In response to President Obama’s press conference yesterday in which he announced the US would not send U.S. ground troops to Iraq, Rep. Peter King tells CNN’s Michael Smerconish, “…I don’t think you should ever tell the enemy what you are going to do and what you’re not going to do. And I don’t want to make it sound like I’m fully agreeing with the president here, because I would have thought with a crisis like this, that he should not have called the conference to announce he will look at it…So, I can be critical of the president; I’m just not anxious to do it today because of a time of crisis.”
Full Rushed Transcript is below:
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Congressman Peter King is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. Also the select committee on intelligence. And Phil Mudd was second-in-charge of counterterrorism analysis in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center during the Bush administration.
Congressman King, let me start with you. Do you agree with President Obama relative to the decision not to send U.S. ground troops?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: As a practical matter, I don’t see us putting ground troops. I do think that if possible, air strikes should be taken if possible. And again, I’m really concerned as to why this was not known before. From the time the president withdrew the troops back in 2011, and certainly over the last year and several months, we have known how powerful ISIS has become. And this should not be a shock to anyone. And I would have thought we would have done intelligence or at least to know which sites could be hit, what could be done.
I would think that again, there should be air strikes that can be done, that should be done, if nothing else, to stop this assault and give the Iraqi army the chance to consolidate and at least defend Baghdad. And also, it is possible that the – that ISIS is moving too quickly, and they could outrun their supply lines. So if they can be stopped, this could turn it around. But it’s going to be very difficult.
SMERCONISH: It sounds like you are on board with the president’s decision relative to no ground troops. So, let me ask a follow-up in that regard. Should he have publicly announced that was the plan? Are you worried that may have emboldened ISIS, knowing American ground troops aren’t coming?
KING: Yes. To me, I don’t think you should ever tell the enemy what you are going to do and what you’re not going to do. And I don’t want to make it sound like I’m fully agreeing with the president here, because I would have thought with a crisis like this, that he should not have called the conference to announce he will look at it.
I mean, this is something we should have been ready for, even though they moved at lightning speed this week. We have known this since Fallujah fell that something like this, it could very well happen. We knew how powerful ISIS is, how battle-hardened they are, and especially with the situation in Syria.
So, I can be critical of the president; I’m just not anxious to do it today because of a time of crisis. But I think there is an awful lot to be critical of over the last several years and last several months —
SMERCONISH: Well, let me show you, Congressman, if I might, an exchange yesterday between Senator McCain and our own Wolf Blitzer and see if you agree with what Senator McCain had to say. Roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, SITUATION ROOM HOST: Name names. Because you have said the president should fire his national security team. Who specifically should the president fire?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, number one. The national security advisor, number two, who should probably spend time with their family on Sundays. I – the — I would certainly have all of her deputies, national security advisors gone as well.
Kerry and Hagel was not there when some of these most crucial decisions were taken. But I don’t have a lot of confidence in their performance, either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Congressmember King, do you agree with that assessment from Senator McCain?
KING: Well, I certainly agree with McCain’s overall criticism. I’m not sure who was doing what behind closed doors. To me, though, the president’s team did fail him. And I do know the intelligence community and others were aware of what was happening in Iraq. Maybe not to this extent, but certainly for the potential for this to happen. And it’s really inexcusable to me how we have been caught so short on this.
So listen, I don’t want to name the names. John McCain probably has a better estimate on that than I do. There is no doubt the president’s team has failed him.
SMERCONISH: Well, I have to ask a follow-up in that regard. Because I know you are the chairman of the subcommittee on counterterrorism and intelligence. Where was that committee in this regard? Because I’m unaware of anyone within the last couple of weeks from that committee or any other committee saying hey, we’ve got a real threat here from ISIS taking control of Iraq.
KING: I’m on the intelligence committee. We get briefings you don’t go public with. But there was no secret what was happening there. I mean, many of us have been saying for several years, ever since the president failed to get the status of forces agreement and we saw what was happening in Syria where the president was not providing the assistance he said he was going to. So ISIS has become more powerful in Syria.
And this is the type of thing a number of us have been talking about over the last several years. As far as the last several weeks – actually, the last several months. Once Fallujah fell and briefings were being given on impact of ISIS.
Again, there is only so much you can say publicly. But it is no secret. I mean, you had a number of people saying action should be taken to stop ISIS.
SMERCONISH: Phil Mudd, get in on this, please, to the extent the American intelligence community was caught flat-footed. Because the record seems to suggest that within the community, there was an awareness of the threat of ISIS, but now is it publicly revealed because of the success they’ve had.
PHIL MUDD, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: I mean, I don’t see what the issue is here in terms of the intelligence committee’s performance. The question here is what the United States government does in response. When I look at the criticisms of what the United States government has done, and I’m not coming from the Democrat side or the Republican side, here is the question I have.
Two words: mission creep. We went in for WMD, it wasn’t there. We tried to build a democracy; it failed. And now we want to intervene because this semi-dictator, Nuri al-Maliki, who represents only Shi’a, is engaged in a civil war against Sunnis whom he doesn’t represent?
When are we going to get out of this game? We have a modest interest there. I don’t think ISIS is a threat to Baghdad. When are we get out of this game?
SMERCONISH: Congressman King, to Phil Mudd’s point: is there a vital U.S. interest in what’s going on? I hear from radio listeners day in and day out who say we ought to stay the hell out of this.
KING: Yes, well, there’s no doubt there’s a lot of aggressive feelings (INAUDIBLE). But I disagree with Phil Mudd on that. I believe there is an interest. We don’t want a group such as ISIS to have that large a foothold in the Middle East. The combination of what’s happening in Syria, the combination will be happening in Iraq, that to me would just put countries such as Jordan, obviously Israel and the entire Middle East in a very, very dangerous situation.
I think that we do have a role to play. I think if the U.S. had been there, maybe similar to how we were there in Bosnia, having a role where we could have kept Malaki, pressured Maliki to be more open to other (INAUDIBLE).
I agree, I think Maliki is terrible. I think Maliki should go. And I have no great desire for the U.S. ever be in Iraq. But the fact is that if ISIS is able to take over large parts of Iraq, combining that with the gains that they have made in Syria. Also if you combine what al-Nusra is doing in Syria, you are really going toward that Islamic (INAUDIBLE) fate. And I believe in the long – not just in the long run but in the short run, it will be damaging to U.S. interests.
As far as us running Iraq or us turning it into a democracy or keeping a democracy, I’m not talking about that at all. I’m just talking – to me, a very strategic importance of not allowing ISIS to gain that strong a foothold —
SMERCONISH: Phil Mudd, has Joe Biden been vindicated? It was Joe Biden who a decade ago spoke of a three-state solution, a divvying up of Iraq according to ethnic lines. Did he have the right answer?
MUDD: I think broadly when you look at fundamental change across the Middle East in societies that have autocratic leaders, places like Egypt, places like Iraq, places like Iran. And that have ethnic or religious difference – I’d add Syria in there. I’d add Lebanon in there.
We as Americans think democracy is inherently good. When you introduce democracy into a place that is used to a strongman, the winners — Shi’a, for example in Iraq, say we won. We don’t represent the minority. The minority says we lost and we don’t have a stake in this, so let’s turn to terrorism. We think democracy is a solution. And what we’re realizing is in Egypt, in Libya, in Lebanon, in Iraq, sometimes it’s not.
SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you. Congressman Peter King, we’ll see you again. Phillip Mudd, thank you as always.