On her Thursday Fox News show, Megyn Kelly interviewed the State Department's Jen Psaki.
Psaki's thankless and impossible task was to defend the administration against former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's assessment that U.S. troops completely left Iraq too early. Video and the damning portions of the transcript follow the jump:
Portions of transcript (full transcript here):
MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Breaking tonight, the president's battle plan in the Middle East takes a major hit as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggests that Mr. Obama's own actions are directly to blame for the chaos we are seeing today.
... It was just weeks ago that when questioned about the vacuum left in Iraq after all U.S. troops left, President Obama declared that removing the troops wasn't his decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 9)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up as if this was my decision.
So, let's just be clear the reason that we did not have a follow on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were -- a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there. And politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KELLY: But Secretary Panetta, who served as both secretary of Defense and CIA director under President Obama, says the Pentagon and the State Department both wanted a residual force, but the president did not.
He writes in his new book, "Worthy Fights" that as he and others were objecting to the complete withdrawal of the troops, quote, "The president's team at the White House pushed back, and the difference is occasionally became heated. And those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests."
Earlier tonight, I spoke with Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department.
KELLY: Thank you very much for being here. We appreciate it.
So, your reaction to that direct accusation by the former CIA director and secretary.
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: ... But what happened in 2011 was that there were two major factors, one was Iraq is a sovereign country. They decide with cooperation with the United States of course what kind of presence there would or wouldn't be. The second is we didn't have the troop protections that we needed. There were legal challenges there. There was a desire to have that go through the parliament. And that just wasn't going to be politically possible.
KELLY: OK. But the reason it wasn't politically possible -- and this is what Mr. Panetta is saying and this is what Secretary Gates said and this is what many have said -- the reason it wasn't possible is because the number of troops being offered by the administration, by President Obama, was so paltry and so under what the Pentagon was recommending, what the State Department was recommending, that it was a joke for Maliki. He couldn't take the political risk of going back to his country and saying, "Hey, give them immunity, they're going to give us 5,000 troops," when our Pentagon was saying," Mr. President, you need to give them at least 24,000, the least option we have available to us is 10,000, but that is not wise." And the president ultimately said, "We'll do five" and Maliki said, "No deal." How do you blame that on Maliki?
PSAKI: Well, look, one, I think a number of people including Secretary Panetta have spoken to that exact question over the course of the last couple of years.
KELLY: He has. And it's not favorable to the president, what he's saying.
... (This is) about accountability, because the President is really very focused on what we do right now about the problem in the Middle East, and that's good. But the question also has to be answered, how did we get here? And you know what people say. They think we got here because the president pulled all of those troops out of Iraq over the recommendations of the generals, over the recommendations of his Pentagon, his Defense secretary, over the recommendations of Bob -- of Gates. And instead of doing what everyone was telling him to do, he pulled us out of there because politically he wanted out of the Middle East.
PSAKI: Megyn, the facts just don't align with that. The fact is none of those individuals you named would have left our troops there without the protections they needed.
KELLY: If he offered more troops they would have gotten the protection. That's their allegation.
PSAKI: We could not force Iraq, a sovereign government, to accept a presence there.
KELLY: If we had offered a greater presence, we would have gotten the immunity.
PSAKI: That is an accounting of what happened three years ago that's just not consistent with what happened three years ago.
KELLY: How so?
PSAKI: There were issues that we couldn't get through. There were issues that did not allow us to have the presence there that was broadly supported including by the president, otherwise secretary of state, the secretary of Defense wouldn't have supported it.
... regardless, even if we had had a presence there, had a residual force there, that would not have prevented and changed the facts that we've seen over the last eight months.
KELLY: That's not what Mr. Panetta says.
PSAKI: We had 150,000 -- 175,000 troops in Iraq during the surge, as you know. There was still a risk from Al Qaeda. They were still having successes on the ground.
KELLY: Much different scenario. But we had basically won the war after those 175,000 troops were there. We had won. The Vice President said that Iraq can go down as the administration's greatest success. Things changed after we did the surge in Iraq. We were doing much better. And then the president's critics say, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory because we pulled out the troops and there was no one there to protect the gains.
PSAKI: But, Megyn, are you arguing that 10,000 troops or 5,000 troops or 25,000 troops would have prevented, would have been able to fight back against ISIL when 150 or 175,000 couldn't have held back entirely Al Qaeda?
KELLY: It's not Megyn Kelly arguing it. It's Leon Panetta who is in a much better position to know. He talks about how, "I voiced to the President that this country could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the United States" if we withdrew all the forces. Isn't that exactly what happened?
... The president when he was running for re-election, Jen, went out there and had a debate with Mitt Romney in which Mitt Romney said, I think you agree with me that we should have had a status of forces agreement that would have left these troops in Iraq. The president denied it. The president didn't say, you're right, I did want one, but Maliki and so on and so forth.
Let me play the exchange for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCT. 22, 2012)
MITT ROMNEY, R-FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement.
OBAMA: That's not true.
ROMNEY: Oh, you didn't? You didn't want a status of forces agreement?
OBAMA: No, what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KELLY: There it is.
... KELLY: Because President Bush was asked even today by our own Brian Kilmeade who interviewed him, about why he didn't withdraw the troops. Why he thought it was important to leave them there. And he referenced with Mr. Bush an earlier prediction he made back in 2007. I want to play the exchange because it just happened today. And get your reaction to it. Stand by.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, "FOX & FRIENDS")
BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST: You knew it in 2007. In fact, this is George Bush, President George Bush in 2007 before the surge. You're trying to tell people we need a surge. And here's why. Here's what you said. And here's how accurate it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 12, 2007)
THEN- PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we're ready, it would be dangerous.
It mean that we would be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we allow a terrorist to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KILMEADE: How did you know?
BUSH: Well, I know the nature of the enemy.
KELLY: Wasn't President Bush exactly right?
PSAKI: Well, Megyn, it's hard for me to believe that President Bush would have sent -- left troops in Iraq without the protections they needed. It's hard for me to believe that he would have been able to convince the Iraqi government to have a presence there when they clearly didn't want to have one there.
Jen Psaki knows what George Bush would have done. Really?
Truly rendered history will note that U.S. troops did indeed achieved victory in Iraq, and will also remember Tim Arango's summation of the situation in July 2011 at the New York Times, wherein he disclosed that everyone wanted to figure out how to keep U.S. troops in Iraq:
In Shadow of Death, Iraq and U.S. Tiptoe Around a Deadline
The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is privately telling American officials that it wants their Army to stay here after this year.
The Americans are privately telling their Iraqi counterparts that they want to stay.
Everyone, that is, except President Obama and high-up White House officials.
Almost no one in the press seems to be willing to challenge this president and his White House on its premature withdrawal from Iraq except the real journalists at Fox. Perhaps this is why the network ended the most recent quarter at Number 1 among all cable channels, not merely the ones devoted to news.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.