Martin Bashir | January 24, 2013
>>> we begin with a state of transition for american foreign policy as senator john kerry faces a high-stakes job interview to be the secretary of state. kerry 's confirmation hearings were rather cordial hosted by the foreign relations committee which he's led for the past four years. but it was an unexpected moment when the hearings were interrupted by a protester that offered perhaps the most telling revelation about the man and the moment.
>> i'm tired of my friends dying. i don't know if they're going to be alive the next day.
>> when i first came to washington and testified, i obviously was testifying as part of a group of people who came here to have their voices heard, and that is, above all, what this place is about. people measure what we do.
>> kerry 's confirmation hearing today comes a day after secretary hillary clinton stood her ground offering a robust defense of her handling of those attacks in benghazi that killed four americans, including ambassador chris stevens . at wednesday's long-awaited hearings on benghazi , clinton took responsibility for security lapses but that obviously was not good enough for many republicans.
>> i categorically reject your answer. the american people deserve to know answers, and they certainly don't deserve false answers.
>> i think when you have a united states ambassador personally warning about the situation over there, sending this cable to your office --
>> if i could, 1.43 million cables come to the state department . they're all addressed to me.
>> in her testimony delayed by more than a month for reasons of ill health, mrs. clinton gave lie to the speculation that she was avoiding the committee amply defending herself, her department, and the administration. but that didn't stop the chattering classes from the favorite parlor game called cutting down the clintons.
>> she opened up crying which is part of the script.
>> this anger, this outrage, i can tell you was not spontaneous. i'm telling you it was staged. this was all preplanned. they've had four months. they knew this was coming, and this was their strategy.
>> typically insightful, and if senate republicans thought they would turn kerry against clinton today, not so much.
>> do you basically kind of agree with hillary clinton that that's kind of yesterday's news and let's move on?
>> well, senator, if you're trying to get some daylight between me and secretary clinton that's not going to happen here today. it is very clear, were you at the briefing with the tapes?
>> well, there was a briefing with tapes which we all saw, those of us who went to it, which made it crystal clear .
>> that was senator kerry very diplomatically taking senator johnson to school. let's get right to our panel now. with us from washington is msnbc political analyst karen finney and michael o'hanlon of the brookings institution . good afternoon to both of you. karen , senator kerry put great emphasis today on fiscal matters as relates to u.s. foreign policy . he said, and i'm quoting him, more than ever foreign policy is economic policy . is that an answer to republicans who criticize security lapses while simultaneously slashing the state department 's budget? people like rand paul who would have slashed the state department by 71%?
>> right. well, let's remember rand paul also wouldn't have voted for the 1964 voting rights act before we give anything he'd say any credence. absolutely. the other point john kerry was trying to make is when we talk about spending cuts, there are implications to those cuts, real consequences. but also we can't just retreat inside our own borders because -- particularly think about the conversation we've been having about the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling. the american economy somebody very important to the global economy . we cannot have the kind of nonsense we've had going on in the building behind me and think that that's going to be either good foreign policy or economic policy for around the globe, not just here at home. i think he was trying to remind people we do live in a global economy . it is interconnected and that that does impact our foreign policy and our defenses.
>> it clearly does. michael , the outgoing secretary of state said, and i'm quoting her, we are facing a spreading hi hjihadist threat across north africa . is it your view that the attack on the consulate in libya , the hostage taking at that gas plant in algeria, and the conflict in mali mean that north africa is now the main front for islamic terrorism and how does a new secretary of state confront this?
>> great question. i don't know that i would say it's the main front, but it is certainly a serious front and a serious set of interlocked issues. one thing we have to debate on libya , because i've been perplex perplexed as to why the benghazi tragedy, as sad as it was, has dominated so much of the policy attention since that time, we have to focus on getting countries like libya strong enough so that they can, in fact, deal with this kind of threat on their own. i don't think any administration has gotten this issue perfect, but i think that there's a more important forward looking question which is what do we need to do to help libya get on its feet. i'm very impressed by what the french are trying to do in mali. i wish them well. we should help them however we can. there has to be some effort. i probably still worry a little more about what's going on in pakistan and a little more about what's going on in yemen, not to mention syria, but north africa is certainly up there on the top three or four.
>> but, mike, to your point, one of the things that came out of the hearings yesterday with secretary of state clinton was that america is dealing with nations whose own governments are in a shambles. and yet people like conservative chris stevens thought itthe best way to make progress was to be there. you say we have to have relationships with these nations, but if those governments are in such a shambles, what's the alternative. how do we resolve that?
>> i'm glad you raised those points. i know a lot of not only military personnel who are very brave but state department personnel who are very brave and yet when they take risks and when a benghazi consulate is overrun, we consider that fundamentally unacceptable. it is a terrible tragedy , but it is part of the risk in this world of being in places where you need to be when situations are not always stable. now, to your point about whether all governments can be worked with or cooperated with, of course, there are some governments that just aren't even trying or are in ka hoocahoots against us. but in a place like libya , i think the real issue is how do we get that young government get on its feet. it's generally well-intentioned as far as i'm concerned, but it has a lot of rough edges and institutional weaknesses. if anything, we have to be more willing to send people and devote effort to libya , not less.
>> karen ?
>> is just going to say i think part of what the secretary was talking about is why i think she referred to columbia so often. we have to rethink how we're engaging in different parts of the world. it gives us a context for what we saw in benghazi . in the heat of the campaign we couldn't immediately give all those answers which is another thing i think she was trying to point out. we have to really rethink how are we engaging? what is the complement, whether it's defense resources, military resources, resources from the civilian world, our state department . how we do that is going to have -- we're going to have to change the way we think about that.
>> mike, if john kerry does proceed to the state department as expected, he'll be working under the direction of a president who said this in his inaugural address . take a listen.
>> we will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully, not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.
>> was that not a reference to iran and its nuclear aspirations? because i have read a great deal about what you said about iran and that's consistent with the position you have taken which is we have to engage in diplomacy with this nation rather than this mentality that was expressed throughout the republican primaries which sounded like an invasion.
>> well, it's a good point because, you know, if i was thinking about the speech that president obama gave, while it was very powerful and hopeful, there was one more piece that i think needed to be add fd you're thinking analytically, and that is even if that engagement fails, at least we know we tried and at least we know and the world knows where the responsibility lies. i think president obama 's been good at helping orchestrate sanctions against iran because everyone recognized it was iran that stole an election from its own people. it was iran that continued to violate u.n. prohibitions against its nuclear enrichment activities, and obama managed to use his willingness to engage with iran when his hand was reached out and it was slapped back by ahmadinejad. he was then in a position to get tough with iran . so we're in this dilemma. i'm afraid engagement cannot guarantee a happy outcome but i agree with you, obama was signaling that he's willing to go the extra mile on the diplomatic front before he has to face that stark choice about how you prevent iran from getting a nuclear weapon if iran keeps up the enraichment activi activity.
>> final question to you, karen . you have worked with secretary of state hillary clinton . we didn't have the opportunity yesterday because we carried the hearings live to hear from you about how you felt she handled herself, how robust she was in her defense.
>> well, you know, having been with her when she testified many years ago as first lady on health care , she did exactly then as she did yesterday, which is she knew more about the content than the people asking her the questions for the most part. i thought she did an excellent job, and i think she showed the american people why she has been one of the most effective secretaries of state this country has ever had, because she understands the policy levels at the -- policy issues at the very high level but also, you know, martin, something you and i were talking about. the people who do this work, it's very personal to her. i don't care what rush limbaugh says. i know hillary clinton well enough to know she cares about the people who work for her. she takes that very seriously. she understands from a very personal sense the risk that people take, and so i thought she obviously did an incredible job and again, i thought she made most of those folks up there look pretty silly.
>> karen finney and michael o'hanlon, thank you so much.