Charlie Rose Scolds Panetta: Shouldn't You Wait Until Obama's Out of Office to Criticize Him?

In an interview aired on Wednesday's CBS This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose lectured former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on criticizing President Obama in a new memoir: "There are those who say, you know, he appointed you to two of the highest positions that this country has to offer, just wait until he's out of office before criticizing."

Panetta pushed back: "Do you know what? It's exactly because I am very loyal to this president and because I want him to succeed that I think it's important to raise these issues now....And besides that, I don't think you put a hold on history. I think the American people are entitled to understand history and what's involved in the policy decisions that this country makes..."

Immediately following the clip of the exchange, fellow This Morning co-host Gayle King praised Rose: "I loved your last question because some people would say, what about loyalty to the President? The question that you raised. Interesting time for that book to come out now."

Co-host Norah O'Donnell observed: "...it's a reminder, too, how much power the President of the United States has. At the end of the day, he gets to make the decision....despite some very powerful opinions by some very smart, dedicated public servants."

Earlier in the interview, Rose quoted Panetta's observation that Obama had "lost his way" on foreign policy. Rose asked in disbelief: "He's lost his way?"

Panetta responded:

The last two years, I think what happened was he looked at a country that was frustrated, exhausted by over ten years of war, and he wanted to turn a corner. He wanted to be able to get away from Iraq, get away from Afghanistan, and begin to refocus on this country, but also, hopefully, to get other countries to step up to the plate to deal with it. What we've learned by recent events is that if the United States isn't providing that leadership, nobody else will.

Rose followed up: "But you said he's lost his way." Panetta replied: "Well, I think he lost his conviction that we had to constantly go after terrorism..."

Rose managed to ask one question focused on Obama's failures rather than Panetta's statements: "There are a couple of important decisions. One is the red line and then decision not to go ahead with the attack [in Syria]. Do you think that was damaging to the President's leadership around the world?"

Panetta declared: "I think the credibility of a commander-in-chief is whether or not when you say something you stand by it....the strength of the United States is that we say what we intend to do and we do it."

On Tuesday, Today co-host Matt Lauer interviewed Panetta and was much tougher on Obama, wondering: "So did the President put the vital interests of the United States on a lower priority than fulfilling a campaign promise to end the war and pull out all troops?"

Here is a full transcript of Rose's interview with Panetta aired on the October 8 This Morning:

8:32 AM ET

CHARLIE ROSE: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is making waves in Washington by criticizing his former boss. Panetta says President Obama's leadership is faltering in places like Middle East. We discussed his new memoir, Worthy Fights, and the state of anti-terror policy after a decade of war.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Panetta's Perspective; Fmr. Cabinet Member Criticizes Obama's Leadership]  

LEON PANETTA: I think the President needs to keep all of his options on the table. I think a commander-in-chief needs to have the flexibility to do whatever is necessary in order to confront this threat.

ROSE: Here's what you have said about the President, talking about his legacy, "We're at a point where I think the jury is still out. For the first four years in the time I spent there, I thought he was a strong leader on security issues," including Osama Bin Laden. "But these two years since then I think he's kind of lost his way. You know, it's been a mixed message, a little ambivalence in trying to approach these issues and trying to clarify what the role of this country is all about." He's lost his way?

PANETTA: Well, I think what happened – and look, the first four years, when I was there as CIA director and Secretary of Defense, he was very strong in supporting our operations. He supported our operations, supported expanding those operations.

The last two years, I think what happened was he looked at a country that was frustrated, exhausted by over ten years of war, and he wanted to turn a corner. He wanted to be able to get away from Iraq, get away from Afghanistan, and begin to refocus on this country, but also, hopefully, to get other countries to step up to the plate to deal with it. What we've learned by recent events is that if the United States isn't providing that leadership, nobody else will.

ROSE: But you said he's lost his way.

PANETTA: Well, I think he lost his conviction that we had to constantly go after terrorism, that we had to constantly be involved in a very troubled world because I think he really wanted to hopefully be able to focus again on this country and what needed to be done here.

ROSE: There are a couple of important decisions. One is the red line and then decision not to go ahead with the attack [in Syria]. Do you think that was damaging to the President's leadership around the world?

PANETTA: I think the credibility of a commander-in-chief is whether or not when you say something you stand by it. I mean, you know, when you're dealing with a pretty rough world and dealing with the threats that we face in this kind of difficult world, the strength of the United States is that we say what we intend to do and we do it.

ROSE: There are those who say, you know, he appointed you to two of the highest positions that this country has to offer, just wait until he's out of office before criticizing.

PANETTA: Do you know what? It's exactly because I am very loyal to this president and because I want him to succeed that I think it's important to raise these issues now so that hopefully in two and a half years, you know, we can make sure that he really does have the kind of legacy that I think he deserves as president. And besides that, I don't think you put a hold on history. I think the American people are entitled to understand history and what's involved in the policy decisions that this country makes, and I believe in the judgment of the American people, and I think history is what that's all about.

GAYLE KING: I loved your last question because some people would say, what about loyalty to the President? The question that you raised. Interesting time for that book to come out now.

ROSE: Yeah. We've now had three books, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta.

NORAH O'DONNELL: Yeah, and that's why, you know, it's a reminder, too, how much power the President of the United States has. At the end of the day, he gets to make the decision.

[LAUGHTER]

ROSE: That's right. That's why we want to be president.

O'DONNELL: You know? I mean, yeah, despite some very powerful opinions by some very smart, dedicated public servants.

ROSE: What does come out quickly about him is that, I mean, he really presented a lot of these arguments in terms of he thought that the President could have made a budget deal, Leon, and he went and said to him, "You can do this, stay in it." And he said that he was a bit frustrated because the President at some point just said, "It's not going to work so I'm not going to push it any further."

O'DONNELL: Great interview.

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