CNN's Chris Cuomo Surprisingly Grills Kerry Over Obama's International 'Weakness'

John Kerry appeared on all three network news programs, Wednesday, but it was an interview on CNN that provided a surprise. New Day anchor Chris Cuomo actually grilled the Secretary of State on pulling troops out of Afghanistan and whether Barack Obama is showing "weakness" internationally in dealing with countries such as Russia. 

On the ending of America's military presence in Afghanistan, the host pressed, "How is it a way forward when, as you well know, as soon as the U.S. leaves there, the chances that the place descends back into chaos are very high? Isn't that backwards, not forwards?" A testy Kerry complained that Cuomo was trying to "find the most negative, gloomy prediction." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]

The journalist followed up by wondering if, a year from now, "do you think life on the ground is better or worse than it is today?"  

Kerry insisted that the administration has had a "very careful, calculated, calibrated strategy" to deal with the situation in Ukraine. Cuomo scoffed: 

CUOMO: But it's sometimes about the words you choose, right? You say it's a calculated, calibrated, it didn't provoke Putin. But others look at it and say it was weak, that lines have been crossed all over the place. And that exactly because you didn't push Putin, you allowed him to run roughshod and really almost threaten the existence of NATO in Ukraine. 

An irritated Kerry shot back: "That is absurd and it's absolutely wrong on its face."

While nowhere near as tough as Cuomo, Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos also appeared skeptical about leaving Afghanistan. He noted:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's drawn a pretty harsh response from some of your former Republican colleagues in the Senate. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte called it a monumental mistake. They say "it's a triumph of politics over strategy that will embolden our enemies." Your response?  

The host continued, querying, "This has been America's longest war. Is it ending in victory?" 

On NBC's Today, Savannah Guthrie hit the Secretary of State on the same topic: 

GUTHRIE: Let me stop you right there, because of course, sir, that is the hope. But there is no guarantee that the Taliban won't be on the rise again, that they won't give that safe haven to Al Qaeda once gain. And you think about why we went in there in the first place in 2001. All the bloodshed since then. How does that strike you personally, that all those gains could be lost? 

CBS This Morning anchor Charlie Rose wondered if Obama's actions would lead the United States into a new "isolationism." 

CHARLIE ROSE: Let me go to a speech you made at Yale at which you said “we cannot allow a hangover from the excessive  intervention of the last decade (that’s Iraq and Afghanistan) to lead to an excess of isolationism in this decade.” Are you and the president on the same page because the president has said clearly we want to be out of Afghanistan by 2016. We'll cut the 9,000 troops in half by 2015 and all them except embassy protection by 2016. Isn't that a kind of isolationism? 

[Thanks to MRC interns Connor Williams, Jackie Seal and Laura Flint for transcripts.]

A partial transcript of the May 28 New Day segment is below: 


CHRIS CUOMO: The idea of withdrawing from Afghanistan is going to be called by the President a way forward. How is it a way forward when, as you well know, as soon as the U.S. leaves there, the chances that the place descends back into chaos are very high? Isn't that backwards, not forwards? 

KERRY: No. Look, Chris, if you want to find the most negative, gloomy prediction, one can find it and lock onto it. The fact is every step of the way since 2009, president Obama has put in place a strategy that has thus far worked. He set a target for the Afghans to take control of their security. They did, and they've done much better than everybody thought. He set a target for them to have an election and to provide the security and the planning and execution for that election. They did. They did so very successfully. Life is changing every day in Afghanistan, and the fact is the Taliban did not succeed in interrupting that election the way they thought they would. Now the president is setting a date for them to assume full responsibility for their security in the nation, for the management of their military when they will be trained and fully equipped. It is only by setting dates that we have been able to meet these milestones. And if you left it open-ended, if you said to the Afghans, we'll be here as long as it takes, you can absolutely bet your bottom dollar, and it probably would be the bottom dollar of the U.S., that they'll take just as long as they want to. So what the president is doing is appropriately empowering the Afghans, giving them the opportunity to take control of their future, and that's the best way for them to step up and do so. 

CUOMO: A year from now, do you think life on the ground in Afghanistan is better or worse than it is today? 

KERRY: Well, we obviously hope it's going to be better, Chris, and everything that has been laid down by the military in their judgment suggests that it will be. The president is not doing this in some, pulling it out of the sky, here is an idea. This has been based on months and months of evaluation with the diplomats, with the allies and with our military. Our military commander, General Dunford, believes this is what he needs. This is done on the best judgment of the people working the issue and we believe it affords the Afghans the opportunity to take control of their future. You have to measure this from where we were. When we started -- when the president came in in 2009, there was no policy in Afghanistan. We were adrift. The president put in place a surge. We had as many as 180,000 troops there. Now we're down to 30,000. We're going to go down to the 10,000 and then down lower and I'm confident that the Afghans will continue to step up and assume responsibility. You also ook at other challenges. In the Ukraine, the President put in place a very careful, calculated, calibrated strategy to bring the Europeans along, to not go so far that you provoke Putin, but put in place a policy that could work. 

CUOMO: Mr. Secretary -- 

KERRY: Russia's economy has felt the impact. We've had a successful election there. We're moving to a transition. President Putin has decided to withdraw some of the troops. We hope this can move in a better direction. In fact, with slow, steady, confident programs, we're having an impact, there and elsewhere. 

CUOMO: But it's sometimes about the words you choose, right? You say it's a calculated, calibrated, it didn't provoke Putin. Others look at it and say it was weak, that lines have been crossed all over the place. And that exactly because you didn't push Putin, you allowed him to run roughshod and really almost threaten the existence of NATO in Ukraine. 

KERRY: That's absurd and absolutely wrong on its face, Chris. I'm just telling you, tt's plain wrong. NATO has been strengthened. NATO has been awakened. NATO is doing a full assurance program right now with additional troops throughout the NATO countries. The president is going to Poland next Monday, Tuesday. There's a reaffirmation, if you will, of the NATO mission that has come out of what Putin has done. Russia is not playing with the strongest hand. In fact, Russia has been weakened through this. If you look at the amount of money Russia is having to pour into Crimea, if you look at the economy of Russia, they've had huge capital flight. They've had to spend billions of dollars to shore up the rubble. The economy has slowed down, it's clear the opposite of what you just laid out is happening. Putin was threatening to come in with troops. In fact, the troops are now being withdrawn. They've had a successful election for the president of Ukraine. I think the President's policy has worked, the European alliance has been strengthened. The unity between Europe and the United States is what has empowered this election to take place and made it clear to Russia that the West is unified and there will be a very severe price to pay for further interference in Ukraine. I just think that what you've cited is a sort of industry of oppositionists in Washington who always want to find the negative, but it does not comport with the facts on the ground. 

CUOMO: Mr. Secretary, obviously we should all be for optimism. You've given them a lot to work with. Starting with Syria, don't cross this line. Anyway way you want to define the line, it's crossed. The situation is still going on in Syria. The administration likes to cite that 90-plus percent of the chemical weapons is gone, but whatever is still there is by all accounts being used. In Iran, the line.. it just seems the situations don't seem to inspire the confidence you have in them. 

KERRY: Chris, again, you're not dealing with facts. If we had struck with our military for a one or two-day operation in Syria, yes, it would have had an impact for a day or two, but every single one of the chemical weapons that were terrorizing the people of Syria would have still been in Assad's hands. Instead, we struck an agreement which has now succeeded in removing 92% of all of those weapons. The other 8% are under control. They are waiting to be moved as the security situation allows it, and the only weapon that we think may have been used is not one that is automatically included under the chemical weapons convention. It's chlorine. We are investigating that right now, Chris, and if we find there has been a use, there will be consequences. The simple reality is we have done what could not have been done with a strike. We are removing the weapons and taking the threat away. Prime minister Netanyahu of Israel just praised President Obama the other day citing this as an extraordinary accomplishment and one one couldn't have imagined months ago. 

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org