President Barack Obama appeared to get testy with reporter Steve Kroft on the October 11 broadcast of CBS's "60 Minutes.' A veteran journalist, Kroft challenged the president on his strategies for the Middle East and Islamic State terrorism. Kroft accused Obama of "embarassing" policy failures, as well as an apparent lack of leadership.
Obama, on the defensive, said that only time will tell if his policies will come to fruition. The president and Kroft interrupted and spoke over each other repeatedly during the interview. The Chief Executive said that the efforts of his administration in the Mideast will take more time and should not be judged too quickly. He also denied the assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken on a leadership role in Syria.
Kroft appeared to grow exasperated by Obama answers to his lengthy prologues and questions. At one point, Kroft said said "I feel like I've been filibustered, Mr. President." For his part, Obama observed that Kroft asked rambling questions and suggested that he should "roll back the tape" to prove it.
Here follows an excerpt from CBS's official transcript:
Steve Kroft: The last time we talked was this time last year, and the situation in Syria and Iraq had begun to worsen vis-à-vis ISIS. You had just unveiled a plan to provide air support for troops in Iraq, and also some air strikes in Syria, and the training and equipping of a moderate Syrian force. You said that this would degrade and eventually destroy ISIS.
President Barack Obama: Over time.
Steve Kroft: Over time. It's been a year, and--
President Barack Obama: I didn't say it was going to be done in a year.
Steve Kroft: No. But you said...
President Barack Obama: There's a question in here somewhere.
Kroft pressed the president on his timetable and lack of success to rein in the Islamic State, The journalist, for example, described the moribund Pentagon plan to train and equip anti-Islamic State fighters as an "embarrassment." This followed a White House announcement on October 9 that it is now "pausing" its efforts to train and equip militia opposed to Syrian President Bashr al-Assad and his regime. In September, in testimony before the Senate, the Defense Department revealed that instead of an initial goal of 5,000 fighters, the U.S. military now only has four or five still on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria.
Kroft: If you were skeptical of the program to find and identify, train and equip moderate Syrians, why did you go through the program?
Obama: Well, because part of what we have to do here, Steve, is to try different things. Because we also have partners on the ground that are invested and interested in seeing some sort of resolution to this problem. And--
Kroft: And they wanted you to do it.
Obama: Well, no. That's not what I said. I think it is important for us to make sure that we explore all the various options that are available.
Kroft: I know you don't want to talk about this.
Obama: No, I'm happy to talk about it.
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.
Obama: You know, the-- the-- Steve, let me just say this.
Kroft: It's an embarrassment.
Kroft suggested to Obama that Putin was directly "challenging your leadership" in Syria even while Obama sits out, by entering the civil war while the U.S. stays out of it.
Kroft: A year ago when we did this interview, there was some saber-rattling between the United States and Russia on the Ukrainian border. Now it's also going on in Syria. You said a year ago that the United States-- America leads. We're the indispensible nation. Mr. Putin seems to be challenging that leadership.
Obama: In what way? Let-- let's think about this-- let-- let--
Kroft: Well, he's moved troops into Syria, for one. He's got people on the ground. Two, the Russians are conducting military operations in the Middle East for the first time since World War II--
Obama: So that's--
Kroft: --bombing the people-- that we are supporting.
Obama: So that's leading, Steve? Let me ask you this question. When I came into office, Ukraine was governed by a corrupt ruler who was a stooge of Mr. Putin. Syria was Russia's only ally in the region. And today, rather than being able to count on their support and maintain the base they had in Syria, which they've had for a long time, Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally. And in Ukraine--
Kroft: He's challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He's challenging your leadership--
Obama: Well Steve, I got to tell you, if you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we've got a different definition of leadership.