OTR Interviews

Gingrich: Obama is 'entertainer-in-chief,' not a commander-in-chief, in a dangerous world, presidency is like a 'Vaudeville act'

Former presidential candidate takes on the White House's handling of the US embassy attacks in the Middle East


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: What is going on at the White House! Can't it get its story straight? First the Obama administration for a week adamantly blaming a spontaneous protest over a YouTube video for the murders of four Americans, including our ambassador in Libya, this despite the red flags that the murders happened on September 11 on American territory in Libya, where there are pockets of hostility against Americans.

Then yesterday, eight days after the four murders, an administration official finally admitting terrorists are to blame, and then today, White House press secretary Jay Carney agreeing, saying it is self-evident the assault was a terrorist attack.

But then late today -- and this does appear to be a switch -- during a forum, the president still seemed to once again blame the YouTube video for the violence.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is dramatic today is that just 24 hours after Jay Carney was telling reporters all of us in the White House briefing room yesterday that it was too early to classify whether this was terror, whether al Qaeda was involved...

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I can tell you is that, as I said last week, as our ambassador to the United Nations said on Sunday and as I said the other day, based on what we know now and knew at the time, we have no evidence of a pre-planned or premeditated attack. This remains, however, under investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now Jay Carney just a short while ago aboard Air Force One told reporters, in fact, it's self-evident that this was a terror attack, different from what the administration has been saying all week.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are at the very early stages of an FBI investigation. The team from the FBI reached Libya earlier this week. And I will advise Congress also that I am launching an accountability review board that will be chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly a terrorist attack. You know, but exactly who perpetrated it is the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went through a very exhaustive effort to try to take those prisoners at Gitmo and to rehabilitate them. But we have seen instances both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for that matter Pakistan, where former detainees have been involved in planning and executing attacks against Americans abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the issue of -- with Libya today, I mean, it is stunning, the lack of coordination between the intelligence community and the State Department.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What do we know? We know it was a terror attack. It was planned two to three days in advance. We knew it had nothing to do with the video. We know that our ambassador was tortured now before he was killed.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests or...


OBAMA: Well, we don't know yet. And so we're going to continue to investigate this.

LIMBAUGH: It wasn't the video! Our ambassador was tortured before he was murdered! There's no leadership whatsoever! I don't think Barack Obama is capable of leadership! He's capable of Svengali-type mesmerizing, but he's not capable of leadership!


VAN SUSTEREN: So what's up? Why does the Obama administration keep changing its tune, incompetence or coverup or something else? Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, joins us. Nice to see you, Mr. Speaker.


VAN SUSTEREN: Very serious times. Let me go to -- I got -- I was reading your Twitter account, and in your Twitter account, after the attack, you referred to the president as an appeaser. You said he was too busy appeasing radicals. Appeaser.

GINGRICH: He is an appeaser, and his speech in Cairo was an appeasement speech. What he just said is appeasement. He comes out of the left wing of American politics where you always blame America first, to paraphrase Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1984.

Who's responsible for killing our ambassador? Well, it's a movie. Now, what's amazing to me is, as the candidate of Hollywood, as the candidate of the left which has been very anti-censorship, suddenly, it's beginning to be acceptable to talk about censoring, as long as you're censoring anything which offends Islam.

Now, if you want to put Christ in a glass with urine, that's art. If you want to have a statue of Mary smeared with elephant dung, that's art. But now some nutcake makes a weird movie that no one has seen, that's horrifying and it's the film's fault.

First of all, in the case of Libya, it is a falsehood for the president of the United States and his staff -- remember the first Sunday, you had the ambassador to the U.N. saying over and over on every show this was not a terrorist attack, this was a spontaneous response. That is baloney! Whether she was simply out of the loop and didn't know what she was saying or she was deliberately lying, it is total baloney!

A message was sent from al Qaeda before 9/11 to Libya to use 9/11 to kill Americans in response for -- in revenge for the American killing of the top al Qaeda figure, who was a Libyan, who was killed in Pakistan.

Now, that traffic was there. In fact, we've now been told -- there's a story today where somebody in the administration said, We were trying to analyze what this message meant. Now, you get a message that says, Try to kill some Americans on 9/11 to get even for what the Americans did to us in Pakistan, it should be pretty obvious as soon as you translate the message what it meant!

VAN SUSTEREN: See, I take it even one step further. I don't even know why you need a warning. I've traveled to those parts of the world and they are very uncomfortable and they are very uncertain, they're very turbulent times. And when you are an American in the country, those -- you have to be very vigilant. And when you are an ambassador or represent the state, the country, I would expect that there would be incredible security. And you would expect on September 11 that you were particularly vulnerable.

GINGRICH: The administration is also deceiving people about the people who were killed with the ambassador. I am told unequivocally of the four people involved, two of them -- the ambassador and three other people -- two of them were not his security team. Two of them were people who had been hired for the consulate, to help the consulate.

But they weren't -- he -- he apparently showed up in Benghazi on 9/11. Benghazi is the most radical city in Libya. It produced more foreign fighters to kill Americans in Iraq than any place except Saudi Arabia.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, why -- what does the administration gain by getting it wrong, I mean -- I mean, and sticking to the story? I mean, suppose they got it wrong on the first day and thought it was the provocation or the YouTube. They made a mistake because they've got the -- the Cairo embassy sending out messages.

But suppose they got it wrong, but they kept pounding it and they seized on it! They wouldn't let it go for eight days. Why were they so hung up on that?

GINGRICH: I think there are two things going on. The first is I think that President Obama, deep in his own belief system, cannot bring him -- accept the fact that there's a radical Islamist faction that is totally incompatible with American values, and so he keeps looking for any other excuse, any other explanation.

Second, if, in fact, al Qaeda was strong enough and clever enough to kill the American ambassador in Benghazi, then all the victory dances they've been doing about having killed Usama bin Laden are, in fact, pretty phony. They're as wrong as President Bush having had the "Mission accomplished" session on the aircraft carrier.

The fact is, we are in a much deeper struggle. It has much greater implications. And nobody in our national establishment wants to have an honest conversation about how hard this is going to be and how long this is going to last. Not necessarily like Afghanistan or Iraq, but we're going to have people out there who hate us and who want to kill us and who want to defeat our civilization for a very long time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Many Americans have war fatigue. Many Americans, you know, are -- you know, want us out of Afghanistan yesterday. They think we should have. And if you were president -- and I realize you wanted to be president -- I mean, what would you be doing tonight? How would you handle it differently?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I think we should have a total reassessment of our entire strategy for the region. I think they should suspend all of the aid to Egypt right now. When you have the prime minister of Egypt explaining that Americans had better start censoring themselves or there'll be more riots, why are we shipping them a billion dollars? I would be reassessing the whole region.

I think we have to confront Iraq is not particularly working, Afghanistan is not particularly working. We have no strategy for Pakistan. Egypt is sliding away. Remember, the Muslim Brotherhood, who we all thought it was fairly radical, is now the moderate wing in Egypt. There is a Salafist group that's far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood. And I don't think we appreciate yet how much turmoil the region is going to be in.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. We do an assessment and we discover -- let's give it a worst case scenario that -- that it -- I mean, that it's as bad as many of us are -- hope it is not. Then what do you do?

GINGRICH: Well, I'm actually having a press conference tomorrow at the National Press Club with Scott Noble to lay out a strategy. I think the first thing you do is you create an American energy policy that creates, as Romney has said, a North American energy independence in this decade because Wikileaks published a Hillary Clinton memo in 2010 in which she said the Saudis are clearly the leading funders of terrorism, and we don't seem to be able to get them to stop.

Now, as long -- by the way, in this administration, we've actually increased the amount of oil we're buying from Saudi Arabia. So we are asking the Saudis to increase their oil production so we can buy more of their oil, so we can send more money to them, so they can fund the very people who are attacking embassies and burning flags and killing Americans.

That's a pretty irrational national strategy. I think we need a new American energy strategy that decisively liberates us from relying on the Middle East.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, in your -- in your Twitter account, you also accuse -- or in an op-ed piece, rather, you accuse President Obama and Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, of intellectual dishonesty.

GINGRICH: Well, they both said immediately after the killing of the ambassador this was, quote, a "senseless act." That is profoundly misleading for the American people. This was an act of war. These were very sensible people who hate us. They were doing something very deliberate. This isn't some mob being senseless, and none of our intellectual elites are willing to deal with this!

When we had somebody jump up yelling Allah-u Akbar at Fort Hood and kill 13 Americans, they described it as workplace violence! When we had a Pakistani with a car bomb in the middle of New York City, the first reaction of the mayor of New York was to say, Gee, it could be somebody who's opposed to "Obama care." Let's not rush to judgment.

I mean, the desire of our elites to avoid being honest about the war we're in -- there are people on this planet who are Islamic supremacists. Their interest is -- as somebody today, we're moving from an Arab spring to an Islamist winter. And these people want to defeat us. They know exactly what they're doing. They talk about it every day in their mosques.

I'm not talking about most Muslims. Let me be clear. It is not Islamophobia to describe the extremist wing as people who want to defeat the West and establish supremacy. They say it every day on the Web sites! They're actually pretty open about this.

VAN SUSTEREN: What does -- well, let me talk about our ally in the region, Israel. How does Israel sort of fit into this whole dynamic of what's going on right now?

GINGRICH: I have to break up laughing because I was watching "FOX and Friends" this morning, and it had a picture of the president meeting with a pirate who was...

VAN SUSTEREN: It was dated from '09 or something. It was an old picture, I understand.

GINGRICH: Sort of "dress like a pirate" day. And they were making the point that the president can go on Letterman but he can't meet with Netanyahu. He can go campaign, but he can't meet with Netanyahu.

Look, I -- the Israelis have a huge problem. They have a decaying (ph) Egyptian government on one front. They have increased threats from Gaza and from the Sinai. They have a collapsing Syrian dictatorship. Syria has an enormous supply of chemical weapons. If those things get out of control -- and this is part of what happened in Benghazi, that as the Libyan government collapsed, the extremists got a ton of weapons. They used many of them in Mali recently to take over the northern half of that country.

And so you're seeing -- as these dictatorships collapse, you're seeing more and more weapons get in the hands of extremists. The Israelis have a real fear that Syria may well use -- they may suddenly see Syrian chemical weapons being fired at them by Hezbollah in very substantial quantities.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) with Prime Minister Netanyahu was unusual. The first message come out of the White House was that his schedule -- that it didn't fit his schedule. The second one that came out several hours later is that they never asked for a meeting. And it's, like - - you know, we're getting -- I mean, it's -- it's sort of these...

GINGRICH: Well, no, they didn't -- it didn't fit his schedule to have a meeting that hadn't been requested, and they just thought they would randomly indicate that he was really a busy man. And then later, it turned out the Israelis apparently did want a meeting.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean, at these very -- I mean, at these very important times, it's really sort of hard to understand...

GINGRICH: There was a -- there was a report last week -- I may get the number slightly wrong, but that the president had only taken, like, 38 percent of his Daily Intelligence Briefs.

VAN SUSTEREN: He's reading them, though, right?

GINGRICH: Well, apparently. And of course...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you don't get follow-up questions when you read.

GINGRICH: No. Of course, he's a brilliant man and he probably can absorb all this information faster than the rest of us. But it just tells you this is a -- almost like a Vaudeville act. This is the presidency as entertainment. It's not the presidency as leadership. It's not the presidency as commander-in-chief. And I'm not sure that entertainer-in-chief is a very comforting concept, given the level of danger we now see in the world.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, nice to see you.

GINGRICH: Good to see you.