Roundtable Debates Afghan Strategy

Roundtable Debates Afghan Strategy

By Special Report With Bret Baier - September 1, 2009


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: While there a lot of gloom and doom going around, I think that General McChrystal's assessment will be realistic one and set challenges in front of us. At the same time, I think we have assets in place and some developments that hold promise.


BAIER: The defense secretary talking about General Stanley McChrystal's assessment of Afghanistan in a statement just a couple of days ago. The general said the situation in Afghanistan is serious but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve and increased unity of effort. This comes as there is a new public opinion poll out about what the public thinks of the president's handling of Afghanistan, and there you see now it is at 48 percent, down from 56 percent in April. So what about the situation in Afghanistan and the administration's response? Let's bring in our panel. Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of "Fortune" magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, you see that the public support for Afghanistan is slipping in almost every poll we look at, and then this assessment that President Obama is going to take with him to Camp David this Wednesday.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think a lot of slippage in the polls is Democrats.

Let's remember how all of this happened. During the Bush years, the Democrats inflated the importance of Afghanistan and pretended it was the good war, the war that had to be won, even as Obama said just a month ago, a war of necessity, as a way to oppose the Iraq war and not appear to be entirely antiwar as the Democratic reputation was ever since the Vietnam days.

It was a cynical political maneuver. Bob Shrum, who was a high advisor in the Kerry campaign five years ago admitted that it was a political move as a way to oppose the Bush war, but not the antiwar.

Well, now that the Democrats are in control, and they have a president who understands that it is an unpopular war and infinitely more difficult war than Iraq because it was never a country, it's extremely decentralized, it has a very weak central government and a huge amount of corruption. But he stuck with it.

So what has happened is his troops, meaning his political troops, Democrats, the rank and file, who in the Bush days were ostensibly in favor of the war, are now open about their opposition. And he's losing his constituency on the left and in the center and even some on the right.

BAIER: You mentioned some on the right. George Will had a column in which he said it's time to pull out of Afghanistan, essentially saying, and we will put up the, "America should only be done what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes, small potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500 border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."

He said "Genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan. When means now before American valor is squandered."

Nina, that's powerful from someone like George Will.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: What he is talking about when he talks about the first part of that quote is precisely the opposite direction that McChrystal is going, which is less reliance on drones and offshore support, more reliance on getting involved with the locals, more reliance on foot patrols, and more reliance on trying to bring the civilian population along with the program.

So it's gone from, I think, the good war to the deadly war. That's a more - short-term, at least, I think it's very likely, and we're seeing more casualties because soldiers out there. They're exposed more.

And so I think that's going to create an incredible danger zone ahead for this president when he goes to Congress when he needs more troops, when he needs more money there.

By the way, he also, keep in the mind, in his budget claimed a $1.5 trillion savings by winding down Iraq and Afghanistan. That's clearly not the case in Afghanistan.

BAIER: Juan, this sounds like an assessment what General Petraeus did in Iraq, in moving out into these communities, protecting the population, and trying to reach out. But that is going to require more troops.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I don't think there is he any question it will require more troops. And I think that this report is simply preliminary to that request.

But what he is doing here, General McChrystal, is laying out a strategy, a strategy that's different than any that has come before, with the hope that he can get people inside the White House to buy in and hear him talking, not just about President Obama, but Vice President Biden and people looking at the poll numbers and seeing that now a majority of the American people think this is a war that is not worth fighting.

But if you go to the Pentagon and you talk to Admiral Mullen, what he will tell you is the Taliban is more sophisticated than they were a year ago. We just heard from Defense Secretary Gates saying that there is a tough road ahead. He thinks that we have assets on the ground and we have some chance of success. But nobody is standing up and saying this is a cakewalk, this is going to be easy. And what is really troubling if you're looking at it from the White House perspective is numbers - not about President Obama's handling. And let me just say, I don't think this is democrat or Republican. Look at these numbers, numbers that indicate that now only 25 percent of America think we should send more troops to Afghanistan. That's down from about 40 percent from a month ago. That is a tremendous drop off, and I think it's indicative of the fact that people in this country are tired of war. And I don't know that you can lay it on any one specific administration's doorstep, but how crazy is that after 9/11 when we were attacked and that we now have to stop Afghanistan from becoming a sanctuary for Taliban and Al Qaeda right next door in Pakistan? I don't understand it, except to say we are as a people war weary.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: McChrystal is proposing an Afghan surge. This is a complete recreation of what happened in Iraq in '06, '07, '08. We were at a low point in public opinion at the time, and elite opinion was entirely against the surge in Iraq.

Bush made the most courageous and correct decision of his entire presidency in insisting on it against the polls. And what happened is that surge succeeded in saving a lost war.

In Afghanistan the idea is this - we have a bridge, a surge which would be a year or two, during which you build up the Afghan army to perhaps a quarter of a million, which would be able, if it succeeds, to then, with little western support, keep the capital, protect the capital, make deals with the warlords in the north, and contain the Pashtun insurgency in the south. That's all that we can hope.

But if you don't have a surge for a year or two where the west steps in and creates an Afghan army, we are going to have helicopters at the embassy in Kabul.

BAIER: Last thing, Nina - there are a lot of if's in that equation, if it can happen. And is there the political will to stand it out if it doesn't?

KRAUTHAMMER: There were a lot of ifs in Iraq as well.

BAIER: Right, but this is a different administration.

EASTON: And he had the opportunity when he first came in. He stood back, and there already was one surge. There already has been a change of leadership, military leadership in Afghanistan, just like happened in Iraq.

But now it's coming to the front burner. And I think if you think this is the bloody war over health care, watch it over Afghanistan. It is real political dynamite for the president.


The Big Questions in Iraq
David Ignatius · November 12, 2014

Special Report With Bret Baier

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter