CB: "In the Middle East, America's name was less than mud."
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Michael appears on Campbell Brown's program to discuss the speech; other panelists include Bill Bennett, Fran Townsend, and NPR's John Ridley. Bennett insists that Obama said nothing new today, which is a delusion of such high magnitude as to be almost painful; however, the far-right's ability to self-delude has been so impressive over the past eight years that it really fails to evoke much more than an eyeroll anymore. Thankfully, Michael was there for the reality check.
CAMPBELL BROWN: Now, time for our third big question of the night. Should al Qaeda be more afraid of Obama than Bush? And back to talk about that, John Ridley and Bill Bennett once again. Also joined by CNN international correspondent Michael Ware and Fran Townsend, also back with us as well.
Michael, let me start with you. No coincidence probably that bin Laden releases a tape...
MICHAL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all.
BROWN: ... just as he's heading toward the region. Who do you think --
WARE: Yes, cheap PR stunt, you know.
BROWN: Whose message do you think is resonating right now more with the Arab street this week?
WARE: Well, I certainly think that without doubt President Obama has the ball in his court right now. I mean, the Arab street is hungry for something new. Now, whether this is going to be enough, only time will tell.
As we've been saying, this was a landmark speech. It was telling in its oratory and in its format. But is it going to be backed up by action? That's what the Arab street is waiting for. And if it's not, then we're going to be left with what we are.
We need to see President Obama take real action, for example, in the Arab mind on Israel. Because if there is no action there, then there's no difference to them between a President Bush and a President Obama, and don't forget in the Arab mind, President Obama may be the good guy that he is, but to many on the ground, it's still the military and the CIA that runs the show. So we need to see real action before we determine who wins this debate.
BROWN: So to that point, we all analyzed his speech earlier. Talk about the action part of it. What has to happen now, Fran, in your view, for this to go to the next level?
FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, we've heard President Obama again talk about changing interrogation techniques and changing Guantanamo, closing Guantanamo, but we don't hear -- he hasn't even told his own party, he hasn't told Congress the details of that. We're still waiting for the details. And to Michael's point, we don't understand how he's going to implement that.
You know, the fascinating thing -- you asked about bin Laden's statement, the fascinating thing about that is he's angry and accuses President Obama of following the policies of the prior administration. That's really a reference to the Predator strikes and the support of Pakistan in the tribal areas.
That ought to be good news to the American people. We're talking about the reaction in the Arab world. The American people ought to feel pretty good that we've maintained an aggressive posture and that that, frankly, makes Osama bin Laden mad.
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't know. George Bush can't do much to him right now. He doesn't have Fran Townsend anymore and he isn't in office. But, you know, Osama bin Laden declares war on the United States no matter who's president. That's, you know, twice when Bill Clinton was in office.
Flannery O'Connor said once, "I hate to say I find tedious what's giving so much exhilaration." But I found the speech tedious. I don't know how you say it's landmark until we see what comes of it. It's a speech George Bush could have given in all its particulars.
WARE: But he never did.
BENNETT: Yes, he did. He sure did.
WARE: Could have, would have, should have.
BENNETT: And he did. He did.
TOWNSEND: He did.
BENNETT: He gave a speech in Egypt. By the way, there is still an interrogation going on in Egypt, which this administration supports.
WARE: Of course. But it's not rendition.
BROWN: So what policies are you looking for? I mean, what do you want to see him do?
BENNETT: Well, first of all, I'm basically pleased with what he's doing. Despite all this rhetoric, he is carrying on the war in Iraq. He is pumping the troops in Afghanistan. He is supporting the Pakistanis against the Taliban. Good stuff.
Now if George Bush does it, it's terrible. But when he does it, they love it. Fine with me.
BROWN: Well, explain the difference.
WARE: But it's also a matter of tone.
BENNETT: Certainly, they love his tone. They love his tone better, but I like the action.
WARE: It's delivery. I think it's part of the schtick.
BROWN: Is it about more than tone?
JOHN RIDLEY, NPR CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I disagree. I don't think it was a glib speech. I do agree that it was very short on specifics. I don't think that's unusual for President Obama.
WARE: Yes, but did we expect details? No.
RIDLEY: It's a first stage speech but I will say this -- you know, the question is, should they fear former President Bush or Bush when he was in office or Obama? The reality is they are fearing a united front. And that's what has got to happen here is, is the president now with all that he's facing, can he get not just America, not just the world, but specifically the Arabs behind?
I think he said some things that can move the moderates in that direction. I don't think it's an either/or opposition. Can he get the united front to help on the war on terror?
BENNETT: If he can get more people behind him because they like him better and they like his name better and they like his approach better, even though he's saying essentially the same thing as George Bush, that's fine with me.
BROWN: But why dismiss that? I mean, the fact that here's a guy who looks like them, who has a name like them, that means something.
BENNETT: Well, fine, that's good. But what will it come to? That is, will all of a sudden people say, by gosh, you're right and I hope you do stay in Iraq until things are safe. And we support you sending more troops into Afghanistan. If they say that, then fine. Otherwise, it's just a feel good. Let's wait and see.
TOWNSEND: Campbell, I think it can't be lost on people, including in the Arab world, he did make much of his middle name Barack Hussein Obama in his speech today.
TOWNSEND: Do you think that the Arab world, it was lost on them that he refused to use his middle name in his inauguration, he refused to use it during the campaign?
WARE: No, I think they're living in the now. I think you'll find they're living in the now.
TOWNSEND: Well, I don't think so.
RIDLEY: I don't know that he could use his middle name. I don't think he didn't want to. I think he was pushed to a place where he couldn't use it.
WARE: Yeah, horses for courses. Listen, after President Bush, I'm sorry, in the Middle East, America's name was less than mud. I'm sorry. You are loathed and despised even by the moderates who are desperate to support you, and to give them anything to cling on to --
TOWNSEND: Wait a minute.
BENNETT: You were there.
BENNETT: But it had to make some difference to people in Iraq and Afghanistan. George Bush liberated 40 million or 50 million of them.
TOWNSEND: Thank you.
BENNETT: Barack Obama has liberated none of them.
WARE: That's not how they see it. He brought tyranny and occupation. He brought Abu Ghraib.
BENNETT: They want to go back.
WARE: He brought dead children --
BENNETT: They want to go back.
WARE: No, they're saying, that's what he brought.
BENNETT: They want to go back. They don't want democracy.
WARE: As the Iraqis have long said...
BENNETT: Well, you guys are saying what they think.
WARE: ... if this is democracy, we want to take tyranny.
I think -- I think it's going to take some deft footwork by a new administration to reshape that thinking. But at the end of the day, they need to deliver where previous administrations haven't and that's in Israel and Palestine. And that we still haven't seen any real movement in Afghanistan.
BENNETT: I hope not.
WARE: What's happening in Pakistan? There's the answer. Therein lies the solution.
BROWN: We've got 30 seconds.
WARE: And we've yet to see real --
BENNETT: Well, again, we shall see what he does.
WARE: Exactly. I'm yet to believe.
BENNETT: But again, the basic outlines of the policy have not changed, have they?
WARE: Well --
BENNETT: I mean, if you talk about US policy toward Iraq, toward Afghanistan, toward Pakistan...
BROWN: All right.
BENNETT: ... it hasn't changed.
BROWN: And we will -- we will --
WARE: Obviously, Iran --
BENNETT: A smiley face on it.
WARE: To Iran it certainly has and Iraq is being changed.
BROWN: To be continued. To be continued. A great panel, guys. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.