaking. It's just now people listen to us through this platform.
SMERCONISH: How far would you take it? The Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, Utah Utes, Central Michigan Chippewas and on and on and on. Are they all disparaging? Would you pull those mascots and those names in each of those circumstances?
SMITH: All of them.
SMERCONISH: Because I understand the argument that Redskin is a pejorative but Kansas City Chiefs, I imagine. Kansas City wants a name associated with strength, associated with their football franchise.
SMITH: Yes, we hear. Let me put this out there. We heard these arguments for a long time. That is the difference in the Native American community. We were raised knowing chief is not a pejorative. That brave is not a pejorative that Indian is not a pejorative. But the empirical study shows that the Native American kid is negatively affected by these mascotry images. The Native-American kid goes in with this idea that yes, it's supposed to be positive, but they have a lower sense of self worth. That's the empirical study. So we are here fighting for the kids.
People can call all the adults PC that they want. But when it comes down to it we are fighting for the future of our kids. Here in the United States, Native-American children haven't always been the focus. We know that. There were the Indian Child Welfare Act. That was the government stepping in saying we messed up. We stole your kids away. We tried to Christian-ize them. We tried to white them. Unfortunately, they did not succeed. Here I am. But this is a situation again where we are looking at the future generations of Native-Americans. We are one percent of the population in our own country. Everything about us could be on the brink of extinction if we don't act now. And a pejorative like Redskins affects the kids. That's what matters.
SMERCONISH: Simon Moya-Smith, thank you. I appreciate the passion, by the way, that you bring to this discussion.
If you want to read Simon's entire op-ed, you can check it out at cnn.com. Now you remember that headline. Federal Agency cancels Redskins trademark registration, says name is disparaging. The way I would have written it, Government shouldn't police sports names. Owners and fans should.
Coming to America. The suspect in the Benghazi attack is in custody. But should his next stop be a courtroom or a small room at Gitmo?
Also, political funnies. We will take you through some of the clever cartoons that got our attention this week.
SMERCONISH: A slow boat to the United States. That's where Ahmed Abu Khattala finds himself right now. The Benghazi attack suspect is facing interrogators on a U.S. Navy ship nearly a week after having been captured in Libya. Here is your headline from "The L.A. Times." Libya Demands Return of Benghazi Suspect Seized by U.S. Forces.
Let me bring in my next guest. Eric Lewis is an attorney who specializes in cross border disputes. He's also currently representing some of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are claiming torture and religious abuse while in custody.
And also back with us is Congressman Mike Coffman, Republican from Colorado.
Congressman, how long is too long for someone to be held in Guantanamo without a trial, in fact, without charges or a trial?
REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: Well, first of all, I think it is how do we see this? The fact is that when terrorists attack American targets, to me, in my view as a Marine Corps combat veteran, it is an act of war. And I think the administration, the Obama administration, views it as a criminal act. And so, as -- I view them as combatants, enemy combatants. And they ought to be held until there is cessation of belligerent activities.
SMERCONISH: I have to tell you that in 2002, '03, '04, maybe even '05, I didn't want to hear habeas corpus associated with Gitmo detainees. But 13 years on, I'm completely unsettled by the idea that there are men sitting in Guantanamo who haven't been charged, much less faced a trial. And I guess, to your point, what I would say, Congressman, is, when we're out of Iraq and about to get out of Afghanistan, at some point, doesn't enemy combatant lose its resonance.
If we're not at war with the countries, how can we regard these men as enemy combatants?
COFFMAN: Well, I think you have to review that. It is. We are in a very different environment than we've ever historically been in. These are irregular forces that are sworn to a particular ideology and that are often not sponsored by any state.
And so, it is a difficult position. We are in a state of war. And the attack on our embassy in -- or our consulate -- in Libya is a reflection of that. I think we have to recognize that and we have to recognize that these are not common criminals. That these are enemy combatants.
SMERCONISH: Counselor, Mr. Lewis, Lindsey Graham said this week that the words that Khattalah should never hear are words, "You have a right to remain silent." Why is Senator Lindsey Graham, according to you, incorrect?
ERIC LEWIS, ATTORNEY: Well, there's been this sense for all of these years that somehow our legal system is not up to the job after 225 years. Terrorism has been around for a long time. The attack on the Benghazi consulate is a terrible crime. And our system can try it and punch it.
Since September 11th, there have been 500 people convicted of terror- related offenses and they are serving sentences. In Guantanamo, there have been eight convictions, six by please and two after a military commission. Those were both overturned on appeal.
Guantanamo and the military commissions have been a disaster legally, politically and morally. And this -- the idea that we can't do a trial, that we can't get information from defendants is just simply wrong. There's no support for it. Guantanamo has become a symbol and political football.
Senator McCain, Senator Graham, President Bush, they all said Guantanamo should be closed, so did President Obama. Years on with all of these people uncharged, that case is far, far stronger.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, isn't the big picture issue here with the war on terror, we will have a macro approach or sniper approach? Whether, for example, we will invade a country like Afghanistan or we will send in SEAL Team 6 and do the job with the sniper's approach, whether we're going to indict and really do hold trials in federal court or whether we're going to lock these men up and throw away the key in a base like Gitmo.
Isn't that the big picture question, Congressman? COFFMAN: Well, I think there is a big picture question. I think the
attack on Benghazi was just referred by my counterpart as a terrible crime. It was a complex attack that involved mortars, that involved automatic weapons, there was a well-coordinated attack by a militia group against a U.S. target in an attack on a consulate or an embassy is through international legal standards, all international legal standards, considered an attack upon the soil of that country of the United States, in this case.
And so, we just have a very -- that comes down to the fundamental view. Are these enemy combatants or is this criminal conduct? They -- in my view, as a Marine Corps combat veteran, this is clearly an attack upon the United States and they are enemy combatants.
SMERCONISH: Mr. Lewis, I think sometimes, Mr. Lewis, I think sometimes, the arguments going against the route of federal court insinuates this is a weak approach. And I was moved by the data I saw this week at the NYU law and security center to the observation you made, that the federal court approach has been immensely successful.
LEWIS: We have a 91 percent conviction rate. We have a legal system that has been proved through history to be adequate to the task. The military commissions haven't.
You also have to understand that Guantanamo is filled now with men, many of whom have never been charged, because they have never done anything. And you can pull them in there and yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to say, don't let anyone out no matter what they did.
And, you know, these men are deteriorating. I have client there is who are on hunger strike and being force fed. You know, there are innocent people there. That is not the American way.
You also have this week the Bush era official in charge of giving legal opinions on law of war issues say that you cannot have a military commission try these men at Guantanamo or anywhere else because under the statute that was passed in the Bush administration, this is not defined as a war. It's defined as a crime.
And so, the law doesn't support it. Our legal system is not weak. Our legal system is strong and it also sends a message out to the entire world that we are a country of laws. Our laws will take care of these things. We don't need to declare that the entire world has changed and we can pull people in and we can torture them and we can do whatever we want to keep them there.
SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you. Attorney Eric Lewis, Congressman Mike Coffman.
Very quick. Five seconds, sir.
COFFMAN: Sure. Detainees in Guantanamo have been taken off the battle field. We have found a high rate of recidivism where they return to the battlefield.
SMERCONISH: All right. Thank you both. Eric Lewis, Congressman Mike Coffman, we appreciate it.
That headline again that we begun with, Libya demands return of Benghazi suspect seized by U.S. forces. What I would have written -- best place for terrorists is on trial.
A new segment next that will tickle your political funny bone.
And when does theater takes center stage on the soccer pitch?
We'll tell you about a technique players are using in the World Cup to draw penalties against opponents by overreacting. Should the U.S. team join them?
SMERCONISH: Hey, time now to celebrate the talents of some America's best political cartoonists as soon through their work this week.
First up, this is Randy Bish of the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review". The way you should read this is I'm sure you understand, Ms. Lerner, my tax records for those years were lost when my e-mail when my hard drive crashed.
So many have made the same observation that they don't think they get much sympathy from the IRS if they found themselves in the position of Lois Lerner. Although I have to say and I watched that hearing yesterday, Republicans are seeing conspiracy in her hard drive having crashed.
Maybe I would buy into that if I had not worked for the federal government. But I did work for the federal government on Bush 41's watch. And I can tell you, the feds always have the worst gear and the worst equipment and they're always behind the curve.
Hey, Nora, give me a second one.
From Jimmy Margulies, politicalcartoons.com. And you see, you know, Elmo there. And coming out of his mouth, "today's show is brought to you by the letters OMG and the number 47,017", which, of course, is a reference made to the 50,000 or so migrant children who are now in the process, having come into the United States.
Although I have to say about that controversy that I hear many describing it as a problem of our porous borders. And I acknowledge, it's a problem. I don't think it's a problem of porous borders because these individuals have been stopped and they are being processed. I think the problem is one of a misinformation campaign taking place in central America that is causing them to be sent to the United States. And that's what needs to be addressed.
All right. Nora, number three.
Oh, yes. This comes from Mike Lucafitch -- he is tremendous, by the way -- at "The Atlanta Journal Constitution". You see this is Jack and the Beanstalk 2014 version. These magic beans did not grow a bean stoke or help me lose weight. And then he curses out Dr. Oz. I should say that Dr. Oz who faced some tough medicine of his own at a congressional hearing within the last couple of days, he claims that scammers are misusing things that he says on air. But my favorite part of the hearing is when Senator Claire McCaskill said to Dr. Oz, like, you know, why don't you just focus on people needing to eat carefully and exercise -- which I thought was the proper take away.
Anyway, good stuff from the cartoonists in the country.
The tears and swooning and tantrums. It sounds like a soap opera, but it's at the World Cup. What's up with all the drama on the pitch?
SMERCONISH: Every four years, the world goes nuts for soccer or football or this year, futbol. It's the World Cup. The U.S. plays Portugal tomorrow, looking to go 2-0.
But check out the headline from "The New York Times" this week, "Where dishonestly is best policy, U.S. soccer falls short." That's right. The U.S. team is under fire for playing fair.
Joining me now is our own Lara Baldesarra. Anchor of CNN International's "World Sport" live in Rio, and Greg Lalas, former pro soccer player and now, the editor in chief for MLSSoccer.com.
Lara, what happened in that opening match, Brazil and Croatia, that got everybody thinking about this issue?
LARA BALDESARRA, CNN ANCHOR, WORLD SPORT: Well, the fact of the matter is that this is such a divisive topic of diving or pretending in soccer. You know, depending on where you are, they encourage diving. If you are touched in an area, you go down. Especially if you don't get a shot off. That's just how it is. That's the way it is in Italy and Spain and Portugal.
It's not really that way in England. And a lot of American soccer fans don't respect that part of the game as well. But the fact of the matter is, it is part of the game.
So, when it is a physical game, when it's not a physical game, if you're in a possession and something happens especially in the area, you want to drop. At least that's what I would say. But, of course, most of my soccer mentality comes from the Italian way. So, that's the way I look at it.
SMERCONISH: Were you a flopper when you played?
GREG LALAS, FORMER PRO SOCCER PLAYER: Oh, it depends on the situation. Lara is exactly right. If you are in the area where you pick up the penalty kick and you feel contact, you might go down easily as they say. He went down easily or he's looking for the contact.
And, basically doing is that telling the referee, hey, I just had some contact here. I want to get a penalty kick. Now, some people call it cheating. I don't really call it cheating
all the time. Sometimes it is cheating when there's very little contact or no contact. But it is part of the game. It's something that's been part of the game for the very long time.
SMERCONISH: Lara, is this a cultural issue? Are we more reluctant to do it on the United States team than other cultures and teams? And if so, who are the worst offenders of flopping?
BALDESARRA: Yes, absolutely. The United States, they are -- it's a very hesitant thing, especially because, historically, not a lot of players on the U.S. national team played overseas. We're seeing that changing a lot now with Jurgen Klinsmann as the coach.
But in -- like I said, in Italy, in Spain, in different parts of the world, that's where you see a lot of diving or flopping or trying to draw calls. I don't like to think of it as flopping, I don't like to think of cheating whatsoever. It's just something that is part of the game.
SMERCONISH: You know, there are so many newcomers to the sport. I put myself in that category. So for many of us, this is sort of a case of first impression. And watching and seeing Americans taking a dive, so to speak, they might not fully appreciate what you understand as a player.
What would you say to them?
LALAS: Well, I would say this. There's a cultural difference here. In the United States, you're caught to compete all the time and try and compete on a level playing field, in a fair way. And I think that that's important to remember.
Now, there are times in every game -- you see it in basketball, you see it in football. People embellish things all the time. LeBron James is a tremendous embellisher.
LALAS: And they're trying to tell the referee on something.
But it only works if there's true contact. And what we saw in that first game, you mentioned the Brazil/Croatia game. There was minimal contact and the guy flopped.
SMERCONISH: Did that cross the line?
LALAS: It did cross the line.
SMERCONISH: That crossed the line. There's a line with flopping?
LALAS: There is. And, by the way, that referee hasn't done another game at the World Cup because of that.
SMERCONISH: Very interesting. Greg Lalas, thank you so much for being here. LALAS: Of course.
SMERCONISH: Lara Baldesarra, thank you so much for your time.
That headline, "Where dishonesty is the best policy, U.S. soccer falls short," here's the way that I -- again, newcomer to the game -- here's the way I would write it: no flopping in soccer or in politics.
We'll be right back.
SMERCONISH: "One Last Thing": a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center received extensive coverage from prominent media outlets which was nearly uniform in casting the information in an ominous light.
"The New York Times", they said, "Polarization is dividing American society not just politics." "The Washington Post," "In polarized United States, we live as we vote." And "Politico", "Polarization is highest in recent history." At "The Wall Street Journal," Pew's president Alan Murray wrote his own analysis that ran under the headline "The Divided States of America."
And then, Bruce Stokes, the director of global economic attitudes at Pew, offered his own take at CNN.com. This came under the headline "Is America Dangerously Divided?" And he began with this paragraph, "if you thought that political polarization in America was bad, think again, because it's worse than you thought. And if you're under the impression that dysfunctionality in Washington is merely a part of partisan political gamesmanship on Capitol Hill, try again. Because a new survey finds that divisions inside the beltway actually reflect a deep ideological divide within the U.S. public that manifests itself not only in politics but in everyday life."
Like the headlines that summary presages a pretty harrowing picture of the state of our national discourse, based upon what's billed as the largest study of U.S. political attitudes ever undertaken by Pew. But I don't buy it. Where others see confirmation that the divide among Americans is akin to that which separates those we elect, I'm digesting data that offers hope in our need to get beyond gridlock.
The undeniable bad news is that the number of partisans is on the rise. Those among us with consistently conservative and consistently liberal views have doubled in the last two decades from 10 percent to 21 percent, meaning that one in five Americans are now part of this consistent class of the electorate. Better news is that four-fifths of the country are not in that grouping of ideological uniformity and partisan animosity, a takeaway that you'd never know unless you peruse the survey.
While ideological silos are now common on the left and the right, Pew's own survey noted these sentiments are not shared by all, or even most Americans. The majority do not have uniformity conservative or liberal views. Most do not see either party as a threat to the nation and more believe their representatives in government should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.
In other words, most Americans are centrists, disbelieving of the partisan hype that they're fed by each of the parties about the other and they'd like to see compromise. Now, of course, the Pew data begs the question of why the composition of the Congress much less the modern discourse doesn't reflect the majority voices. And the answer is lack of engagement or as the Pew survey explained, many of those in the center remain on the edges of the political playing field relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideologically oriented and politically rancorous, Americans make their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.'
Here's my bottom line: change will come only when the passion of partisans drives their participation. And until then, it's apt to say that political power rests in the center where rests is the operative word.
That's it for me. I'll see you back here next Saturday. And until then, have a great week.