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U.S. Evacuates Embassy in Tripoli; Is Russia Fueling Ukraine Conflict?; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff; Interview with Rep. Eliot Engel; Critics Slam Obama on Foreign Policy
Aired July 26, 2014 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST: Vladimir Putin has become the pariah of much of the Western world. The casualties in Gaza are nearing 1,000 and President Obama's foreign affairs record is once again under fire, but Americans don't necessarily disagree with him.
I'm Michael Smerconish. We begin with breaking news.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SMERCONISH: We begin with major breaking news. The United States has evacuated its embassy in embattled the Libyan capital of Tripoli. The urgent removal of embassy staff to neighboring Tunisia comes amid intense militia fighting in the area. According to U.S. officials about 150 personnel, including 80 Marines, were driven out of the embassy early this morning and taken across the border into Tunisia.
The Pentagon for weeks had pressed to evacuate the embassy after the Tripoli airport come under repeated attacks by militias. That threatened the option of getting Americans out on commercial flights. Officials today said driving them out under the cover the two F-16s and several armed V-22 aircraft and with a off-shore destroyer standing by in the Mediterranean was the best low-profile approach available.
With me now CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what's the very latest?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michael. Well, by all accounts it went very smoothly. It was about a five or six-hour mission to drive the Americans out of Tripoli, Libya and across the border into Tunisia. The State Department this morning making the case that the U.S. embassy in Libya is not shutdown. That their mission will continue from other locations, but make no mistake, the embassy complex is shuttered now. At least temporarily until and if the security situation in that country improves.
What had happened over the last several days is the shelling by rival militias in that area, which is quite close to the airport, had intensified. Essentially it had become the new frontline. The airport shutdown due to intense shelling, virtually destroyed of the shelling had happened all over the neighborhood where the embassy was located with no airport to get the Americans out, as you say, and no other way.
It had become -- the only option had become to drive them out. And they did that overnight our time. We watched and monitored the events as they unfolded. Two F-16s overhead, a drone following the convoy all the way to the border. A war ship off-shore if needed. Several dozen heavily armed Marines flying overhead. If the convoy had come under attack. They would have landed and gotten the Americans out of there. Thankfully for now, it all went peacefully -- Michael.
SMERCONISH: General Hertling, mention Libya to Americans, and many of us immediately think of Benghazi. I suspect that this evacuation was probably done amid a heightened level of concern because of what transpired in Benghazi. Your thoughts, sir?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, yes, Michael. And first of all, hello. This -- it's always a tenuous situation when you're dealing with an evacuation of an embassy. I've had to plan a couple of these during my career. Only executed one and it was just a partial. But there's a laundry list of things that the military commander watches for in coordination with the State Department.
And of course the state -- the diplomats always want to stay longer. They want to take it to the last minute. But as you plan an operation like this and you provide the security of the people who are working in the embassy and other American citizens who were in the country or in the city that you're evacuating, you want to make sure you get all of them out safely and quickly without any impetus.
So unfortunately there is always that tension between State and DOD of hey, we need to go now and State saying no, we need to stay a little longer. So this -- the evacuation of the Tripoli embassy was probably a sporty event. They wanted to stay as long as possible. But it's another indication that there are a lot of things going on all over the world that are requiring coordination between State and DOD.
SMERCONISH: General, to we lay people, we learn of this news and I'll speak for myself. I think my gosh, how much more can there be on the world plate at one time? During the course of your long and distinguished career, do you recall an era where there were so many hot spots all coalescing at once?
HERTLING: I don't, Michael. This is a very tough time for not only the United States but the world. You know, what I'd say right now is probably the only people busier and looking in multiple directions than CNN are the folks in the Pentagon right now.
And as Barbara knows, you know, there's various desks that look at areas of the world. All of them are busy right now. All of them are watching intelligence indicators. All of them are seeking ways to tamp down violence and provide for security and help other countries and partner with other nations.
So it's certainly a tough time. This thing with Libya that's just arising, I would suggest that probably the desk officer for that part of the world, for North Africa, has been watching this for a very long time, monitoring various trigger points where they say hey, it's getting -- it's getting tougher over here, it's getting more dangerous or these things are happening. So this is all part of planning and analysis. And there are a lot of things going on underneath the waves that sometimes the American people don't see.
SMERCONISH: Barbara, same question to you. As a close Pentagon observer, is it palpable at the Pentagon that there's just so much going on at once for which they are responsible?
STARR: You know, I don't want to inject humor into this too much, but I will tell you, you know, I can stop a source of mine, a military official in the hallway just a few steps from here, start asking questions and that person will stop and say OK, which country are you asking me about?
STARR: Because there are so many. I think that most national security officials in the administration would agree with you, Michael. I think what they see is rising nationalism in so many places combined with failed states. Places that are not governed by strong central governments where you see everything from crime and corruptions as we see in many places in Central and South America, move in to rising nationalism.
Ukraine, Russia, eastern Europe. That sector to rise of al Qaeda and terrorist-affiliate groups in places. Militias in places like Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen. You know, you have these broad trends that are emerging, very much post-9/11, very much post-al Qaeda, post-Osama bin Laden. His whole era, you know, fundamentally gone.
What you have now is much more diffused, much more diversified threats emerging in each location from various reasons. And the U.S. having to (INAUDIBLE) deal with it all.
SMERCONISH: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and Barbara Starr, please stay with me. I want to use your expertise on yet another hot spot.
Barbara was one of the few reporters invited to an intelligence briefing on MH-17. Her notes after the break.
And what kind of headlines are the Russians seeing about the crash? Wait until you see details being spun by the Russian-state run media.
SMERCONISH: I want to bring you a headline from CBS News. "Probe at a Crawl a Week after the Flight 17 Crashed." More than a week after the downing of Flight 17, there are claims that pro-Russian rebels are blocking recovery workers from retrieving bodies of the victims. Some 200 body bags have been transferred from the area but it's unclear how many remained. The Dutch prime minister vowing to bring them home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER: We will again rebuild our capacity in the field at the crash site to recover the remaining remains and as much as possible their personal belongings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And despite all evidence pointing to pro-Russian separatists as the triggermen, new intelligence emerged showing Russia sent even more artillery, at least 24 more tanks to separatists and could be sending even more rocket launchers as we speak. The handful of sanctions slapped against the president, the international response to Putin's action is tepid at best. But why?
I want to bring back CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, it seems that despite the worldwide condemnation of Putin he is becoming even more aggressive vis-a-vis Ukraine.
STARR: Well, that is right, Michael. You know, and it's hard to figure out what's going on. Most of my sources will tell you that's job number one right now, trying to determine what Vladimir Putin is up to and there are no clear answers. Is he feeling the bite of the sanctions? Probably not. Not just yet. He is very tough, he's very much in control of his military forces.
So we're seeing two trends over the last couple of days. We are -- the U.S. says that the Russians are firing into Ukraine from their side of the border and continuing to send heavy weapons across, including much more sophisticated multiple-launch rocket systems.
Why militarily might the Russians be doing this? The work in theory is they are trying to open up more space, if you will, more area, on the Ukraine side for those pro-Russian separatists to operate. The Ukrainian government has been moving against them. They have taken back some territory. Those separatists feeling the pressure. Russia behind the scenes trying to come to their aid, stay on their border as much as possible so they can claim they're not doing anything.
But clearly, working behind the scenes, firing from their side, sending weapons across trying to give the pro-Russian separatists another leg up. It is likely to just intensify this ground war and we will see many Ukrainian civilians caught in the middle.
SMERCONISH: General Hertling, what is the United States military obligation, if any, to Ukraine, if any?
HERTLING: Well, Michael, we've partnered with them for several years. It's been about eight years now. They were part of our force in Iraq in the early days. They've sent forces to both Iraq and Afghanistan as part of non-partnered coalition. But also had worked under ISAF. Not a NATO -- they are not a NATO member. So by treaty, we have no obligation to them. And that's part of the reason Russia is expanding into their territory.
They see the encroachment of NATO in former Soviet Union territories and they want to stop that. So from a standpoint of can we just say to the Ukrainian government hey, we're going to help you and put our troops in? Can the EU do that? No. Can NATO do that? No. Can the United States do that? We could, but it would be extremely dangerous because it would generate tensions with Russia. And Russia knows that.
So the next several days and weeks will be very interesting to see how far Mr. Putin pushes his luck in expanding into Ukrainian terrain and what the European Union and European forces will do about it. Ukraine has conducted exercises with NATO and non-NATO partners. I have been at many of those. And they are establishing a very professional force. Russia doesn't like that. They are leaning more toward the West than they are leaning toward the east. And that's something that Mr. Putin just doesn't like. The thing that --
SMERCONISH: Barbara, earlier this week -- earlier this week, you were invited behind closed doors by U.S. intelligence officials to receive a special briefing on the causation issue. What is it that we can say or cannot rule out about direct Russian involvement with regard to the downing of MH-17?
STARR: Well, several reporters from major news organizations around Washington attended that briefing because the intelligence community wanted to at least put out what it could about what it knew. Now a lot of this remains caveated if you will. This is our assessment. Those are the words you get. They are pretty darn sure, but, you know, nothing is ever certain until you got the video with someone, you know, with their finger on the launch button, so to speak.
What they are saying is this. U.S. intelligence, satellites, radars saw a surface-to-air missile fire control radar. The beginning of the launch sequence. They saw it turn on. They were able to track that surface-to-air missile. They then saw an infrared signature. The heat signature of a major explosion in the sky. All of that within a 10-second period. They were able to calculate the trajectory analysis back to this area in eastern Ukraine.
The MH-17, the Malaysia Airlines flight with the plane flying overhead at the time. You know, it all adds up. They say there is no chance that they know of that it was a Ukrainian weapon that fired. Ukraine had no weapons in the area. This all came out of pro-Russian separatists, rebel-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. They were the only ones there with the weapons to carry this out.
SMERCONISH: General Mark Hertling, Barbara Starr, thank you so much.
You remember that original headline? "Probe at a Crawl a Week After Flight 17 Crash"? How I would have written it? "Getting Away with Murder."
Just how dirty are President Putin's hands in the crash of MH-17?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: These people exist thanks to Putin. I mean, he's supporting this resistance. He is supplying it. He is funding it. And without him, it would fall apart. They'll do anything he asks them to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: We want more intelligence and we're about to get it from committee member Adam Schiff.
And explosions rocked Gaza just before the 12-hour ceasefire took effect. Does the U.S. just stand by and watch or is more action needed?
SMERCONISH: Take a look at this picture. These are armed pro-Russian rebels laughing, smiling as they stand guard in front of the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17. U.S. officials say pro- Russian rebels are responsible for the downing of Flight MH-17 but admit that it's likely they didn't know it was a passenger jet. And as those deny involvement and say Ukraine is to blame, U.S. officials also knowledge there is no evidence of a direct link to Russia.
So is it possible as Russia's ambassador to the U.N. says that this was an act of confusion and not terrorism?
Here to weigh in is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He's a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, I would be derelict in my duty if I didn't initially ask you about the events taking place today in Libya where as you well know we've now evacuated our embassy in Tripoli. Will you react first to that news? Did it take you by surprise given your role in the Intelligence Committee or were you in this loop?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: No, it didn't take me by surprise and I think it was very prudent to move our personnel out of there. We have a fierce battle going on between several militias. Some affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Some not. Some affiliated with the government. Some not.
The airport has been a particular battle zone. So if we were required on short notice to get our people out, that would be highly problematic. So I think doing it in the way did by land discreetly and safely, made a lot of sense and I'm glad our personnel are away from -- away from the harm. So I think it was a very sensible move.
SMERCONISH: You take a look at the situation in Iraq now that Saddam Hussein is gone. You take a look at the situation in Libya now that Gadhafi is gone. And maybe this is a naive comment but sometimes you wonder if there'd be more stability under a dictator and you've got to be careful what you wish for.
SCHIFF: Well, you know, there would be more stability but that's a very kind of dangerous stability as we see it can turn into a cinder box at anytime and the Arab spring unleashed those forces that have built up over decades. The far better course is something we tried unsuccessfully to bring about would have been a gradual reformation of these governments encouraging them to support democratization, build civil institutions. We tried that in Egypt unsuccessfully. But nonetheless, you're absolutely right. And one of the indictments actually, Michael, of America over the
years in the region was that we were trading our security for their liberty because we were making a deal with those authoritarian regimes. And you can see now in the aftermath what risks are posed to us. But at the end of day, we only have so much control over the destiny of that region and the Arab spring unleashed these really powerful forces.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, you've been advocating sector based sanctions against Russia. Today, by the way, in the "Washington Post," Ukraine President Poroshenko asks for the exact same thing to take place.
My question to you, sir. Have you sanctions ever worked with regard to Putin?
SCHIFF: Well, this is I think the first really concerted effort where it's been necessary to have the broad based sanctions against Putin. And the reality is we don't have that many other tools. We're not prepared to go to war with Russia. And the most effective thing we can do is bring the Russian economy to its knees.
The U.S. and Europe have the power to do that, and if the downing of this plane, and I think the word the White House use, the culpability is exactly the right one, we don't need to show who pushed the button. We know the Russians were supplying these kind of weapons. We know that the Russians have been fueling this fight. So they bear responsibility here.
If this downing of the plane and now Russian shelling from Russia into Ukraine, the supplying of additional heavy weaponry, if that doesn't get Europe motivated, I don't know what will. And this is their backyard. So I hope Europe will act. I think the U.S. is going to have to step up sanctions as well. And probably nothing less than those sector-based sanctions are going to be enough to deter Putin.
SMERCONISH: In the "Washington Post" piece -- and Nora, I don't know if we can put that up on the screen, but if we can, I'd like the Congressman to see what President Poroshenko said because, Congressman Schiff, he said that it's is necessary for the U.S. to take the lead in this regard.
There it is. "To help achieve these solutions, the West should begin thinking about a larger response to what has happened. As always, the United States should take the lead."
Am I reading too much into it if I think that perhaps he's implying that the United States has sufficiently been in the lead? And you know the critics of the presidency say that he leads from behind. Will you address that issue?
SCHIFF: Well, I think this is certainly a situation where the president has been very forward leaning and leading. If you look at each round of sanctions, it's been the United States imposing sanctions and followed by Europe. It's the United States adding new people on the sanctions list. The United States pushing Europe to go further. So we have clearly led in this area.
Now it's also true, Michael, that the sanctions have a deeper adverse impact on the European economy than they do on ours. So Europe can say well, that's easy for you, America. It's not going to really hurt you the way it's going to hurt us. That's true. At the same time, it's their defense, it's their region that is at far greater risk as we saw in the downing of that plane.
SCHIFF: It was mostly Europeans that were killed.
SMERCONISH: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Almost 1,000 people have been killed in the conflict tearing apart the Middle East.
The U.S. response to the Israeli-Hamas conflict and the Russia- Ukrainian crisis heightened by the downing of MH-17. So what now for the war-weary U.S.?
SMERCONISH: The world is aflame. That's how a former national security aide to President Obama describes the array of crisis hitting the White House, including the tensions in the Middle East, where Secretary of State John Kerry continues his efforts to broker a ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas, despite reports of a setback.
Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York. He's the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, in a perverse way, has Hamas' hand actually been strengthened by the optics of war?
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: No, I don't think it has been strengthened at all. I think, frankly, Israel had no choice in the matter. I don't think Israel was worrying about whether Hamas would be strengthened or not. I think they wanted to degrade the continuation of Hamas lobbing missiles for weeks and months and years at Israeli citizens.
So I think Israel responded the way any country would respond; they're trying to protect its citizens.
SMERCONISH: Let me show you some polling data that is the motivation for me asking you the question. Earlier in the week, CNN released the results of a survey. The question: do you think Israel was justified or unjustified in taking military action against Hamas and the Palestinians in the area known as Gaza? Fifty-seven percent of Americans said justified, 34 percent unjustified. Just yesterday, Congressman, Gallup released a very similarly worded
survey question. They found that the justified number was 42 percent, which would suggest that as the week progressed and as images were being shown to Americans of the destruction and death in Gaza, that the support for Israel dissipated.
Would you react to those two polls?
ENGEL: Well, I would react to it to say that I think the media has been absolutely unfair to Israel, not only in the United States, but around the world. Look, people are seeing horrific images of civilians killed. And it is a terrible thing. I mean, any death is terrible. Civilian deaths are even worse.
But I think when you analyze it, you have to say who is responsible for these deaths?
Hamas uses its people as human shields. They build their missile factories and their bombs in heavily populated civilian areas, daring Israel to go in and take them out.
When you have a terrorist group -- and Hamas is a terrorist group. This is not a fight between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a fight between Israel and a terrorist group, Hamas, that won't recognize Israel's right to exist, whose charter says it wants to destroy the state of Israel.
Israel again has been having its population bombarded for the past several years. They left Gaza in 2008. And instead they got a reign of terror. I don't know what other country would stand for it. And, you know, we talk about the casualties in Gaza, which are horrific. But every day in Syria, there are more and more casualties, more than in Gaza. You don't really hear about that. Somehow Israel gets picked on all the time.
I think that if we saw in our country that missiles were coming over the border, over the Canadian border and being lobbed on New York or over the Mexican border and being lobbed on Texas, wouldn't we go after the terrorists that were doing that in other countries, putting our citizens at risk? Sure we would. And I think Israel is doing what any country has the right to do, protect its citizens.
And, you know, Hamas, it is too bad they are the ones controlling the situation in Gaza, because people like me, we believe in a two-state solution. And I think that's ultimately what happens.
But if a terrorist group denies your right to exist and the media shows these horrific killings that are happening every day, of course, it's going to change public opinion. I think public opinion is going to be changed by that. And I -- you know, again, think some of the media have not been very even-handed or responsible.
SMERCONISH: Congressman Eliot Engel, we appreciate your time very much.
ENGEL: Thank you. SMERCONISH: You are about to see some of the headlines Russians are
seeing about the crash of Flight 17. And let's just say they're a lot different from what we see here.
Plus, this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia and President Putin in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That is the least that they can do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Can Obama compel Putin to control the separatists? And to that end, can anyone control Putin?
SMERCONISH: We have a bit of a twist on headlines for this segment. This time, we are looking at headlines from Russian newspapers to give you a glimpse of what Russians are seeing there. These headlines are from NTB, "Ukrainian special forces ban journalists from sight of crash", reads out. How about this -- "Kiev doesn't want to ensure safety of international experts" or my favorite, "Absence of evidence doesn't prevent the U.S. from blaming Russia in the Boeing crash."
That last article highlights what some see as President Putin's nearly unapologetic approach to international law. Most recently, his response to the missile attack against MH17.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I want to emphasize this tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on that land and in any case, if the military activities had not resumed in the southeast of Ukraine. Of course, the state over which territory it happened is responsible for this terrible tragedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Joining me now from London is Oliver Bullough. He is the author of "The last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation."
You were in Ukraine last week. You lived and written about Russia. Here is my question, Oliver. If I were in Russia and paying attention to the Russian media and that was my sole source of information, what would I think had occurred with regard to MH17?
OLIVER BULLOUGH, AUTHOR, "THE LAST MAN IN RUSSIA": Well, it's funny you asked me that. Yesterday, a Russian historian, a liberal anti- Putin historian, asked me to go out for a cup of coffee with her. I did and she sat me down and told me at some length about the atrocities being committed by the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine. And what's interesting is she's the kind of person who takes everything the Russian media says with a pinch of salt. But essentially, I think what the situation is, is that when the propaganda has been turned up to 11, even people who don't trust the propaganda, they still get turned up to two. And she was still, despite the fact that she's very moderate by the standards of everyone else in Russia, was sounded completely insane to the standards of someone who's been dealing with the Western media. The Russian media has been telling a totally different story, a story which has been at times internally contradictory, at times, just something from a parallel universe.
But I think this is a reality that we really have to recognize when dealing with Russia, the population there has been worked up to such a pitch by the months of state propaganda that the politically this makes the situation very difficult to deal with indeed.
SMERCONISH: So, how is the West combating the misinformation and which level of success?
BULLOUGH: Well, essentially, there is a closed media space in Russia because television remains the most important outlet there. There really aren't any foreign companies that broadcast in the Russian language in any meaningful sense. I mean, there are sort of online BBC and online Radio Free Europe, it's a radio station. You know, they are doing decent work.
But, essentially, when it comes to TV, no one is combating what the Russians are saying and the Russians are presenting a very sophisticated and straight forward package of mistruths, I would call it. If any of your viewers want to catch a sense of it, there is RT, what used to be Russia Today, which has been joining in by broadcasting to make sure that people abroad realize what is actually happening.
It's interesting. The editor in chief of RT, a lady called Margarita Simonyan, spent of her days on Twitter, tweeting out appeals for peace, while her channel publicizes these extremely inflammatory, well, lies, I suppose is probably the best way of calling them, which would seem to go in the opposite direction. It's a very strange situation. I mean --
SMERCONISH: Oliver, quick question if I might. In "The Wall Street Journal," you argued for more action from the west now. Should that go toward Putin's assets, his individual assets?
BULLOUGH: I think it should. I think that -- not just that, I think every single Russian official or regime insider with money, essentially has got that money dishonestly. It is not possible to accumulate vast wealth on their salary. And it's important I think to flip the burden of proof and make these people justify why they've got so much money in the West. And if they can't justify it, then we freeze it.
SMERCONISH: Oliver Bullough, thanks so much for being here. Our original headlines were ripped from the Russian media. One of
which read, "Absence of evidence doesn't prevent the U.S. from blaming Russia in the Boeing crash." What I would have written: follow the Putin money.
The president's approval ratings are in the tank. But is that because he is doing just what the American people asked for?
SMERCONISH: President Obama is back in Washington after a West Coast fundraising swing that's drawn sharp criticism amid the violence in Gaza, and the downing of Flight MH17 in Ukraine.
But it's not just Mr. Obama's trip that's getting criticized. It's also his entire approach to foreign policy.
Joining me now, Tom Rogan, contributor for "The National Review" and columnist for "The Daily Telegraph", and Ellis Henican, "Newsday" columnist and co-author of the political memoir of former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, titled, "The Party's Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became A Democrat".
Ellis, should he be fundraising in the midst of all these hot spots around the globe?
ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, NEWSDAY: that's a silly complaint, Michael. Listen, presidents we expect to be multitasking. One of those tasks is politics and another one is fundraising. And, yes, you got to be. If you're going to be in that job, you got to be able to do a whole bunch of things at once, including that.
SMERCONISH: Tom, do you agree? I suspect you disagree on that.
TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW CONTRIBUTOR: No, I do disagree because the job of the president to be perceived as a president, as well as to pursue his own political activities at home. And, unfortunately now, with President Obama having become the fund-raiser in chief, the perception abroad from allies and folks alike is that he is disengaged.
SMERCONISH: If this is disengagement, what does engagement look like? I must say that I hear that criticism often leveled at the president without specificity as to what exactly he should be doing. So, what should he be doing?
ROGAN: That's a good question. I think he should be doing a number of things. In the aftermath of MH17, I think he should have gone to Europe. He should have been there actively pressuring the Europeans both, you know, in the overt side and behind closed doors, the toughest sanctions, financial sanctions, energy sector sanctions.
If you think about what was happening in Libya today, the president should be involved with the national security team. This has been going on for a few days before now at least. But across the world, look at Syria today, Iraq. The ISIS has moved near (INAUDIBLE), they seized a key Syrian army base along highway four. The United States should be providing more support to elements of the FSA, the Free Syrian Army, to provide a counter balance to ISIS.
So, there are active things he should be doing.
SMERCONISH: Ellis, I sense that Monday when I start answering phones again in my day job, now with the news from Libya, I'm going to hear again from people who say, my God, the whole world is on fire. Stay out of it. It is a civil war. In Libya, it is a civil war.
And yet I listen to Tom -- Tom wants the president more engaged. How do you see the level of involvement?
HENICAN: Listen, this is gritty, tough, (INAUDIBLE), gathering allies, coming u with sanction regimes that work, doing all the hard stuff of diplomacy. But, you know what, it's likely to produce better results in the long run.
And let me tell you, shock and awe and 10-year occupations have their limits, too. They make us feel good at first, but, Michael, they are the crack of foreign policy. They are addictive, they are expensive and they mess up in the long run. This is a better long term bet.
SMERCONISH: Isn't the answer, Tom, that are we just spread too thin, financially, with regard to the current military obligations to take on additional responsible?
ROGAN: Well, I think there is a clear political understanding on both sides of the political spectrum. You look at Rand Paul, for example, that Americans are sick of the measure of foreign involvement that we had over the past decade. But that being said, simply isolating ourselves at home, I don't think serves our objectives.
You look at what is happening in Iraq and Syria and Libya, again and now in Iran with the nuclear negotiations by a president that seems to look disengaged. And, again, that perception is critical because an international affairs, perception drives the reality. And I would simply say, you look at the European Union, you talk to American allies from the monarchies to the E.U. and they don't have faith anymore in the president.
And even as a conservative, I want the American president to have faith.
SMERCONISH: Can the three of us quickly agree that Israel was justified in defending itself against Hamas rockets?
HENICAN: Yes, in the first round. But, boy, they're making a mess more by the day.
SMERCONISH: OK, that's what I want to get to that. You agree, the three of us or onboard, right? Israel needed to do what it began to do. OK.
Speak to the issue you just raised. HENICAN: Well, it matters in the long term how the world relates to
Israel. Israel needs all of us. And every day this thing goes on, it gets bloodier and uglier, and more bad stuff happens, it undermines Israel's long term peace and its longtime security.
SMERCONISH: The concern I have, Tom, is that if benefits Hamas and Congressman Engel made reference to this. Ultimately, Hamas is emboldened in the Arab world, because they portray themselves as wrong as it might be, as a victim.
You speak to that issue, Tom, if you would.
ROGAN: Yes, there are two things in the Arab world. I think the populist perception on the street, but there's also an opinion behind the scene where Hamas is actually alienated a lot of different states in the region, and I think the more important thing is from the Israeli perspective, having given the cease-fires a chance and given Hamas continued to make quite frankly absurd demands on strings attached to the a agreement for the cease-fire, Israelis decided to push on. Netanyahu many government has conservative elements.
Nowhere Netanyahu to agree to the Hamas demands --
SMERCONISH: Understood. Tom Rogan, wish we had more time. Thank you. Ellis, nice to see you both.
Russia, Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza, Syria, Iran, immigration, how's the president doing?
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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It scares me that he believes the world is in such good shape.
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SMERCONISH: But wait a minute. The American people spoke, and he listened. So are his ratings truly as dismal as some would have you believe?
SMERCONISH: One last thing. A passenger plane presumably shot down by Russian separatists as part of the crisis in the eastern Ukraine kills 298 civilians. Israel moves into Gaza in an effort to stop rocket launches, and the result is more than 900 Palestinians and more than 30 Israelis dead.
And that's just for starters. Civil war rages in Iraq. Another civil war in Syria is already estimated to have taken 170 lives. Meanwhile, Iran proceeds with its nuclear program. Libya still smolders and closer to home 60,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived in the United States from Central American countries. It's enough to make your head spin.
So, how is President Obama doing on the subject of foreign policy? Not so well, according to the latest polls. In a recent survey by "The New York Times" and CBS News, 58 percent of respondents disapprove of the way that Obama is handling foreign affairs. That's the highest such number of his presidency. Only 36 percent said they approve.
And "The Times"/CBS appraisal is no outlier. A similar survey last month from NBC and "The Wall Street Journal" had the same result. No wonder critics like Senator Lindsey Graham are getting great mileage out of hammering President Obama on foreign policy.
Last week, Senator Graham said this --
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GRAHAM: It scares me that he believes the world is in such good shape. America is the glue that holds the free world together leading from behind is not working. The world is adrift, and President Obama's become the king of indecision. His policies are failing across the globe, and it will come here soon.
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SMERCONISH: But delve into the numbers. A more complicated picture emerges, one where Americans are dissatisfied with the president, but approving of his individual decisions.
Consider this from "The Times"/CBS poll: When asked if they support of president's recent decision to send 300 military advisers to Iraq, 51 percent said, yes. When asked whether they support of use of drones in Iraq, 56 percent said, yes. And a little more than half of voters were in favor of working with Iran in a limited capacity to try to resolve the situation in Iraq. Each of those three foreign policy views is in line with what the administration is considering or actually doing.
Here's a similar finding. When "Politico" surveyed voters in 2014 battleground areas recently, they found more than three quarters in support of the president's plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. And 44 percent of likely voters favor less involvement in Iraq civil war, versus 19 percent who favor more involvement. That's something else he's doing.
Although taken just prior to the downing of MH Flight 17, the "Politico" poll also evidenced agreement with his handling of the United States efforts to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine. What does it all mean?
Probably that Americans are understandably concerned about the confluence of so many trouble spots around the globe and view the buck as stopping with President Obama. Even though they concur with his reluctance to get us directly involved in any more foreign entanglements and maybe approval/disapproval is a misleading wage to gauge public sentiment. Obama's approval might be just 40 percent, but maybe 60 percent want him to be less aggressive.
I supposed it's all a reflection of the facts that it's easier to be against something than to articulate an alternate approach especially in these times.
That's it for me. Enjoy your weekend, as well as the week ahead. And we'll see you back here next Saturday.