Is President Obama's 'manhood' in question?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 21, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: All bets are off. Let's face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not does have, I'll say it crudely, but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody on Putin? I think a lot of the wrap is unfair, but certainly in the Middle East there's an assumption he's not tough enough.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We stand prepared together with our partners to impose further costs if Russia -- on Russia if Russia does not take action to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine.


SHANNON BREAM, GUEST HOST: All right, let's talk about this with our panel, Syndicated columnist George Will, Ron Fournier, senior political columnist at National Journal, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

No direct comment from the White House on the remarks from David Brooks, but today emphasizing they remain tough on Russia. We know there are hotspots around the globe. George, how much does perception factor in to how the president governs when it comes to foreign policy?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Perception matters a lot. And I think what some of our adversaries have decided is that the president is true to his word. The president hasn't been stealthy about this. He said I'm withdrawing from Iraq and withdrawing from Afghanistan. I'm cutting the defense budget. I'm going in for nation building at home. And then he turns around and says we're trying to help Putin stabilize the situation in the Crimea. Putin is spending every waking hour on destabilization. And again, he is, as dictators often are, admirably candid about his objectives. This is just a mismatch. It's not a manhood problem, it's just that one man is tough and the other man doesn't want to wield the power of the United States.

BREAM: Ron, so much of what we're seeing play out with the president sounds a lot like what he ran on in 2008 and 2012, and the voters backed him.

RON FOURNIER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Part of this is the country didn't want, I think a large number of Americans still want a rather quasi-isolationist, dovish, cautious president. At the same time they want a president who is respected around the globe and will keep them safe. I think the president has miscalculated what the American people really want and is obviously being played out on the international scene.

Today in Syria we have evidence again of chemical weapons being used in Syria, a place where he talked about a red line and then let it get crossed, and talk about it again and let it get crossed, and sent mixed signals. And I think it looked weak, and perceptions do matter in politics, especially in geopolitics.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This is not a manhood issue with Obama. This is an issue of a complete absence of strategic thinking.  It's not a question of the heart. It's a question of the head. This administration, this president does not have a strategic idea in their head.

Let me remind you that the first great speech that Obama made about foreign policy was at the U.N. in 2009, and he actually said no nation can or should dominate another, without a doubt the single stupidest remark about foreign policy ever uttered by a president of the United States. He continues to say no balance of power can ever endure, and he went on to say that no alliance based on the divisions of the Cold War, the obsolete divisions of the Cold War, makes any sense in this century, all of which is just shockingly false.

And he's beginning to get a glimmer of that. He did say about Ukraine, this is not a cold war chessboard. Of course, it's a cold war chessboard.  He went on to say about the beginning of the crisis, this isn't a zero-sum game. Ask Ukraine about it. They lost Crimea. He gained it. That's the definition of zero-sum.

And he has this notion that the agreement they got at Geneva, which he was skeptical about, if it means anything, it was written so that the Russians could interpret it exactly as they are today. Lavrov, the foreign minister is saying that the illegal elements, meaning the government in Kiev, which it calls illegal, is illegally seizing territory, by which they mean Independence Square in Kiev, and thus breaking the agreement and thus they have to act. And we know what that means, probable invention by Russia.

BREAM: And it brings to mind the agreement that we are working through with Iran, because as soon as it was issued, there were releases in speeches on all sides. The Iranians saying it has done nothing to neuter them or their nuclear program. You mentioned Syria. We have so many hot spots around the globe.

George, the president, what does he need to do if you were giving him advice about that public persona when it comes to these issues?

WILL: Talk less, because there is very little he can do in a lot of these places. The American people are really determined not to get involved in a sectarian civil war with all kind of ethnic overlays in Syria. On the other hand, you draw that line and then you say we got this agreement on the declared chemical weapons. Now, who declared them? It wasn't Assad.  It was a third party declared how many chemical weapons he has. So then they used chlorine, we think. Then the State Department says it's a toxic industrial chemical, so we didn't ban all chemical weapons. It just talked less. Don't talk unless you can improve the silence.

BREAM: And the Peter Baker (ph) piece in the New York Times this weekend seemed to suggest there's a lot of internal discussion. There's some at Defense and the State Department who want to be more hawkish and have disagreed with the administration about the positions the president has taken. So it sounds like there is some internal dissent.

FOURNIER: There is. And I had a laugh when I read Peter's story, which I thought was remarkable, because basically it talked about how President Obama after raising expectations to push a reset button with Putin, things got tough, and he under-delivered, overpromised and under-delivered. Now he's going to write off Russia. It sounds to me a lot like how he has dealt with the Republicans, overpromised, under-deliver, write them off.

BREAM: And you hear that from folks on the Hill, and not just Republicans.  There are Democrats who will say, too, even, they when trying to deal with the president, when it gets rocky, they have no access. They can't build that relationship either. Charles, what do you think it says about the bigger overall picture? He's got two years left to do something with his legacy.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right, and he will probably worsen it because he has trouble understanding that other countries have national interests and they do want to dominate other countries. He says that not people act in this century.  It is how people act in this century and every century back to the Stone Age. And he thinks that because it was a turn of the calendar 14 years ago, human nature has changed. He still was saying over the weekend that Putin is not acting in Russia's interest. Why? Because there are fluctuations in the stock market. Does he not understand -- he is actually instructing the Russians on what's in their national interest. They have just seized the most important piece of strategic of territory, the Crimea on the Black Sea, which they will now dominate for a couple hundred years, never have to ask the Ukrainians for another lease agreement for their Navy there, have completely emasculated Ukraine, turned it into a basket case, likely have turned it into a landlocked state that will be a ward of the west. This guy is winning on a geopolitical level in a way that Obama does not even seem to understand.

BREAM: Well, in his next trip, he's heading off to Asia, anything you all will be watching for during that trip?

KRAUTHAMMER: This is called a pivot. It's actually simply a trip. And if he had any strategic idea behind it, I would love to hear it.

FOURNIER: The president and his people have got to stop dealing with their adversaries overseas and their adversaries here in Washington as if there is some magical thinking here. You have to stop treating them the way you want them to be and start treating them the way they are. Putin does look at the world differently than Obama does, and instead of trying to lecture him, he's got to get inside his head and figure out what his next step it will be. It's the same with Republicans. It's not enough just to demonize the Republicans and dump on them. Even if you're right on the policy, you've got to be able to deal with Republicans from the position that they have, not the one you think they should have.

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