tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS August 8, 2014 8:00pm-8:31pm EDT
gwen: it is like foreign policy whack a mole. if it is not israel, it is afghanistan. if it is not ukraine, it is russia. tonight a return to military action in iraq. old disputes and new dilemmas for the u.s. tonight on "washington week." >> earlier this week one iraqi in the area cried to the world there is no one coming to help. well, today america is coming to help. gwen: but the center won't hold. in iraq a war thought over springs back to life. >> when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre i believe the waits of united states of america cannot turn a blind eye. >> and. gwen: and in israel and gaza another seize fire gives way.
>> the suffering in georgia standings andgaza mustend. gwen: america, always the man in the middle, whether americans like it or not. covering the week, michael crawly chief foreign affairs correspondent for time magazine. doyle mcmanus, columnist for the los angeles times. amy walter and nancy youcef. award winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens live from our nation's capital this is "washington week" with gwen ifill. corporate funding for washington week is provided by --
gwen: additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by big ham brigham and women's hospital, the annenberg foundation the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to pbs stations fr viewers like you. thank you. once again live from washington moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. if you ever doubted that the united states is sen central to almost everything happeningever where, especially the tough stuff this week should have put an end to the questions. intervention is now the watch
word. in iraq where the american military is carrying out air strikes and in afghanistan where the secretary of state had to step in and in israel and georgia standingsgazawhich seemed like it was winding down until the rockets starting flying again. start with the presidents it explanation of why the u.s. is stepping back into iraq now. >> i have said before the united states cannot and should not intervene every time there is a crisis in the world. let me be clear about why we must act and act now. when weigh face a situation like we do on that mountain with innocent people facing the prospect of violence o on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help in this case a request from the iraqi government. gwen: but the situation in iraq has been deteriorating for some time now michael. why intervene now? >> well, you know, for thought this presidency there has one an
effort to define an obama doctrine. what is his world view and the trigger for his actions or inactions? i don't think there is a simple answer. i think what you have here are three factors this have built up together. one is humanitarian and this is how the president primarily framed it. we are coming to the rescue of the people trapped on the mountain. the second is security. there are american personnel at risk of these isis forces coming in and doing horrendous things if they get their hands on americans. it would be benghazi times 50 and the third is strategic. iraq is a slow moving that sass territory andmoving disasterand we haven't figured out a way to go in. when you have the three factors converging that pushes the president into action. why here? why not a place like syria? the factors don't add up. it is a kind of alchemy.
you can't put a doctrine or formula on it. a key phrase is obama saying we can come in and use precision air strikes and drops to high pressure the needy people and beat back the fighters and maybe to blunt isis' momentum. a case-by-case call. he made a hard call here. ii don't think you have extrapolate too much out of this. >> peter baker called iraq the freezinggrave yard of american ambition. is that true at this point? >> obama is the fourth president in a row to call for intervention in iraq. it is an argument that one could consider valid. the challenge is that in iraq the feeling was an obama campaign that the u.s. is leaving iraq. the idea is that the u.s. has to come back pause the situation is worse than when it was left four years ago startles americans and even the administration itself. it certainly has become that. the idea that the united states
spent billions of dollars lost nearly 5,000 troops and have to go back because a force, an extremist force and a force that started out as an insurgency poses such an immediate and direct threat to the very forces this we tripped. gwen: the force has been as we were talking has been posing this kind of threat for awhile. what is it about the plight of the people there on the mountain top in northern iraq? what is it that changed the formula? >> i think one of the key factors is there was an expectation that the kurdish forces in the north could fend off the isis threat in a way that the iraqi army and syrian army and hezbollah forces couldn't do. when they couldn't do it, when isis forces were on the border of the kurdish capital and threatening to move there, there was a feeling there were no sort of local forces that could stop it and it demanded some coined of intervention because they
simply couldn't do it. isis declared itself a state that they would move towards the kurdish capital, pose a threat to the whole region. gwen: the whole idea here that the u.s. has been trying not only here but around the world to make this a multinational response to any big issue but in the end it is still the u.s. that has to step up. >> we. andyes.and one of the striking things is there is one nation involved in the military part of this operation. there is not even, you know, the kind of figure leaf of british participation or french participation that you had in libya for example. now the brits and the turks have said we will participate in terms of humanitarian aid. but in terms of the military part of this, which so far is just three air strikes in the area west of the capital, it is an american show. that may be partly at this point
it is a small show and if this turns in aturns into a long running air war i would expect the administration to look for allies. the enormous amount of attention has been on the plight of the people on the mountain. as michael pointed up the policy also includes the possibility of long-term support to the curds and the iraq government in baghdad if it ever gets its act together. gwen: a new "wall street journal" poll is one of several recent surveys that say it all. only 36% of those polled approve of the president's handling of foreign policy and only 40% approve of the president himself. a new low. does that drive the decision making that we see here amy? >> i think it certainly is driving the way that americans are perceiving the president. that is the sort of difficulty that the presidents in right now, which is he is starting off from such a very low point and then to when he gets the call
from people out in the field saying you need to show leadership and by the field i mean the chattering class here, republicans is others saying you nodesaying youneed to step upnd show leadership he is at the lowest point right now there is not the believability. we have the president right now at a place where he wants to so desperately be talking about toe mess tickish somehows and the -- domestic issues and the american public wants to be talking talking about toe mess ticktalking aboutdomestic issues. the other thing in the poll the real dope i deep i guess we can use the word malaise. 80% of the public still thinks we are headed in the wrong direction domestically. they don't believe that things have gone better for the economy for them. so so much of what was holding back americans in many whichs as
to they highway they why they don't want to see the u.s. involved is this we already have been there and lost all these lives and spent all this money but we have so many issues that have to did he completed toe messcompleted domestically. >> he spoke directly to the american people about why they might not think this is a good eyeidea. >> i know many of you are concerned about any military action in iraq, even limited strikes like these. i understand that. i ran for this office in part to end our war in iraq and welcome our troops home. this is when we have ton. as commander of chief i will not allow the united states to be dragged into another war in iraq. gwen: the air campaign is designed to achieve that goal. but can it? >> it is not going to be easy. and i would say by the way, they
are not defining it is an air campaign. the president authorized limited targeted strikes. but if you think back to the livey operation that -- libya operation. that did not begin with the goal of toppling toppling ghadafi. it was similar to the situation the president described last night. we think of benghazi now asa none must with the compound. the reason the president authorized intervention was to save innocents from the slaughter and that is why we were doing it. and then when happened? it evolved. we had a stake in the game. it turned into a long-running air campaign. there was a little bit of mission creep. it is not an air campaign now but we have a recent precedent for a humanitarian intervention turn nothing a longer running air campaign. can that achieve its goals? a cliche you hear a lot.
you need a political solution in iraq. the warring parties have to make some sort of compromise. gwen: isn't what happened in libya and what is happening in iraq the same reason that barack obama stayed out of syria? >> yes. and the challenge with a limited air campaign or whenever you want to call it if the message to isis which is emboldened and feels stronger and has acquired so many weapons through all these military bases. >> how did they get the windchill upons? >> they would go through -- how did they get the weapons? >> some are u.s. weapons that were given to the iraqis. they have a huge arsenal. huger than the iraqi army. at allowed them to move from being an restructuringcy force insurgency force to more like a aussie military.
it is hart to -- nor like a quasimilitary. >> the dual message is we don't want to get involved. we don't want ground troops. it will be limited. hard to see how that defers such that is stops the isis momentum. >> and that message clashes with the other interest the united states has in iraq which is not allowing isis to win because if the islamic state gets rooted with all of these weapons with oil, with money there is every reason to expect they will become a base for terrorism against others. if not the united states. some of the rhetoric has occasionally talked about the united states. it is not central to what they are doing. there are a lot of ways this could turn into a longer engagement. they is been firm on no boots on the ground.
no boots on ground. and there the question is in terms of whether this can work, can the kurdish forces hold together? one of the other reasons for action this week is there was a terrible crisis of morale and they were pulling back. and can they get their act together and it hasn't happened yet? gwen: i wonder if you put faces on the story whether this doesn't change public opinion or one of those things that foreign policy never works for you? >> there is really no cohesive strategy here. it is one thing to say the united states this is our role in the world and this is what we are going to do, i'm president i laid this out and here is my strategy going forward. that has never been put to the american public. it does look as scatter shot as it feels. the reason the president's approval rating is 36% in foreign affairs for people that
don't know what we know about the region, everything is falling apart and whether or not we have a role in it the president should be at least telling us when we are going to do, why he would need to be there. the faces do i think they become compelling but they just i think all blend together. as i said, when vow a public -- when you have a public that agrees with the president we don't want to get involved here but he they are also saying we have so many troubles at home. can't we focus on this first? this is what got us offtrack in the first place. >> there is not a clear bad guy in all of this. we are now involved in the conflicts involving the nonstate actors like hamas in the middle east or like isis in iraq. and i wonder if that also doesn't make this more untidy not just iraq, but also afghanistan. also these places we hope that the political system would step in and save us from further intervention.
>> right. well, so for instance when we went to iraq there was saddam and we vilified him properly and justifiably. and then there was osama bin laden. i think isis is a new group. i wouldn't be surprised if there are a lot of americans who aren't totally clear on what isis is. is it al-qaeda? is it different? >> i do think -- gwen: i would describe it as worse. >> -- i heard it tee scribed as worse. >> there was a skis many between isis and al-qaeda because they felt like you guys are a little out of control you have to calm down, it is disturbing that the isis' leader believed in kind of killing much more if you can believe it wantonly and rampantly than the al-qaeda leaders thought was appropriate. so but i would say on the flipside that the story was a way for the president to almost i don't want to be glib about it
but to sell this intervention to the american public. rather than an abstract concept the kurds and you the average american may not be clear on who they are and where they are. there are children dying oen a mountain because they are designedbesieged by those fanatics who are going to kill them if they come down. gwen: they could have had a good day when it came to afghanistan because they got the two warring presidents to shake hands and say we will figure it out. that is good news, right? at the same time everybody is walking away from the table in cairo where they were triling to work out a sustained cease fire between israel and hamas or the palestinians representing hamas or hamas representing the palestinians. on balance is it critical or likely that either of these things work themselves out? does it matter at all?
>> wow. gwen: for the u.s. >> foriatethe united states certainly whether that can be work out in afghanistan is crical to whether afghanistan is year from now looks like iraq looks now after the united states pulls out its last troops. that is crateand you end up with a counter terrorism there. these were both issues that were supposed to be settled in the case of gaza a week ago or more. in the case of afghanistan, a month ago. and john kerry is, you know, commuting all over those trouble spots all over the world putting his finger into one democrat dyke after another and there are more crises than we have secretaries of state. gwen: the polls show that people are supportive of israel and our siding with israel in this. still, there are -- even as the u.s. has gotten harsher in its criticism. >> in seeing some polls there is something of a generational split too, with younger
americans not being quote as quite as supportive of israelis. to your point of putting faces on it when there is death and destruction there are a lot of kids in gaza who we are seeing on television. what it looks like to most americans is there are a whole bunch of people in trouble and by the way, we haven't touched on the forecast there is another international crisis on our border which is kids coming up to mexico and now what do we do with those with the violence there? and you are seeing the public split on what we should do with these, again, even though they are children, should we really be bringing them into the united states whether they are escaping violence or not? gwen: is there ever -- has there ever been a case where person policy helps a president? whether it is going to war, staying out of war, trying to negotiate solutions in countries other than our own where there is not a direct whatever how you would define that, direct u.s.
interest? >> george h.w. bush at the end of the gulf war for a year. >> he didn't win reelection. the economy undercut his success. >> that war. >> there was another piece of this too, though, which is the second term is traditionally one where the president says i got the domestic stuff done and already measuring the drapes for the next president i will focus on foreign policy this is something i can do without congress. >> bill clinton out of the hit of impeachment and scandal through the interventions in the balkans. >> and israel. close to a breakthrough peace deal. and ronald reagan with the nuclear arms talks with the beginning and the end of the soviet union. gwen: those were positive and second term. >> and it felt like they were dictating the terms here is what i want to get done. now there is a fire hose of issues coming at me i want to get through them and get back to the thing that i came to do in the first place.
>> the challenge that president obama faces is one the things he is arguing is that the united states must accept a world where outcomes aren't perfect and the united states doesn't intervene in every time. when he says this we must live in uncertainty and that leads to instability in place after place after place and countries in some cases the united states has invested billions in the cases of iraq and afghanistan it undercuts the argument, that is the united states or most americans that you talk to want to still be the indispensable nation and maybe not give the resources this these kinds of problems demand. the obama argument is different than what we heard from others in the past. gwen: not much of a doctrine sayi get use to the untidiness of it. >> i was speaking to someone from an embassy today who said we are just not used to an america this is not confident and that was an interesting
message. that is the feeling that they are getting overseas is we just are not -- we are anxious internally. all these domestic problems with congress and things not getting ton but also we are projecting a lack of confidence. >> and about you wanted to tie and put a theme around what the obama strategy is and people feel it is in coheir rent. it is not entirely but it is doing less. it is limits. limits on american power. limits on american engagement and the world and the american voters aren't really used to that. >> limiting is not one of the things you want to hear. we will continue with this because there is so much more to say. we have to leave tonight a few minutes early to governor you give you a chance to support your local pbs station. we send condolences to sara brady. the widow of james brady. he was gravely wounded and went on to become a tough campaigner for gun control.
today, 33 years after that shooting his death was owled owled ruled a homicide as a result of e attack of that day. the white house press briefing room is named after him. we are done for now. more to cover so we will keep on talking online in "washington week" webcast extra streaming live at 30:00 p.m. eastern time at pbc.org/washingtonweek. among the topics, the big africa summit in washington. keep up every night on the pbs news hour and we will wrap it up for you again on friday next week on "washington week." good night. captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org-- >> corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by prudential. brigham and women's hospital. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the