President Barack Obama tells Jon Stewart during Thursday’s (Oct. 18) episode of “The Daily Show” that the deaths of four Americans during Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, were “not optimal.”
“I would say and even you would admit it was not the optimal response — at least to the American people as far as all of us being on the same page,” Stewart says to the president regarding the Obama administration’s reaction to the attacks.
“Here is what I will say, if four Americans get killed it is not optimal,” Obama says. “And we are going to fix it, all of it. And what happens during the course of a presidency, you know the government is a big operation at any given time, something screws up and you make sure you find out what’s broken and you fix it.”
“And you know whatever else I have done throughout the course of my presidency,” he continues, “one thing that I’ve been absolutely clear about is America’s security comes first and the American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, national security and protecting Americans. And they will continue to get that over the next four years of my presidency.”
Stewart mentions — as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has — the fact that Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, wrongly attributed the attacks to protests over an anti-Islam video, saying there was “the perception that State was on a different page than you.”
“John, the truth is that information comes in, folks put it out throughout the process, people say it is still incomplete,” Obama says. “What I was always clear about was we are going to do an investigation and figure out what happened.”
The president also defends his administration against allegations of confusion over the incident.
Obama says, “Well, we weren’t confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed, I wasn’t confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened, I wasn’t confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed and I wasn’t confused about the fact that we were going to hunt down whoever did it and bring them to justice.”
“So, as I said during the debate, nobody is more interested in figuring this out than I am,” he continues. “When a tragic event like this happens on the other side of the world immediately a whole bunch of intelligence starts coming in and you try to piece together exactly what happens. And what have always tried to do is just get all the facts figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again and we’re still in that process now. But every piece of information that we got as we got it we laid it out for the American people, and the picture eventually gets fully filled in and we know how to prevent it in the future.”
Stewart also asks President Obama if he still believes that “we don’t have to trade our values for our security.”
The president responds, “We don’t, there’s some things that we haven’t gotten done, I still want to close Guantanamo, we haven’t been able to get that done. One of the things that we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place and we need congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reigned in, but any president’s reigned in in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making.”
He continues, “Now there’s some tough trade-offs, I mean there are times when there are bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world and you’ve got to make a call and it’s not optimal. When you look at our track record as to say we’ve ended the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan we’ve gone after Al Qaida and it’s leadership, it’s true that Al Qaida is still active at least remnants of it are staging in North Africa and the Middle East, and sometimes you’ve got to make some tough calls, but you can do so that is consistent with international law and American law.”
But the president’s conversation with Stewart during his two seven-minute segments wasn’t all serious.
“How many times a week does Biden show up in a wet bathing suit?” Stewart asks.
The president jokes back that he had to issue a directive to stop the Vice President Joe Biden from doing just that.
“But I’ve got to say, he looks pretty good,” Obama says.
President Obama’s interview airs Thursday at 11 p.m. on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central.