How effective was President Obama's UN speech?

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 25, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they're willing to tolerate freedom for others.  And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.

OBAMA: On this, we must agree. There is no speech that justifies mindless violence.

GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE MITT ROMNEY: Syria witnessed the killing of tens of thousands of people.  The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our ambassador to Libya was assassinated in a terrorist attack. Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability. We somehow feel that we're at the mercy of events rather than shaping events.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Mitt Romney and President Obama in New York, the president speaking to the United Nations General Assembly today. Let's bring in a special panel on foreign policy, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, we welcome Liz Cheney, chair of KeepAmericaSafe.com, and Rudy Deleon, senior vice president of national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank here in Washington. Thank you all for being here.

Steve, let me start with you. Your thoughts overall on the speech and the position that the president made about the Middle East overall.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think you saw the president try to give a speech that echoed the themes of his Cairo address, which was probably very well received in the hall. It's kind of speech you can see at a U.N. General Assembly, people nodding their heads along.  And he did get several different rounds of applause for comments he was making.

I thought there was tension in the speech, frankly. He talked at one point about the video, talked some length about the video, the crude and disgusting video, made clear that the United States government didn't have anything to do with it. This is sort of a reprise of the kinds of things we heard from the administration over the past couple of weeks.

But in an interview on The View taped yesterday and aired today, the president said that the best way to hand the video is to marginalize that kind of speech by ignoring it. Now, the administration's campaign, I would argue over the past couple of weeks on the video in explaining what happened in the region has been based on a discussion, extensive discussion, of the video. So the president spent a lot of time on video today in his speech, which I thought contradicted what he was saying in his interview with "The View."

BAIER: Rudy?

RUDY DELEON, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You know, I think the speech that the United Nations was important because the president really addressed the Iranian issue head on. He said that Iran can't be contained, that we have to prevent them from having a nuclear weapons capability. So I think he was very clear on that issue.

I also think there was an important note in his remarks where he talked about religious tolerance, not just simply the Islamic issue, but also against the Christians and Jews and people of other phases in every corner of the world including the Middle East.

So I think it was important because it's the General Assembly of the United States, so he couldn't have been clearer in terms of addressing the Iranian issue head on.

BAIER: Liz, I should point out you have informally advised the Romney campaign. We wanted both of your expertise on foreign policy. Your thoughts on the president and some of the points he made to the U.N.?

LIZ CHENEY, KEEPAMERICASAFE.COM: You know, my overall sense watching the speech was that it was rhetoric punctuated by moments of what could only be called delusion. He talked about the moment that we're living through the Middle East now. He said this is a real period, "a season of progress" were his words. There was no recognition at all that any peace and security in the world since World War II has come from American leadership, from American military might, no recognition we face a threat from Islamic jihad.

It was a lot of what we heard him say before. And I think he did have statements about Iran and some statements about Syria. But there is no reason I can see for people to believe it will be followed up by any action. He didn't even take the action of bothering to meet with any other world leaders, frankly, while he was there.

BAIER: I want to play a clip he talks about Iraq and Afghanistan, and the way forward, what has happened and what may happen.


OBAMA: The war in Iraq is over. American troops have come home. We have begun a transition in Afghanistan. And America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014. Al Qaeda has been weakened and Usama bin Laden is no more.


BAIER: There was some criticism, Steve, about ending a war on schedule, that you can end a war on schedule.

HAYES: Yes, the formulation doesn't make much sense, frankly. There is no schedule for war. You have to fight a war until you win a war or at least, you know, if you're in an administration that doesn't want to talk about winning the war, as this administration has chosen not to, at least to achieve your objectives. The way he talked about it in that sense, made it sound like the timing mattered more than the outcomes. And I think that is a problem if you're over there fighting.

BAIER: Is there a weakness here on Afghanistan? You know now that we know, Rudy, that the patrols, joint patrols stopped with the Afghans and clearly the attacks have increased, is ending the war on schedule the right message for the president to be saying to Afghans, to the Taliban, to whoever?

DELEON: I think Bret, we're at the 10-year point in the war in Afghanistan. It's been a NATO coalition. Secretary Gates, who served both President Bush and President Obama, was part of the dialogue at Lisbon that really talked about 2014 being the date of transition. And the Chicago summit I think was consensus of the NATO partners.

You know, I think you work your way through the situation, and so there is a timeline for the exit of Afghanistan. But equally, there is a plan for using the drones and other critical U.S. capabilities against terrorist networks in Pakistan and elsewhere. So I think you have to look at all of these potential tools coming in combination as you assess a 2014 date.

BAIER: Was this speech, Liz, meant for domestic consumption, for this election, or is this a speech for the world to say we were with you? What was this speech?

DELEON: Well, I can't imagine given where we are in the election cycle and what we know about the president's prioritization of his own political fortunes, this was meant to be a speech for the U.S. public, I think.

You know, I think on the issue of Afghanistan, we're now in a situation where we see a resurgent Taliban. We're in a situation where we may well be walking away from a nation that will in fact be able to be a safe haven for terrorists because we will leave it a broken place. This notion we're ending our war on schedule, can you imagine Winston Churchill saying that? There is not a schedule except for a victory. There ought not be. But I think the president has shown he is very interested in heading for the exit, and what that means is that American influence across the region and across the world has been diminished.

BAIER: I guess, Rudy, the other question is Syria. He says today that the future must not belong to the dictator who massacres his people.  We're at, I guess, more than a year since the president first called for Bashar al Assad to step down. And people on both sides of the aisle have said when will that point be?

DELEON: Yes, Syria is important. But first, let's get back to Afghanistan. We still have 69,000 NATO troops in country. We have just gotten the point where we have taken the surge element and brought them home side.

So, you know, it's been a measured schedule, not to the same schedule that Iraq was prescribed by memorandum of agreement, but there is still a sizable force in Afghanistan that is doing their work every day to assist in the civil transition. And then there's a concentrated effort on the other side of the border, which is Pakistan.

Now, Syria is important. It's important because one of the challenges -- we can go through a host of examples from Iraq the Somalia -- is what do you do after a tyrant leaves office? And it's a painful process. We're seeing the transition to democracy in Egypt, we're seeing a different government in Libya now. And so, the transition --

BAIER: But at what point does it call for a dictator to leave, lose his power, 12 months, 13 months --

DELEON: So if we use military force and the dictator was out, we'd still have all of these other humanitarian issues of transition. And so I think there it is important for the U.S. to work in conjunction with the partners, particularly our partner, our NATO partner of Turkey, as well as the other regional powers that come to a path forward that can end the war, civil war in Syria. And I think Secretary Clinton has spoken on this many times.

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