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Liz Cheney and James Zogby Debate Obama's Speech

Liz Cheney and James Zogby Debate Obama's Speech

By The Situation Room - June 4, 2009

BLITZER: Let's go back to our top story, the president's historic speech in Cairo today.

Let's discuss this and more with Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president of the United States, a former State Department official.

Also joining us, James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute here in Washington.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

LIZ CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Great to be here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what he said, because he was giving some tough love to both the Israelis and the Palestinians today.

Listen to this clip about what he said as far as the Palestinians are concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Let there be no doubt, the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable and America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspirations for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Key words -- "a state of their own," since the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel right now is refusing -- at least so far -- to say they support a two state solution, Israel and Palestine.

CHENEY: You know, I thought, actually, that clip was not really new U.S. policy. That's the kind of thing you've heard from presidents -- President Bush, certainly, in the past. What I thought was new and particularly troubling was the juxtaposition. You know, when he talked about the Holocaust and horror of the Holocaust, but then in the very next paragraph, when he was done with the Holocaust, he said, on the other hand -- and seems to equate the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the murder, the slaughter of six million Jews to the situation in which Palestinians live today.

And I think that -- that, you know, goes way too far. And I know he was trying to sound even-handed, but I think that begins to be very much appalling, frankly, to a lot of folks and walking away -- putting some distance in the relationship with Israel.

BLITZER: We heard some similar criticism...

JAMES ZOGBY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: Completely (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: ...from John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House...

ZOGBY: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: ...that this moral equivalency -- the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.

ZOGBY: Clearly not and not intended as such. He was playing out the historical narratives of both peoples. This is why Jewish people suffer. This is why they're afraid. This is why they have a feeling that they are insecure. This is why Palestinians have suffered. This is why.

This is -- there is no place the president said this is equal to that or this is the same as that.

What he was saying, to be fair, was this is the narrative. This is the story Palestinians bring to the table. And those who can't deal with that, that there is a Palestinian narrative of suffering, they, frankly, won't get it.

But the president was being fair to both people, relating their story as it was.

CHENEY: But I think it's a...

BLITZER: Anything wrong with that?

CHENEY: Well, I think, obviously, there are two sides to this issue. But I think when you use a phrase like "on the other hand" right after you talk about the Holocaust, you can't help but -- and if it wasn't intentional, it was certainly tone deaf and insensitive to, you know, the feelings of Israelis, to the feelings of Jewish- Americans, frankly, the feelings of all Americans. And it wasn't the only place in the speech where I think -- you know, any American president, frankly, could walk into the Arab world and by putting distance between the United States and Israel get applause.

ZOGBY: Frankly, there's no way...

CHENEY: And I think that's exactly what we saw today.

ZOGBY: There's no way that one can -- can do this without getting criticized by those who simply don't want to hear it. The fact is there is a Palestinian narrative. There is an Israeli narrative. Both deserve to be told. He did not equate. He did not create any sense of symmetry.

The symmetry is these are two peoples who need legitimacy and need respect and recognition of their need for independence and sovereignty. He gave them that and he told their narratives leading up to that. That was important.

CHENEY: But it wasn't the only place that...

ZOGBY: We can't...

CHENEY: ...that we saw, though, Jim.

ZOGBY: We...

CHENEY: It wasn't the only place we saw this sort of attempt to say, you know, on the one hand this and on the other hand that. We saw it also with respect to the U.S.-Iranian relationship.

BLITZER: I want to get to all that in a moment.

ZOGBY: Yes.

BLITZER: But I'll -- what was very, I guess, pointed to me -- and I got up really early this morning, like I'm sure both of you did, to listen and watch this speech -- was the very contrast, the way he talked about what happened on 9/11 and the way your dad and former President Bush would speak about it.

For example, listen to how the president today spoke about the -- what so many people have always called terrorism, although he refused to use that word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism -- relentlessly confront violent extremists.

Combating violent extremism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, James, why would he refuse to talk about the -- use the word terror?

ZOGBY: He talked about 3,000 people -- innocents dying in their homes. He quoted...

BLITZER: But the head of extremists -- violent extremists.

ZOGBY: He quoted the Koran...

BLITZER: But is there a problem in the Arab and Muslim world...

ZOGBY: No. No. Not at all.

BLITZER: ...with the word terror?

ZOGBY: The -- well, one of the problems here is that language has been so sullied in the last administration that there's a need to clean up the discourse. And in doing so, what he did was he made very clear and personalized 3,000 people died. He went and confronted them head-on -- this is not a myth, this is not a conspiracy, this is reality.

BLITZER: All right...

ZOGBY: Bin Laden claimed credit and we will get them.

BLITZER: Because I want to contrast...

ZOGBY: I don't think there is anyone in the extremist community who took heart that this president is being soft.

CHENEY: But I can tell you what they did take heart from, though, Jim. I'm sure they took heart from the president going onto foreign soil and saying that in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States abandoned -- fell short of its values. And I think that is just a tremendous blow to say...

ZOGBY: There is no one in that region who doesn't...

CHENEY: Wait a minute. I let you finish.

ZOGBY: ...know and a whole lot of...

CHENEY: I let you finish.

ZOGBY: ...Americans who...

CHENEY: James, wait a second.

BLITZER: Let her finish.

CHENEY: Let me finish. The extent to which you go onto foreign soil and you suggest that rather than doing their job keeping us safe -- both the soldiers who've fought and died since 9/11, the folks at the CIA, a whole range of law enforcement officials, people who have put in place programs to keep us safe -- you know, it's one thing to have that argument as a domestic political debate. To go to Cairo and to accuse the United States of falling short of its values just strikes me as, you know, a real blow and -- and very disappointing, frankly.

ZOGBY: This -- this president has hanging over his head 4,000 pictures that came from the last administration of gross abuse and torture. They are hanging...

CHENEY: That is outrageous for you to say it came from the last administration...

ZOGBY: They are hanging out there and...

CHENEY: ...Jim.

ZOGBY: ...what he is doing...

CHENEY: I'm sorry, Jim.

ZOGBY: ...is saying yes, what the world already knows, we fell short of our values...

CHENEY: Jim, are you suggesting that those pictures represent...

ZOGBY: And what we...

CHENEY: ...the American military, the armed services...

ZOGBY: They do not.

CHENEY: ...that they are anything except an aberration...

ZOGBY: But they represent...

CHENEY: ...and crime?

ZOGBY: ...aberrations that came from a policy that led to those aberrations.

CHENEY: That's just -- there's absolutely no evidence...

ZOGBY: And the fact is, is that...

CHENEY: ...from that, Jim. That's no...

ZOGBY: ...what he's doing is...

CHENEY: There's no. What he is doing...

ZOGBY: He is clearing the air and making it...

CHENEY: ...is he's trying...

ZOGBY: ...and making it possible...

CHENEY: No, what he's doing is he's trying to get applause...

ZOGBY: ...for America to have a responsible relationship (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: One at a time. One at a time.

ZOGBY: Let me finish that.

BLITZER: Finish your thought then go -- then you go ahead.

ZOGBY: The point here is that we are in a deep hole. And no one -- if you don't get the fact that we're in a deep hole in that region, then, frankly, I don't know what to say. We are. He needs to get out of that hole and he needs to get out of that hole by admitting, number one, that, yes, there were mistakes made; but, number two, we are better than that. We will be better than that. And here is what we are going to do...

BLITZER: All right, Liz...

CHENEY: We've had...

ZOGBY: If you want to talk about confronting...

CHENEY: We've got big (INAUDIBLE)...

ZOGBY: ...the audience in Cairo...

CHENEY: It's my turn. It's my turn, Jim.

ZOGBY: He spoke about the Holocaust in Cairo.

BLITZER: Let her...

ZOGBY: For God's sake, this was an enormous challenge...

CHENEY: Jim, you know what?

We do have big problems in the Middle East. But the biggest problem is not the perception of the United States. The big problems we have are things like the Iranians attempting to get a nuclear weapon; the fact that we've still got terrorists trying to kill Americans, trying to kill our allies; the fact that we have about, in three days, we're going to have an election in Lebanon in which the Iranians have poured billions of dollars and Hezbollah is likely to win and he didn't mention it once.

The difference we have is that I think that the president has got to directly address those issues and not act like there's some sort of moral relativism here and this can all be solved if we sort of go forward holding hands together. There are good guys and bad guys here. And I think it's important to identify who those are.

BLITZER: But, Liz, I think what the president may have been referring to -- and we don't know, because we haven't had a chance to follow-up with an interview with the president -- but there were abuses of American values at Abu Ghraib, for example. Maybe that's what he was referring to when he was saying there were abuses and there were violations of our own values. CHENEY: Yes. But I think it is a big difference -- I mean, if you are an American president and you're going to say something so inflammatory and, frankly, something that pulls the rug out from under, potentially, the people who kept us safe, I think you've got an obligation, at a minimum, to be clear. And he absolutely was not clear.

It sounded to me like a very broad indictment that he knew, frankly, would get him some applause in Cairo. But that -- that is a very different thing than having that debate here in the United States.

ZOGBY: It's not a question of applause in Cairo. It's Colin Powell. It's the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It's -- it's John McCain have all said the same thing, that this undercut our values and made it difficult for us to challenge other governments on their human rights policies...

CHENEY: But there is a very important...

ZOGBY: And let me say, we've...

CHENEY: ...debate going on about that.

ZOGBY: ...polled on this.

BLITZER: All right...

ZOGBY: We've polled on this in the region. And what we find...

CHENEY: But polls are no reason, Jim...

ZOGBY: ...is that one of the biggest issues out there is Guantanamo, torture and the way we behaved in Iraq.

CHENEY: But here is the fundamental question...

BLITZER: And...

CHENEY: Here's the fundamental...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CHENEY: ...is that it is...

ZOGBY: And he is gaining support...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: One at -- no. Hold on. Let her finish.

CHENEY: Jim, it's my turn now. Is that U.S. -- is it a U.S. national interest for us to make policy decisions here based on polls in the Arab world?

ZOGBY: It is. CHENEY: And my answer would be...

BLITZER: All right. What -- hold on.

CHENEY: ...no, it's not.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CHENEY: It's in the U.S. national interest to do what's going to keep America safe. Now, 90 senators and the vast majorities of American citizens do not believe we should close Guantanamo. Now, if your argument is Barack Obama -- President Obama's policy decisions ought to be guided more by the polls that you're seeing in the Arab world than U.S. polls...

BLITZER: All right, Liz...

CHENEY: ...I think that's a hard one to sustain.

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a second.

I want to -- there's two other things I want to get to and our time is limited.

ZOGBY: Sure.

BLITZER: Here's, in marked contrast to the way -- the way President Obama spoke about violent extremists committing all these acts today, this is a clip of what former President Bush, how he once phrased it. And it caused a lot of commotion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to -- to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was that appropriate, the way the...

CHENEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ...former president phrased it?

CHENEY: Absolutely. Look, you know, the fascist nature of the Al Qaeda organization and these terrorist organizations, the extent to which they will kill anybody who doesn't agree with them, the extent to which they want women to live in a completely oppressed way, the extent to which, you know, they -- they are completely unwilling to compromise. What they want to do is, you know, basically commit death and destruction in order to impose a -- you know, Islamic caliphate on the world. I think there's no -- you know, it's important for us to call this what it is.

BLITZER: Let me let Jim Zogby react. ZOGBY: These are bad guys. There's no question about it. And we've got to confront them. But we need allies to do it. And the mistake of the last administration was thinking that you could lead with nobody following and eroding the base underneath...

CHENEY: That's -- that's just not...

ZOGBY: ...your leadership and the allies that you want to have with you.

The point here is that we are, today, safer and more secure than we were yesterday, before this speech was given. This president has provided leadership. He is bringing America home and he is bringing American values to the world in a way that they will be heard and respected precisely because of who he is and the way he has been able to communicate to the world.

BLITZER: Unfortunately...

CHENEY: Suggesting moral equivalence makes us safer is just totally divorced from reality, Jim.

ZOGBY: I do not understand the moral equivalence argument. What I do understand is that Colin Powell...

CHENEY: We've done some bad things to Iran and they've done some bad things to us...

ZOGBY: John McCain and...

CHENEY: ...that's moral equivalence.

ZOGBY: ...the Joint Chiefs agree with Barack Obama...

BLITZER: All right...

CHENEY: Yes...

ZOGBY: ...torture...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thank you, guys...

CHENEY: (INAUDIBLE) 58 percent of the American people believe that we're safer because of (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: You guys are going to continue this discussion out in the green room.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

CHENEY: Thank you.

 

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