NBC's Gregory Warns Obama: People 'Recoiled' at Bush 'Talking Tough and Projecting American Power'

On Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, moderator David Gregory appeared to caution President Obama against aggressively confronting Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Teeing up left-wing Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, Gregory declared: "Look, part of the Bush era that a lot of people recoiled against was the idea of talking tough and projecting American power as if some how feeling better about that makes the world better." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Brown replied: "Absolutely. I mean, there's no need to just go off and be bellicose. And then it's like, 'Now what?' Marco Rubio actually said, 'Now, you know, Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry should go immediately to Kiev.' And you think, 'Well, what then?' You know, you have to have this follow-up."

At the top of the panel discussion, Gregory saw high stakes for the President in the crisis: "This is a conversation about Obama's leadership, pure and simple. This is a major test for whether the rest of the world, particularly bad actors, take him seriously when he says to not do something."

NBC political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd responded by describing the pressure on Obama to act: "Putin acts, Obama warns. Putin acts, Obama warns. I mean, this is a pattern that he [obama] can't afford to stay in here and just continue to warn....I think that they know that he's got to act, no more just issuing very harshly-worded statements." It was then that Gregory pushed back against "projecting American power."

Brown observed: "What I do think does seem to keep outfoxing Obama is a real reading of who Putin really is. It's almost as if Putin is brilliant, really. I mean, he's sort of outfoxing Obama all the time. He's very clear. And the reason that he wins in a way is that he's the only one who knows what he thinks. He's utterly clear. He's clear, he wants to increase Russian power."

Moments later, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker noted: "I agree completely with Tina. I think Putin looked into President Obama's eyes and he saw his soul. And President Obama doesn't like conflict at all....Obama has drawn the red line, he's moved back from that. Putin knows that and everybody else sees that. So he's really weakening our position, I think, when he says there are going to be costs. It's sort of like putting arms akimbo and threatening a timeout."


Here is a transcript of the March 2 exchange:

10:56 AM ET

(...)

DAVID GREGORY: This is a conversation about Obama's leadership, pure and simple. This is a major test for whether the rest of the world, particularly bad actors, take him seriously when he says to not do something, Chuck Todd.

In The Washington Post editorial that I've been looking at this morning, their lead editorial says this, "It took Vladimir Putin less than a day to trample on President Obama's warning against a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. The U.S. now faces a naked act of armed aggression in the center of Europe by a Russian regime that is signaling its intent to steamroller this U.S. president and his allies. Mr. Obama must demonstrate that can't be done." And he said "Don't do it" for ten days, but it was done.

CHUCK TODD: And this is not the first time with Putin. Putin acts, Obama warns. Putin acts, Obama warns. I mean, this is a pattern that he [obama] can't afford to stay in here and just continue to warn. You heard John Kerry, more warnings. I've talked to some folks, there are some -- there are some moves they could make and could make right now. They're not active war moves.

They are immediate economic sanctions. Russia's largest banks are state-owned banks. You could choke them economically in a hurry. You've got the largest energy company in Russia, it is a close pal of Putin. There are things they could do. The idea of kicking out of the G8, just do it. Just suspend it, move, start the meeting.

That was the sense that you're wondering why isn't the President out there saying, "Okay, we have made these moves. He's done this." You know, before it was trying to play some diplomacy. But they've got this 24-hour, and you hear John Kerry with more warnings. I think that they know that he's got to act, no more just issuing very harshly-worded statements.

DAVID GREGORY: But Tina Brown look, part of the Bush era that a lot of people recoiled against was the idea of talking tough and projecting American power as if some how feeling better about that makes the world better.

TINA BROWN: Absolutely. I mean, there's no need to just go off and be bellicose. And then it's like, "Now what?" I mean, Marco Rubio actually said, "Now, you know, Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry should go immediately to Kiev." And you think, "Well, what then?" You know, you have to have this follow-up.

What I do think does seem to keep outfoxing Obama is a real reading of who Putin really is. It's almost as if Putin is brilliant, really. I mean, he's sort of outfoxing Obama all the time. He's very clear. And the reason that he wins in a way is that he's the only one who knows what he thinks. He's utterly clear. He's clear, he wants to increase Russian power.

TODD: He doesn't care what other people think.

BROWN: He doesn't care.

TODD: That's the-

BROWN: And he doesn't care what other people think. I mean, we say, "Well, we can't do that. I mean, that's not the way, you know, people in the real, sophisticated, foreign-policy world behave." Well guess what? He's not that guy.

GREGORY: Unfortunately, it's not Match.com, you know? He's really secure with who he is.

[LAUGHTER]

BROWN: Yeah, he's a brutal, crude, you know, cunning, power-enhancing, ruthless guy.

GREGORY: And these, Kathleen, have -- these are issues that tend to overwhelm a presidency when he's fighting somebody like this on numerous fronts.

KATHLEEN PARKER: Yeah, I agree completely with Tina. I think Putin looked into President Obama's eyes and he saw his soul. And President Obama doesn't like conflict at all. And you know, Putin is, as I think John Kerry said, he's clearly -- well no, I'm sorry, I disagree with John Kerry on this. He said that you can't separate this, you can't make this a U.S./Russian chess game.

But I don't think you can unequivocally say that at all. I think our allies are clearly watching us. Other non-friendly people are looking at how we handle these things. And Obama has drawn the red line, he's moved back from that. Putin knows that and everybody else sees that. So he's really weakening our position, I think, when he says there are going to be costs. It's sort of like putting arms akimbo and threatening a timeout. So this really is a test for him. And as Chuck said, there are things he can do immediately rather than just these little sort of mild threats.

(...)

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC