Roundtable I: Middle East Fallout

George Will, Liz Cheney, Jonathan Karl, Wesley Clark, and Gwen Ifill.
3:00 | 09/16/12

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Transcript for Roundtable I: Middle East Fallout
we're joined now by george will, fox news contributor liz cheney, who's also co-founder of keep america safe. Retired general wesley clark. Abc senior political correspondent jonathan karl. And gwen ifill. Moderator on pbs. Welcome one and all. Lots to chew over. George, this week, romney senior foren policy adviser said of the situation in the last week unfolding throughout the muslim world, a pretty compelling story that if you had a president romney you would be in a different situation. Is there? No. The great superstition of american politics concerns presidential power. The during a presidential year, when it becomes national narcissism, anything in the world, we caused or cure. With a tweak of rhetoric. The riots in the middle east, it is about a video. It's neither. There are sectarian tribal civil wars raging across a region that we can understand nor can we measurably mitigate. Liz, what was he saying in his response, you're not among those critics. You think you got it right. I think he diget it right. I think the statement that should have received more criticism, was the president, when the president went into the rose gardens, 24 hours after the cairo embassy attack, rightly condemned the killing of our ambassador. In a situation in which an embassy has been attacked, the flag has been ripped down. The al qaeda flag has been flown. For the american president not to be mention it, sends a message to the radicals. We have had 3 1/2 years of obama policy. And it looks like a lot about whether you're talking about the mexico city in 2009, the cairo speech in 2009. The extent in which he's been apologizing for america. He's abandoned some of our key allies. He's attempted to appease our enemies, the iranians, for example, the russians. He's getting ready, as we watch these scenes unfold, to slash our defense. It includes over $20 million for embassy security. So, the president himself, got a terrible record on national security. And it's something clearly that governor romney to should be pushing. I suspect that you general clark, you disagree with what liz just said. We got a democratic president who's been strongest on national security, he's completely take on the foreign policy and national security argument away from the other side. He reinforced an afghanistan, he got us responsibly out of iraq. We took osama bin laden. He's been firm, he's been visionary. He's been tough and decisive. I know what the republican narrative wants to be. But when you get below the rhetoric, there are no facts to support these charges. In fact, we worked anti-missile defense. Poland is happy. We got the strongest relationship with israel I think we have ever had. Very good relations there. I don't find much ground on these comments from the republicans. Jon, if you look at how the american people feel about who would be better on foreign policy? Obama, 51%. Romney, 38%. Trust to handle terrorism? Obama, 51%. Romney, 40%. That was tuesday. Abc news/washington post. Obvio obviously, the events of this week haven't factored into this. Could the events of the last week change those numbers? They sure could. A question of where it goes. I think, liz, despite what you're saying, even the romney campaign thinks they mishandled the initial way they handle this. Look at the different tone from when mitt romney came out after the attack to where he is right now. The romney campaign doesn't always get it right. There you go. As far as longterm implications this is a potential danger for the president. E will be questions asked. No doubt there will be hearings up on capitol hill. About what happened. Why there wasn't more security in benghazi. Questions about the overall situation in the middle east. Was this really about one youtube video or a trailer for a movie that has been out for months and finally translated into arabic? And put an extremist television show in egypt. Or is there something more fundamental going on? This was a presi that was going to transform our relations with the rest of the world, particularly with the arab world. Now, the arab world is to a degree inflamed wiery visible anti-americanism. That could erode the president's numbers long-term. Even though mitt romney severely mishandled the situation. Gwen, how much do voters care about foreign policy? How much could this change the course of this election? Not much immediately. You know, I find it really interesting, jake, a week ago, we were post-convention, we were completely consumed on what we talked about at those conventions, not foreign policy. Talking about osama bin laden. Other than, I picked up on that. I find it striking that liz would say that the romney campaign doesn't always get it right. That shows a little bit of disagreement within the republican party about how this week went. But more interestingly, to me, i don't think people were paying attention to this. Even though, you can argue that this is the most important power that any president could have. It boils down to the point that mitt romney was trying to make, after all, the timing issue, is who in a better position to lead? The tough position, if you're the guy trying to take out the incumbent is to make you would do better. The president is currently the commander in chief. But I don't know that americans, when they go to polls, in the end, are going to say, I think I like the way he handled benghazi. Does he feel like a leader to me? That was tough for mitt romney today. I want to clarify. I think the governor handled it exactly right when he went out and condemned the embassy statement. I cannot imagine a more important set of issues, and I think, frankly, it would be a tragedy for the nation if president obama is allowed to effectively claim that he's been an successful national security president. It would be a tragedy for the nation if the romney campaign doesn't push this very hard. I know how deeply governor romney cares about the country. But there's no question we're weaker than when president obama took office. I actually don't think we are weaker. The whole point of going into afghanistan in 2001, which president george w. Bush articulated, was osama bin laden wanted dead or alive. Barack obama put the pressure on him and he got him. It's a huge -- it was a huge marker, it was a presidential decision, and he was very much aware of president carter's problem with desert one. But general, any president -- of how political, at the national political convention, that this military operation is used as a political talking point over and over again? But here's the thing, jonathan, since the vietnam war, republicans are the daddy's party. Democrats are the mommy's party. Republicans are strong and robust. Democrats are soft and weak and want to negotiate and apologize. It's simply not true. We're stronger, we're safer. Barack obama has been a very robust -- he has a very robust, muscular foreign policy and as george said earlier, what happened in the middle east has lots of factors, lots of clauses underneath. Nothing to do with rhetoric. And you could add the use of drones which have been more aggressive both in the number of attacks and the places where the attacks are made than under george w. Bush. I really don't think it's fair to fault the president for throwing israel under the bus. As they say, granted he has a bad relationship with my good friend netanyahu. But, politically, our profession, graphic journalism with all of these pictures and things in flames, tends to give the country the sense that the world is somehow in chaos. The world is always dangerous. And all that. The chance of dying on this planet from organized state violence is lower than it has BEEN SINCE THE LATE '20s. It's the disorganized state violence. Or nonstate violence that everyone is worried about. When they see protests in 20 different places. With the respect to israel, george, you're in a situation now, in the last 48 hours, the president of the united states has reportedly offered to meet with the muslim brotherhood president in egypt. He has refused to see benjamin netanyahu. There's simply no way to claim that relationship isot strained. And given the fact that israel is facing an extessential threat, one effective program that we may have had in place that would have been able to slow or stop that nuclear program, the cyberwarfare activity, members of the president's national security team leaked to them. So, the president's record is clearly abysmal. I'm not in the administration, so I wasn't part of this. I don't think there's been any direct request to meet. And I don't think there's been a refusal. There are daily contacts between israeli government officials and the united states. Secretary of state clinton has been out there meeting people. We know very well the positions on all sides, the uncertainties, the intelligence, the information is shared. Planning is shared. It's very close. This is the question of the best way to bring this iranian program to a halt. And, on that subject, george stephanopoulos interviewed mitt romney this week and asked about the red lines, where the u.S. Will draw the line in the iranian nuclear program before acting? Here's that exchange. The red line going forward is the same. Yes. Recognize that when one says that it's unacceptable to the united states of america, that means what it says. You'll take any action necessary to prevent that development. Which is iran becoming nuclear. George, where does that prime minister netanyahu want this red line to be publicly drawn? We have heard so much about this red line. Mitt romney hasn't said it wasn't red line. What does bibi want? I'm not sure what he wants. Confidence in our intelligence system, last march, in an interview with jeffery goldberg of the atlantic, president obama said our intelligence service where iran is, our intelligence services did not predict india's testing of a nuclear weapon, pakistan's testing, didn't anticipate, didn't predict north korea's. I think he may have a phased in the ability of our intelligence services to draw lines and put down markers as to where the iranian program is that we don't have. in the president's interest to state where that red line is? Doesn't that mean he then has to to war. He's not going to state a red line. There are probably several different indicators and there's going be a margin for uncertainty. Intelligence, as george said, isn't precise. It's been sharpened up a lot. It's not a direct comparison. We're doing better on that intelligence. But he's going to have -- no president can publicly declared red lines that surrenders his decisionmaking authority. He's going to evaluate a number of factors, he's been very clear. They're not going to get a nur weapon, he says it's unacceptable. He's decisive. Osama bin laden found that out. And if I were the iranian leaders, I would be concerned. Do we know what mitt romney was saying in that interview with george, when he said that he agreed with the president that there should be a red line, we don't know what the president's red line is, was mitt romney, again, backing again, getting softer on this issue in agreeing with the president? I think the key on the intelligence here, it wasn't just india that we missed. It was also, frankly, syria, the nuclear power plant that was being built in the syrian desse dessert, which was in 2007. Iraq had better intelligence than we did on the development of that nuclear program. I think our own intelligence hasn't been effective at identifying and predicting where other nations stand. Liz, I'm still trying to figure out, how would president romney be different if he's agreeing with the president? The problem that the israelis have here, they understand american intelligence. Number two, they don't believe this president. They don't take him at his word. The president says you know, I'm not going to allow him. Then the chairman of the joints chief is saying, the worst thing that could happen could be a israeli strike. Israelis would agree with mitt romney that he actually means what he says. We're not going to get nuclear capabilities. I want to switch topics right now to a hardening of the state of the election. We have seen, on friday, these three swing state polls came back indicating in ohio, obama is up 7 points. Virginia, obama is up 5 points. Florida, obama is up 5 points. And george, one of the amazing things is, mitt romney is no longer in polling, beating obama on trust to handle the economy. Which is his campaign in one sentence. Those three states have one thing in common -- they all have three republican governors. They're bragging, rightfully so, they got their economies up and running. If you add wisconsin with scott walker to that list, you have tension to disconnect, with the interest of the romney campaign. Jon, what's going on behind the scenes here? Look, one thing that's happened during the democratic convention the romney campaign essentially went dark. You have seen an absolutely bombardment, particularly in ohio and in florida, from the obama campaign, hammering romney on, especially in ohio, on the auto bailout. There was a romney adviser told me that famous headline that romney himself did not write, "let detroit go bankrupt." Could be the headline that cost him the election. They have gone in and actually outspent dramatically the romney campaign over the last few weeks. Which is incredible when you think that the romney campaign has more money. At this point. That's interesting, because, the auto motive companies went bankrupt. The argument on the bailout is knew nuance and law. Because, what president obama has said, there's a way to move this economy forward. And governor romney's plans don't -- they really don't show that way. I mean, he's talking about tax cuts for the wealthy, closing loopholes and sort of letting things take their cause. Although, you have had the obama campaign entirely talking about something that happened in the first six months of the obama administration. That's true. The auto bailout -- but there are other things going on, jonathan. In the administration, people are working trying to restart and re-energize american manufacturing. Then why do we have more americans unemployed at any time? I think this administration has a real misunderstanding about the difference between activity and action. What was particularly interest at the democratic national convention, certainly not from the president, you never heard the word record. They can't talk about it because the record has been so bad, as bad as we have been talking about it on the national security. It's been worst on the economy. It hasn't. We have created 4.7 million jobs. We have lost state and municipal jobs. Because these municipalities and states have to reduce. It depends on when you start counting. Gwen, we have to take a break. Before we take the break. Okay, okay. Ohio, it's about the bailout. You talk about virginia and florida. In florida, we're talking about medicare and those are the ads. That's the spending and rhetoric. Especially with the addition of paul ryan to the ticket, which has people talking. In virginia, in many ways, it's the northern part of virginia, more susceptible that's happening in washington. Listening to the debate more closely. In southern part of virginia, more military, is susceptible to the argument that obama is making. Because we live in washington we're seeing a lot of these ads. We can't underestimate with the unpopular governors in ohio. How much does it have to do with

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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