Panel on Obama's Afghanistan Decision Making

Panel on Obama's Afghanistan Decision Making

By Special Report With Bret Baier - October 20, 2009


HAMID KARZAI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT (via translator): I call upon our nation to change this to an opportunity to strengthen our resolve and determination to move this country forward and participate in the new round of elections.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: President Karzai, as well as the other candidates, I think, have shown that they have the interests of the Afghan people at heart.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, President Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to praise him for agreeing to a runoff in the disputed presidential election.

It comes as there appears to be disputes inside this administration. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is speaking out on the road saying, "We're not just going to sit on our hands waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul before coming up with a troop strategy."

This comes after the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel essentially said exactly the opposite on the Sunday talk shows.

What about all of this? Let's bring in our panel: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Bill, you first alerted to us to this fracture, if you will, between the Pentagon and White House as to whether there would be troop levels determined before the Afghan government is stabilized. It appears that the defense secretary wasn't too happy about those comments.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I don't think the defense secretary or General Petraeus or General McChrystal or Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participating in this big interagency review trying to figure out and to help President Obama make his decision.

Suddenly the White House chief of staff and the White House political adviser, David Axelrod, go out on the Sunday shows and say hey, we can't do anything until - it would be reckless to do something until we have a stable Afghan partner, and suddenly Robert Gibbs and the White House is saying the same thing.

The White House staff tried to hijack this decision, in my view, maybe with the president's blessing, maybe not, because they do not want President Obama to commit fully to the war in Afghanistan.

It is very clear: Rahm Emanuel has been talking about Vietnam, handing out books about the Vietnam process. This is the last big reforming Democratic presidency was killed in Vietnam. They don't want to make the commitment that President Obama basically said he would make to this war a couple of months ago.

I believe there is a pretty big rift now between the White House staff and the Defense Department from top to bottom, civilian and military and most of the foreign policy professionals who don't think we can afford to make a half-baked commitment to Afghanistan or pull out.

I think President Obama will overrule his White House staff and go with Secretary Gates and the uniform military.

BAIER: So you think Defense Secretary Gates stands with General McChrystal in his request?

KRISTOL: Totally. There is a uniformity up and down the chain. There is no split in the military on this one.

And the military is offended. McChrystal was sent over there by Gates. They replaced a four star. The president made a commitment. They did a five-week review with a lot of civilian advisers. They gave the president their best judgment, saying this is the troops we need to fight this war in the way that you have asked us to fight it.

And suddenly a bunch of political guys in the White House are saying, oh, the polls are a little shaky, let's send half the number of troops.

The military really thinks this is not the way to make policy.

BAIER: Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: You know, this looks like an attempt to satisfy the international community and not solve the problem of Afghanistan.

I mean, the election was fraudulent. OK, so we're going to have runoff. One, the runoff will be November 7 when a lot of the polling places will be - won't be open, for one thing. It will take a lot of U.S. troop strength in order to protect the election, a lot of people are going to get killed by the Taliban.

The day afterwards, OK, suppose Karzai wins: Is he any more legitimate then after an election? Only in the eyes of the international community. His brother, A. W. Karzai is still down there in southeast Afghanistan selling drugs - is the big drug lord of the country. And, you know, and the governance is no better.

Obama has got to make this decision and he's got to make it on the basis of are we going to go for a victory in Afghanistan or are we going to do something less than that? And it shouldn't depend on the outcome. Gates is absolutely right and the military is absolutely right.

BAIER: Charles, there have been numerous stories in a number of different papers and other different outlets that I'm hearing privately from military commanders that there is real concern about this decision process and even in the sense of what it looks like.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, it's not just the process of White House appearing to preempt or overrule the military, and the White House not exactly having the background and expertise that the military does.

It's also the substance and the logic of it. What Gates was saying is this is preposterous that you have to wait until after the election to decide on the troop level. After all, look, there are three things that we can say with the confidence about what the government of Afghanistan will look like after this election: It's going to be weak; it is going to be pro-American, and it's going to be corrupt.

That's how it was yesterday, and that's how it will be tomorrow. More or less corrupt and more or less weak, but that's how it will be, and that's how it was a year ago. So it's not going to depend on the outcome of the election.

That's the card that we're dealt in Afghanistan, and that's going to be. Now, the best outcome would be if you had a coalition so you wouldn't have to have a runoff on all of the complications that are talked about. But even so that's going to be in place, and we know that today, so why would you hold off and delay a critical decision on the strength of our troops because you don't know the exact composition of the Cabinet?

It's nonsense, and I think Gates shot it down pretty strongly today.

KONDRACKE: Yes, you know, one half suspects that this is all domestic politics - that the White House knows that it's going to have to give up the public option on health care sometime in November and make the left furious at that.

And then it's going to have to make a decision on troop withdrawal - or more troops in Afghanistan. That is going to make the left angry and they want to push it off as far as they can until toward Thanksgiving.


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