Coburn: War on terror "is going to continue"

(CBS News) The war on terror "must end," President Obama declared Thursday in an hour-long foreign policy speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. But while the United States "can claim that it's at the end," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told "Face the Nation" on Sunday, "this war's going to continue."

"I see a big difference between the president saying the war's at an end and whether or not you've won the war," Coburn said. "And we have still tremendous threats out there, that are building, not declining. And to not recognize that, I think, is dangerous in the long run and dangerous for the world."

What Mr. Obama meant in flatly calling for a conclusion to the nearly 12-year conflict that sprung out of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., argued in the same segment, is "there's been a new phase." The president "did a very, very smart pivot, realizing we're not going to let up on terrorists, but at the same time we're going to meet the changes in the world," he said.

"No one can dispute how strong the president's been on this war on terror," Schumer said. "We've been largely successful at dealing with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - that's not over. There are new types of threats that we have to be vigilant about. But he said, under this long term war on terror, where small groups of individuals can hurt us, we need some rules. We need some rules, we need some transparency, so American citizens and the citizens of the world know we're not just going willy-nilly.

"I think, under scrutiny, what they've done will hold up very well," he continued. "But having transparency, having rules, and engaging other activities other than military to help curb the war on terror -- diplomacy, economic sanctions and things like that -- is going to be useful as well."

Schumer and Coburn were also at odds over the president's decision to appoint Attorney General Eric Holder to review investigations into a potential leak of classified information. News broke last week that deeming him a possible "co-conspirator" in violation of the Espionage Act, the Justice Department seized personal emails and phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen after he published a story about North Korea's nuclear program, citing an unnamed State Department source. Holder signed off on the probe.

Coburn blasted Holder's role as "a total conflict of interest."

"I don't think he can investigate himself," Coburn said. "The First Amendment rights and the freedom of the press in this country, and the intimidation that is going forward - it doesn't mean you shouldn't investigate it, and it shouldn't mean we shouldn't be tough on that. But allowing the very person that authorized the two things that we are very aware of today to investigate whether or not he did that appropriately, is inappropriate."

Reports about the Rosen investigation come on the heels of news that the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed two months' worth of the phone records from the Associated Press as part of a probe into an AP story about a foiled terror plot in Yemen. Schumer said the controversies shed light on "two very serious interests" that must be reconciled.

"The system is clearly broken," he said. "We have the right of the government to protect certain information from becoming public - often that's classified, national security information, sometimes it falls into other ambits. At the same time, we want a robust and full freedom of the press, and the only people who make the rules in this case are the government's side."

Schumer said he'll soon announce a new bipartisan "gang of eight" working on crafting legislation to set up rules when, "if the government wants to go to a member of the press and say, 'You have to divulge your sources and certain information,' they first have to go to a judge, and that judge will impose a balancing test: Which is more important, the government's desire to keep the information, to find out who leaked the information, or the robust freedom of the press? And if we can set up these rules, I think we'll avoid the morass.

"You always need set rules and an independent arbiter," he went on. "We have neither now."

One topic Schumer wouldn't remark on: The New York Mayor's race, and his longtime friend, disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, who announced his bid last week: "I'm not commenting on the mayor's race or on Anthony Weiner's race at this point," he said.

  • Lindsey Boerma On Twitter»

    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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