The disconnect between Obama and Americans over terrorism

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 23, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is my number one priority. I've got a lot of things on my plate. But my top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that has been taking place around the world.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET), FORMER NSA AND CIA DIRECTOR: That wasn't a mistake. That wasn't weakness. That was policy. His going to the ballpark and his spending less than a minute commenting on the attack, I actually believe in his heart of hearts the president's policy is that is not that big a deal. There are other things that are more important. And that was what he was messaging.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: A lot of people weighing in on the president's talk and reaction to the terror attacks in Brussels.

Meantime new FOX polls out today on the issue of temporarily banning non- U.S. Muslims. This is all registered voters. And there you see favor, oppose. As you take a look at the break down by party identification, Republicans 69 percent, independents 55, Democrats 39.

Meantime, the president has talked about his reaction in the past. Remember the criticism after Paris, his reaction to that. Let's take a look back at what he said today as well.


OBAMA: Now, on our side, I think that there is a legitimate criticism of what I've been doing and our administration has been doing in the sense that we haven't on a regular basis, I think, described all the work that we've been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL.

Groups like ISIL can't destroy us. They can't defeat us. They don't produce anything. They are not an existential threat to us.


BAIER: Let's bring in our panel, David Catanese, senior politics writer for U.S. News and World Report, Fortune magazine's Nina Easton, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Nina, is there a disconnect here in the emotion, the tone, the tenor the president takes to how Americans feel about the terror threat?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Yes. Americans feel deeply under threat. And not only that. by the way, this was not just an attack on Europe. Americans were injured in this attack and possibly targeted as we heard earlier in the show in this attack. These attacks came out of a radicalized community in Belgium that is very well planning an attack here.

So for him to be so dismissive, it's almost like this is background noise, something we're going to have to get used to. There's a level of resignation. There's no show of strength, no show of command, no show of we are going to help Europe. We're going to keep the homeland safe. And to stand there, to be laughing. This is hours after this attack. This was the same day. And he's in the wave in baseball stadium laughing with Castro.

BAIER: So his point, David, to ESPN was that you can't let the terror attack affect what you're doing, how you're doing it. But again, it seems like it's the image.

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Totally. And he said this again today, that leaving the baseball game, changing his schedule, coming back would be allowing the terrorists to win. That is his argument.

But his comments and, frankly, Hillary Clinton's comments in tandem I think shows the Democratic Party is totally out of step and just out of bounds on this moment. I don't think they get it. Nobody was talking about relations with Cuba yesterday. He said this is an important part of his policy. Maybe it's an important part of his legacy. But the problem with I think Obama's comments and Hillary's is this is the new normal. These attacks will happen, and there is a sort of acceptance of it and that we're going to work with allies and we extend our hand. We're going to be resilient. But that's not good enough I don't think for the American people, and I think your polls indicate that.

BAIER: This is Hillary Clinton today in what was billed as a big counterterrorism speech. And she tried to project strength.


HILLARY CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would also be a serious mistake to begin carpet bombing populated areas into oblivion. Proposing that doesn't make you sound tough. It makes you sound like you're in over your head. Slogans are not a strategy. Loose cannons tend to misfire. What America needs is strong, smart, steady leadership to wage and win this struggle.


BAIER: Obviously referencing Ted Cruz and Donald Trump there.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I think this is a semantic argument about what the word "carpet" means. Generally I think it refers to World War II, to Dresden, to the attack on Tokyo, where essentially you burn the city. That's not what we're talking about. What Cruz is talking about is comparing the gulf war where there are 1,100 sorties a day to today where there are about 15. Between those two numbers there's a huge gap. And it does show sort of a lassitude on the part of this president which you see in his statements.

What he said in Argentina, this is a top priority. Everybody understands that's a farce. He doesn't believe a word of it. He says it by rote because he knows he's supposed to say it. But he has said in interviews. He has said it to his staff as reported in "The Atlantic," more people die in falls in their bathtubs than die in terrorism.

BAIER: He also said climate change is more important than ISIS.

KRAUTHAMMER: Everything is more important than ISIS. He thinks it is the background noise of our time. He has said this openly in interviews. The reason everybody is exercises is because the media is hyping it. He said if it leads, it bleeds, so people are becoming afraid as a result of media ratings.

But he is simply unwilling to face the fact that this is a serious threat to the west, to the United States. People are justly afraid. And that under his watch ISIL has gone from nonexistence to now having a presence in at least nine countries, having a safe haven, and having the capacity in one week an attack in west Africa in the Ivory Coast, an attack in Turkey, an attack in Brussels. That's a threat, and he does not believe it is.

BAIER: On the flipside, Nina, you have Donald Trump who obviously is projecting strength. And whenever he talks about this, he hammers home that he is going to take out ISIS, even to the point where he says he would go beyond waterboarding. This is Donald Trump and the lawyer who was responsible in the Bush administration for keeping it in the lines.


DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.

JOHN YOO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: For us, waterboarding was the hardest question. And our view was it was basically right at the line of what was legal or illegal, but that you could not go beyond it. So for Trump to say he would go beyond waterboarding, I have no idea what he has in mind. But I think if he wants to do thing which are worse to people, I think it would violate federal law.


BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: He's absolutely right. We've been tortured over that issue of waterboarding. We've drawn this fine line, and Donald Trump doesn't seem to care about where lines are drawn as we know watching him in the campaign. The other point I want to make though about both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is their comments about taking on the Muslim community, whether it's banning Muslims or going after them in a slightly indiscriminate way with more police action, right?

And the thing about Europe compared to the United States is because of our relationship with Muslim community, because of our political system and our security apparatus that works with Muslim leaders, we don't have the isolated, insulated communities that is dogging Europe right now. And there's one study that says most terrorists have been turned in by Muslim leaders, more have been turned in by Muslim leaders and government investigators to law enforcement. It is not in our national security to threaten to disrupt that relationship between local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, and the local Muslim community. And you have to keep that front and center.

BAIER: Sure, but there have been accusations of radicalization happening in mosques.

EASTON: And I don't want to downplay the fact that we have our own homegrown terrorists here and it is a problem, yes.

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