Bin Laden bragging rights: Should President Obama claim credit?

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This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 5, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's bin Laden bragging rights. Was this week's victory lap smart politics? And would other president's have done the same?

Plus, Paul Ryan takes on the Catholic left over charges his budget goes against church teaching.

And, a diplomatic crisis overshadows Hillary Clinton's Beijing visit. What the case of blind activist, Chen Guangcheng, tells us about Obama's China policy.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Usama bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat Al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild is now within our reach.


GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

That was President Obama Tuesday marking the one year anniversary of the death of Usama bin Laden in a surprise trip to Afghanistan. It is just one of the ways the president and his re-election campaign have commemorated the killing. Also, releasing an ad suggesting rival Mitt Romney might not have done the same.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, former attorney general, Michael Mukasey, said it is hard to imagine Lincoln or Eisenhower taking such a victory lap.

Judge Mukasey joins me now.

Good to have you back on the program, Judge.


GIGOT: So presidents advertise their accomplishments, especially when they run for election. That is what they do. Why is what President Obama has done different from that tradition?

MUKASEY: Because they say real leadership consists of taking less credit than you deserve and more blame than you deserve. And President Obama, after his election, said that the president he wanted to be most like Lincoln. If you take a look at Lincoln's record, the night after the surrender of Robert E. Lee, he delivered what turned out to be his last speech in which he disclaimed any responsibility for the victory, and, instead, looked ahead to reconstruction, and advocated black suffrage, something that got him killed because John Wilkes Boothe being in the audience outside the White House. Earlier, in his administration -- he took responsibility for the mistakes General McClellan, of defense secretary -- his secretary of defense --

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: -- constantly, took responsibility for things that failed, gave credit to others for things that succeeded.

GIGOT: But, let's go back to 2004. President Obama, George W. Bush running for re-election in the wake of 9/11, they ran an ad, his campaign, called "Tested," which, really, advertised what they said was his leadership after the attack on the World Trade Center. And they included some footage of the burning towers. How is this different, what Obama is doing, saying, we got bin Laden finally, how is it different from President Bush taking credit for his post-attack leadership?

MUKASEY: I don't know that he was taking credit as describing something that he had been exposed to that was not of his making and had survived. Here, in the clip you saw, and in the clip you might have shown from his announcement of the killing of bin Laden, it was "I," "me," "I", "My." The perpendicular pronoun was pretty much in evidence.

GIGOT: What about his suggestion, his campaign's suggestion -- I guess he made it personally -- that Romney might not have done the same?

MUKASEY: It is hard to find a word other than outrageous to describe that. And I think the memo that went from Leon Panetta to Admiral McRaven --

GIGOT: This is while --


GIGOT: -- Leon Panetta was CIA director --


GIGOT: -- before the attack, before the raid.

MUKASEY: Right. Describing McRaven's authority as limited to the risk profile that he had presented to the president, is revealing of the attitude that prevailed at time.

GIGOT: How should a commander-in-chief behave? Are you saying Lincoln is the model? Is that what you should do?

MUKASEY: Lincoln is the model. Kennedy is the model. Eisenhower is the model. A lot of people are the model. George W. Bush is the model.

GIGOT: Well -- but you do not think George Bush ever took credit. What about "mission accomplished" banner?

MUKASEY: That is not a banner that he put up. That was put up by other people. And if you look at the remarks he made at the time, they were all by way of giving credit to the troops.

GIGOT: The mistake the president is making is essentially saying, look, this was -- he's taking an exorbitant -- in your view, an exorbitant amount of credit where as, if it had gone wrong, the implication of the memos and things is the blame would have been the people who were executing the policy.

MUKASEY: Correct.

GIGOT: OK. Let me talk to you about another issue. There was -- that has come up in the news this week, which is the -- what happened with the intelligence leading to the bin Laden capture. There's a suggestion by two Democratic Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, that enhanced interrogation techniques, waterboarding and such, did not lead to -- did not produce evidence that led to the bin Laden capture. They put it this way, "The CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location, through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program." Based on what you knew -- learned when you were attorney general, is this correct?

MUKASEY: That is a half true designed to irritate anyone who knows the other half.


Yes, the CIA knew about the name before it was disclosed by Sheikh Mohammed. However, that information lay unexploited because it came from an insignificant course. When it came from Sheikh Mohammed after he was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, they followed it up and found this guy was still active. They went back to Sheikh Mohammed, who by then had his wits about him, and asked him again about this guy and he said, oh, he has been out of it for some time. That was a lie. They knew it was a lie. And because he had lied about it, that enhanced even more the significance of the information. So the information did not become significant until they learned about it from him and its significance was increased by the fact that he lied about it. They learned about it after enhanced interrogation techniques.

GIGOT: So based on your experience, you think the enhanced interrogation techniques have absolutely been critical to the progress we have made against Al Qaeda?

MUKASEY: There were three people subjected to all --all the fuss is about three people subjected to the most extreme form of interrogation.

GIGOT: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.


GIGOT: Abu Zubaydah.

MUKASEY: Abu Zubaydah and Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, the architect of the Cole attempt.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: We got troves of information from all three. We arrested Hambali, Ramzi bin Al Shibh, a whole array, a whole rogues gallery of terrorists who were prepared to carry off attacks. Mike McConnell, the director of --


GIGOT: Former national director of intelligence.

MUKASEY: Correct. Said that there are people walking around today who would not be walking around today if those techniques had not been used.

GIGOT: All right. Judge Mukasey, this debate is not going to end, but thanks for being here very much.

When we come back, Paul Ryan takes on the religious left after 90 Georgetown professors attack his budget proposal as going against Catholic social teaching. Would Jesus Christ really have favored big government?



REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WISC., CHAIRMAN, HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: Since we meet here today at America's first Catholic university, I feel it is important to discuss how, as a Catholic in public life, my own personal thinking on these issues has been guided by my understanding of the church's social teaching. Simply put, I don't believe the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.


GIGOT: That was the House budget committee chairman, Paul Ryan, last week delivering an address at Georgetown University. The Wisconsin Republican has come under fire from some Catholics on the left who claimed the blue print goes against the church's social teaching. Ninety Georgetown faculty and administrators sent a letter to Ryan in advance of the appearance that read, in part, "We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few."

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger, and columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

Dan, we'll put it on the table, we are all Catholics here, grew up with Catholic social teaching.


GIGOT: To my mind, the news is not so much Jesuits or Georgetown faculty by conservatives. That is an old story. The news is that Ryan is willing to mix it up in return. Why is the debate important?

HENNINGER: The debate is important for -- I tell you, Paul, it is important for reasons that both Ryan's critics and Paul Ryan cite, both that letter and his talk said the same thing. One in six Americans are in poverty. Now, the Great Society started in 1965, creating programs to address poverty.

GIGOT: Lyndon Johnson.

HENNINGER: Lyndon Johnson.

GIGOT: Expansion of government.

HENNINGER: 50 years later, one in six Americans are in poverty? After spending trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars. Now Ryan is saying, first, we need accountability over why that has happened. Second, the three main programs -- two main programs were created then, Medicare and Medicaid, adding in Social Security, the three major entitlements, the costs are so large that they drain money away from other programs for the poor.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: And Paul Ryan is saying we have to look at this and start making some decisions about where that is going. And that's what he's asking his critics to come and talk to him about.

GIGOT: This is what the late Senator, a Democrat, and a Catholic, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, used to make the case to me that -- he said, Democrats should reform entitlements for seniors and Medicare and Social Security because, as Dan said, they are growing a huge wedge in the federal government. They will soak up, if trends continue, almost all the spending there is, the money there is, and there would be no money left for child care, for example, or education, or transportation, much less defense -- good liberal purposes.

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY: But, Paul, why are you talking about facts?


Facts are not what the left has used to grow the government to what it is right now.

GIGOT: That's one my big flaws.


O'GRADY: Really, you have to stop that.

Paul Ryan is freaking these guys out because he is taking their language and using it against them. He talks about how government dissolves the common good of society, how it dishonors the dignity of the human person. They think they own that language. And they think that language justifies big government. And he is saying, no, what you have done with this big government has actually undermined the things that Catholic teaching is supposed to be about. And that is why they are upset about it. If Paul Ryan, God forbid, gets the morale high ground, which they think they own, they will have to go back to the facts. And the facts will not support their position.

GIGOT: Important point, a lot of Republicans and conservatives tend to shrink, at least in my experience, from moral arguments. Look at my failing here, brining -- talking practical points in fact.


But if -- so you leave them a monopoly on the moral rhetoric, which is very power of in politics, on the left. Ryan is saying, I will meet you on that same battlefield.

HENNINGER: Well, he has created a phrase, which is the immorality of debt. And, in fact, Pope Benedict himself apparently said that if you live with debt that begins do impede the government's ability to provide basic services, then you are living in untrue -- Benedict is obviously talking about Europe.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: And Europe has had a tremendous commitment to social justice and social programs, and now we see Europe as a case study in struggling with trying to pay for commitments that simply they can no longer afford. And that is the issue that Paul Ryan is trying to raise. And he now is putting it in moral terms. And there is a moral issue there. And I think he deserve a good-faith answer.

GIGOT: If you look at Europe, one thing that we can see is when you have a debt crisis, and you finally have to do something about it, who suffers the most and first? It isn't the Georgetown faculty.


It is the poor, who have their budgets and spending cut?

I'm afraid I have to give myself the last word. We are out of time.


When we come back, a diplomatic crisis greets Hillary Clinton on her trip to China. Did the U.S. do the right thing in the case of blind activist, Chen Guangcheng? Our panel weighs in next.


GIGOT: Big drama in Beijing this week as a prominent dissident escaped house arrest and south refuge in the United States embassy on the eave of a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The U.S. says it negotiated blind activist, Chen Guangcheng's release and a guarantee of safe treatment. But Chen late said that China threatened his family if he did not leave the embassy and the United States urged him to make a decision quickly. Now he fears for his family's safety and he wants asylum in America. And it looks like he may get his wish with a visa to study in the United States.

So what does the episode tell us about modern China and about Obama's China policy?

Bret, dramatic escape. He climbs over walls to escape house arrest, injures himself, gets driven by heroic colleagues in the human rights community 300 miles to Beijing and stays in safe houses for a while before they say he has to go to the embassy for safety. What does this whole episode tell us about China?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN POLICY COLUMNIST: During the Cold War, getting into the embassy gates would have been the happy ending. But now, it doesn't work out that way.


What it tells us about China is that contrary to the school of thought that here is a country that is ascendant, that is increasingly confident that it will be the second great power of the 21st century, this is a regime that is terrified of blind legal activists who are living under house arrest in little villages.


Regimes that are afraid of a single person, the way this regime is, are not as powerful as they seem.

GIGOT: Mary --


GIGOT: Good ahead.

HENNINGER: I just want to make one quick point to what Bret said. The dilemma for China, under these circumstances, being this hugely important country, a very large country, you cannot conduct your internal policy as though you were Venezuela or Cuba, which is what they are doing here. A country of this importance cannot operate that way. And the Chinese government has not figured out how to come to terms with its role in the world and the reality of people like this.

GIGOT: Mary, what do you think the way the United States has handled this week?

O'GRADY: It seems like once Chen got in the embassy, he was -- there -- it was bad timing for the U.S. because Hillary was going there to have the economic dialogue, and I think he was rushed. I think it turns out looking like a case of the blind leading the blind. They did not really know what they were doing. They felt like they were under a lot of pressure. And I think they ended up saying to him, you have to make a decision right now. And that's really doesn't look very good.

STEPHENS: And it's such a break with the best American traditions. In 1956, a Hungarian cardinal named Mindszenty, during the Hungarian Revolution, sought sanctuary in the U.S. embassy, found it, and lived in the embassy for 15 years. 20 years ago, after Tiananmen Square, a Chinese scientist named Fang also found sanctuary in the embassy and lived there a year. That was eventually -- that stand off was eventually resolved by the first Bush administration and by Henry Kissinger. Why was it so urgent for the Obama administration to get this done in six days?


GIGOT: They said -- the administration says, that, in fact, Chen had said he did not want to go to the United States. He wanted to stay in China. So once they negotiated his safe treatment, he was willing -- he, under his volition, was willing to leave because he was going to be reunited with his wife and with his daughter.

O'GRADY: The question, Paul, is -- the question is whether he was rushed into making that decision. And he did not have much information from the outside. He didn't know what the circumstances that his wife was living under, which were apparently pretty harsh in the last couple of weeks. He didn't know about that until he was out and that is when he got worried.

GIGOT: And it could be -- was it right for the United States to trust the assurances of a Chinese government that, yes, let him come out. We'll let him study in another city, get away from those local thugs, or was it an assumption, look, the Beijing government was complicit in this all along?

HENNINGER: I would say the last. I don't think there would be any expectation whatever that Chen was going to be allowed to go somewhere far away as they said in China and live in peace, because that is not the way the Chinese operate.

And as far as the U.S. government goes, they came over there, Secretary Geithner and Clinton, with an agenda on other things, which they considered important. Mr. Chen is what someone called once called an inconvenient truth, OK? This is what happens in China and it happened to land right in the middle of their meetings with the Chinese.

GIGOT: But, Bret, can you, as the United States, allow any dissident to come to the embassy and seek asylum -- how many can you let come in and say, yes, I want asylum? Can we take everyone?

STEPHENS: Well, we can take as many as we possibly can. That's what the United States is about. That is why they had Lady Liberty during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations 22 years ago. If we fail at that, we are doing ourselves a disservice, we're doing our values a disservice, we're doing the Chinese people a similar kind disservice. That is what we stand for. Everyone understands this. He wasn't going to the Russian embassy. He wasn't going to the Cuban embassy. He was going to the American embassy. We have to honor that mission.

GIGOT: Point of pride, should be for most Americans, that they keep coming to the American embassy.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week. Dan, first to you.

HENNINGER: Well, Paul, the president of the United States was at White House Correspondents Dinner last weekend and he had some remarks about the Secret Service scandal. Let's take a listen.


OBAMA: I really do enjoy attending these dinners. In fact, I had a lot more material prepared but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew.



HENNINGER: Well, sure, everyone laughed and I suspect they then said to themselves, why am I laughing at this. Here you have Secret Service agents out there thinking this it is no big deal to solicit hookers. And why should she not think that, when the president of the United States thinks it is a joke?



O'GRADY: This is a hit for the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who upheld the Second Amendment this week. The GOP convention is in Tampa, as you know, this summer. And the mayor wanted to put a ban on guns in the whole city. Governor Scott said, look, there is a ban around the convention center, and that's enough. People get to carry their guns.




STEPHENS: This is a miss for Elizabeth Warren, or as her best friends like to call her, Tonto Schwartz. The former consumer advocate for the Obama administration, now running for Senate in Massachusetts, made a claim at one point in her university career that she was a Native American. This is transparently false, although some genealogists say she may be one- thirty-second Native American. She says she knows it because it is part of her family lore. Part of my family lore is that I am the last emperor of Russia --


-- and I would love to stay in the Winter Palace, but the different is I know that that's a lie.

GIGOT: Would that get you a slot on the Harvard faculty, Bret?


OK. All right.

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at and be sure to visit us on the web at

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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