Meet the Press   |  September 15, 2013

3: Presidential posturing on Syria and impact on public profile

A Meet the Press panel discusses how the president's positioning on Syria and various communication strategies impacted his public image.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> "meet the press" continues with our political roundtable. joining us this morning, bob woodward , kathleen parker , ana navarro and richard wolffe . now here is david gregory .

>> welcome to all of you. let's talk about the pure politic, let's talk about how president obama is handling this, the leadership test. kathleen parker , in your column this morning in "the washington post " you capture the two styles america is now dealing with going back to president obama and npresident bush. you white "we can't seem to get it quite right at the helm. either we're saddled way cocksure decidinato a.e r who is feared for his lack of pause or we're stuck with an overhigh thinker." for everybody and i'll start with you. how has obama handled this?

>> well, it's been painful watching, really, because we've been witness to i think what seems to be his internal struggle, i mean his superego are att eodds with each other, maybe his inner hawk and inner dove but in any case he can't quite get to where he needs to be. in a way he's almost thinking out loud and, we all do that in this business and appreciate when people reflect and are self-aware. if you're the president it is taking an awfully long time to decide what it is and there's great freight in the world. it could turn out well in the end and then we'll have to reappraise how he led.

>> right. i mean, the way he's led up until now could be dependent upon the outcome. your new by, richard wolffe is

"the message: the reselling of president obama ," so how does his leadership look.

>> what we're seeing is the president as he puts it send a message to his leadership and red lines and it's very confusing because there has been a pattern all along with this president whether it's health care , the recovery act and what i'm reporting, as well, in the campaigns where his message has been muddled. but actually the campaigns were anything but a smooth glide path to victory and these questions of leadership really come back to has he got the people in place where he's going to allow a debate? he has policy debates all the time. one thing he won't debate is about his messaging and his communications and his politics. on that he does not want to hear different opinions.

>> so but i mean the question is, we heard senator mccain and others say this is weakness. the deal is weakness, you can't trust the russians . the other side of that is maybe the president has given space for something unexpectedly good to happen

>> that's possible but if you look at this in a sense he tried all the policies, in other words, we'll get assad out, oh, there's a red line if chemical wems are used. oh, we'll strike militarily, oh, no, we're not, we're going to go to congress and it was karl rove who always said, you have to measure things like this by outcomes, and if you think about judo using the power of the other side against them, by drawing putin in and russia in on this, it's -- i mean, now they are committed to something that it may not work, it may take months or even years, but the result is the stabilization almost by exit.

>> i think that's a tough spot for president obama . we've seen the sausage making in the last two week and almost been like having a president who isn't a commander in chief but commander in confusion. at times it seems like dr. jeky jekyll and mr. heidi ganahyde. assad must go, there is a red line then the next moment he's vacillating and trying to do anything but what he has said. what we've also seen for the first time is a congress abandon him including some of his staunchest supporters in the democratic party . you've seen people like the congressional black caucus members like the hispanic caucus members say we're not going with you and you've seen a lot of criticism coming even from democrats on his administration, the lack of clarity, the lack of vision, the lack of position, the lack of strategy. i've had congressmen who left those classified briefings, i can tell you, mario diaz ba letter, he wanted to vote yes but that briefing was like hearing that he stokeystone cops and i might be offending the keystone cops .

>> it's easy to be critical -- someone said, look, i don't know what the answer is but what would you have done differently at any stage along the way is the question?

>> well, if i were president.

>> yeah.

>> oh, that's a good question. look, i've never been in favor of going in because i knelt that the consequences were too severe, the unknowns were so problematic, i mean, what happens when our planes are shot down.

>> wanton killing of innocents using chemical weapons go on.

>> we can get into all of that over and over again, the 100,000 that preceded. there were gas attacks earlier and didn't respond to that. i think just to segue a minute if i may, one of the problems with the way obama has done this is that we are now having a conversation as equals with assad . i mean he's now got a place at the table along with putin and they're lecturing us and making demands on us and it diminishes our president, our role in the world and how we negotiate these things. i don't envy the president, for heaven's sakes i don't want to make that decision either but i think i am also not privy --

>> use the last two years to arm the rebels to change the momentum on the ground. we've lost that window of the last two years. it's not like we woke up one day suddenly and assad was a bad guy with chemical weapons . we've known this for awhile and yet it seemed like we were making up the policy as it went.

>> it's this daily crisis management . it's a mentality that pervades all white houses . but they don't do strategic thinking and say, what are our goals, now are how we going to get there? let's figure out where we want to be in six months and then move toward it and so there is this ad hoccery but, kathleen, you're saying that assad is making demands on us and the russians to a certain extent but the big demand is ours, that something has to be done with the chemical weapons and they have achieved buy-in at least rhetorically and, you know, if you go back two weeks or two months and you say we'd be at this point, granted with all, you know, this and that and the back and forth which is a problem, everyone would say, wow --

>> but, bob --

>> i'm sorry.

>> but if the russians are saying use of force is off the table, what leverage do we have? it seems to me they decided a lot.

>> we still have that option.

>> one of the extraordinary things about this agreement is that in the case of noncompliance, in the case of any chemical weapons by either side there is a provision for the use of force under chapter 7 under the united nations . we can say that will never happen but this is a substantial achievement. you say let's just arm the rebels. we don't know and you certainly don't know who are the rebels we want to arm never mind how this would spin out. we can talk about the politics of it and what this means for the president. die believe his leadership has taken a knock here but the idea that there's a clean path if only we could have found the right people to arm is delusional. we tried the same path in afghanistan and we ended up arming people who ended up, the mujahideen who were the core of al qaeda . now, we can say, well, we've got perfect clarity. we don't. we know that intelligence doesn't do that. syria is incredibly complex. there's a question of leadership but the outcome they have stumbled into is generally --

>> i don't think anybody is saying there is perfect clarity and it's equally delusional to think we'll go, if they don't comply to the security council where russia who not -- who doesn't even admit that assad has used the chemical weapons has got veto power .

>> the russians --

>> yes, but any use of force requires their approval.

>> no, it does not. no, it does not. as the commander in chief and this was the whole debate a week ago he said i'm going to strike militarily without the u.n., without congress, now, whether that's a good policy or not, but, you know, this is stabilization by accident and maybe another case of obama good luck. we'll see. it may bite him.

>> but without congress much less will he strike out the u.n.

>> but i want to bring up a point with about a minute left. you know, syria is now going to get mired in whether this agreement is lived up to or not. a budget battle brewing again with the debt ceiling. you think this is the next crisis that obama is facing with congress. are we going to raise the debt ceiling?

>> this is really serious. back in 2011 , when the crisis visited them, the secretary of the treasury tim geithner was running around and saying if we don't fix this, we could trigger a depression worse than the 1930s . and when i talked to obama about this, he said, it was the most intense three weeks of his presidency. more than osama bin laden and so forth. so -- and the republicans are out here, a group of them in the house essentially using extortion and blackmail methods to say, if we don't defund obama care we're not going to do the routine things of government.

>> well, we're at a gail of chicken at this point and there are not -- no one thinks they're going to defund obama . not even the people pushing for it. at some point, you know, the republicans are going to have to blink and they'll fund it. if they pass a bill that doesn't include funding for obama care, then the senate won't pass the bill and, you know, somebody's got to blink. we're not going to shut down government. we can't.

>> let's be i think fair to the republicans here. it's not all republicans saying let's shut down the government if we don't defund obama care. so i don't think it's fair to paint it as the republicans because the republicans that have been here today including john mccain have been very much against this and saying --

>> it's the 40 extremists. that's who's doing it.

>> the insane caucus.

>> you used it.

>> we'll leave it there.

>> you're going to get a lot of flack from mental health advocates.

>> never had that happen.

>> we'll leave it there.

>>> coming up next the future of our economy five years after the biggest financial crisis since the great depression. among our guests former treasury secretary hank paulson and cnbc's maria bartiromo along with former congresswoman barney frank on where we are five years later. first our political collector chuck todd will be along with his