Wolf Blitzer Goes Easy on Obama; Ignores CNN's Poll, Kerry's Gaffe

In his Monday interview with President Obama, CNN's Wolf Blitzer failed to ask any tough questions of the President. In contrast, Fox News's Chris Wallace grilled Obama over the administration's handling of the Syria conflict.

For instance, Wallace brought up the lack of popular support for a military intervention, Secretary of State John Kerry's comment that a military intervention would be "unbelievably small," and Republican criticisms that the administration has failed to make a convincing case for military action. Blitzer mentioned none of these things, though, simply teeing Obama up with soft questions.

In fact, Blitzer ignored CNN's own poll showing almost 6 in 10 Americans opposed to limited military action, despite Obama trying to push for a military intervention.

When Blitzer mentioned Kerry's idea that Syria could hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to the international authorities, he didn't question if the Syrians would comply or could be trusted on the matter. He simply asked, "is it possible this could avert a U.S. military strike on Syria?"

And Blitzer didn't challenge the ability of the United Nations to be successful in collecting and destroying the weapons:

"Because Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary-general, says not only control the stockpile of chemical weapons, but then go ahead and destroy them. He's ready to take that to the U.N. Security Council. That's a lot better than deterring the Syrians from going ahead and using these chemical weapons."

In contrast, Wallace was tough on the President, citing high opposition to an intervention in Syria and asking "how much responsibility do you think you bear for the opposition?"

"Uh, for two years, you said we did not have a direct national security interest in Syria," Wallace noted to the President. "Uh, you talk more about what you're not going to do in Syria than what you are going to do. And today, John Kerry said that any attack would be unbelievably small."

Below is a transcript of the interview, which aired on The Situation Room on September 9 at 6:01 p.m. EDT:

[6:01]

WOLF BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks so much for joining us.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Thank you.

BLITZER: This latest idea floated by the Secretary of State, John Kerry, picked up by the Russians, is it possible this could avert a U.S. military strike on Syria?

OBAMA: It's possible if it's real. And, you know, I think it's certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we have been asking for, not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years, because these chemical weapons pose a significant threat to all nations and to the United States in particular.

That's why 98 percent of humanity has said we don't use these. That protects our troops. And it protects children like the ones that we saw in those videos inside of Syria. So, it is a potentially positive development. I have to say that it's unlikely that we would have arrived at that point where there were even public statements like that without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons use inside of Syria.

But we're going to run this to ground. And John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious? You know, one reason that this may have a chance of success is that even Syria's allies like Iran detest chemical weapons. Iran, you know, unfortunately was the target of chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein back during the Iraq-Iran War.

And so we may be able to arrive at a consensus in which it doesn't solve the underlying problems of a civil war in Syria, but it does solve the problem that I'm trying to focus on right now, which is making sure that you don't have over 400 children gassed indiscriminately by these chemical weapons.

BLITZER: Because Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary-General, says not only control the stockpile of chemical weapons, but then go ahead and destroy them. He's ready to take that to the U.N. Security Council. That's a lot better than deterring the Syrians from going ahead and using these chemical weapons.

OBAMA: Absolutely. And that's why we're going to take this seriously. But I have to consistently point out that we have not seen these kinds of gestures up until now. And, in part, the fact that the U.S. administration and I have said we are serious about this I think has prompted some interesting conversations. And these are conversations that I have had directly with Mr. Putin. When I was at the G20, we had some time to discuss this. And I believe that Mr. Putin does not see the use of chemical weapons as a good thing inside of Syria or anyplace else.

And so it's possible that we can get a breakthrough, but it's going to have to be followed up on. And we don't want just a stalling or delaying tactic to put off the pressure that we have on there right now. We have to maintain this pressure, which is why I will still be speaking to the nation tomorrow about why I think this is so important.

BLITZER: Is this Bashar al-Assad's last chance?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that it is important for Assad to understand that the chemical weapons ban which has been in place is one that the entire civilized world just about respects and observes.

It's something that protects our troops, even when we're in the toughest war theaters, from being threatened by these chemical weapons. It's something that protects women and children and civilians, because these weapons by definition are indiscriminate. They don't just target somebody in uniform.

And, you know, I suspect that some of Assad's allies recognize the mistake he made in using these weapons. And it may be that he is under pressure from them as well. You know, again, this doesn't solve the underlying terrible conflict inside of Syria.

But if we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference. On the other hand, if we don't maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will actually get the kind of agreement I would like to see.

BLITZER: You're being seen right now on CNN and CNN International around the world, including in Damascus. What I would like you to do, Mr. President, if you're amenable to doing it, look into the camera, talk directly to President Bashar al-Assad, tell him specifically what you think he must do to avert a U.S. military strike.

OBAMA: You know, I don't need to talk in the camera. I suspect he's got people who will be watching this.

BLITZER: He's probably watching it himself.

(Laughter)

OBAMA: We have been very clear about what we expect. And that is, do not use chemical weapons. Control the chemical weapons. And now, because we have seen Assad's willingness to use chemical weapons, we are going to have to go further and give the international community assurances that they will not be used, potentially by getting them out of there, at minimum, making sure that international control over those chemical weapons takes place.

That can be accomplished. And it does not solve the broader political situation. I would say to Mr. Assad, we need a political settlement so that you are not slaughtering your own people, and, by the way, encouraging some elements of the opposition to engage in some terrible behavior as well.

You know, what I'm thinking about is, right now, though, how do we make sure that we can verify that we do not have chemical weapons that can be used not only inside of Syria, but potentially could drift outside of Syria?

BLITZER: He said in an interview with Charlie Rose that if you, the United States, attack, launch military strikes, he said he will respond. "Anything" – he said, "expect anything," not only from him, but from his allies. That sounds like a threat to the United States.

OBAMA: Yeah, Mr. Assad doesn't have a lot of capability. He has capability relative to children. He has capability relative to an opposition that is still getting itself organized and are not professional, trained fighters. He doesn't have a credible means to threaten the United States. His allies, Iran and Hezbollah, could potentially engage in asymmetrical strikes against us, but, frankly, the kind of threats that they could pose against us are typical of the kinds of threats that we are dealing with around the world and that I have spoken of recently, which is embassies that are being threatened, U.S. personnel in the region.

Those are threats that we deal with on an ongoing basis. They are always of concern. Obviously, we saw the situation in Yemen just a few weeks ago, where we wanted to respond by getting some of our folks out of there. But the notion that Mr. Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case.

(...)

[6:26]

BLITZER: One final quick question – 9/11, the anniversary this Wednesday, should Americans expect some sort of attack?

OBAMA: I think that we are always on heightened alert on 9/11. And we will continue to be. What we have seen over the last decade is because of the heroism of our troops, because of enormous sacrifices of them and their families, America is safer than it was right before 9/11.

But we still have threats out there, particularly outside of the homeland. And we also have lone wolf threats, as we saw during the Boston Marathon bombings. So we have to remain vigilant. We are not going to be able to protect ourselves 100 percent of the time against every threat, but what we can do is make sure that we understand these threats are real, we have to be prepared, but not overreact in ways that potentially compromise our values and our ideals over the long term.

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much.

OBAMA: I appreciate it. Thank you, Wolf.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014