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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Unrest in Cairo; President on Libya Attacks; Mideast Violence Now Campaign Issue
Aired September 12, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, breaking news. You're looking at these live pictures. Protests on the streets of Cairo, not far from the United States embassy, where rioters tore down the American flag yesterday. We're going to have much more on that in a minute.
Meanwhile, flags at the White House and at the capitol flying at half staff today in memory of the United States ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans killed last night at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. President Obama has ordered that flags fly at half staff across the United States and at embassies around the world until Sunday night.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in for Piers Morgan.
Earlier today the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, blasted President Obama for what he characterized as, quote, "an apology for America's values" over the storming of the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An apology for America's values is never the right course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The President fired right back in an interview tonight with "CBS News."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later, and as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that. That ,you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And there are late-breaking developments right now. Two U.S. Navy warships are moving toward the coast of Libya and 50 Marines are on the ground in Tripoli right now.
CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is there, she's on the ground for us. She's joining us via broadband. Ian Lee is in Cairo for us.
Jomana, let me start with you. What is the latest in Libya?
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we're hearing here from government officials is that they have started an investigation into this incident to try and figure out what happened. We have heard conflicting reports from Libyan officials on what actually went down yesterday at the consulate in Benghazi. But strong words of condemnation coming from the Libyan government. Senior officials today saying that this is not representative of the Libyan people, of the new Libya.
This is not how they want to treat their guests. They are trying to reassure the United States and the international community that they will do their best and that they will protect foreign interests here in Libya, but this is going to be something -- the hard -- this is not the first attack on foreign interests here and on the U.S. consulate specifically, so we're going to have to see what action is really taken by the Libyan government --
BLITZER: All right, we're losing our connection, unfortunately, with Jomana Karadsheh. We're going to get back to you, Jomana, stand by.
Let me go to Ian Lee right now, though. He's in Cairo watching what's going on.
Ian, while we speak, there were protesters, they're on the streets not far from the United States embassy in Cairo, near Tahrir Square. The police are there. These are live pictures. Our viewers are seeing right now. What is going on in Cairo?
IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what's going on is we have a hundred -- a few hundred protesters and the police battling it out. And this has started a little bit around midnight, a little after midnight. The protesters and the police. The protesters tried to break down a barricade that the police were putting up. The police responded with tear gas. Everything went chaotic from there.
We have police and protesters throwing rocks at each other. What we're hearing are dozens of protesters are injured. Six police officers are also injured in the clashes. But really what we see is a stalemate between the protesters and the police. Neither side is going to give up. The police really can't give up because if they do, the protesters will go to the embassy. But the protesters don't seem to be willing to give up either. So right now a real stalemate on the streets of Cairo.
BLITZER: Have they stepped up the Egyptian military, the Egyptian police, security surrounding that huge U.S. embassy compound in Cairo? Because those guys were invisible yesterday when these protesters, this mob stormed that 50-foot wall, went in there and started burning the American flag.
LEE: They have definitely have stepped up their presence around the embassy. Yesterday we didn't see any vehicles, any of the police vehicles that they typically use during crowd control. These kind of vehicles, if you see the video, you'll see these -- these vehicles charge -- drive toward the protesters. The protesters will scatter. They'll shoot some tear gas into the protesters, trying to scatter them. But the protesters will regroup and go right back at the -- at the police. But right now there seems to be a buffer zone between the two, rocks flying.
Once in a while you'll have either group surge.
BLITZER: Ian Lee, stand by. President Obama speaking right now to a group in Las Vegas. I want to just listen and hear what he's saying.
OBAMA: We want to send out heartfelt prayers to their loved ones who grieve today.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
You know, it's a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy, sometimes even the freedoms we take for granted, they are only sustained because there are people like those who were killed, who were willing to stand up for those freedoms. Were willing to fight for those freedoms. In some cases, to lay down their lives for those freedoms. So tonight let's think of them and thank them.
As for the ones we lost last night, I want to assure you, we will bring their killers to justice.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
BLITZER: The President of the United States making a strong vow right there. Much more on what he just said, what it means. Stand by.
I want to bring in the Middle East expert, Robin Wright, right now. She was a long-time friend of Ambassador Stevens. She's a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. Also Tim Roemer is here, the former U.S. ambassador to India, a former -- a foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign.
Thanks to both of you for coming in.
When the President of the United States, Robin, says justice will be served, these killers will be brought to justice, that says to me the U.S. -- if the Libyan government doesn't find them, the U.S. will find them, arrest them, detain them, and kill them if necessary. That's what it says to me. What does it say to you?
ROBIN WRIGHT, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, I think the United States is already playing a role in sending FBI forces to help investigate, find out who was responsible. But I think the thing that was so striking about Chris was that he would have wanted them to be brought to justice under a rule of law that reflected the transition Libya has made from a truly autocratic state where justice was never guaranteed to one where you could see these people tried in a fair courtroom and sentenced.
BLITZER: You knew him well. WRIGHT: But -- I knew him well.
BLITZER: For how many years have you known him?
WRIGHT: At least 20.
BLITZER: Twenty years.
WRIGHT: I mean, we go back a long way. And he was a wonderful man who had a sense of the streets as well as the elites. And despite the security restrictions that limit so many diplomats, he was always willing to go out. And he saw Libya through three -- all three transition phases. Two years under Moammar Gadhafi, then as the liaison chief in Benghazi for a year and then as ambassador to Tripoli. And --
BLITZER: He was the liaison from the United States government to the rebels who were fighting Gadhafi. And he worked hard to get rid of Gadhafi through these rebels?
WRIGHT: Absolutely. And he has reached out and he really knows the streets. The Libyan people. In the same way he's known in every place I've ever known him, he has been one who's really been engaged. And when he looks for what role the United States should play, listens to what the people on the ground are saying, not just --
BLITZER: And he was fluent in Arabic, a career diplomat, spent 20 years in the foreign service, and so you knew him, so this is important. What would he want the United States to do towards Libya in the aftermath of what has happened, this tragic killing of him and three of his colleagues?
WRIGHT: I think he'd say not -- do not waiver, that the United States was on a course to try to help facilitate a very traumatic transition in many of these countries. And he was doing things in trying to help establish the rule of law. Helping disarm the militias, promoting the kind of development or the access to technology and know-how so that Libya could build what is potentially a very rich country into something that's been desperate for decades.
And this is a tremendous contribution he had made, and that's why he's a loss not just to the American people and to the State Department, but also to the Libyan people.
BLITZER: Yes. Our heart goes out to him. I interviewed the Libyan ambassador to the United States earlier today, Ali Aujali. He was almost crying just talking about him.
Now, Tim Roemer, you were the United States ambassador to India, you served in the Obama administration, former member of Congress from Indiana. You know, people don't realize how dangerous it can be to be a foreign service officer in a country like Libya, for example, or even in Egypt right now. You served in India, where it's relatively quiet.
TIM ROEMER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO INDIA: Well, that's not true. After Mumbai, several terrorist attacks had taken place in India. There is high level of security --
BLITZER: But they didn't go after the U.S. embassy in Mumbai.
ROEMER: They went after Americans in Mumbai.
BLITZER: They went after -- at hotels.
ROEMER: And six Americans were killed there. But, you know, what you were talking to Robin about, Wolf, I've been blessed and fortunate enough in my life to have a close family but also have circles of professional families, Congress, 9/11 Commission, ambassador family. It breaks all of our hearts to see what happened to Chris. Chris was a fine public servant. Somebody who worked so hard to bring democracy and freedom to Libya.
I think Lincoln once wrote to a mother that he thought had lost several sons in the civil war, this is too heavy a burden to hoist on the altar of freedom. Chris really worked for that freedom for the people of Libya, served us well. And I think the President is doing the right thing. You just heard him say it's a time for grieving, for prayer. It's a time to make sure our people overseas are safe, and it's a time to seek justice.
And I remind you, Wolf, that when the President was doing the debates as a Senate candidate in 2008, he was ridiculed for saying, I'm going to go get bin Laden, wherever I find him, even if it's in Pakistan, and people said you can't do it. He did it.
BLITZER: And --
ROEMER: He will go after --
BLITZER: And I know you're working hard to get him --
ROEMER: He will go after --
BLITZER: Re-elected right now and the Obama campaign relies on you on a lot of these foreign policy issues. But the question is, as a member -- you were in the 9/11 Commission. Does this look, I mean these two events, in Cairo, storming of the U.S. embassy, in Benghazi, the U.S. diplomatic epic (ph) mission there, storming on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, does it look like, A, these were coordinated, and do you feel it has the fingerprints of some sort of al Qaeda-related organization out there?
ROEMER: Short answer is, Wolf, we don't know enough yet. There are certainly affiliates of al Qaeda in Libya. There is certainly a lot of arms and groups that have access to arms in Libya right now. I think it's a very serious time to investigate this, get at all the facts, keep politics out of this. You know, I was talking to you off camera about 9/11 and what happened after 9/11. I know Mayor Giuliani is going to be on your show later. There were no accusations and no politics involved in that for weeks and months afterwards. We wanted to heal, we wanted to take care of the families, we wanted to grieve.
BLITZER: So you're criticizing Mitt Romney for making that statement.
ROEMER: No, no, no. I am saying, in America, there is a time to grieve and pray and take care of the families of these poor people that died. That's this time now. And for the President, as our commander in chief, to secure our embassy and consulates there and other places in the world with Secretary Clinton, to make sure if warships need to be in the area, to take those proactive steps, to make sure Ann Patterson in Egypt has all she needs --
BLITZER: She's the U.S. ambassador.
ROEMER: She's the U.S. ambassador in Cairo. And to seek justice and make sure this does not happen again.
BLITZER: But bottom line is, you're saying that Mitt Romney should have remained silent. Is that what you're saying?
ROEMER: I'm not getting into politics, Wolf. I am saying after 9/11 we did not enter into politics and we should not enter into politics now.
BLITZER: Your book, "Rock the Casbah," excellent book. Do you believe al Qaeda had a role in this one way or another, Robin?
WRIGHT: Well, it looks like extremists may have been involved in the attack in Benghazi. It looks like Salafi, the ultra conservative force that's just emerging into politics, may have been the leaders of the attack in Cairo. What we have to understand is that the vast majority of people in both of these countries have signaled they want no part of violence.
When you look at a country like Egypt with 85 million people, you had 2,000 of them maybe at the embassy yesterday, 500 in Tahrir Square tonight. In Libya, again, a minority. That the vast majority, tens of millions of people are sending a very different message and that is we don't want to be involved in extremism.
They're putting their lives on the line and try to bring about democratic change, a place where there is a sense of justice and participation for all.
BLITZER: Robin Wright, thanks for coming in.
Ambassador Roemer, thanks to you as well.
ROEMER: Great to see you, Wolf. BLITZER: When we come back, America's mayor as he's called, Rudy Giuliani, he led New York City through the worst terror attack in its history. Tonight he will weigh in on the latest deadly attack in Libya.
BLITZER: This is the scene in Cairo. Protesters outside the United States embassy. It's -- as you can see, it's a very, very tense situation. The violence in Libya and in Egypt and the President's response quickly becoming a big campaign issue in the race for the White House.
With us now the former New York City mayor and one-time Republican presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani, who's supporting Mitt Romney.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the political fallout from this awful situation in Egypt and in Libya. First of all, listen to what Mitt Romney said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: A terrible course to -- for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response to the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America's values is never the right course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Obama later responded to that in an interview with "CBS News." Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There's a broader lesson to be learned here. And -- you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that. That, you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them.
STEVE KROFT, CBS NEWS: Do you think it was irresponsible?
OBAMA: I'll let the American people judge that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Mayor, there are plenty of Republicans who say, you know, maybe Mitt Romney should have held back while this crisis was unfolding before going on the attack against the President. What do you say?
GIULIANI: I think the point that he made is almost a self-evident one. I mean, after all, I think it was the Obama administration that pulled the statement back, so it's pretty clear that the statement was a highly irresponsible statement. To try to create a moral equivalent between some independent film that the government had nothing to do with, that is insulting and probably shouldn't have been done.
To try to create a moral equivalent between that and violent protests and burning buildings and then ultimately, you know, killing people, you just don't do that. So I think that --
BLITZER: But in fairness, in fairness, Mr. Mayor, that statement by the U.S. embassy in Cairo was issued before there was the kind of violence that you're talking about. I'll read that statement, just put it up on the screen.
"The embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
What they say at the U.S. embassy there was they were simply trying to diffuse what clearly was emerging as a potentially volatile situation.
GIULIANI: I think at the time it was issued, though, there was violent protests going on. And the question is, do you -- do you stem violent protests by making a condescending kind of statement, a kind of appeasing statement that shouldn't have been made at all. Our government doesn't have to apologize for this, we didn't do it, or do you take a much stronger position. So I think the proof is in the pudding. The State Department --
BLITZER: We did do a -- we did do a timeline. We went back -- that statement originally was released by the U.S. embassy before the violence in Cairo, certainly before the violence in Benghazi was known.
GIULIANI: Right. Right.
BLITZER: Although they re-tweeted it later. The State Department quickly disavowed it, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Ann Patterson, was in -- here in Washington, she had nothing to do with it. Yet Romney went out and not only issued that tough statement last night but this morning at the news conference he doubled down on it and people are saying maybe he should have held back.
GIULIANI: I don't see why he should have held back. I think the statement was irresponsible. It was a terrible mistake. The State Department withdrew it, which kind of makes clear that it was a terrible mistake. And Mitt Romney didn't say anything suggesting that the President shouldn't take action or should take action or kind of interfere in the decision-making that the President makes here.
And the real -- the real end result of this is going to be what kind of action, not what kind of words, but what kind of action does the President of the United States take here to the -- you know to what is -- I don't want to escalate this, but this is -- you know this and I know this. This was an act of war.
BLITZER: Was this an al Qaeda operation?
GIULIANI: That's what it looks like, but I mean you come into an American embassy, American soil, American sovereign territory, and you slaughter our ambassador, that's an act of war against the United States of America.
I would have liked from the President this morning a little more outrage, a little more anger. I think sometimes the President in trying to lead from behind gets -- doesn't really get ahead of events and then the events --
BLITZER: But you know what, though --
GIULIANI: And then the events kind of take control of him.
BLITZER: He did -- he did vow that justice will be served. He said that a couple of times. And when I hear him say that, I think of what's going on in his administration, drone-targeted killings of terrorists in Pakistan or in Yemen or in Afghanistan. It sounded to me like he was saying, you know what, if the Libyans can't find these guys who killed the American ambassador and three others, the U.S. will.
GIULIANI: But he didn't say that, Wolf. I'd have been very --
BLITZER: He said justice will be served.
GIULIANI: OK. With the help of the Libyan government.
BLITZER: He did say --
GIULIANI: With the help of --
GIULIANI: Here's what I think.
BLITZER: The implication I heard was that the U.S. will find these guys, arrest them or kill them if necessary.
GIULIANI: I didn't hear that. I would have much preferred a more Ronald Reagan-like statement. Of course I worked for him so I have a real preference for him, which would have been, this is an outrage. You don't get to kill our ambassador. We will search down and find these people and bring them to justice with or without the help of the Libyan government.
I would have preferred that. I think the President has trouble with unilateral action by the United States. You could see it all during the Libya thing to start with, where he led from behind.
We have been so confused by the Arab Spring, we've been on every side. First indication when Mubarak was in trouble was we were going to help Mubarak to stay in power. Then we turned on Mubarak, helped throw him out.
First indication when Gadhafi was in trouble, we were going to help him stay in power. Then we -- then we sort of led from behind and took a long time but got rid of him. And even in Syria, the first statements from our Secretary of State were that Assad was a reformer. A reformer. So all of these statements give a picture of a very confused notion about the Middle East, almost as if they don't really have their ear to the ground.
And now it turns out that, you know, we did all this and we had even stronger anti-American sentiments in the Middle East. I mean what I just saw on your television reminded me of Iran, you know, back several decades ago.
BLITZER: I hope that's not the case.
GIULIANI: I hope that's not the case, too.
BLITZER: I will say -- we've got to leave it, Mr. Mayor. But I will say this, in defense of the President, he has launched more drone air strikes to kill militants and terrorists in his first three and a half, almost four years, than -- than took place during the Bush administration. So when you say he does -- he's reluctant to take unilateral action, that is pretty decisive unilateral action.
GIULIANI: That's a plus for the President. Iran moving inexorably to becoming a nuclear power and the President basically dawdling with these sanctions and not having any impact on them or Russia or China to help us is the one that worries me -- worries me really the most.
BLITZER: We'll continue the conversation on that down the road, Mr. Mayor. Thanks very much for coming in.
GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, Bob Woodward on the bloodshed in Libya and his controversial new book about President Obama.
BLITZER: With the White House and the Romney campaign sparring in the wake of the deadly attacks on this country's diplomats in Benghazi and the storming of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, American foreign policy, at least right now, is front and center in the campaign.
Joining us now, Bob Woodward, he's the author of the brand new book entitled "The Price of Politics," and it's another excellent book as usual.
Bob, thanks very much for writing the book and thanks for coming in.
BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "THE PRICE OF POLITICS": Thank you.
BLITZER: Want to talk about the book shortly. But let's talk a little bit about the breaking news really we're following. What happened in Libya, four Americans killed, including the U.S. ambassador. I want you to listen to what Mitt Romney said today, followed by John Kerry, who supports President Obama, what he said. Listen to these two clips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself last night from the statement, saying it wasn't cleared by Washington. That reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: To make those kinds of statements before you even know the facts, before families of even been notified, before things have played out is really not just inexperienced, it's irresponsible, it's callous, it's reckless. And I think he ought to apologize. And I don't think he knows what he's talking about, frankly. It's that simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That simply says. It's obviously not that simple because there's a lot of back and forth going on, right, with less than two months to go. What do you make of this angry exchange that has developed?
WOODWARD: I don't think we know yet and, you know, whether John Kerry is right or not about that, for Romney to come -- it's just not effective and one of the things we learned as reporters is the first information is often wrong, and you have to let things settle out and Romney doesn't have the lead in foreign policy in the campaign now so it probably is better if he is restrained and let the facts develop and then develop support or critique.
BLITZER: But he didn't back away today, he doubled down on what his campaign and what he said last night when the initial reports were coming out. Smart politics, not-so smart politics?
WOODWARD: Well, it's just not effective because -- it's about one statement and whether, you know, the White House changes its position, the State Department does, many times it's a volatile situation. Clearly a tragic situation. And as you remember, the last year of the Carter administration was dominated by the Iranian hostage situation. So you never know when something like this is going to bounce and keep bouncing for weeks or months.
And you know, we just don't know. My sense is that this incident passes, but you know, Libya is a volatile place, unknown. I've been there when Gadhafi was the leader and wrote a story about how Gadhafi hung 11 students in the university square. And they were going to come after me and one of the Libyans told me you better get out of the country, this is a dangerous place. And I was on the plane and saw the security guards and the military and police running down trying to stop the plane, whether it was for show or not, I don't know. But it's something I remember and it's a potentially very violent place, situation. You know, they don't have the apparatus of government in lots of serious ways, so we get to watch.
BLITZER: And the U.S. is obviously going to scale back its diplomatic presence in Libya right now for good reasons.
Let me quickly get your thoughts on this little spat that's going on between Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Obama. Netanyahu is coming to the United States, was not invited to a meeting either in New York or in Washington. Big deal, little deal, how do you see this?
WOODWARD: Well, we just don't know because there are back channel communications, obviously there is not a great deal of love between Obama and Netanyahu, or at least it looks like there's not. But again, it's one of the themes in my book is that Obama hasn't found a way to connect to lots of people, foreign leaders, congressmen. For instance, today I met somebody who said, oh, I met Obama twice. And you've interviewed him a lot. And you've written books about him. Tell me about him. And so I started talking about Obama.
Who was this person who met Obama twice? A Democratic congressman with a good deal of seniority in an important district in this country, and he met Obama twice? And never had a serious conversation with him?
The President hasn't connected with people in a way that you just -- you need to in diplomacy and in Washington budget and fiscal negotiations.
BLITZER: Because in this book, "The Price of Politics," you really get into his head and how he makes decisions, when he doesn't make decisions, and the whole notion of this lack of schmoozing, if you will, with members of Congress and others.
I want to continue this conversation. We're going to get into that, Bob, stand by. Much more when we come back.
BLITZER: The Egyptian police and military, they've largely cleared out protesters. Armored personnel carriers moving through the streets. These are live pictures you're seeing from Cairo. We're watching this unfold near the United States embassy.
Back now with Bob Woodward, the author of the new book "The Price of Politics." There is a line at the end of the book that really jumped out at me and I want you to explain it to our viewers.
"It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition, but presidents work their will or should work their will on the important matters of national business. There is occasional discussion in this book about Presidents Reagan and Clinton, what they did or would have done. Open as both are to serious criticism, they nonetheless largely worked their will. Obama has not."
WOODWARD: Yes, that's right. On the -- on the economic issues were -- which have to do with the full faith and credit of the United States. And this is not just a budget issue or some sort of credit rating issue, this is the question of whether the United States government has the authority from Congress to pay its bills. As you know, we borrow a trillion dollars a year and we have to borrow that money on the world --
BLITZER: And we're on the verge of a fiscal cliff right now and so many of the issues you raise in this book are after the election during those two months of that lame-duck session, they're going to explode.
WOODWARD: They certainly could. But the point is we haven't solved it. Now I not only point to the problem Obama has, and the President is at the top. The Speaker of the House, Boehner, also is responsible for not figuring out how to do this. As you know, there's a war going on in the Republican Party.
BLITZER: With his Tea Party backers.
WOODWARD: With the Tea Party and with his deputy, Eric Cantor, the majority leader. And they never figured out who was in charge. And then Boehner would go around saying privately, I don't know whether Eric Cantor is on my side or not. Well, a Speaker of the House like a president has to lead. And you need to have that, you know, once-in- a-lifetime conversation --
BLITZER: Who was -- there is plenty of blame to throw around for the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating which was significant, but who deserves more of that blame?
WOODWARD: Well, look, if you -- and they talk about this in the White House. If the -- if we default on our debt, if the economy tanks, it's going to be in the -- and we have a recession or god knows something worse, in the history books, it's going to be called the Obama-era recession, depression, economic collapse, stagnation, however you label it. We --
BLITZER: Why couldn't he work his will like other presidents, like Reagan or Bill Clinton?
WOODWARD: Well, I -- you know, you go through and I go through in microscopic detail the meetings and the phone calls and so forth. And you know, for example, lots of important business at a crucial turning point, kind of the hinge of all of this where the President decides he wants to ask for more revenue in the deal last year, he does it on the phone. Almost impulsively picks up --
BLITZER: So you get back to the he doesn't go out and have a beer to these guys or invite them in the White House for a movie.
WOODWARD: Well --
BLITZER: Doesn't play golf with them. Is that an issue really?
WOODWARD: Well, it's not about golf, it's about personal relations. But it's also when you're doing some of this, instead of calling the Speaker at a critical junction, as I recall it's not far from the capitol to the White House. And you can get there, particularly if you're the Speaker of the House, in a matter of minutes.
BLITZER: Ten minutes.
WOODWARD: Say, hey, John, come on down here. I have an important proposal. Bring your people, my people will be there. Now we have this critical moment where the President says, no, no, I wasn't insisting on more revenue, and Boehner is saying, no, no, no, you know, and saying yes, the President was.
So, you know, why do we have monumental communication failure when that's kind of elementary.
BLITZER: You've spent --
WOODWARD: I'm sitting here talking to you in person. I'm not trying to do it on the phone. I'm not trying to --
BLITZER: But in terms of -- and you spent time in the President.
BLITZER: You've interviewed him for this book.
BLITZER: Is it substance? Is it style? And has he learned lessons? If he's re-elected will he do a better job in this town over the next four years?
WOODWARD: Well, that's a great question and people are going to have to make their judgment of it. Some people who have read this say he isn't up to the job. Others say he definitely is up to the job. He's intellectually engaged.
BLITZER: Do you want to tell us what you say?
WOODWARD: Yes, what I say is there's responsibility on both heads, but presidential leadership matters. And as I cite, as you read, Clinton and Reagan at the important moments engaged with a kind of stamina and intensity to get important matters done. George W. Bush did in fighting the war on terror. And it's too bad for -- for everyone in our country.
We actually have a leg up on all the economies in the world, I think, and if we fix this and there was -- instead of the kind of incoherence that we see, people in business, families, you know, what's the tax rate going to be, am I going to have a job, is the economy growing, what's the interest rate on my mortgage, and so forth, part of the President's job and the Speaker and the Republican and the whole Congress, their job is to give coherence.
And the book is called "The Price of Politics" because politics is driving this too much.
BLITZER: Thanks for writing it. As I said, appreciate it very much. Another excellent book by Bob Woodward. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Up next, Dan Rather joins me to talk about the presidential race, the deadly attack in Libya and much more. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: The deadly attack in Libya is creating new fears of more unrest across the Arab world. Dan Rather knows the region well. He spent decades covering the biggest news stories of our time. The anchor and managing editor of "Dan Rather Reports" is joining us now.
Dan, thanks very much for coming in. Give me your immediate reaction to what we're seeing happening in Libya, in Egypt, right now. What's going on over here?
DAN RATHER, HOST, "DAN RATHER REPORTS": Well, thank you, Wolf. Always good to be with you. I think the most important thing to understand is that the -- what we called the Arab Spring became the Arab winter and now a very hard Arab winter is setting in. That's number one.
Number two, as some poet once said, things are in the center, the center cannot hold. There is a battle going on literally for the national soul in Egypt and Libya, which we should keep in mind these are two -- well, they're both Arab countries, both Islamic countries, there's a fundamental differences in the country.
One of the mistakes I think you and I have felt in the past, Wolf, that we think our country makes, including ourselves, is not to understand the difference in histories, culture, daily life in various countries in the Middle East. There's a tendency to say well, it's the Middle East, one big, huge region, not think in terms of individual countries.
And the third thing is to think about the limits of power. Yes, we are the world's only full service super power, both an economic and military super power, but there are limits to power. So those are some of the perspectives and context in which I think we should view what's going on now.
BLITZER: Even as this crisis continues, and four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been killed, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama this morning. The President went ahead on a campaign event in Las Vegas. Is this appropriate?
RATHER: My personal opinion is this was a mistake by Governor Romney, who frequently has very good judgment. He certainly is experienced, but you know, not that long ago, Wolf, it was considered by both parties that when you had a situation like this, you didn't criticize, at least not immediately, the President, whether he was Democratic or Republican, whomever was in charge.
Those days, unfortunately, are long gone, and I would like to think that given some time to think about it, that Governor Romney might even be privately and quietly agree that this was a mistake.
BLITZER: Should the President have gone out and started campaigning even as all of us are mourning the loss of these Americans?
RATHER: Well, unfortunately, I think we all are mourning the loss and we should be. It may very well be a mistake by President Obama to continue campaigning. This is serious, what's happening in the Middle East and it will have serious consequences and reverberation for quite some time to come. Particularly in the case of Egypt.
I do not buy into the theory, I understand it, and perhaps those who have it right, but I don't buy into the theory that this will be just a one, two, maybe 2 1/2 or three-day event. There -- as you know, Wolf, having traveled and reported from the region so often, there are strong undercurrents running, again especially in Egypt, but also in Libya, and those undercurrents sometimes run cross to one another.
It's a very complex situation, and our broadcasting idol, the legendary Ed Murrow used to say in situations like this, the most important word is steady. Steady for the government leaders, steady for the rest of us. We have to see what develops, but it is unquestionably, particularly when you pair what's happening in Libya and Egypt, it has very dangerous possible long-range consequences.
I think it's increasingly apparent that in Libya the attack there may very well have been by some group connected to al Qaeda. In Egypt, a whole different situation.
BLITZER: You wrote a very fascinating column for CNN.com about the media's responsibility when covering terrorism. And you referred to a speech by the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, where he accused the media of serving as a megaphone, if you will, for desperate rebels.
Give us your thoughts on this because I think you're on to something.
RATHER: Well, I think that President Santos, who as you know is educated in this country, both in Kansas and at Harvard University, whatever else you think of his policies, a very intelligent man. But what he was trying to do in this speech as best I can read it, I interviewed him but I interviewed him before the speech in question, he took some pains to say, look, the media has to do what it has to do, and reporters, quality reporters of integrity, yes, you report terrorism, but it was basically a plea for, number one, understanding that the media can be used as a huge megaphone for terrorism to the benefit of the terrorists.
That's not to say that we shouldn't be reporting acts of terrorism. It is to say, and he virtually said this in effect, again, I used the word context and perspective. So often when we put up a sign, breaking news, hop on the story, we just concentrate on this small part of the story, rather than trying to put it to the listener and the viewers around the world as CNN tries to do in context and with some perspective.
That's basically what President Santos was saying, but I do think it's a cautionary note and call, and well justified of President Santos to say those in the press, including ourselves, that we have a great responsibility and that responsibility starts with trying to put things in perspective, give a wider picture, what we call in television, if you will, the wide shot of a situation, rather than just automatically, sort of instinctively, doing what the terrorists want us to do it.
BLITZER: Good advice indeed. We may be journalists, but we're also human beings as I like to say to a lot of groups all the time.
Dan, thanks very much.
RATHER: Thank you very much, Wolf. Always a pleasure to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And the situation in Libya and Egypt, very fluid right now. The story continues to change and develop. Stay with CNN for the very latest on the deadly attack on Benghazi and the ongoing violence in Cairo.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Looking at live pictures coming from the streets of Cairo, this is not far from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, not far from Tahrir Square. You're seeing protesters there clashing with police and the military. This is now approaching 4:00 a.m. in Cairo. The situation there remains very, very tense.
After the deadly attack in Libya President Obama is vowing to find the killers there. The U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, died Tuesday night after a mob stormed the consulate in Benghazi. The violence, though, spreading not only in Cairo -- you can see these live pictures coming from Egypt. It's spreading in the region and to a certain degree as well.
We'll stay on top of it. That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. "AC 360" starts right now.