"Face the Nation" transcript, June 3: Axelrod, Priebus and more
DAVID SANGER: The damage-- the-- the CIA, the National Security Agency believe set back Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapons capability by eighteen months to two years. There are others who dispute that. But the bigger issue here, Bob, I think is that the United States has never before acknowledged the use of cyber weapons. And now the concern is of course that because it-- Stuxnet made it clear that-- that we are using these, that the President was worried it could create a pretext for China, Russia, others to do the same to us, perhaps under less strict rules under the administration.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, have we actually confirmed? Has the U.S. government confirmed that, in fact, we are doing this?
DAVID SANGER: The United States government has never publicly confirmed, but I think as you go into the accounts I've written it's very detailed and has President Obama in the middle of it. The President sat in The Situation Room and had to make decisions about when to continue, when to accelerate, and whether to kill this program.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Dan, I want to black-- bring you in because your book is mostly about the drone war that we've been hearing about. We read about it in the paper, a drone did this, a drone did that, but I want to talk to both of you. Republicans, especially Republicans, and-- and critics of the President have said that he has failed to lead on foreign policy, that he has been very weak. But as both of you line out in your book, it's an entirely different picture.
DANIEL KLAIDMAN (Kill and Capture/Newsweek): Well, it's extraordinary the extent to which this President has actually been very deeply and personally involved in these-- in these killing decisions, kinetic activity as they call it. And there's some interesting parallels between my book and-- and David's.
I mean this is a President who came into office wanting to-- to wind down the wars of 9/11, and to sort of bring-- you know, a smaller footprint. And-- and yet, he inherited a military that was very much still on the offensive, and a world that's still very dangerous. And so he sort of emerges as a kind of shadow warrior, using drones, using Special Operations forces. And in the Iranian context, as David reports, using cyber warfare and-- and espionage. And it's a way to try to continue to deal with these threats but without full-scale war. The problem is there is this kind of grinding inexorable momentum toward more killing and more war and that is where he seems to find himself now.
BOB SCHIEFFER: How did he operate? Give me his modus operandi?
DAVID SANGER: Well, I think he started from creating something of a new doctrine, Bob. There is an Obama doctrine. I tried in the-- in the book to sort of hash out what it is. And I think the doctrine is very much along the lines that-- that Dan hinted at, which is the country's tired of these big wars of occupation, of sending a hundred thousand troops into a country, staying around for four or five years at a cost of a trillion dollars or more. And yet, we still have these threats. And so the way he has operated has been to try to choose a hi-tech area where the United States has advantage, but he's also recognized that these involve significant big moral and legal decisions, and there's some legal basis that they've laid out now for the drone wars. There's very little legal basis that they've described for the cyber wars. And so he has had to operate both as commander and has something of law professor to go try to figure out if there is a way the United States can conduct these wars legally and then also deal with what the blowback is. And you see it in the drone wars. You know, we're in worst shape in Pakistan with the Pakistani people now than we were before President Obama came in. In cyber, we're only beginning to see what the effects are going to be.
BOB SCHIEFFER: But, you know, you-- the way you talk about it in your book, we all remember--or those of my era--remember when Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the White House and picking the bombing targets in North Vietnam. And people thought, you know, no commander-in-chief should be getting that involved in tactical decisions. But, apparently, Barack Obama is taking it a little step beyond that.
DANIEL KLAIDMAN: Well, it really is extraordinary. And you really have a situation where, you know, his two closest advisers on these counterterrorism is there's John Brennan his counterterrorism adviser and General Cartwright-- Hoss Cartwright, who is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they would come to him at extraordinary times, pull him out of a state dinner, interrupt him when he was having family time with his children, to make these grim calls. And, you know, Obama decided that he wanted to be personally involved in this. I think there-- to some extent because he wanted to assume the moral responsibility, but I think it was largely because he was worried that he was going to end up getting sucked into wars in places like Yemen and Somalia. He wanted to act as a kind of constraining--
BOB SCHIEFFER: But--
DANIEL KLAIDMAN: --force.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You all are both talking about to the point that he was actually picking out which terrorists we'll go after.
DANIEL KLAIDMAN: That-- that's right. And-- but interestingly, I think more often than not, he was scaling back the target list. He was saying I want to go after fewer of these people. We don't know that they are--as he would put it--AQ focused. He wanted to stay focused on our core interest, which is to say going after al Qaeda.
DAVID SANGER: And-- and I think that's a key part of-- of sort of his doctrine. He is willing to go do this, it seems when there's a direct threat to the United States. When there's a more general threat, then he has insisted on putting other countries out in the lead, making sure that they're putting skin in the game. So in Libya he did that. In Syria you've seen very little activity because the U.S. won't go into the lead, and there isn't a cyber option. There really isn't a drone option, and we're somewhat frozen. And this is the downside to the Obama doctrine because there are limits to what you can do with drones and cyber. It's great for going out after a specific facility or a terrorist. It's not great for changing the nature of a society.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you all something. I mean when you were reporting on this story, did either of you ever get the idea that some of these officials were disclosing some of these things to you, to boost up the President's reputation to make him appear tougher, that they were doing this and talking to you to counter this idea that he is a weak President and a weak leader?
DANIEL KLAIDMAN: You know what I got the sense, Bob, actually, I got the sense that these officials who I talked to who are dealing with on a daily basis these huge moral dilemmas and very complicated legal and policy problems, they wanted to talk about it because some of these issues weighed on their conscious-- on their consciences. They wanted to talk about it because they wanted to make sure that people understood they don't-- they don't make these decisions lightly. And I think it had more to do that-- more to do with that than to try to spin reporters and to boost up the President.
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