Politics
12:07 pm
Mon May 12, 2014

Is White House Doing Enough To 'Bring Back Our Girls'?

Originally published on Mon May 12, 2014 12:24 pm

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're going to start the week with politics, but it is a political story that is hitting close to home for many Americans and, as it turns out, for the White House. There was a very personal message from the White House this weekend about the hundreds of school girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria in April by religious extremists. First lady Michelle Obama focused on the issue for her Mother's Day video statement.

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MICHELLE OBAMA: And I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government's efforts to find these girls and bring them home. In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes and their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.

MARTIN: But some Republicans have criticized the Obama administration's response on this and other foreign-policy issues for not focusing on the problem simmering in international hotspots until there is a crisis.

That's an argument that is also in play about the House select committee on Benghazi. That committee is set to investigate the attack in Libya that claimed the lives of four Americans in 2012. We wanted to talk more about this and other political news, so we've called Ron Christie once again. He is a former assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He's now a Republican strategist and communications advisor. Welcome back to the program, Ron. Thanks for joining us.

RON CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure. Nice to be with you today.

MARTIN: Also joining us, Ken Rudin. He is the host of the Political Junkie radio show on PRX. Ken Rudin, back to you. Welcome to you. Thanks for joining us.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with you, Ken, 'cause we heard a minute ago part of first lady Michelle Obama's remarks about those kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Ken, what does it say about the administration's approach that the first lady weighed in like this?

RUDIN: Well, you know, there are a lot of criticisms, and a lot of them are valid of Obama administrations foreign policies. Certainly, we could debate whether Benghazi falls into that category. But you can make the argument that we are either unprepared or just dithering with Ukraine. But when it comes to the kidnapping of children in Nigeria, it just - it goes beyond the pale, and it goes beyond criticism of public policy.

The only question some people seem to have is whether walking around with a placard saying Bring Back Our Girls is either too simplistic or almost an amateur hour in the sense that we've got to do more than just walk around with signs with a hashtag about this tragedy. But it is indeed a tragedy, and it just shows what's going on around the world that it's just - it's a - to paraphrase our parents, it's a crazy world out there.

MARTIN: Well, OK. But, Ken, could you focus a little bit more on my specific question, which was that it - she's saying that they're not just walking around with signs and hashtags. They're saying that there are specific steps that the administration is taking to support the Nigerian government, so...

RUDIN: Well, yes, and we do see that the Nigerian government is turning down a lot of those requests as far as, you know, help from international - from other countries to find these children. But - and of course we did see something from Amnesty International that said that there was a warning about these - about what these extremist groups were about to do. And I think an Amnesty spokesperson said the other day that this abduction could have been prevented - so just like with Benghazi, when the Senate Intelligence Committee said that could have been prevented. There are a lot of things that people are doing after the fact. But perhaps maybe the questions that are being raised are what could have been done beforehand.

MARTIN: So, Ron, let's hear from you. Is there a kind of a - a sort of - a specific Republican critique of the administration on this point? I just want to note that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who's a Michigan Republican, was on "Face The Nation" on Sunday. And he said, quote - in part - quote, "you can't base your policy based on what's trending on Twitter. It has to be more than hashtags and selfies." Is that the crux of the critique or is there more?

CHRISTIE: There's more to it than that, Michel. I think - my main critique here with the administration is that, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton refused to put this terrorist group Boko Haram on the terrorist watch list. So if you have an administration that looks at a particular group that is rooted in Islamic fundamentalism, that has killed thousands of people, and you start to wonder - does the administration have a coherent strategy of winning the war on terrorism? And of course we've heard overseas contingency operations, we've heard that these are man-made disasters - no - these are as Islamist terrorists who are intent on killing people based on their Christian belief. And in the case of these girls, look, a hashtag #BringBackOurGirls isn't going to cut it. I think we need to have a more coherent foreign policy, a more coherent geopolitical strategy. And unfortunately what we see here again is the administration acting after-the-fact as opposed to having a coherent political strategy and foreign policy strategy in place beforehand.

MARTIN: Let me ask you a tough question, Ron, is that obviously on a humanitarian basis, this is very distressing and upsetting. And, you know, I think, you know, the first lady certainly spoke to it when she said this reminds - this reminds a lot of people of their girls. But on a sort of - does the - is there any American interest in this apart from the humanitarian? Is there some - and is there a critique around that or whether the U.S. should be involved in something like this at all?

CHRISTIE: Well, two things here. One, I think the United States needs to step up, along with our allies, of rooting out those who seek to destroy the Western way of life based on our ideology, based on our religion, based on our cultures. And unfortunately, that seems to be rooted in Islamic terrorists. But from a humanitarian standpoint, how can we not do everything that we have - all the resources that we bring to bear in the United States - that we should use our intelligence, we should use our military. We need to bring these girls home, Michel. This is a very message for the world that says that the United States and those in the West will stand for those who need the most help in the most dire of circumstances. And I think those 226 or so remaining girls who are in captivity need our help.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having our political chat. We are speaking with Republic strategist Ron Christie and Political Junkie host Ken Rudin. So, Ken Rudin, Benghazi, both of you brought it up - the House has formed a special committee to investigate how the Obama administration handled those attacks there that was in 2012, left four Americans dead. It was decided on a partyline vote and some Democrats are talking about boycotting this altogether saying that this is a politically motivated witch-hunt. And so, Ken, what are the Democrats' objections to this process?

RUDIN: Well, they'll argue that there's been, you know, a countless number of Senate and House committees. They did a scathing report already by the Senate Intelligence Committee saying, yes, it could've been prevented, it was just abominable that there was not better security. And then there are a lot of Democrats who say the Republicans are trying to rally their base and excite their base the way they are about Obama Care and hoping that Benghazi is another way of appealing to that base. But at the same time, the Republican say - look, look, look, I think clearly, it seemed like Benghazi was fading as an issue for a couple of months until this Ben Rhodes White House e-mail from September of 2012 resurfaced - surfaced. And the fact is - the question is - if the congressional committees asked for all the pertinent e-mails last year, why wasn't this e-mail included as part of it? Now, ultimately what the e-mail shows is that the White House was concerned about political fallout and they wanted to make sure that President Obama's reelection was not in jeopardy because they kept saying in 2012 that the war against Al-Qaida's being won. So for the administration to try to spin a tragedy in a favorable way - well, that's not unusual at all. We saw that going on in Iraq for years. But the point is the White House basically helped the Republican Party by failing to give this latest round of e-mails when they were supposed to and now they're backtracking.

MARTIN: Ron, you wrote an op-ed about this for The Daily Beast titled "Why Democrats Are So Afraid of Benghazi." So I think you heard - so Ken, I think, gave you kind of the lay of the land, but can I ask you, though, about those who say that this is still politically motivated, as evidenced by the fact that some people are even fund-raising on this question? How do you answer that?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think it's absolutely abominable for people to fundraise off of this. Former governor Mitt Romney said that it was OK for a republicans to fundraise about this. That's absolutely the wrong approach to take. This should be about the truth. The truth is this, we know that four Americans were killed in Benghazi on the evening of September 11, but we don't know why.

We don't know why when Britain and other nations that had consulates in Benghazi withdrew due to safety concerns, why the United States remained. We don't know why the president of the United States, after he was told of this attack at 5 p.m. on September 11, remained incommunicado for eight hours. And we also don't know why the military in Africom, who - which is based in Germany but it was just - oversees the African continent, did not scramble any sort of military response.

Now, I think the administration in (inaudible) was spot on. The administration brought this on itself. There were lawfully subpoenaed documents that should have been provided. And the administration failed to disclose that particular email by Ben Rhodes that said that the talking points should stress that this was not a failure in policy, but instead it was due to a video, which we know to be false. So I think the administration, for lack of candor, brought this investigation on themselves, and in should not be political. It should be about the truth.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, we have about two minutes left. Two comeback stories in the news - I'm not sure everybody agrees with my language on that, but we'll call it that, you know, for now. Mitt Romney two-time presidential contender came out to say he supports raising the minimum wage. Here he is on MSNBC. Actually, we're not going to play it. We don't have time for that.

And then also, Monica Lewinsky is back in the news with her essay for Vanity Fair about her relationship with then-president Bill Clinton. And she wrote it's time to burn the burette and burry the blue dress. So, Ken, I'm going to ask you. Which of those two stories engages you? Comment on either one if you would.

RUDIN: Well, the Monica Lewinsky story, the saga, saddens me only because, I mean, she was just so discredited and humiliated during that whole thing. And of course, the president was as well. The fact that he was being censored by - I mean, impeached by the House. But so it's kind of like Jack Bauer. I think they had their time in the limelight. I think, you know, the least we hear about them is fine with me.

But the - I'm interested in the Mitt Romney thing because there was a clear divide in the Republican Party over things like minimum wage. Polls show it's a winning issue, and I think the Democrats - just as Republicans love to talk about Benghazi and Obamacare - the Democrats can talk about minimum wage and pay equity. And they could have a winning issue if the Republican Party doesn't pay attention to those polls.

MARTIN: Ron, we only have a minute left. So why don't you take the Mitt Romney question. Right or wrong on this do you think? Where are you on that?

CHRISTIE: I think he's wrong. I think the economics of this - if you look, there are about 1.2 million people on minimum wage between the ages of 16 and 24 comprise half of that population. The Congressional Budget Office has speculated that this could kill up to a million jobs. So I'm a little skeptical of raising the minimum wage in such a way that it would actually throw more people out of work than there are who are on the wage. I think it's the wrong way to go about it.

But very briefly, I agree with Ken. And I think that looking at Monica Lewinsky - look, her whole life was discredited by the actions of someone who I would say - if you want to say there's a war on women - a predator who was in the Oval Office who preyed upon a young girl, and her life was destroyed as a result of it. I think it's a tragedy.

MARTIN: Ron Christie is a Republican strategist with us from our bureau in New York. Ken Rudin is host of the Political Junkie radio show on PRX. We reached him at his home office in Maryland. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

RUDIN: Thanks, Michel.

CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.