On Tuesday's New Day show, during an interview with Paul Wolfowitz, CNN's Chris Cuomo was confrontational toward the former Bush administration Deputy Defense Secretary as the New Day co-host complained about Republicans blaming President Obama's troop withdrawal for the chaos in Iraq, arguing that such talk undermines the President from dealing with the situation because there is not a "united front."
At one point, after Wolfowitz rhetorically asked if he and Cuomo should "sit here and tell Speaker Boehner to shut up," Cuomo shot back, "Yes," and soon complained, "It's hard for" President Obama "to be strong when he's getting attacked by his own."
And, while complaining that Republicans are undermining President Obama's handling of the crisis by blaming him, Cuomo himself tried to push blame onto President Bush, suggesting Bush administration members should express "contrition." Cuomo:
Where is the contrition, you know, if you want to use that word, where is the Bush administration saying we got it wrong? There's a bunch of defenders coming out saying we had to go in, Saddam Hussein was horrible, we did the right thing, this administration screwed it up. I think that's not only misleading, but it's counterproductive because you can't put forward a unified front.
The CNN host soon fretted that Obama administration members are having to "defend themselves." Cuomo:
They're trying to come up with a plan, but they're also trying to defend themselves from these political attacks, and I'm trying to get you to provide some wisdom on seeing how you understand how we got here. I don't know why you're reluctant to do that and why you want to ignore it.
Cuomo soon returned to criticizing the Bush administration's handling of Iraq as he complained about Saddam Hussein's original army being "disbanded," and even claimed that the U.S. trained Iraqi troops in the 1980s to fight Iran, leading Wolfowitz to jump in and correct him:
CHRIS CUOMO: So you don't think that Paul Bremer disassembling the army and allowing and displacing all these Sunnis who have become since then people with great U.S. military training who are now fighting with our enemy, you don't think that was a mistake?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: First of all, these were not people with U.S. military training. These were people with Saddam's military training-
CUOMO: And ours as well, when we trained them to fight against Iran. That was U.S. military help in the region.
WOLFOWITZ: We did not train them to fight against Iran. They fought on their own.
Below is a transcript of portions of the Tuesday, June 17, New Day on CNN, including all of Cuomo's questions:
CHRIS CUOMO: As Anderson (Cooper) is pointing out, the situation in Iraq isn't just about the military. It's going to take more than that to solve it. It's also about the political, as he was saying. Now, it's worth talking about how we got here in the first place because when we talk about the political trouble, I'm not talking about Iraq but in the United States, with our government. There's too much blaming going on already, and it's going to frustrate what happens next.
So our next guest has been called the architect of the Iraq invasion originally. He's now here to help us clear up confusion that's going on down in Washington about how we got here, why the situation is what it is and what happens when we go forward. He is former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz. He's now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Sir, very good to have you with us.
As I was just saying there, we're doing it again, the pointing fingers, the left and the right, "Whose fault is this?" The Republicans are spending a lot of time blaming the current administration for the situation. Most notably Speaker Boehner says President Obama is taking a nap as Mosul falls because he pulled us out of there and it's a mistake. Now, isn't it fair, Mr. Wolfowitz, that if the President were taking a nap, it would be on the SOFA, the Status of Arms Agreement, you know, that's the acronym for it, the SOFA that the Bush administration put in place there of taking troops out?
CUOMO: But, Mr. Wolfowitz, you're right, but you have to start with allies in your own government, and it is irresponsible to allow the fingerpointing to go on because it's frustrating dealing with the urgency. You can't have the Republicans who were part of the decision to put us there, who were part of the decision-
WOLFOWITZ: What you need is leadership-
CUOMO: Just give me one second. Because leadership is about accountability also.
WOLFOWITZ: You've had quite a few seconds.
CUOMO: Because you're not answering the question. Speaker Boehner can't say this administration is the cause of the current problems in Iraq, is that a fair statement?
WOLFOWITZ: Chris, every time one of these things happens, if it's the Republicans in power, the Democrats blame. If it's Democrats in power, the Republicans blame. What we really need now from the President is a clear statement of American interests, of American action, and rallying people to move forward and then these blamers on either side will be irrelevant. That's what's needed right now. What, you and I are going to sit here and tell Speaker Boehner to shut up?
WOLFOWITZ: You can say whether it's useful or not useful, but what is most needed is for the support of the United States to take a strong position-
CUOMO: But it is hard for him to be strong-
WOLFOWITZ: -and, unfortunately he hasn't done that.
CUOMO: It's hard for him to be strong when he's getting attacked by his own. How can the United States present a unified front-
CUOMO: Where is the contrition, you know, if you want to use that word, where is the Bush administration saying we got it wrong? There's a bunch of defenders coming out saying we had to go in, Saddam Hussein was horrible, we did the right thing, this administration screwed it up? I think that's not only misleading, but it's counterproductive
because you can't put forward a unified front.
CUOMO: And that seems to be in the offing by the administration, all that is on the table. They're trying to come up with a plan, but they're also trying to defend themselves from these political attacks, and I'm trying to get you to provide some wisdom on seeing how you understand how we got here. I don't know why you're reluctant to do that and why you want to ignore it. The reason we can't help the Iraqi army is because you disbanded it. The reason you have all these Sunnis available to fight with ISIS and to be discontented is because you kicked them out of the army
WOLFOWITZ: Chris, let's just start with, you just said something that's completely wrong.
WOLFOWITZ: The Iraqi army was Saddam's army, was a useless army. It was infiltrated by the very people who are running the insurgency. We took much too long in my view, one mistake, we took much too long to build an Iraqi army that was capable of counterinsurgency operations. But we built it. That was one of Petraeus's major achievements in Iraq. And, at that time, Maliki was ready to take on the Iranian stooge, Moqtada al-Sadr, with some American help. That's the army that is now falling apart. It wasn't really ready to stand on its own feet, that's true, but it was capable of doing significant successful operations with Americans at its back.
CUOMO: So you don't think that Paul Bremer disassembling the army and allowing
and displacing all these Sunnis who have become since then people with great U.S. military training who are now fighting with our enemy, you don't think that was a mistake?
WOLFOWITZ: First of all, these were not people with U.S. military training. These were people with Saddam's military training-
CUOMO: And ours as well, when we trained them to fight against Iran. That was U.S. military help in the region.
WOLFOWITZ: We did not train them to fight against Iran. They fought on their own. Look, we can keep going over the history. I think the way that decision was implemented was a big mistake, but that Iraqi army was an instrument of terror for two-thirds of the Iraqi population. It was infiltrated by the very same people who are running the insurgency. We didn't create the insurgency. Saddam's Muhabarad created the insurgency. And the one time in Fallujah when we tried to bring back one brigade of that old army, it immediately went over to the enemy.
We should have handled it differently, yes, we should have handled it differently, but the most important mistake in that respect was, if you disband the army, you better build a new one fast and it took us five years. That was too long.
CUOMO: Do you think if you could redo one thing, other than not going in there in the first place, that taking the American standing army out, doing the SOFA with Maliki, when the Bush administration did that, was that a mistake? Should you have used the leverage harder so that we'd have more people on the ground there now?
WOLFOWITZ: Look, I think we should have found a way to keep an American presence in Iraq. I think that some of that responsibility -- you're trying to lay it all off on Bush in that first SOFA.
CUOMO: Well, he made the agreement. He made the agreement.
WOLFOWITZ: It was not final. It could have been renegotiated.
CUOMO: It's still an agreement.
WOLFOWITZ: You seem insistent on this blame game. There's a lot of mistakes and-
CUOMO: Because it's being played, Mr. Wolfowitz. I would like to do nothing more than ignore the past and deal with the present because of its urgency. Many of us will wind up over there covering it. You know, what I'm saying is, I just wanted your wisdom and your perspective. I'm sorry to cut you off. I just, I wanted your wisdom and your perspective to correct the record. That's why I'm pressing you on it, not because I want to point fingers.
WOLFOWITZ: Well, if you want my wisdom and perspective, such as it is, I think we could have kept a substantial, not a huge American presence, not a combat presence, but the kind of support that would have kept Maliki better under control, that would have given the Iraqi army a better ability to function. I don't think it was set up well for Obama when he came in, but I don't think he operated off of that base very effectively.
Look, Dwight Eisenhower became President in 1953 having campaigned to end the war in Korea, which he did immediately. He did not remove American troops from Korea. If he had done so, Korea wasn't ready to stand on its own feet for another 10 or 20 years, and even then not very well, but today it's a miracle story.
Look, I think this situation can be recovered. The best way to end the so-called blame game is for the President to pull the chestnuts out of the fire here and say, "Go blame all you like, I have succeeded." What people say in the end about this is not going to be about what happened five years ago or 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It's going to be about how this situation comes out, and it is an emergency for the United States. It is al-Qaeda. It's not just Sunni and Shiia, and we need to do everything we can within reason, and that puts some limits on what we can do.
CUOMO: Well, hopefully your words are heeded, and the parties down there come together to move forward instead of just pointing fingers. Thank you for the perspective. Sorry to cut you off. It's more about the satellite connection than it is my intentions. But thank you for joining us, Mr. Wolfowitz. Appreciate it.