'We now have the endless conflict' in the Middle East: Rahm Emanuel

The Powerhouse Roundtable debates the week’s politics on "This Week."
15:51 | 01/05/20

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Transcript for 'We now have the endless conflict' in the Middle East: Rahm Emanuel
Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He's weak and he's ineffective. So the only way he figures he'll get re-elected is to start a war with Iran. I believe that he'll attack Iran. Some time prior to the election. Because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected. Isn't it pathetic? President trump speaking out on president Obama back in 2011. President Obama didn't attack Iran. There's been now an attack on Iran heading into this election year for president trump. We'll talk about this with our roundtable. Joined by Rahm Emanuel, former governor of Chicago, Chris Christie, Matthew dowd. Chris, the strike against soleimani may have been justified, was it wise? I think it's what the Iranians understand. George, I think we have 40-year-plus history now with this regime and the aftermath of the original regime that they take every sign of goodwill as weakness and I think the president did what he needed to do. I think admiral stavridis was right, we're a safer place today because this guy is off map. But it's going present challenges. Shocking, the Middle East is presenting us with challenges. The president's going to have to deal with it. The one ramification of it for him is sending more than 3500 more troops there. That's not what he wants to do. Contrary to what he wants to do. Every action has a ramification to it. He's laying it on president Obama. You served as chief of staff, both president Obama and president bush consistently decided the risks outweighed the benefits. Also the Israelis. I'd add that. Which is why this is a strategic setback of first order of president trump's credibility. President trump said he wanted to re-negotiate another deal. What's the over/under of that happening? Number two, he said he wanted to end the endless wars. We now have the endless conflict. Number three, the president wanted to make sure that Iraq is isolated in the Middle East. We're now the isolated party. Iran was on its heels, the strategy was falling apart. Now what's happened, everything the president said he wanted to do, this has undermined that. You have 18,000 more troops. This will become the endless conflict. George, the real problem here, you have a strategy laid out by secretary of state Pompeo, very clear about frontal confrontation with Iran. You'll find now the gulf between what Pompeo wants and the will of the president aren't aligned and that's a major strategic blunder for the United States. Yvette, the president has been pretty consistent that he doesn't want to be deeply involved in the Middle East. I think he set the stage for that when he predicted that Obama might do exactly what he's doing right now. This is a political act, this is a political game for him. I think he miscalculated quite a bit. He said he didn't anticipated or didn't want a war. Now he has a war. The question for me is, what did he expect to happen when you go and assassinate a foreign military leader? Now, there will be blood on his hands. 3500, real people going off to war because of an action he took when he said there was an imminent threat when we know there wasn't one. All he had 20 go was through the chain of command, get the authorization that you need. The fact that he doesn't do that attacks his credibility. Which makes this look political. We don't know -- we don't know there was an imminent threat, because we haven't seen any of the intelligence. That's one of the big questions out there. Matthew, you were serving in the bush white house at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq back in 2003, I think it's pretty safe to say that no one in the white house could have imagined that America would still be in Iraq 17 years later, how incalculable these acts are. When I saw secretary of state Pompeo use very similar words that Cheney used. Everything's going to be great. The exact opposite is happening in the Middle East. To me we have an unpredictable president, in an unpredictable region with an unpredictable action. Middle East is like the shifting tech tonic plates. You never know where things are going to erupt. What the president did with this action -- I'm waiting for him to report to congress and the public on that. He dropped a bomb on the fault line of a shifting tectonic plate. It could settle the plates down and everything could be fine. More than likely it's going to cause a series of -- Let me tell you how it was justified. We had Iran attacks on Saudi Arabia. We have Iranians going -- this is what they're advocating now. Other threats that he says and we'll see the intelligence when it comes out that he says were planning attacks on American personnel and diplomats. The bottom line is, he responded because the Iranians continued to provoke and by not responding to their earlier provocations, E 13esh8 -- especially with the Saudis, that didn't make us any safer. So at some point you have to decide, there's a risk in every foreign policy decision you make in the Middle East. You got to decide. He decided to act. Look, every time I've been in the situation room or in the oval office on a major strategic decision, how unpredictable and how dangerous this is, nobody from CIA is down there, nobody from the dni is down there, intelligence is guesswork. The idea that not only one you're going to say this is imminent. Imminent is a judgment call. Number two, beyond that, the second point is, what are the ramifications? That means CIA and dni always disagree. The fact is, nobody's down there except the secretary of defense, joint chiefs and secretary of defense, no one from intelligence community to say, if you do this here are the IFS and thens. To make a decision of this magnitude which both presidents bush and Obama rejected, and nobody's there to tell you what happened. Policy undermines that area. He undermines the credibility of the United States on that very point. Because he never thought about it. Part of the problem is, when we're in such a consequential moment in the Middle East the president has exhausted most of the trust of the Americans over three years. In little things, crowd sizes, drawing on hurricane map and big things that he's depleted the trust of the American people. So when the president, or the secretary of state, comes forward and said this is what happened and this is why we did this. There's credible doubt one has and the final answer to this is, we don't know if this action made things safer for Americans. We may not know for months or years. I'd argue right now it didn't. Let's start with the fact that here's the evidence against imminent. Lindsey graham was told about this on a golf course. If you can tell Lindsey graham about this action on golf course, you can let congress know. You can notify your staff and maybe alert U.N. Security council. Also, you think about the bigger picture he was given many, many options, he took the nuclear option. How is it an imminent threat if you had other options you could have taken. Those are two key pieces of evidence that this wasn't imminent. He also didn't appreciate or understand that next move. When he said, I had no intention of starting a war, I have no exit strategy. Let's get to the politics of that, then, Chris, you said it was justified. We've been waiting a long time. The president was driven by the need to appear strong especially in the wake of having protesters in the American embassy. The president gets a bump up in the first couple of weeks. That's why I think he didn't make this decision based on politics. A number of people I have spoken to understand this is not a political home run for sure between now and November of 2020 which is what they're focused on. They know it's a difficult decision. You can't forecast how this is going to play politically with American people. He made this decision I believe because he really thought I have waited, I have waited for them to stop the provocation and they haven't. So now I have to hit back. Listen, as you said we won't know for sure whether this was the right thing or the wrong thing for quite some time. Which makes me believe if the president really in his heart believed this is what he had to do after him showing patience with the Iranians. Isn't the day after is the biggest problem, what does the president do if an American diplomat is taken out? I'd say based on everything I have heard over the last two years with president Obama, six with president Clinton it's like a funnel. First, you got Israel. You got Saudi Arabia, the uae, they're going to hit other proxies with proxies. That's going to divide America from both its European allies and also what it's going to protect its allies. Then finally it will get to American assets. They're going to build up on this effort. I do think, look, I don't think the president has credibility. I think in a region where weapons of mass destruction we have an extra burden on what's going to happen in immeant, what that means, and also about what happens afterwards. And the consequences of this decision that other people have rejected and here's the thing that's happened in every war presidents usually get a rally the opposite is going to happen. America is more divided. Iran that was divided is going to be become more united. Yvette, we're also seeing this reshape the democratic race as well. You can see an argument in a couple different directions. Could it help someone like a Joe Biden who's got experience as vice president, voted for the Iraq war however. Or Pete buttigieg who served in the military. Bernie Sanders calling this an assassination. What impact does it have? If you can unite this field around trump I think is a good thing. Every time you're talking about this president starting a war, when most Americans don't want it helps this field a lot. They should be talking about it. Every day we're -- every day we're not talking about how much money was raised. I think we've been looking for a real conversation among this field about foreign policy and this forces that. Some people will sink and some people will swim. It depends on what their experience is and what their planning is. I think one of the things that we've learned on election night, George, is predicting things in the moment and how it's going to impact are very hard in this. Two weeks ago, three weeks ago we were talking about the political impact of the president getting impeached. We're not talking about that today. I think there's so much -- we're now in this speedy time, this president is incredibly unpredictable, he does a lot of things from the seat of his pants. It changed the dynamic and what we're talking about in this. I think the Democrats in the midst of this, I think if you wanted to pick somebody if we're in the midst of disarray or chaos, if unpredictable is the status quo. More of a known quantity. More of a known quantity. Which I think helps Joe Biden in this. But there's no way of telling that what we're going to be talking about in March, April -- Listen, you don't shelf life of all this. We have had so many, if each of us were paid every time there was a pivotal moment in the trump presidency we wouldn't be working anymore. We don't know what the shelf life of this will bee. But I will say we're a month away from Iowa and we're talking about Donald Trump and we're talking about what he's doing and acting as president. I don't think it does anything to enhance the democratic field discussion or debate. And they've got a month now to decide when the caucus voters go who's going to come out of that? Who's going to emerge? Who's going to get the three, four tickets out of Iowa to go to New Hampshire? Who's helped if national security is the focus? If national security I'd say both vice president Joe Biden and buttigieg. Let me just say one thing, we're sitting around here talking about ten months. The Shiites and Sunnis, their argument dates back well over 1800 years ago. This discussion about time and what it means to our election I get it. This is not going to play out in just ten months. As we can tell by the war in Iraq it's not going to play out in just ten years. This is an event, a moment, that has a consequence that's so serious that other people using judgment and Intel decided not to do because of the ramifications would be felt for decades. That's how you have to view it. Now it has consequences to America's standing in the world. I think what's really severe not only have we isolated ousts in the region, I think this action is going to be leaving us isolated in the world even further. Where we need allies, this is dangerous thing from north Korea -- Adding to what Rahm just said Finish my thought for me. I want to add on something. That we just took out a military general of a sovereign state. We just did that. Which is a huge deal. Which means it allows other countries now, we often thought unless there was a declaration of war we would not conduct ourselves in that way. We opened ourselves up. Whether Donald Trump is re-elected or not, whoever the next president is, the actions that just took place we're going to deal with. You saw the president threaten a war crime overnight. Disavowed by the secretary of state. Oh, my goodness 52 cultural sites, civilian sites. Who's going to put a check on that? That's very, very dangerous. It's a war crime. Someone needs to do something. I'm waiting for congress. Somebody do something. American public. It's going to be left up to the American public. I would say that I want to get back to the conversation, I do think Bernie Sanders is helped by this. He's been one of the most consistent against war. He's been out there talking about the fact that he doesn't want endless wars and I think he's getting a lot of attention. We have a millennial generation that has lived their entire life in state of war. They're sick and tired of it. Sorry guys we're out of time. We'll be right back. Eric: I've dedicated my career

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

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