Interviews

Barack Obama the War President

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," September 28, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Now for "Top Story" tonight, let's bring in Bob Woodward, who as mentioned, he is the author of the best seller "Obama's War." So let's start with that quote. Was there anything surrounding that that gives us more context to it?

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST" ASSOCIATE EDITOR: No. I went to check and see if he had said that before, and it turns out he had not. Now, there is a scoop -- with this country is strong, we could deal with another terrorist attack. What is bizarre is for the president of the United States to say it. It would be like the head of Goldman Sachs going out and saying, "We can absorb another financial crisis."

O'REILLY: But, what was the point? You were talking to him one on one and he makes that statement to prove to you what? We already know the country is resilient.

WOODWARD: I think as the book lays out in excruciating detail, the president is living in a sea of warnings about future terrorist attacks from Yemen, from Pakistan, you name it. And my interpretation, he's trying to be realistic and lay the ground work for --

O'REILLY: In case we get hit.

WOODWARD: Something that --

O'REILLY: All right.

WOODWARD: I believe he's been lucky.

O'REILLY: Every morning, he gets the briefings and every morning, there are more threats, so he's insecure about it. And, he says, "Look, even if it does happen, we'll survive it. I didn't see anything wrong with this statement, I have to be honest. Now, in reading your book, one of the really interesting things is the tension between Vice President Obama -- I'm sorry, Vice President Biden and President Obama, OK? Over Afghanistan. And Biden -- First of all, let's define their relationship. Does Obama trust Biden?

WOODWARD: He seems to. In fact, in the interview I did for this book, I pressed President Obama, did in the debate about the Afghan war, did Biden go too far as sometimes people think he did? And, the president was emphatic and said, "No, I want him laying out options and alternatives."

O'REILLY: So, you did. You believe that the president trust Joe Biden., and he's there to give him experience to give him a different point of view, and that Obama does listen to him?

WOODWARD: I think there is a difference between trust and wanting someone to express their views. He wants to hear them. I think what I found in all of this is that Barack Obama trusts his own ability to identify the issues and in the Afghan war. He actually designed the strategy.

O'REILLY: So, Obama thinks he's the smartest guy in the room?

WOODWARD: Yes.

O'REILLY: All right.

WOODWARD: That's exactly right.

O'REILLY: But does he trust Biden in the sense he would confide in Biden?

WOODWARD: Yes.

O'REILLY: He does.

WOODWARD: Clearly, there are all kinds of scenes in the book where Biden comes on the eve of the troop decision in Afghanistan. He actually shows up at the White House early and says to the president, "If you don't limit the war and the definition of what we're trying to do, we are locked into Vietnam."

O'REILLY: So, Biden comes at it from Vietnam, because he obviously experienced that and Obama did not.

WOODWARD: Yes.

O'REILLY: All right. And there is -- to, I think Obama's credit, some parallels to Vietnam in the corruption aspect, the aspect that there isn't a solid government in Afghanistan or wasn't in South Vietnam. But, Obama sees himself as the smartest guy in the room. He's going to make the final call. He must have known, though, that by waiting as long as he did to provide the 30,000 troops that McChrystal at the time was wanting, that he looked weak, that he looked weak to the world. He didn't know what to do.

WOODWARD: Actually, the military wasn't requesting a General McChrystal. He didn't ask for those troops until this year. So, there was no delay because there was this month long debate that, well, actually went on for almost three months.

O'REILLY: The public perceived that he was dragging his feet, President Obama, on that troop decision.

WOODWARD: I think what's interesting in this. In the book, there are 60 pages, 70 pages of literal verbatim quotes from Obama and his advisors in the secret meetings debating what to do and you can see how Obama's mind really works.

O'REILLY: And, how does it work? Is he a warrior? Is he saying, "Look, I'm going to kick their butt like Patton would, no matter what it takes. I'm going to ram it down their throat?

WOODWARD: That's exactly the question and the answer is, "No."

O'REILLY: He's not.

WOODWARD: He's an intellectual.

O'REILLY: OK.

WOODWARD: And, if you look at this and you realize if you take what he says and it's repeated, you say, "I do not want a 10-year plan. I'm not doing 10 years."

O'REILLY: Yes, clearly he doesn't. But, let me --

WOODWARD: He wants out.

O'REILLY: OK. Sure, but who wouldn't?

WOODWARD: Yes.

O'REILLY: Who wouldn't want out of that mess? I mean we're spending billions of dollars over there and we're getting our people killed. Who wouldn't? But, here's the deal. Once you fight, you have to fight to win. You have to fight to win. And, a lot of Americans, including me, are not sure he has the heart for the fight.

WOODWARD: It's a fair question. When you look at the record here that's presented in this book, the "X" factor that never comes out, he never -- when I asked him, I said, "Well, you can't lose a war while you're president." He said, "Well, I don't look in terms of winning a war or losing a war on my watch. I want the country to be in a better position." Now, as you know, if you ask that question to George Bush, he'd jump in his chair and say --

O'REILLY: Well, I'm glad you brought it up.

WOODWARD: "I want to win."

O'REILLY: We have to win.

WOODWARD: In the question here, I say it's unanswered at this point, does the president -- because intellectually knows Afghanistan is a hard case, as he repeatedly says, "I've been dealt a bad hand."

O'REILLY: Well, he hasn't been dealt -- history dealt the country a bad hand. It's not about Obama. It's about America.

WOODWARD: OK. OK, I see your point.

O'REILLY: Let me stop you there for a minute. Yes, I'm going to -- I want to hold you over. And, I want to compare President Obama to President Bush on how they waged war. What their mentality was. Bob Woodward will be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'REILLY: Continuing now with our lead story is President Obama an effective terror warrior. A recent Fox News poll asked: Do you approve or disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing on Afghanistan? 48 percent approve, 41 percent do not. And, according to Quinnipiac poll: Do you approve of the way Barack Obama is handling foreign policy in general? 45 percent say they approve. 44 percent say they do not.

Joining us once again, journalist Bob Woodward, author of a brand-new book, "Obama's Wars." So, you wrote four books on Bush going to war. So, I mean, I assume you know Bush going to war. So, contrast the two men. All right, we just talked about Barak Obama. Let's talk about Bush. The rap on Bush was that he was a gut player, that he made --

WOODWARD: And, that's what he always says.

O'REILLY: Yes. He made decision on his gut. But, I don't know what that means. He had a whole bunch of guys around him like Cheney, Rumsfeld, his father, Colin Powell, these kinds of people who really knew the world. Did he not listen to them? Did he listen to them?

WOODWARD: To a certain extent and he weighed it. But, he was focused on the threat and he was -- and he also was focused in the Iraq war, which President Bush launched. He told me in one of these interviews, he said, "I believe we have a duty to free people. And, I think that was really the driver. So, he was going to liberate Iraq.

O'REILLY: All right, so he looked at it as a noble cause to go to a foreign country and liberate these people from Saddam Hussein.

WOODWARD: Yes.

O'REILLY: But, again, that was after the weapons of mass destruction, you know, didn't show up. Now, Obama doesn't see a world like that. He doesn't think we have an obligation to liberate anybody, does he?

WOODWARD: I think that's quite correct, and I think he is focused on domestic policy. And, he keeps saying in these meetings, as it goes on and on, for instance, after he's decided to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, he says, nothing would make Rahm happier -- Rahm being Rahm Emanuel, his White House Chief of Staff, than if I said no to 30,000. In other words, the political people in the Obama White House are very much against adding more --

O'REILLY: They're -- the Democrats, they want to get the hell out of there, but what about Hillary Clinton? What about her, because she comes across as hawkish. She comes across as a terror warrior. Is that posture? Does Obama care what she says?

WOODWARD: Well, she aligned herself with Secretary of Defense Gates and the military supported them.

O'REILLY: Yes.

WOODWARD: Even more to a certain extent than Gates did. They talked about the five blocks of granite, the three generals and admiral and Gates and Hillary, and they just said, 40,000 troops and in a sense an unlimited counter insurgency strategy, which is what General Petraeus wanted.

O'REILLY: Just win the war. Win the war. Now, you correct me if I'm wrong. My gut instinct, and I have this not on anything other than gut -- is that Barack Obama doesn't listen to Hillary Clinton. She is not a major shaper in what he does or doesn't do.

WOODWARD: That is absolutely correct. And, the political people in the White House were quite annoyed that she aligned herself with the military in such a dramatic way. I wanted to get to something -- you really need to make a distinction on the fight against Al-Qaeda, which as we know is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan --

O'REILLY: Right now.

WOODWARD: Obama has been very aggressive, and I think we're going to see in coming weeks more aggressive acts, that just drone attacks, helicopter attacks. I quote Leon Panetta, the CIA Director saying, we need to get boots on the ground troops in Pakistan to attack --

O'REILLY: Does Obama trust Panetta?

WOODWARD: Yes, I think he does.

O'REILLY: OK. Does he rely on Panetta?

WOODWARD: I think he's very serious advisor in all of this. Now, you have to separate the war on terror and al-Qaeda, which is the core goal in Obama's strategy and in his head from the afghan war.

O'REILLY: There is only one problem with that. That al-Qaeda and the Taliban are merged together, that if the Taliban emerges victorious then al-Qaeda comes back to the sanctuary it had pre-9/11.

WOODWARD: That could happen. But, we have so many troops in the book, I lay out this new "Secret Army: The CIA" has --

O'REILLY: Right.

WOODWARD: 3,000 man army that is a potent force, the very best trained Afghans under the control of the CIA with all the intelligence gathering apparatus. All the troops we have here.

O'REILLY: Yes. I mean -- but, we're not cutting them down yet. I think we will. Last question, Obama really -- you left it at the end of the book, where he wasn't that thrilled with you. He just said, "Hey Bob, we'll see you around."

WOODWARD: Yes. He said, "You started the interview, you're on the clock."

O'REILLY: Right.

WOODWARD: But, at the end, I was surprised he said to me -- he said, "You had better sources than I do."

O'REILLY: That's not good. That's not good.

WOODWARD: That's not confidence building. And, then he said, "Have you ever thought of being Director of National Intelligence or Director of the CIA?

O'REILLY: He told me, "Did I ever think about playing in the NBA?" That's what the guy does.

WOODWARD: Yes.

O'REILLY: All right, Bob Woodward, everybody. "Obama's Wars" very - - if you're interested in this subjected, it's a top notch read. Thank you, Bob. Thank you.