In an interview with United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer pointed out President Obama contradicting himself on fighting terrorism: "Many times during his presidency, the President has said that the tide of war is receding....But yesterday, he talked about this fight against ISIS and he said, 'The only language understood by killers like ISIS is the language of force.'"
He then wondered: "Are we heading back to a perpetual footing of war?" Power replied: "No. But what we are doing is engaging in a campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy this monstrous group." Lauer followed up: "Are we at war now against ISIS?" Power stated: "We're at war against group of ISIL, yeah." [Listen to the audio]
Moments later, after describing America's various enemies in Syria beyond ISIS, including the Assad regime, Lauer worried: "Have we gotten ourselves into a situation that's going to be impossible to untangle?"
In contrast to Lauer's pointed questions to Power, on September 18, the hosts of CBS This Morning refused to ask her a single tough foreign policy question.
Here is a full transcript of Lauer's September 25 interview with Power:
7:06 AM ET
MATT LAUER: Samantha Power is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she joins us now exclusively. Madam Ambassador, it's great to see you.
SAMANTHA POWER: Great to be here.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: U.S. & Allies Take On ISIS; U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power on Strategy]
LAUER: Many times during his presidency, the President has said that the tide of war is receding, at the same gathering of the General Assembly last year, he said, "We are shifting away from a perpetual war footing." But yesterday, he talked about this fight against ISIS and he said, "The only language understood by killers like ISIS is the language of force." Are we heading back to a perpetual footing of war?
POWER: No. But what we are doing is engaging in a campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy this monstrous group. And to the extent that we have been at war with Al Qaeda over these many years, that is the kind of effort that you'll see against ISIL.
LAUER: Are we at war now against ISIS?
POWER: We're at war against group of ISIL, yeah.
LAUER: One thing was missing from the speech yesterday, he did not directly criticize Bashar al-Assasd, the president of Syria as he has in the past. What is noticeable to me in the two days since air strikes began in Syria, as he has in the past. And what's noticeable to me is in the two days since air strikes began inside Syria, Assad has remained silent. Is that silence a tacit acknowledgment on both sides that our actions in Syria are helping Assad?
POWER: Well, President Obama has made clear in virtually every speech that he's given on the effort against ISIL that Syria is not a reliable partner on this. I mean, they've let ISIL establish safe havens. Most of their strikes are still against civilian neighborhoods and against moderate opposition groups. They haven't been serious in that effort. Which is why, in defense of Iraq – there was no way to defend the country of Iraq, the people of Iraq, our interests in the region, without going into Syria.
LAUER: But when you warned your counterpart at the United Nations from Syria that these air strikes were about to happen, did he express approval or did he express outrage?
POWER: Well, they have come out and said we want to coordinate. This is what we've been saying all along, but our point back is you're committing terror against your people. You're the one using chemical weapons and barrel bombs, etcetera. So we didn't ask permission, we just offered a notification.
LAUER: It seems to me we have three distinct enemies inside Syria. We have ISIS, we've got the Khorasan group, the offshoot of Al Qaeda, and we have Assad's forces. That old expression of the enemy of my enemy is my friend doesn't even seem to fit the bill here anymore. Have we gotten ourselves into a situation that's going to be impossible to untangle?
POWER: Well, look, it is very complicated. And I think people have had a hard time tracking who's what. But what we know is that the vast majority of the Syrian people have wanted this war to end for a very long time. They can't tolerate the leadership of somebody who would use chemical weapons against children, barrel bombs, etcetera. But nor can they tolerate the kind of leadership that you saw in the video of a rule that is so brutal that people have to go around fully veiled even if that's not their choice. People get their hands chopped off, public beheadings, etcetera.
LAUER: I want to end on the subject of ebola. The CDC has come out now, Madam Ambassador, and said by January there could be 1.5 million cases of ebola. It's a global threat. And yet, here's what one worker for the World Health Organization in Liberia said, "I've worked in many crises for more than 20 years, and it's the first time I can see a situation that nobody wants to come. People are afraid to come. That's it." When you talk to your counterparts at the U.N., are you confident they're going to send the people to the region that can stop this outbreak?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Global Fight Against Ebola; U.N. Ambassador On International Efforts]
POWER: Well, you put your finger on the right issue. A lot of people want to kind of check the box and say we gave at the office, we've written a check. And we're saying we need doctors, we need nurses, we need logisticians, we need engineers. President Obama's leadership on this, as with ISIL, has been key.
LAUER: Are there other countries following?
POWER: Well, last week we had an historic U.N. Security Council session, first ever emergency session on a public health crisis, 134 co-sponsors of the resolution. And we are now calling on those 134 countries to cough up more than, you know, checking a box and co-sponsoring a resolution, but a willingness to actually join us. The fact that there is an American foothold there, that there will be more than 3,000 troops setting up this joint task force, has given countries much more confidence. And so, we're going to bring in liaisons from a lot of countries and then translate that into real commitments over time. But we don't have time to waste.
LAUER: Ambassador Samantha Power, thank you so much for joining us in the studio today.
POWER: Thanks, Matt.