President Barack Obama’s interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday was anything but smooth.
During an interview that primarily covered Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East, correspondent Steve Kroft was combative with Obama, repeatedly asking questions about the president’s strategy on Syria, the Islamic State, and the administration’s response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent military maneuvers.
Kroft interrupted the president multiple times to challenge his answers, which seemed to genuinely perturb Obama.
One of the more interesting exchanges occurred when Kroft told Obama that Putin seemed to be challenging Obama’s leadership.
Obama tried to make the case that Putin’s actions came from a source of weakness, rather than strength. Kroft quickly disagreed.
“He’s challenging your leadership, Mr. President,” Kroft repeated. “He’s challenging your leadership.”
Obama cut him off to give his definition of leadership.
“My definition of leadership would be leading on climate change, an international accord that potentially we’ll get in Paris,” Obama said. “My definition of leadership is mobilizing the entire world community to make sure that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.”
Perhaps the most contentious part of the interview was an exchange regarding the program in Syria to train and equip 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels. The Obama administration officially abandoned the program last week after months of setbacks. By the end, according to a top US general, only “four or five” US-trained rebels were active in the fight in Syria.
Kroft called the program an “embarrassment”:
Steve Kroft: I want to talk about the – this program, because it would seem to show, I mean, if you expect 5,000 and you get five, it shows that somebody someplace along the line did not – made – you know, some sort of a serious miscalculation.
President Barack Obama: You know, the – the – Steve, let me just say this.
Kroft: It’s an embarrassment.
Obama: Look, there’s no doubt that it did not work. And, one of the challenges that I’ve had throughout this heartbreaking situation inside of Syria is, is that – you’ll have people insist that, you know, all you have to do is send in a few – you know, truckloads full of arms and people are ready to fight. And then, when you start a train-and-equip program and it doesn’t work, then people say, “Well, why didn’t it work?” Or, “If it had just started three months earlier, it would’ve worked.”
Kroft: But you said yourself you never believed in this.
Obama: Well – but Steve, what I have also said is, is that surprisingly enough it turns out that in a situation that is as volatile and with as many players as there are inside of Syria, there aren’t any silver bullets. And this is precisely why I’ve been very clear that America’s priorities has to be number one, keeping the American people safe. Number two, we are prepared to work both diplomatically and where we can to support moderate opposition that can help convince the Russians and Iranians to put pressure on Assad for a transition. But that what we are not going to do is to try to reinsert ourselves in a military campaign inside of Syria. Let’s take the situation in Afghanistan, which I suspect you’ll ask about. But I wanted to use this as an example.
Kroft: All right. I feel like I’m being filibustered, Mr. President.
Obama: No, no, no, no, no. Steve, I think if you want to roll back the tape, you’ve been giving me long questions and statements, and now I’m responding to ’em. So let’s – so – if you ask me big, open-ended questions, expect big, open-ended answers.