Morning Joe   |  September 06, 2013

Scarborough: This is amateur hour in foreign policy

President Obama is still overseas, making the case for a military strike on Syria to world leaders. The Morning Joe panel – including the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, the New York Times' Jeremy Peters and David Sanger, Donny Deutsch and Time's Mark Halperin – discusses why Obama shouldn't see congressional support as a done deal.

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>> i feel confident that what i am doing is informed by my own lessons of war and opposition of war and also by my years of supporting certain military actions when they're forpts to the security off -- important to the security off ur nation. i believe this is important to the security of our country. iran will feel embolden, iran , who we're in a major confrontation with over the potential they may be developing a nuclear weapon , iran could read it in the wrong way which could create a more dangerous confrontation down the road. chris, i've thought a lot about this. i know the lessons of war. i don't believe this is taking america to war.

>> good morning. it's friday, september 6th . welcome to " morning joe ." with us on set, msnbc and "time" magazine senior political analyst mark halperin , pulitzer pulitzer -prize winning columnist --

>> the beard stays in the movie.

>> i don't agree.

>> day two.

>> day two.

>> pulitzer -prize winning columnist and associate editor of "the washington post " eugene robinson .

>> i always wanted a pulitzer prize .

>> there you go.

>> borrow it.

>> chairman of deutsch incorporated donny deutsch .

>> and gene always wanted things you've had.

>> in washington , "new york times" reporter jereny peters and chief washington correspondent for "the new york times" david sanger with us as well. thanks for being with us this morning. big show today.

>> yesterday, you know, i was on the phone an awful lot and even before that, you started hearing people talking about america 's response to this.

>> yeah.

>> and every senator, every congressman, every staffer on capitol hill , told me the same thing. you know, i see these polls that say 20% of americans support the intervention and 80% oppose it. i'd like it to find those 20% because they're not there. i'm stunned. gene and -- i'm sure you've heard the same thing.

>> yeah. i mean it's pretty clear that there's not popular support for a strike.

>> that's an understatement.

>> period.

>> and they're not finding it. so i -- i mean i think this is a difficult -- the white house says oh, not to worry, nothing to worry about here. i think they should be worried.

>> there are people i know who would never think to call their congressman who called. that's anecdotal but interesting.

>> you're hearing that. it's anecdotal like i said, i was in pensacola, like i said, four days, long weekend, everybody came up to me, what are we doing? they have to stay out. democrats and republicans. mark halperin , what makes this difficult for anybody whipping this, and the word is boehner and cantor aren't whipping it that hard, but the bigger problem is, you've got both bases saying, if you vote for this, liberals and conservatives, you're going to get primaried. i don't think i have seen a vote as unpopular with both bases at the same time as this vote for some time.

>> when there's hard votes, particularly in this age when you need republican and democratic votes, joint whip operation, the coverage is always perils of paul lean, the president can't win. yesterday i thought he would. now i'm deeply skeptical because time is not on the president's side right now. you've got members scattered around the country, doing their best to reach out to them, but beyond boehner and pelosi and eric cantor , all the momentum is against the president right now. the white house says -- " washington post " this morning says the white house isn't worried. the president will come home from the trip and make a national address. public opinion and the member dynamics are all going against the white house . i'm not sure right now how to get time back on their side.

>> the public against them, members of congress against them and the u.s. military against them. a searing op-ed in "the washington post " from retired general that we'll get to later, but i think there are two important editorials to read plus anything gene ever writes.

>> every word.

>> bill chris toll with the weekly standard , they just released an editorial this morning, 6:00 a.m ., supporting the war and then you've got robert scales who has written, i'll just read one line, the military's embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the obama administration's attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. none of the white house staff has any experience in war or understands it. so far at least this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective. it goes much deeper into that. i read basically the punch line . i think every american should read this and bill kristol 's op-ed in support of the war.

>> the plotting to craft a plan and wayward as it's been, donny deutsch , making the case hasn't happened which could really make a big difference.

>> i'll help make the case, i'm one of the 20%.

>> there you go.

>> i'm surprised there's only 20%. one of the reasons --

>> i am too.

>> okay.

>> as am i.

>> i think one of the reasons you say to the average person, should we go to war with syria ? of course the answer is no. if you reframe the question, should we do everything we can to protect our country and make sure the north koreas and irans and every other fringe lunatic in the world knows we cannot be played with.

>> kind of a long --

>> it was a long question, but there is one fact that has proven through history, unanswered aggression breeds more aggression and i think actually kerry has put it perfectly, it's not war, it's a punishing strike. and for the use of gas against children. joe , you and i have a lot of fun, mr. liberal, i'm as far from liberal on this as possible and i am shocked the country is not lining up.

>> i think the use of chemical weapons is such a big deal . it's just so far beyond the pale that i think a punitive strike is in order, but you know, the problem is you've got concrete versus conceptual. it's conceptual reasons to do it. the chemical weapons and also the undermining the authority of the u.s. president which is an important factor in the world and has been an important factor in the world for decades.

>> it's everything.

>> versus concrete, you know, starting another war in the middle east , which is the way people see it. and that's just a it tough sell.

>> nobody sold is at a war though.

>> the problem is the president hasn't sold it. come on, let's just look at this politically, i'm not looking at it as a republican or conservative, the president -- the past week is acting disastrous to the support of this war and why americans are at 20%, you send the secretary of state out, chop him off, then you -- at the knees and say we're going go to congress and say i don't really need to go to congress, i can go to war anyway, and the president having the press conference going this isn't about me. my credibility is not on the line. the president, if he wants to push assad back, and there are a lot of people strategically that thinks he does, he better come home and sell it quickly. i gave you the con. give you what we're reading on the pro side. the right vote by bill kristol . the statesman like case for voting yes to use force against the assad regime has been made widely and well by conservative foreign policy thinkers. at the end, the case boils down to this, as a policy matter, a yes vote may be problematic and all kinds of ways. but a no vote would likely be disastrous for the nation in very clear ways. statesmanship and i agree with kristol here, statesmanship requires choosing the problematic over the disastrous and --

>> great story.

>> it is a terrible choice.

>> and i think a lot of of americans are like me, very, very conflicted and we're going to see what president does.

>> let me show you some americans not conflicted.

>> no, no, no. i think that foreign policy leaders are conflicted.

>> yes. yes. advocates like senator john mccain , already dealing with blowback in their home districts. republicans and democrats alike faced angry voters in town halls this week with many constituents making it clear they do not want the u.s. to get involved. take a look.

>> it is a moral and just people we should not be continuing to make war. we should be looking for peace.

>> do you really realize what you're getting our -- what you're getting our country into. this is what i think of congress. they are a bunch of marshmallows.

>> you can do it by negotiating, by diplomacy, and negotiation, not bombs, senator mccain . enough is enough. we do not want another engagement in the middle east .

>> i would much rather use our taxpayers' money to take care of our vets coming home from the two conflicts we've been in.

>> i don't think i need to be lectured to about veterans, okay.

>> by the way, i understand the anger of every one of those people. i really do. that's the real problem. we are exhausted.

>> exhausted.

>> after a decade of war. you know --

>> think of the families that have been torn apart.

>> not only were we sent to a war in iraq under bogus pretenses --

>> these are not bogus pretenses --

>> let me finish, donny .

>> sorry.

>> we had to deal with that, right? and then we had to deal with the president which we were all against, tripling the number of troops in afghanistan , when we knew he was tripling the number of troops in afghanistan it wasn't going to work. we are exhausted. i understand that, but i also understand, david sanger , that if you talk to the top foreign policy strategists, a decade ago, in the middle east , and you said, okay, what are the two or three countries that are our strategic if not enemies because dr. brzezinski doesn't like to call anybody an enemy, let's just say our chief rivals --

>> adversaries --

>> really good word, david sanger , why you write for "the new york times" --

>> exactly.

>> it would be iran and syriap.

>> yeah.

>> and ends there. i mean it would be iran and it would be syria . and so it's interesting that we go into kosovo , we go into bosnia, we triple the number of troops in afghanistan , we go into iraq , when under false pretenses and then here we have syria using chemical weapons killing over 100,000 people and at this point, when there may be a justified reason to strike, americans are just too exhausted.

>> well, joe , i think the president has got three challenges here. one is the communications difficulties that i think you laid out. he has not made a case yet. the second one that he's got is that he has embraced, at least in concept, the idea of a responsibility to protect, that the u.s. has a role, as do other members of the international community , to step in and keep a population from being terrorized by a dictator. that was essentially the argument for the libya incursion two years ago. and so far, no one is buying that, even in his own party. then his third problem i think, this gets to a story we had in the paper this morning, is that at the very moment congress wants to limit the role here, he recognizes that if he's going to be effective on the ground in syria , he needs to expand his target set and do something that gets at what senator mccain has been talking about and other conservatives which is actually affect the regime itself. and that's the disconnect in this policy right now. which is, it's a punishment. i think the president called it a shot across the bow when he was on pbs last week, and the pentagon looks at this and they say, we don't do shots across the bow. when the u.s. military gets in, you have to get in decisively.

>> want to bring jeremy peters in, but "the wall street journal " first reports the u.s. has intercepted orders from iran to militants in iraq to attack the u.s. embassy in iraq and other american interests there. meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with msnbc's chris hayes , secretary kerry sought to convince americans that u.s. credibility would be damaged without a military response and that attacks would be brief and without boots on the ground .

>> a lot of americans , a lot of your listeners, a lot of people in the country are saying oh, my gosh, this is going to be iraq . this is going to be afghanistan . here we go again. i know this. i've heard it. and the answer is no, profoundly no. we're to the remotely talking about getting america involved directly in between any of those forces. the president is not talking about assuming responsibility for syria 's civil war . what the president is trying to do and we believe is important to america 's national security interests and to humanitarian interests and it interests of israel and jordan and lebanon and all of our friends in the region, is that you hold bashar al assad responsible for use of chemical weapons and that you degrade his ability to use them again and deter him from using them again.

>> all right.

>> so we're sitting here --

>> no.

>> gene, i want to say this, we're sitting here having this discussion.

>> yeah.

>> and going, why are we having this discussion?

>> because this is the discussion we didn't have before other engagements.

>> okay. not talking about wars. talking about dropping missiles, the element of surprise and we're sitting here litigating this for a week when the president should have done the strategic attacks if he was going to do it and then talk about it after.

>> no.

>> this is the kind of discussion one would think you would have if you were contemplating a war. for iraq , for example.

>> you can't promise that won't happen. if you're going to drop --

>> you can't promise that. in fact it didn't happen in kosovo -- i mean we do know how to do this so the of -- if you're going to drop bombs as a punitive strike --

>> and strategically.

>> and if the president has the authority to do that, i always thought it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.

>> it's called the element of surprise. instead of going like this, hold on, hold on. i'm going to hit you.

>> okay. i get that.

>> i'm going to hit you. hold on.

>> school boy.

>> john kerry talk about it forever. let's have the president talk about it forever. let's have a leak one day saying it's just going to be a shot across the bow , a leak the next day going it's just going to be a strike to punish, a leak the next day from the white house that well actually the president wants it to be strong enough so he's not mocked and ridiculed. come on, this is amateurism. this is amateur hour.

>> i disagree.

>> to a degree i've never seen.

>> joe --

>> hold on, first --

>> got to get jeremy .

>> we haven't got jeremy in here.

>> what are they saying on capitol hill ? you're the guy closest to that as far as the vote count goes. we're hearing all anecdotally it's looking bad for the president.

>> i think first of all these early vote counts, whip counts you're seeing out there, i don't know how useful they are this far out. i mean you have to remember, a lot of members of congress are not even in washington , haven't been here since the end of july. so i think when they all come back --

>> how do you get that job? that's a good job.

>> yeah.

>> no, it's true. they've been gone five weeks. so when they get back and they start receiving all of these classified briefings, i think that starts to change the calculus a little bit. that said, you know, i do think that you're going to have a number of -- a large number of both republicans and democrats who are articulating that exact argument that mika was making earlier, which is that there's no way to predict what happens once a bomb strike occurs and members of congress who may not be as solid in their opposition as it would appear, i don't think the opposition is as unmovable as made out in the press. they want to hear that the president has a plan.

>> you know, here's his problem, though. we talked about the left, jeremy , being against this. we've talked about the right being against this. yesterday, you had two conservative democrats , two moderate democrats, joe manchin and heidi hide camp saying they're not supporting it either you wonder where the president goes.

>> you can't write off the concerns of moderate democrats like joe manchin and heidi high camp or in the congress people like jim mcder month and jim mcgovern . i think the president has to take them very seriously.

>> joe , i -- i spoke --

>> david sanger , you reported on joe manchin 's plan. tell us about it.

>> i had a chat with him yesterday. he's got an interesting idea and i -- while i'm not sure his idea is going to prevail, something like it may end up being embraced by the white house . what senator man chin suggested was that assad be given 45 days to sign the chemical weapons convention . syria is one of the few countries that has not signed it and to begin to secure and ultimately dismantle the chemical weapons . that's a long process. it's taken the united states 14 or 15 years and we're not done with our own stockpiles. but the idea was to basically put a diplomatic action and a test ahead of assad before the u.s. and before the president and an authorization to strike. i wouldn't be surprised if you see the president end up having to go some kind of version of that route.

>> which, of course, gives the presidents also, joe manchin , believes, 45 days, to actually come up with a strategy. and i don't say that facetious facetiously, but come up with a military strategy instead of saying --

>> and diplomatic strategy.

>> more importantly a diplomatic strategy because he just doesn't have one right now and that's why the military is so horrified.

>> there's no doubt that as a snapshot of today the president is going to suffer a bad defeat. no doubt within a week, there's going to be a confluence of things that could turn this back. a presidential address, aipac lobbying efforts. members back in town getting more focused briefings and another meeting between the president and the congressional leadership where he tries to enlist boehner , cantor and pelosi to engage in a joint whip operation in the house. all those things could come together and turn this back. the thing that's happening --

>> the thing that's happening that's troubling for the president is, members aren't saying i'm very skeptical of this. you have a number of members coming out saying, i'm against. it's possible that some new proposal like manchin could be floated and members who said i was against the original resolution, i can be for this, that's possible. it is extraordinary as mika and you both said tat the top, the strength of public opinion and willingness of people to express an opinion who normally don't think about things like this is going to be hard to change.

>> we're hearing it and the president's hearing it and members of congress are hearing it but i think that is part of the process , whether the president acts on his own, which i could see happening, to not have taken the time to hear from the american people , given what we have been through, i think would be a terrible mistake. and i think even though many would disagree, if he decides to act on his own, i think they will respect that at least he took the time to listen to the american people which i think did not happen before.

>> i have very little to say to that. only because the president has gotten in his own way. the white house has leaked things from the very beginning. the president has talked about shots across the bow. the president has tried to play it too safe. the president has tried to lead from behind. leading from behind worked, it worked with gadhafi. leading from behind politically has been disastrous over the past week for the president's own interests and by the way, i'm not burying this thing yet either. again, like i said, i'm -- i've been against, you know, bosnia, i was against kosovo , i wish i had been against the iraq war , i was against tripling the number of troops in afghanistan , heck i was even against the surge because i didn't think they were giving him enough troops and i thought the president mishandled the troops he had gobeen given over the past three or four years. i will tell you, i don't know how america turns away from 100,000 dead, the use of chemical weapons , and the agent of iran , while this -- we are looking backward .

>> i don't think it does.

>> this is the only thing i'm going to say and i'm still making up my mind. we are looking backwards over the past ten years, we need to look forward over the next five years and ask one question.

>> yes.

>> how does this impact iran and their will to develop nuclear weapons .

>> exactly. joe , what's so interesting is the story line , i'm going to pick up where mika says, we have to do this, but for the very reason of the exhaustion you talked about, is the reason obama is handling it right. not jumping in. the thing you criticize him about --

>> let me finish.

>> donny --

>> joe , let me finish.

>> the president should have kept his mouth shut.

>> joe --

>> until he had a strategy.

>> which is what --

>> he has no military strategy . donny , he has no military strategy .

>> which is why you don't fire immediately. why you say i'm going to punish you. you step back, you get --

>> okay.

>> you get your folks lined up with you, you get a plan and you do it.

>> i think the president over the last week has handled --

>> no diplomatic leader in washington , d.c.

>> for him to have pushed the button immediately would have played into the very fact that you're making about ten years of exhaustion.

>> donny , you don't send your secretary of state out --

>> that was a mistake.

>> beat the drums of war.

>> that was a mistake.

>> you don't say -- you don't say you're going to fire a shot across the bow . you don't have leaks come out of your white house saying we're going to punish him. you don't then say we're going to punish him just enough to make sure that we don't look really, really weak. the president has made terrible mistakes, as mark halperin said, maybe he's able it to clean this up. i personally hope he is able to clean this up.

>> he will.

>> i am not for all of my dear liberal friends watching, i am not rooting against the president of the united states . because we only have one commander in chief. we only have one america . we only have one reputation across the globe and this has been an embarrassing week for us as a nation and that starts in my opinion and ends with the president of the united states who's bungled this terribly. i hope it changes over the next week. not for the sake of the president, for the sake of this country.

>> amen.

>> i think it will. i think the politics is --

>> his heart is in the right place on this.

>> i think it is.

>> it will end right.

>> david sanger , thank you very much. jeremy peters, stay with us if you can. coming up on " morning joe ," former governor and presidential candidate jon huntsman will join us. democratic senator chris murphy will be with us to explain his no vote on the syria resolution. and david gregory and the reverend al sharpton will be here as well. up next the top stories in the politico playbook. but first, bill karins with a check on the forecast. bill?

>> and a great weekend forecast it's going to be, mika . we're starting off with a cold snap in new england . grab the jackets for the kids this morning as they head to the bus stop. we're watching beautiful sunshine. so the sunglasses will be needed as we go throughout the day. look at the temperatures, coldest morning we've seen since the spring. 42 in areas of vermont, 45 as far south as hartford, connecticut. some people probably had to turn the heat on in their homes last night. as we mentioned the is time of year you will get a beautiful afternoon with blue skies out there. enjoy it. what a spoiled week it's going to be. some areas around new york city should be in the 70s for five, six, maybe seven days in a row with very little rain. so like a beautiful fall forecast for much of new england this weekend. the middle of the country, that's the difference. look how hot it's going to be today. still in the mid to upper 90s all the way from montana to minneapolis to san antonio . and as we go through the weekend, it gets a little cooler in the northern half of the country but still very warm, right through denver, dallas, all through houston and new orleans. middle of the country not getting any taste of that cool, beautiful, crispp fall weather we're seeing in new england today. still feels the like the middle of summer. you're watching " morning joe ."