Watch CBS News

"Face the Nation" transcripts, September 16, 2012: Libyan Pres. Magariaf, Amb. Rice and Sen. McCain

(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on September 16, 2012, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., and a roundtable of Israeli Ambassador Martin Indyk, New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman, and Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on FACE THE NATION on the anniversary of 9/11, an attack in Libya takes the life of our ambassador there and three other Americans. And a new attack in Afghanistan today leaves four U.S. service members dead.

As the anti-American protests over a U.S.-made anti-Muslim film spread across the Arab world from Africa to Afghanistan to Australia. Here at home, big questions remain about the safety of U.S. personnel overseas. And how all this will affect Campaign 2012. We will cover it all from all sides with the President of Libya's General National Congress Mohamed Yousef Magariaf; U.N. ambassador Susan Rice; and Republican Senator John McCain.

For analyses, we'll look to former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk; the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass; and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

Plus, we'll talk to the chief Washington correspondent of The Times, David Sanger; TIME magazine deputy international editor Bobby Ghosh; and CBS News political director, John Dickerson.


ANNOUNCER: From CBS News in Washington, FACE THE NATION with Bob Schieffer.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Good morning again and here is the latest news from overnight. Four American military people have been killed in an attack in Southern Afghanistan. This happened when at least one Afghan police officer opened fire on them at a checkpoint. The State Department has ordered all nonessential U.S. embassy personnel to leave Tunisia and Sudan, and protests against Americans continue in at least twenty countries.

But we're going to start this morning with Libya and the latest on Tuesday's attack. We spoke a little earlier this morning with the president of Libya's National Congress, Mohamed Magariaf. How many people have now been arrested, Mister President?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF (President, Libya's General National Congress): Oh, few scores, I think the number reached about fifty.

BOB SCHIEFFER: About fifty people have been arrested. And who are these people?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF (voice overlapping): Yeah.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You have said that they were connected to al Qaeda. Are they all foreigners?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: Yes, few of them are.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And who are the others?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: The others are affiliates and maybe sympathizers.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Where do you think the foreigners are from, Mister President?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: They entered Libya from different directions and some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You have said that this does not-- this attack did not reflect anti-American feelings by the vast majority of people in your country. Tell us about that.

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: Yes, these ugly deeds, criminal deeds against direct-- were directed against them, Late Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues do not resemble any way, in any sense, the aspirations, the feelings of Libyans towards the United States and its citizens.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Was this a long-planned attack, as far as you know? Or what-- what do you know about that?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: The way these perpetrators acted and moved, I think we-- and they're choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, I think we have no-- this leaves us with no doubt that this has preplanned, determined-- predetermined.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And you believe that this was the work of al Qaeda and you believe that it was led by foreigners. Is that-- is that what you are telling us?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: It was planned-- definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who-- who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their-- since their arrival.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mister President, is it safe for Americans there now?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: The security situation is-- is difficult, not only for Americans, even for Libyans themselves. We don't know what-- what are the real intentions of these perpetrators. How they will react? So-- but there is no specific particular concern for danger for Americans or any other foreigners. But situation is not easy--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Mister President.

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: --to keep stability. Yes.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Will it be safe for the FBI investigators from the United States to come in, are you advising them to stay away for a while?

MOHAMED YOUSEF EL-MAGARIAF: Maybe it is better for them to say for a-- for a little while? For a little while, but until we-- we-- we-- we do what we-- we have to do ourselves. But, again, we'll be in need for-- for their presence to help in further investigation. And, I mean any hasty action will-- I think is not welcomed.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I want to thank you very much for joining us this morning. Thank you, Sir.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And joining us now, Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador, our U.N. ambassador. Madam Ambassador, he says this is something that has been in the planning stages for months. I understand you have been saying that you think it was spontaneous? Are we not on the same page here?

SUSAN RICE (Ambassador to the United Nations): Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the President, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch led by the FBI, that has begun and--

BOB SCHIEFFER (overlapping): But they are not there.

SUSAN RICE: They are not on the ground yet, but they have already begun looking at all sorts of evidence of-- of various sorts already available to them and to us. And they will get on the ground and continue the investigation. So we'll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy--


SUSAN RICE: --sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that-- in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But you do not agree with him that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?

SUSAN RICE: We do not-- we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?

SUSAN RICE: Well, we'll have to find out that out. I mean I think it's clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we'll have to determine.

BOB SCHIEFFER: There seems to be demonstrations in more than twenty cities as far as we know yesterday. Is there any sense that this is leveling off?

SUSAN RICE: Well, on Friday, of course, I think that's what you're referring to-- there-- there were a number of places around the world in which there were protests, many of them peaceful, some of them turned violent. And our emphasis has been-- and the President has been very, very clear about this, priority number one is protection of American personnel and facilities. And we have been working now very constructively with host governments around the world to provide the kind of protection we need and to condemn the violence. What happens going forward I think it would be unwise for any of us to predict with certainty. Clearly the last couple of days have seen a reduction in protests and a reduction in violence. I don't want to predict what the next days will yield.

BOB SCHIEFFER: The Romney campaign continues to criticize the administration. Paul Ryan was on the campaign trail yesterday saying that the Obama administration has diminished America's presence overseas and our image, a direct quote, "If we project-- if we project weakness, they come. If we are strong, our adversaries will not test us and our allies will respond to us." What's your response to that?

SUSAN RICE: It's two-fold. First of all, Bob, I think the American people expect in times of challenge overseas for our leaders to be unified and to come together and to be steadfast and steady and calm and responsible and that certainly what President Obama has been. With respect to what I think is a very empty and baseless charge of weakness, let's be plain, I think American people know the record very well. President Obama said when he was running for President that he would refocus our efforts and attentions on al Qaeda. We've decimated al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is gone. He also said we would end the war in Iraq responsibly. We've done that. He has protected civilians in Libya, and Qaddafi is gone. I serve up at the United Nations and I see every day the difference in how countries around the world view the United States. They view us as a partner. They view us as somebody they want to work with. They view President Obama as somebody they trust. Our standing in the world is much stronger so this charge of weakness is really quite baseless.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you think Mitt Romney spoke inappropriately when he criticized and issued a statement so early in this turmoil?

SUSAN RICE: Bob, I think you know, in my role, I'm-- I'm not going to jump into politics and make those judgments. That's for the American people to decide.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Madam Ambassador, thank you for being with us.

SUSAN RICE: Thank you very much.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And joining us now for his take on all this, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain. Senator, you've got to help me out here. The president of Libya says that this was something that had been in the works for two months, this attack. He blames it on al Qaeda. Susan Rice says that the State Department thinks it is some sort of a spontaneous event. What-- what do you make of it?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-Arizona): Most people don't bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration. That was an act of terror, and for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts. Now, how long it was planned and who was involved, but there is no doubt there was extremists and there's no doubt they were using heavy weapons and they used pretty good tactics--indirect fire, direct fire, and obviously they were successful. Could I just say that our prayers are with Chris Stevens and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith who gave their lives. I met Chris Stevens in Benghazi during the fighting. He was putting his life on the line every day. He was living in a hotel. I was with him on July 7th when the Libyan people voted and he and I were down where thousands of people were saying to him, "Thank you, thank you, America, thank you." So the last thing that Chris Stevens would want the United States to do is to stop assisting Libya as they go through this very difficult process of trying to establish a government and democracy.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Why do you think the-- is there something more going on here than a difference of opinion when the administration spokesman today says that she believes and the administration believes this was just a spontaneous act?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: How-- how spontaneous is a demonstration when people bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons and-- and have a very tactically successful military operation, but there are so many things that we need to cover but the fact is that the United States is weakened. And, you know, it was Osama bin Laden that said when people see the strong horse and the weak horse, people like the strong horse. Right now United States is the weak horse.

In Iraq, it's unraveling. In Iraq, al Qaeda is coming back. It is in danger of breaking up into Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. By the way Iranian flights are overflying Iraq with weapons for Bashar Assad. In Afghanistan again, you just saw, the worst thing for any military morale is these killing by your allies that continue to escalate. It's unraveling because all we tell the Afghan people is we're leaving. We are not telling them we're succeeding. We tell them we're leaving.

In Syria, twenty thousand people have been massacred. These people cry out for our help. They've been massacred, raped, tortured, beaten, and the President of the United Tortured will not even speak up for them, much less provide them with the arms and equipment for a fair fight. When Russian arms are flowing in, Iranian help, and Hezbollah on the ground finally--

BOB SCHIEFFER: So what-- what is it that we are doing wrong here?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, it's disengagement. Prior to 9/11, we had a policy of containment. Then after 9/11 it was confrontation with the terrorists and al Qaeda. Now it's disengagement. Every time, you just saw the spokespersons, we're leaving Iraq, we're leaving Afghanistan, we're leaving the area, the people in the area are having to adjust and they believe the United States is weak, and they are taking appropriate action. And in Israel now we have a looming situation. Is there anybody that doesn't believe that Iran continues on the path to nuclear weapons, despite the sanctuary-- the sanctions that have been harmful to them? And here we are in an open fight with the prime minister of-- of Israel and they keep telling--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, let's-- let's just talk about that.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: --could I just say, we keep telling the Israelis not to attack. Shouldn't we be telling the Iranians that we are together and that there are boundaries that they can't cross? Instead, we are in a continuous public dispute with our closest ally in the region.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well-- well let's-- let's just talk about that a little bit.


BOB SCHIEFFER: The-- the prime minister says he wants United States to announce a red line to say to Iran if you go beyond this point--


BOB SCHIEFFER: --in your development of-- of weapons, then-- then that's too far, and we won't tolerate that.


BOB SCHIEFFER: What-- what is that line and what should it be?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: When they reached, in the-- in the Israelis' view, when they've reached a level where they can quickly assemble a nuclear weapon, apparently in the administration's view, it's when they have a nuclear weapon, and that's a big difference. And the Israelis' great fear is that at some point the Iraqi-- the Iranians are able to conceal and develop weapons to the degree that they militarily can't stop that. So then they'd have to rely on us. Do you think that the Israeli government right now would readily rely on us? I don't think so.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So what should we do? Should we just tell the Israelis, look we're with you, guys, if you think we need to go, then-- then we need to bomb and we will be with you?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Yes and there should be agreement-- and there should be agreement where that point is. But most of all, let's reassert American leadership in the region. Let's point out that this wasn't a video that caused this. It's a fight, a struggle in the Arab world between the Islamists and the forces of moderation in-- and they want America disengaged. We need to assist these people. Obviously, we have the right and should demand the host nation provide security. But we should be assisting these countries and the fact is that for us to say it's all about a video, look, one of our fundamentals is freedom of speech and that's what the Arab spring was about, to bring about an end to the censorship by their government among other things. So it's not a video and by the way, I predict you, there will be many, many vide-- videos that will be out there. It was the Islamists, radical Islamists, advertising and pushing this objectionable, hateful video to incite the forces that would then bring about their assumption of power. That's what this is all about.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Did-- did Mitt Romney speak inappropriately when he spoke out so soon in all of this?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: If you look at the statement that was given by the American Embassy, and later disavowed by the-- the administration itself, of course, that was a very weak statement. This is-- it was a semi-apology. We shouldn't be apologizing for freedom of speech. We should be saying we demand freedom of speech for these people. That's one of the fundamentals of-- of democracy. So the-- the lack of symmetry on the part of the media in this campaign on this issue and-- and on Medicare and others, is-- is just saddening to me.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just go back to the-- the business with Israel. What should the United States do? Should it tell Israel, look, we're with you and you take the lead here or what-- what should we say?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: What-- what we should do and it doesn't have to be public, is sit down with the Israelis. By the way rather than send our National Security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to go to Israel and come back and say, we are-- we tell the Israelis not to attack. Is that-- is that what the message we want to send to the Iranians? And by the way, because of this weakness, the Iranians don't believe that we are going to do anything about their efforts because of our other activities. We should in-- in-- in quiet-- negotiations say this is a line that you, Israel, can be confident that we will not let them cross and we will act with you militarily. Israelis are aware of the consequences of acting alone in the Arab world. But, by the way, the Arab world will be celebrating in private if we deal this blow to the Iranians. Again, the Syrian people need our help.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Senator McCain, thank you so much.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And we'll be back in one minute with analysis on all of this.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And we are back now to talk more about the situation in the Middle East with former Israeli ambassador Martin Indyk, who is now vice president of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; and joining us from New York, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Richard, let me just start with you. What do you make of what has happened over this last week? Is this more than just about a film? Where does this go from here?

RICHARD HAASS (Council on Foreign Relations): Oh, absolutely. It's more than about a film. This is the equivalent of a forest fire. Anything could set it off. So, the-- the film is the wrong place to-- to focus. Essentially, Bob, the old order in the Middle East is gone. That's the order of authoritarian regimes, many of whom were-- were pro-American or pro-western. The people didn't have much in the way of freedom to say the least. That order is now gone or in many cases is shaky. Nothing though, has really taken its place. We don't have governments that are in full control of their own countries. In some cases we don't have governments willing to fulfill their international obligations. They're not-- they're not mature democracies. We have in some cases simply majority rule. So essentially, the old world of the Middle East is gone; no new world has yet taken its place. And I think the President was right in one thing. He said the other day-- these countries are not allies. They're not adversaries. They're somewhere in between. In some ways at best, they are getting their footing. The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, in Egypt, it has to decide whether it's a government, a political party, or a popular movement. Each has different dynamics, so right now and the foreseeable future and then some, I think we are going to be dealing with a Middle East that's going to look more like a Wild West than anything else.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Let me go to Martin Indyk quickly. What do you see the impact of this weekend on the differences that are now surfacing between Israel and the United States over Iran, Mister Ambassador?

MARTIN INDYK (Brookings Institution): Well, I think that Israel is very nervous about the rapid deterioration in its neighborhood. The turmoil that we see from here, they see from a much closer perspective. And that combines with the-- as the prime minister puts it-- the race of Iran towards nuclear weapons capability, the fear that the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty will start to come apart. The concern that in Syria the-- what's happening there could lead to an Islamist government taking over eventually there as well but before that a descent into chaos on their northern border. All of that, I think, makes them very nervous. And that's why the prime minister is coming out much more vocally than one might have expected in the midst of an election campaign here saying, you know, we need-- we need reassurances. We need red lines against the Iranians because from his point of view, that's-- that's the greatest threat they face.

BOB SCHIEFFER: I want to come back to that. But, Tom, I want to talk to you about-- what do you see-- this had what kind of an impact on Syria and what's happening there?

TOM FRIEDMAN (New York Times): Well, Bob, you know, let's talk about Syria in light of what happened this week. As Senator McCain said, twenty thousand people have been killed in Syria over the last year in internal fighting. Has a single Syrian embassy been ransacked or attacked around the Middle East? Think about that. Twenty thousand Arab Muslims in Syria have been killed, and there hasn't been a single protest around the Arab World. Yet, our embassy in Cairo and Libya are-- our consulates there were ransacked because of a nut-ball film on YouTube. And what that tells you is a-- one, how confused and how fraudulent a lot of these protests are, in my view. Because I don't think a YouTube video compares to people created an image of God being killed. Let's start there. But it also tells you there's just a huge fight going on for reasons Martin and Richard have said over what is going to be the future of this region. Who is going to set the rules? And right now you have the far-far right in the Muslim world trying to challenge the right in the Muslim world, and no leaders really standing up and charting, I think, a progressive forward future.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, that sets up our discussion for the second half of our broadcast. We're going to take a commercial break and we'll be back in just a minute.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And we'll be back to continue our conversation with our panel and we'll add some journalists. Stay with us on FACE THE NATION Page Two.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And some of our stations are leaving us now. For most of you, we'll be right back.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And welcome back now to FACE THE NATION Page Two. Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations is in New York. Martin Indyk of Brookings; and Tom Friedman of the New York Times are with us here in the studio.

Richard Haass, I'm going to go to you about what Martin Indyk was talking about. This-- this problem between Israel and the United States over Iran and what do we do about it? The prime minister is saying United States ought to publicly draw a red line and tell isra-- tell Iran you cannot go beyond this point in your nuclear weapons development. Where do you see-- what do you see happening on this front?

RICHARD HAASS Well, that's an approach I think that probably can't work simply because the Iranians may be doing things already that we don't know about. And I think it's legitimate to say, even if they don't cross the nuclear weapons threshold, if they get ninety percent of the way there, that's not a very comforting outcome. So let me suggest a different approach, Bob. Instead of red lines, let me suggest deadlines. What we ought to do is go to the Iranians with a-- with a diplomatic offer and make clear what it is they have to stop doing-- all the enriched material they have to get rid of, the international inspections they have to respect, in return sanctions would be reduced and they would be out from under the risk of attack. But if they don't meet that deadline, then I think the United States, Israel, and others who are like-minded ought to think about whether the time has come to undertake military action.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Martin Indyk, has the time come?

MARTIN INDYK: Not yet. Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon. It is certainly going ahead despite the crippling sanctions and the effort at negotiating an outcome in which they would give up their aspirations for nuclear weapons. They're still moving ahead towards a nuclear threshold. And so, therefore, while there's still time, there is not a lot of time, and I don't think the difference between Netanyahu and Obama on this is-- is that great in terms of the President's commitment not to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The idea of putting out a-- a public red line, in effect, issuing an ultimatum, is something that no President would do. You noticed Governor Romney is not putting out a-- a red line. Senator McCain didn't either, and neither is Bibi Netanyahu for that matter in terms of Israel's own-- own actions because it locks you in. And I think-- but what's clear is that the United States has a-- has a vital interest in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. There is still time, perhaps six months, even by Prime Minister Netanyahu's own time table to try to see if a negotiated solution can be worked out. I'm pessimistic about that. If that doesn't work out, and we need to make every effort, exhaust every chance that it does work, then I am afraid that 2013 is going to be a year in which-- which we're going to have a military confrontation with Iran.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You really believe that? Tom Friedman, is a military showdown inevitable in this? I mean, I-- just to be the devil's advocate, let me just say, we coexisted with, first, the Soviet Union and now Russia for a long, long time, and they have nuclear weapons. What is the difference in Iran having a nuclear weapon and Russia having a nuclear weapon or China or Pakistan?

TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, I think the argument is-- is that this is a-- a much more unstable regime--


TOM FRIEDMAN: --and the Russians, even during the Cold War, didn't-- weren't out there vowing to wipe the United States off the map, so.


TOM FRIEDMAN: I-- I certainly understand why the Israelis are concerned. I would say a couple of things, so, Bob, you know, if-- if I did think that this was a year in which we were going to have to undertake military action from Iran--if I were Israel in thinking that--I wouldn't just be worried about drawing a red line I'd be interested in drawing a green line, too, and that is a green line between Israel and the West Bank. The idea that Israel would go on with the mad settlement policy in the West Bank and at the same time expect the United States and the world to undertake a military strike against Iran. The-- what we saw in the Middle East last week in terms of the burning down of American embassies, that would be a garden party, if you ask me, compared to what you would see on the street in the Arab world if Israel attacked Iran with the support of the United States in the complete absence of any kind of negotiation with the Palestinians. I'm not saying even negotiations with the Palestinians would-- would insulate us from that reaction, but the fact that there's absolutely nothing, okay, I-- I can't imagine what-- you know, you-- you could say all these Arab regimes, they'll love it. Yeah, the leaders quietly, they'll whisper to us, "way to go. Really good job. Thank you very much." But our people-- our people are really upset, you know, Bob, and when our people are upset, well, we've just got to-- we got to be with the people.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So-- so, let me ask you, and I'll go back to you, Richard, what is Bibi Netanyahu-- Netanyahu trying to do here? Martin says that even he has not drawn a red line. He-- you all talk about how it would be very difficult for us to draw one publicly. Why is he saying what he's saying right now?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, he's-- he's adding urgency to this. The-- we've had several rounds of negotiations that have accomplished very little. He doesn't want these things to be drawn out indefinitely. He wants countries to increase the-- the-- the sanctions, to put more pressure on-- on Iran. He wants to pressure the United States. He wants the United States, whether we announce a formal red line or not, to essentially decide within the government that our patience and our-- our tolerance are not unlimited. So to-- I think what he is hoping is that somewhere after the election-- whether it's a second Obama administration or a first Romney administration, essentially the United States would one way or another make the decision that unless Iran met our requirements by a date certain that then we would probably begin to move much more directly towards the idea of an American military strike, which by the way the Israelis would much prefer. They know that we have the capacity to do things militarily that are far greater than they could. They also know that if they are the ones to undertake a-- the strike and introduce as a somewhat different dynamic into the region. So their preference, if you will, is not to act unilaterally. It's to get us to strike and I think what you're seeing, therefore, is the Israelis pressing their case.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let's go back to what Tom Friedman was talking about in the beginning and that is Syria. John McCain feels very strongly that we should have done a lot more, Tom, than-- than what we have done.

TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, my sympathies here are with the administration. My-- my view on Syria is very simple--if you want to effect change there, you have to take over the whole country. You have to do what we did in Iraq, and no one wants to do that again. What you're seeing in all these Arab states really, Bob, is that, you know, you-- you take out the dictator and there's nothing underneath. There's no civil society. They're all one version of a failed state after another. And what they all need is some kind of midwife or some kind of Mandela to pull them together and bring them into the modern world. They have none. Now, what really scares me when I look at Egypt, I just came from China, as you know. And, you look where China is today. China is not sitting back and looking at the Arab. Remember, Egypt was ahead of China, you know, fifty years ago. Egypt can't even see China today. So now we're going to go through a period where the Muslim Brothers say, well, you know, we've got to figure out how Islam and we've got to-- yeah, we've got our followers and we've got to worry about them. Guys, you know, how close we are to the United States, one more incident like this the United States is going to pull its embassy out. If you want to get a visa to the United States from Libya or Tunisia, you have to go to Italy. Okay? These countries are in real danger, Bob, of falling behind exponentially in this globalized world today. You know, there is a saying in environmentalism that really applies to them--we have exactly enough time starting now. People talk about climate change. They have exactly enough time starting out to get into the modern world, and to spend another decade futzing around with Islam is the answer. Islam is a great and glorious faith but it is not the answer to their development issues today.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Ambassador Indyk, do you think Assad is doomed or will he somehow survive in Syria?

MARTIN INDYK: It's-- it's very difficult to see how he can possibly survive. He's lost all legitimacy. He's basically in a situation of kill or be killed, and-- and, well, I think upwards of thirty thousand Syrians are already dead. I think that-- that we see what choice he's made here. But there's no way back from that situation. I do think that the administration could have been more actively engaged with the opposition earlier on, the kinds of things that we are trying to do now in terms of finding out who the opposition is, who it would be safe to arm, all of those things could have been done earlier on. In terms of trying to plan for a post-Assad future, that is critically important now, and-- and we shouldn't see it just as a black-and-white situation. It's really-- what we're facing now is a descent into chaos and the potential for a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shias to spread from Syria to Iraq to Lebanon and then to Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia. And so there's real potential here for much more instability than we're already witnessing. So we do have a stake in trying to get in there and doing whatever we can, without putting boots on the ground, to effect an orderly transition to a post-Assad Syria. That is not going to be easy at all, and we are late to the game, but it doesn't mean we should give it up.


Well, gentlemen, I want to thank all of you for a very good discussion this morning.

We'll be back in a minute with our reporters' round table in a minute.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And we're back now. Tom Friedman is sticking around because he qualifies as a reporter. He used to be a reporter before he started writing a column of The New York Times. The New York Times chief Washington correspondent, David Sa-- Sanger is with us this morning, as is TIME magazine's Bobby Ghosh, who wrote the cover story on TIME this week; and our own political director, John Dickerson.

Let's talk a little bit. We've been talking about this red line that Bibi Netanyahu wants the President to draw. David, you had a pretty interesting story in the paper this week about the red line that Mitt Romney's people have drawn, and there seems to be some disagreement with where he is and where his advisers are. What's that all about?

DAVID SANGER (New York Times): Well, his advisers have laid out a case, Bob, that Mitt Romney would put the red line pretty close to where the Israelis would have it, which is to say, that the U.S. and Israel would need to act some time before Iran actually got a weapon. I think the phrase they used was, "You can't let Iran get a screwdriver turn away from the weapon." But then the candidate himself gave an interview to ABC, and I don't know if he forgot his own position out here or if he just misspoke, but he seemed to draw the line closer to where President Obama is, which is to say, he said, "Well, we're in the same place. We can't let them get a weapon." Well, it's a crucial distinction and maybe the distinction as we've heard in the early part of your show, between war and peace, and it's certainly one that during the campaign the-- the candidates are going to have to be a little more explicit about.

BOB SCHIEFFER: John Dickerson, Mitt Romney, of course, spoke out very quickly, even before the-- we knew that an American ambassador had been killed and the trouble in Benghazi. He spoke out just this kind of the demonstrations were beginning in Cairo, and he basically accused the administration of apologizing. Where is all that now?

JOHN DICKERSON (CBS News Political Director): Well, I think in the short term, there is a risk for Romney. In the long term with Libya and Egypt and all of these protesters, there's a long-term problem for the President. What Mitt Romney could have done when he had that press conference is come out and say, you know, we have a tradition in this country where in the middle of campaigns, we don't attack the chief executive. We are all one and-- and I'm going to let the President handle this. He didn't do that. He, as you said, jumped in the moment, inserted himself, said, made a larger argument, which is that the President has been weak and that there are specifics in this case but it attaches to a longer and bigger critique of the President's. That's a big risk because he's not only change-- challenging tradition by speaking out but he's also challenging public opinion. The country, based on polling, is not in an adventuresome mood. They are not in a strong horse mood based on the eleven years of war, and just where they are right now. So Mitt Romney has to make a strong case here. He didn't really continue making that case. So that's the challenge for him.

The challenge for the President is that this drones on and that there are more opportunities for him to make unforced errors. You know, he said, after criticizing Romney, kind of taking, looking down his nose at him and saying, well, he shoots first and aims later. Well, then the President made a comment about Egypt that a lot of people think was shooting first and aiming later. The unrest is another instance in which people can say, wait the minute, Barack Obama isn't the guy he said he was going to be. He came in and said there would be a new day internationally. There has not been a new day and the longer this continues that could hurt him politically.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Tom, what about this-- this statement that-- that the President made, that Egypt is not our enemy but they're not our ally.

TOM FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, Bob, it-- it has to do with the kind of world we are in right now. And I think something very important has happened in world in the last just six, seven, eight years. We've actually gone from a connected world, to an interconnected world, to an interdependent world, really fast. Now in an interdependent world, things get really weird.

First of all, in interdependent world, your friends can kill you faster than your enemies. If Greece collapses tomorrow, your and my retirement savings are in real trouble. Greece is a NATO ally. In interdependent world, your rivals' collapsing is more important than getting stronger. If China goes to zero growth tomorrow, okay, we're in much more trouble than if China actually gets stronger. So in this interdependent world, we now got a whole host of countries and here I sympathize, you know, again with anyone who has to manage it, that are basically failing. Think about Europe and the Arab world today, Europe, the super national state is failing, the European Union, the Ze-- eurozone, and the Arab world, the nation state is failing. So you're dealing with failed states. You're dealing with states you have to build into an entity before you can even negotiate with them. And that's why you get this weird thing. What is China today? It was not a friend. Not a enemy, kind of a frenemy? What is Egypt today? You know, well, it's-- I-- I-- I think we don't have definitions in this incredibly interdependent world where your friends collapsing and your enemies collapsing is sometimes more dangerous, you know, than-- than the other way around.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Bobby, you and I were talking before the broadcast, and we were talking about this trouble that's spread across the Arab world, and you've said basically we need to get used to it.

BOBBY GHOSH (TIME Magazine): Yes, absolutely. I think this is a-- this is a new kind of Middle East crisis and it will come back to us over and over again. We have seen the-- the elements of this. There are people in this country, the professional offense givers, in those countries, they are professional offense takers. And there are people who crank up the-- the resentment in the street and make this happen. This is organized. This is not a spontaneous outburst of-- of anger. And you have-- as-- as Tom was saying, you have states that are too weak to figure out how to-- how to do this. How do you deal with your-- if you're a democratically elected country. You're not Mubarak anymore. How can't send the neothugs to beat people to death. How do you deal with public expressions of anger? How do you-- how do you modulate it so that it doesn't become an American flag being torn down or worse still, Americans being killed? This kind of crisis, I think we will come back to over and over again and it has to be a part of this administration-- any administration that comes after it for years to come to know how to deal with it, just as the Egyptians, the Tunisians, the Libyans are learning how to-- to work their own societies. So I think this is--

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, is it about us or is it about them? Are-- are we just observers here? Can-- what kind of a role can we play here?

BOBBY GHOSH: I-- I don't think there is any question that-- that the U.S. has a-- has a larger role to play in the Middle East. There's no question of disengagement at-- at the risk of an em-- embassy being-- being shut down I think is-- is very small. The-- the reasons that the U.S. has always been engaged in the Middle East haven't gone away, if anything, they've become more persuasive. We have the-- the ever-sort of-- there's oil-- we-- we can't back away from that. The-- America's-- the greatest threat to America's stability comes from places like that. There's Iran. And now there is an opportunity with all these new democracies, there is an opportunity for a different kind of discussion. The trouble is finding the language. They don't know how to talk with us anymore than we know how to talk with them. And-- and it's-- it's going to be, for a while-- this is why losing Ambassador Stevens was such a huge blow because he was one of the people who actually was beginning to understand how to speak with-- with the people in the street, which-- which explains his popularity, which explains why so many Libyans today are-- are mourning his death.

BOB SCHIEFFER: It is, David, isn't it, it's difficult for people in other parts of the world to understand this country. I mean there probably weren't a hundred people in America who saw this movie, or who had ever even heard of it, maybe they saw it on the internet after it happened. And, yet, in other countries it seems to come across that whatever comes out of United States the government approved of it and the majority of the people approved of it where nothing could be further from the truth.

DAVID SANGER: Well, you know, if you grow up in a society in which the government controls all, it's easy to project that in the United States we run the same way, and, of course, we all know what a large cacophonous disorganized free speech society we have. And that gets a little bit to what the American embassy in Cairo was trying to do with the statement that became such a political football later on. The statement read to me as something when I was a foreign correspondent you would see it happen all the time. It was an effort to try to calm the streets before there was a protest. In fact, it came out before the first protest in Cairo, and it basically said, "We believe in religious tolerance, and in-- in a-- in free speech, and you shouldn't think that these statements were endorsed by the United States government." Well, if no one had watched the video, Bob, no one paid attention to that Cairo statement, either, from the embassy and you saw what took place. And what it tells you is these tinderboxes are going to keep happening, whether it's another video, whether it's another statement. And the irony for President Obama is he's the one who came in, you know, with a speech in Cairo in his first year in office saying that a new day had arrived and talking with a sympathy about the Muslim world that he had grown up around.

BOB SCHIEFFER: John, where is the presidential campaign right now?

JOHN DICKERSON: Well, we've had two conventions. I think where most people think it is the polls show the President-- the average of the polls, the President is up by about three points. But what's happened inside those polls is his-- on attributes, on the question of the economy, there is some movement that he's now fought Romney to a draw. This is the one area where-- where Governor Romney had an advantage. If you look inside the states, the President in the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll is ahead in Ohio, Florida, outside the margin of error. Given the way the map looks, if he wins one of those two states, it's looking very, very good for the President. And we also have dwindling opportunities for Mitt Romney. So Mitt Romney--he didn't get a big bounce from picking Paul Ryan. I mean he didn't get a big bounce from his convention. He's only really got these debates coming up. The only good news for Mitt Romney is that in independents in the polls are-- he's winning those by ten points. And the elite opinion kind of feels like he's losing it right now. When you're on the other side of elite opinion, that can sometimes be a good thing because the elites are so often wrong.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thank you all very much for adding your insights this morning. I'll be back in a moment with some final thoughts about how foreign policy often intrudes on presidential elections when we least expect it.


BOB SCHIEFFER: Finally today, our campaigns are usually about pocketbook issues but this is not the first time an unexpected event overseas is landed smack in the middle of a hot presidential race.

In 1968 embattled Democrats claimed they had a plan to end the war in Vietnam. But after our South Vietnamese allies mysteriously pulled out of peace talks with North Vietnam, just before the election--

HUBERT HUMPHREY: --the political miracle of--

BOB SCHIEFFER: --it dashed whatever hope Democrats had for a victory and Republican Richard Nixon was elected.


BOB SCHIEFFER: But most of the time foreign efforts to influence our elections either backfire or have no impact.

In 1980 fifty-two American diplomats were being held hostage in Iran, but just before the election, the Iranians seemed ready to make a deal to release them, what some saw as a ploy to re-elect Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan's running mate, George Bush, said it wouldn't work.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H. W. BUSH: You see, I think the American people don't want these mullahs, these-- the ayatollahs to affect the election one way or another.

BOB SCHIEFFER: He was right, of course, and Reagan won. Terrorists crashed a truck into the U.S. embassy in Beirut and killed twenty-three people during Reagan's reelection campaign in 1984. Americans were outraged and reelected Reagan.

(Osama bin Laden speaking foreign language)

BOB SCHIEFFER: There was no question Osama bin Laden was trying to influence American voters in 2004 when he took credit for 9/11 and condemned George Bush.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this.

BOB SCHIEFFER: He was right on both counts, and was reelected. Americans may disagree on many things but here's one thing on which we don't. We don't like anyone telling us how to vote.

Back in a minute.


BOB SCHIEFFER: And that's it for all of us here today. We thank you for being with us. We will see you next week right here on FACE THE NATION.

ANNOUNCER: This broadcast was produced by CBS News, which is solely responsible for the selection of today's guests and topics. It originated in Washington, DC.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.