MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, war and peace.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in
the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored
by this prize.
MR. GREGORY: President Obama unexpectedly wins the Nobel Peace Prize even as
he tries to craft a new strategy to win the war in Afghanistan, now
entering its ninth year. Is the centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy
mission impossible? This morning, an exclusive debate on the way forward
and whether the Taliban and al-Qaeda can ever truly be defeated. Two key
voices on the Hill and two experienced military leaders weigh in:
chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Carl Levin
of Michigan; a GOP member of that same committee, Senator Lindsey Graham
of South Carolina; former commander in chief of U.S. Southern Command,
retired General Barry McCaffrey; and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, retired General Richard Myers.
Then the political debate. Will the president be able to get his own
party's support when he finally presents his plan for Afghanistan? When
will we see some agreement on health care, and what more should the White
House do to create jobs? Insights and analysis from our political
roundtable: the National Journal's Ron Brownstein, The Wall Street
Journal's Paul Gigot, "BBC World News America"'s Katty Kay and The
Washington Post's Bob Woodward.
Finally, our MEET THE PRESS Minute from February 4th, 1968; some very
important lessons from another war that didn't go as planned.
MR. GREGORY: But first, the debate about the way forward in
Afghanistan. Joining me now: the chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, Carl Levin; and the Republican from South Carolina, Senator
Lindsey Graham; as well as retired Generals Richard Myers and Barry
Great to have all of you here for such an important discussion. So here's
where we are. On the president's desk, a request for more troops, up to
40,000 troops, from his general on the ground, General McChrystal. The
president has said, in Afghanistan, it is a war of necessity. In March he
said there was a massive counterinsurgency strategy, that was the
strategy. So, Senator Levin, if his commander comes to him and says, "I
need more forces," why isn't the answer yes?
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): The answer is that the president of the United
States has got to look at all aspects of this. Obviously a commander's
recommendation is important, it'll be given great weight, I have no doubt
about that, and it should be given great weight. But so also should the
recommendation of a secretary of Defense who is the choice of the
president to be in that position. And the president has to look at a much
broader perspective than the commander's request, as important as that
MR. GREGORY: But doesn't it flow--war of necessity, massive counterinsurgency
strategy announced in March, handpicked guy goes in there, an expert on
counterinsurgency, says, "I need at least 40,000 more troops," doesn't it
flow that the answer would be yes?
SEN. LEVIN: The flow is that you want to succeed, and what--how do you
maximize the chances of success? That is the question, and that's what
the president is struggling with. We don't know what all those
recommendations are, by the way, of General McChrystal. But General
McChrystal said a number of things, not that he just needs more
resources, whatever that number is. He also says we need a new strategy
and that that is even more important than the resources. Those are
McChrystal's own words. He also says deliberate, take the right amount of
time to think this thing through. And he also says that what is even more
important than numbers is the resolve. And I had a personal conversation
with McChrystal, and what he says is that you want to find ways of
showing resolve to the people of Afghanistan. There are many ways to show
resolve in addition to more and more combat forces, including many more
trainers to get the Afghan forces to be a lot larger and a lot stronger.
MR. MR. GREGORY: You say no, don't send more troops?
SEN. LEVIN: I'm saying at this time don't send more combat troops, but I
say focus on the Afghan forces, the army; faster, larger, better
equipped. Why are we shipping--why don't we have a great plan to ship
equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan? We ought to do that to strengthen the
Afghan army. So there's a lot of ways to show resolve other than more and
more combat forces.
MR.GREGORY: Senator Graham, where are you?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think I'm with General McChrystal. He says
that the force structure we have today--68,000 American troops plus our
NATO partners plus the Afghan army--are not sufficient to turn around the
momentum that the Taliban have gained. I am all for more trainers. The
president says we're not going to withdraw. He's rejected the
counterterrorism strategy. The only difference this morning is whether or
not you put combat troops in to enable the trainers. The Afghan national
police are getting slaughtered. It's hard to train people, send them off
to fight when they get killed at their first duty station. So without
better security, the training element will fail. That's exactly what
happened in Afghanistan. So we need more combat power. General McChrystal
says 40,000, in that neighborhood; I would go with the general.
MR. GREGORY: There, there's a larger question of what the nature of the fight
is right now, and I'll turn to the two generals here. This is how The New
York Times reported it on Thursday in terms of the debate that's taking
shape within the White House: "President Obama's national security team
is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against
al-Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not
pose a direct threat to the United States." In fact, General Myers, the
current national security adviser, General Jones, says there's fewer than
100 al-Qaeda fighters actually currently operating in Afghanistan. What
is the central front here in this war?
GEN. RICHARD MYERS (Ret.): I think the central front is against violent
extremism, which plays out in both Afghanistan and, as we saw just
recently in the last several months, in Pakistan as well. So I don't know
how you differentiate between violent extremists that have an extreme
view of their religion and are willing to take--go to any means to
achieve their political goals. And, and we--we're seeing it play out in
Afghanistan, we're seeing the Taliban in Pakistan. So it's, it's more
than Afghanistan, it's Pakistan as well, it's the region. Uzbekistan has
terrorists that have found safe haven in Afghanistan before. And then
it's--I think that, that's spills over into the, the rest of the world,
matter of fact.
MR. GREGORY: But where should the fight be, General McCaffrey? I mean,
in--within the White House there seems to be a very strong view that the
focus on Afghanistan and counterinsurgency against the Taliban might be
misguided. We went to war after 9/11 to take out al-Qaeda, and they don't
appear to be there in big numbers in Afghanistan.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.): Well, you know, I actually think Senator
Levin sent the--set the argument up correctly. The last thing we ought to
debate is whether the answer is 40,000 or 10,000 troops. The real
question is you've got this giant nation, 32 million people, it's 500
miles from the sea, which complicates matters. Our logistics lines go
through Pakistan. The question is, “Do we have resolve to build a viable
state in Afghanistan?” And that's a function not just of troop strength.
Now, having said all that, there's 25,000 Taliban on the ground now is
the unclassified number we're talking about. The country's then
quadrupled in terms of direct enemy threat, we're about on the verge of
losing small U.S. combat forces. I don't see how the president can't back
up his ground commander in the short run.
MR. GREGORY: So you got to escalate?
GEN. McCAFFREY: I think in the short run you got no option.
MR. GREGORY: General, do you have to escalate?
GEN. MYERS: I think you probably do, but I would, I would caution--I
don't--it's not about 40,000 or whatever the number is--and by the way,
that doesn't all have to be U.S., in my view. I think one of the things
the president and his team has to do is convince our friends and allies
who committed at the Bonn conference back in 2001 to help support
development of Afghanistan, that they have to pony up as well. And they
have to do so--when they do so, they have to do it with the right rules
MR. GREGORY: Senator Levin, some of your colleagues, Senator Graham included,
Senator McCain, say, "Hey, remember the surge in Iraq? That was--that's a
model here. And that--things got better in Iraq." We don't know the
outcome in Iraq yet. But you traveled to Iraq in 2007 and you said there
were tangible, positive results from surging U.S. forces. Why not apply
those lessons to Afghanistan and send more combat troops if your general
says we need them?
SEN. LEVIN: The surge that really worked--that will work in Afghanistan
will be a surge of Afghan troops. And that's not me speaking, that's a
captain, Marine captain down in Helmand province who says the Achilles'
heel in Afghanistan is the shortage of Afghan troops. Our own commandant
of the Marines, General Conway, says if he could change one thing in
southern Afghanistan it would be to have more Afghan troops. As far as
the Iraqi surge is concerned, it took place after the strategy was
changed to try and, successfully, to get to get 100,000 Iraqis who were
attacking us to switch sides. That was called the--an Iraqi surge, Sons
of Iraq. And we need to do the same thing in Afghanistan. It takes a
plan. We don't have a plan yet to get those, those lower level, those
local Taliban fighters who are on a payroll not because they're, they're
wildly fanatic religious people but because they're being paid.
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator Graham, doesn't it also take a government in
Afghanistan that's a legitimate ally, that isn't corrupt, that isn't
failing in the fundamental job of governance?
SEN. GRAHAM: Absolutely. You could send a million troops into Afghanistan
and it would not legitimize their government. So I...
MR. GREGORY: But then why are you pushing for more troops when we don't have
an ally there?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, because I do believe, like Iraq, where you had a
dysfunctional government, the security environment was impossible for
Iraq to move forward. And once the security got better due to the surge,
the Iraqis stepped up. So what I am suggesting is that training the
Afghan army and police only is a failed strategy. We had 200,000 people
trained in Iraq; they folded like a cheap suit when they went in combat.
Only when we embedded with the Iraqi army and police and provided better
security did the training get better and governance get better.
You have to do two things here. You have to bring about security, because
if the Taliban keep re-emerging it's a mortal threat to Pakistan,
according to the foreign minister of Pakistan. Any area lost to the
Taliban means soccer stadiums are reopened. It would be the defeat of
NATO. So you've got to secure the country against a re-emergent Taliban
and have benchmarks and measurements on the Afghan government to get them
to perform better for their people. You have to do two things at once.
It's exactly what we did in Iraq. But without better security, more
combat power, we're going to lose in Afghanistan.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, you and your colleagues, like Senator McCain and
others, have been suggesting that the president is taking too long in
making this decision. Do you think he's showing weakness in this very
important national security problem?
SEN. GRAHAM: Not at this point. At the end of the day, he'll be judged by
the decision he makes. If he does a half measure, putting just a few
troops in that won't turn around the momentum of the battle, that will be
weakness. If he used the counterterrorism strategy, that will lead to
failure. If he will plus up American combat power and get more NATO
troops involved and go at the Taliban and push the Karzai government,
that will be strength. And the Iranians will notice what we do in
Afghanistan. The Pakistani government feels threatened by a re-emerged
MR. GREGORY: All right....
SEN. GRAHAM: They say, "Why are we sticking our necks out?" So I think
what he does will determine if he's weak or strong.
MR. GREGORY: But right now you think he's being appropriately deliberative?
SEN. GRAHAM: I cannot--yes. I think if he'll continue to talk with his
foreign policy team and the generals and come out with a
military/civilian strategy that is robust and gets to the heart of the
problem, he will be just fine.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
SEN. GRAHAM: And earn the award he was given.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me take a step back here. We'll get to the Nobel Peace
Prize in a, in a few minutes. I want to talk about the current situation
in Afghanistan by going back to the beginning. This was President Bush in
October of 2001 announcing the invasion of Afghanistan.
(Videotape, October 7, 2001)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Given the nature and reach of our enemies, we
will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes.
MR. GREGORY: Well, you'd have to be very patient if you'd look at the
timeline of this war compared to other wars. The United States was in
Vietnam for 102 months, the American Revolution 100 months, the
Afghanistan war 96 months and counting. And where we are we currently?
General McChrystal, the, the commander on the ground said this in his
assessment this summer: "The situation in Afghanistan is serious. ...
Many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating." General
Myers, you were chairman of the Joint Chiefs starting in October of 2001.
What assumption about Afghanistan was fundamentally wrong?
GEN. MYERS: I think that the--I think it played out in execution. My
view, and it's been talked around the four of us here, if you're going to
be successful in, in these endeavors, Iraq or Afghanistan, it takes all
instruments from national power. We've been focusing on troop strength.
That's an important part of the equation. The other parts,
though--economic development, political, diplomatic development--have
been lagging. They lagged in Iraq and now they're lagging in Afghanistan.
We have a central government...
MR. GREGORY: But, but the question I'm asking you is you were the military
GEN. MYERS: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...at the time, with Senator Rumsfeld, and you were advising the
president. Did the Bush administration fail because it didn't commit
enough resources to this war?
GEN. MYERS: Well, the--you know, by the time I left office Afghanistan
had a constitution, they had a central government and they were, they
were progressing fairly well. The Taliban had retreated. The Taliban has
come back. And you can argue that we should've had more forces in there,
I suppose, at the time. But...
MR. GREGORY: What do you think?
GEN. MYERS: No.
MR. GREGORY: That is the argument.
GEN. MYERS: Well, I think--my view is that we had it about right. We
were--the central government was relatively cohesive, relatively strong.
MR. GREGORY: Then why aren't things going better eight years later?
GEN. MYERS: The Taliban re-emerged and the central government has gotten
weaker. We've taken our eye off, I think, off the other elements of power
that it needs to--not just the military part--but it needs to be
MR. GREGORY: All right. But wasn't the issue you took your eye off of
Afghanistan because you wanted to put forces into Iraq?
GEN. MYERS: Well, that--no, that was never, that was never explicit in
anything that we ever did. No, no commander--all the commanders that we
had, General Abizaid and so forth, our Central Command commander, the
fellow that General Petraeus replaced, never thought that was the case.
We thought, we thought we were making progress.
GEN. McCAFFREY: I must admit, I have a different view. From the start I
thought that war was underresourced. And to get back to the notion of
should the President Obama rush his decision, one of the things we saw
when we went into Iraq was that, you know, we had the unbelievable
statement from the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that he was not asked
his viewpoint on the war, nor had he offered it. So I think bringing
along Secretary Clinton and, and Gates and the CIA and others, they're
going to own this war when they're done with the, the debate. At the end
of the day, what they're--what they shouldn't do is overintellectualize
this thing, talking about the sweet point on the spot, on the curve on
troop deployments. They've got to decide are we in, are we going to stay
for 10 years and build a viable state? Or do we try and downsize, watch
our allies disappear, watch the Pakistanis go unstable? My guess is
they've got a political decision that's unbelievably difficult. The
country isn't with him, his party isn't with him. How's he going to reach
a conclusion to support Petraeus and McChrystal in the short run?
MR. GREGORY: Senator Levin, I want to ask this same question to you because I
think it's important, which is what assumption about the war in
Afghanistan has proven to be wrong?
SEN. LEVIN: I think that perhaps the key assumption so far is that there
was a government which would be viable and it is not. The key assumption
is that this is a matter for American combat forces rather than to be
focusing on the Afghan army, which is a highly respected institution
inside of Afghanistan. Clearly we should keep the number of forces that
we have. No one's talking about removing forces. The question is whether
we focus on more and more American forces or do what we should've done
here all along, build up that Afghan army and the--build up the police
much more quickly and do what we can to, to put in place, to the extent
we can, a government which has the confidence of the Afghan people and
also focus, as Barry McCaffrey said, on the economy as well. You've got
to have commitment of the Afghan people to a government.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
SEN. LEVIN: And that means they've got to see some things positive that
are happening in their towns and villages.
MR. GREGORY: What about the question of when this war ends? British forces
are committed in Afghanistan, but back in August the head of the British
army was asked about timeline, he said this: British mission--"Britain's
mission in Afghanistan could last for up to 40 years, the now current
head of the Army warns in an interview with The Times. General Sir David
Richards ... said: `I believe that the UK will be committed to
Afghanistan in some manner--development, governance, security sector
reform--for the next 30 to 40 years.'" Senator Graham, what kind of
timeline should Americans expect about U.S. forces in Afghanistan? Will
it be that long? Are we there forever?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think the issue is how long will we be there
sustaining casualties like we are today? We've been in Germany and Japan
since World War II and most Americans don't care because it's made the
world a more stable pace--place and we're not suffering casualties. The
question is a good one. What happened in Afghanistan? I think Iraq did
affect Afghanistan. Iraq, whether it should've happened or not, became
the central battle. We needed to surge there to prevent a loss. And as
the Karzai government failed, President Bush, in my view, did not push
him enough. You had ambassadors on the ground and military commanders
going to Karzai, pushing him very hard on governance, and President Bush
would talk to Karzai and, quite frankly, undercut the effort. President
Obama is smart to push Karzai. But I think it's going to be required of
him in this nation to understand this is a generational struggle. You're
never going to make progress until you provide better security. You can
have 10,000 American civilians over there helping the Afghans. They can't
get off the base because they'll get killed.
MR. GREGORY: But, Senator, you're still talking...
SEN. GRAHAM: The Afghan army and police...
MR. GREGORY: You're still talking about goals, and my question is about
timeline. We have been there for more than eight years, and the situation
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Levin, why isn't it appropriate, as Democrats did with
Iraq, to say here and now that there should be a timeline for how long
SEN. LEVIN: There should be milestones for success, obviously.
MR. GREGORY: A deadline?
SEN. LEVIN: No.
MR. GREGORY: For withdrawal?
SEN. LEVIN: No. I don't think we can put a deadline. I don't think we
know enough about how these events are going to unfold for there to be a
deadline. But the mistake, going back to that last question, I believe
that was made in Afghanistan was taking our eye off that ball, not going
after bin Laden when we had him where we wanted him and instead
putting--shifting our major focus to Iraq. I think that was the major
mistake that was made. But now I think it would be a mistake for us to do
anything other than to look for ways to succeed in Afghanistan. And
there's a legitimate debate going on as to how do we succeed in
Afghanistan, and that's what we ought to focus on. Setting a timeline I
don't think would be the right thing.
SEN. GRAHAM: David...
MR. GREGORY: Senator?
SEN. GRAHAM: David, could I add something? I don't mean to interrupt.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah, go ahead.
SEN. GRAHAM: Can I add something?
MR. GREGORY: Yes, sir.
SEN. GRAHAM: I think in the next 24 months, if we'll follow McChrystal
plan to reinforce the 68,000, bring about better security, come up with a
game pan of--plan of better governance, in 24 months from now we'll
change the security environment, we'll build up the Afghan army and
police and we can been--begin to do in Afghanistan what we're doing in
Iraq in 24 months. That's what I think.
MR. GREGORY: Realistically, from both of you generals, what is victory in
GEN. MYERS: Some sort--in my view, it's some sort of stable government.
And back to Senator Levin's point...
MR. GREGORY: So we can't leave. We can't pull troops out of Afghanistan until
there's a stable government?
GEN. MYERS: I think it has to be a viable, stable government that the
people believe in. And if you're going to have Afghan security forces
that are effective, they have to be connected to the central government
and feel that there's some connection and some direction coming from
their central government. Otherwise it doesn't work; they're just in the
field doing what they do but there's no connection to the overall mission
of that country. So I think clearly that's, that's part of it. And I
think there has to be some economic development to give people there hope
that there's something beyond...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
GEN. MYERS: ...what they're doing today.
MR. GREGORY: Can we beat the Taliban?
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, I, I think in 10 years of $5 billion a month and
with a significant front-end security component, we can leave a Afghan
national army and police force and a viable government and roads and
universities. But it's a time constraint that we can't change things in
18 to 24 months. So I think we got to lower expectations. Senator Levin
talked about our political resolve; is it there or not? You know, sort of
a simplistic lesson I learned as an infantry company commander in combat,
you only got three choices. When you're under fire you can hunker down
and take casualties--it's bad--you can break contact and withdraw, or you
can reinforce and attack. That's really the, the challenge facing the
Obama administration right now. And the, the politics of it are really
tough. The American people do not appear to support large-scale continued
intervention in this conflict.
MR. GREGORY: Just with, with very little time left, I want to get to two
other issues. The president spoke last night at the Human Rights Campaign
dinner and spoke about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the
members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has
been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell." That's my commitment to you.
MR. GREGORY: That, of course, the position of the military to expel gays and
lesbians from service.
Senator Levin, will the president live up to this pledge? Can he?
SEN. LEVIN: I think he, he will and he can. I think it has to be done in
the, in the right way, which is to get a buy-in from the military, which
I think is now possible. Other militaries in the West, the British and
other Western armies, have ended this discriminatory policy. We can do it
successfully. But it ought to be done with thoughtfulness and with care,
and with a buy-in from the military.
MR. GREGORY: General Myers, is it time?
GEN. MYERS: I can't talk about whether it's time or not. I think the
process that Senator Levin outlined is exactly right, that the senior
military leadership needs to be part of this.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
GEN. MYERS: The Pentagon needs to be part of it.
MR. GREGORY: Do you have an opinion about whether it's time?
GEN. MYERS: Well, I, I take some exception to what Senator Levin said,
because gays can serve in the military, just can't serve openly. And
they, they do and there's lot of them. And we are, and we are, and we're
the beneficiary of all that.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
GEN. MYERS: So I'll leave it to the current folks to, to decide whether
it's time or not.
GEN. McCAFFREY: Well, there's no question it's time to change the policy.
The key to it isn't buy-in from the military, it's for Congress to change
the law. They ought to do so. And we would--I'm confident the military
will move ahead on it.
SEN. LEVIN: And we, I think, will do that, but we'll need the support at
least of some of the military to do it.
GEN. MYERS: I think that's right. You can't...
MR. GREGORY: Does the, does the president have the political resolve to make
good on his promise?
SEN. LEVIN: Oh, he does, and I think many of us do.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. LEVIN: I thought it was a mistake to begin with.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Congress has the resolve as well to change it?
SEN. LEVIN: I think we will gain that resolve. The way we've made other
changes in this country, the military are the ones that ended a
discriminatory policy against African-Americans. They can end it here and
it will be great progress.
MR. GREGORY: And finally, Senator Graham, on that question, do you think the
military should end the policy?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, it's my belief that if the policy--you don't have
buy-in by the military, that's a disservice to the people in the
military. They should be included in this. I'm open-minded to what the
military may suggest. But I can tell you, I'm not going to make policy
based on a campaign rally.
And when it comes to time, the one thing I would say again about
Afghanistan, history will judge not when we left but by what we left
behind. And our national security interests will be determined by what we
left behind and not when we left. And if this policy about "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" changes, it should be done based not on politics, but on
MR. GREGORY: And, and, finally, Senator Graham, do you think the president
deserved the Nobel Peace Prize?
SEN. GRAHAM: If he can successfully turn around Afghanistan, deter Iran
from getting a nuclear weapon, I will build a bookcase for him to put it
in. It depends on what he does.
MR. GREGORY: Senator Levin?
SEN. LEVIN: I think it was a, a positive statement about hope for
America, as well as a recognition of the new direction that he's setting
MR. GREGORY: All right, we are going to leave it there. This debate will
continue. Thanks to all of you.
And coming next, Afghanistan, health care and jobs; the politics behind
it all. Insights and analysis from our roundtable. Plus, our MEET THE
PRESS Minute highlighting some eerie similarities between Afghanistan and
Vietnam, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: Our roundtable weighs in--Afghanistan, health care and the
economy--after this brief commercial break.
MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: We are back and joined now by BBC America's Katty Kay,
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, National Journal's Ron Brownstein and
Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal.
Welcome to all of you. So much to get to this week; war and peace, as I
said at the outset. But let's talk about the politics of war, and I think
it's striking. Here we are in October of 2009, and it was October of 2001
when President Bush made the decision to go to war. In October of 2009,
another president has to make another big decision about troops in
Afghanistan, and look how the politics have changed. This was a USA
Today/Gallup poll about views of sending more troops, and what you see
here is a huge political divide: Democrats, 36 percent for it;
Republicans, 73 percent for it. Opponents on the Democratic side, 59
percent to 23 percent.
Bob Woodward, what's different? What are the politics here for this
MR. BOB WOODWARD: Well, I, I think what's interesting, instead of trying
to figure out the future, what's going on in the White House now? It's
extraordinary series of very long meetings. One of the big criticisms of
Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam was he wouldn't listen, and Obama is
listening. He's on a listening tour, and everyone is getting their say.
And he's got to, he's got to make a giant decision not about troop
numbers, but what's the strategy? And I think, you know, this is, this is
the test for him. Can he come up with some consensus so the military
doesn't feel wounded, so his own party doesn't feel wounded? And if he
does that, you know, a lot of people, even if they don't agree with the
final decision, will say he did something--again, George W. Bush, in
deciding to go into Iraq, the model there was he decided...
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. WOODWARD: ..."We're going to do it." All the meetings were about how
to do it, never considering other options.
MR. GREGORY: But, but there, there is a real debate about this policy that
has broken into the public, and you broke this story with McChrystal's
assessment. The vice president is on the cover of Newsweek magazine with
his perspective as a, as a counselor to the president on important
matters, including this question of Afghanistan. This is played out--we
spent a lot of time talking about this in the Bush administration over
Iraq. This has really played out publicly.
MR. WOODWARD: But, but--and I think to everyone's benefit, including the
president's, including the military and certainly the, the public. Look,
if we had had the secret report on WMD in Iraq before the war and
published that, history might have been different. It's very important to
know, if you can, what these classified memos say. And in the, in this
case we have it, and people are talking about something very concrete.
MR. GREGORY: Paul Gigot, the, the question is the president had a strategy.
He announced it in March.
MR. PAUL GIGOT: I thought--yeah.
MR. GREGORY: It was clear. This is what Charles Krauthammer wrote on Friday
in his column: "So what does [the] commander in chief do now with the war
he once declared had to be won but had been almost criminally
underresourced by Bush? Perhaps provide the resources to win it? You
would think so. ... Obama agonizes publicly and the world watches. Why?"
MR. GIGOT: I think the implication is it's because of domestic politics,
particularly because of opposition within his own party. The poll that
you cited showed that Republican voters and Republican legislators are
still basically in charge--in favor of this strategy. The problem is he's
getting enormous pressure from Capitol Hill, people saying, "The left on
our party don't support it. We're going to have a hard time appropriating
enough money for this." So they're putting great pressure. And you see
inside the White House, the debate you're talking about, the political
side is against this. A lot of the strategists in the State Department,
some of the people like Richard Holbrooke and others are saying, "Look,
we've been making a commitment here to Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we're
going to unwind that, it could be very dangerous."
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, in the speech in March, in the
original speech from the president, he said we have a clear and focused
goal, which was focus to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda. I think
a central part of the discussion in the White House is, "Well, what does
that--how do you operationalize that goal at this point?" And I think
there is beginning to be--when you talk to people in the administration,
there is beginning to be consensus around the idea that the core goal
here is to prevent a Taliban victory that would give them control of the
mechanism of the state in Afghanistan that would allow them to
reconstitute bases for al-Qaeda. So the question becomes what do you do,
then, if that is your goal? If the goal is not necessarily to build a
democratic, pluralistic, functioning Afghan state, but to avoid this--to
get to this irreducible national interest of preventing the Taliban from
taking over, what does that mean in terms of troops, what does that mean
in terms of training, what does that mean in terms of encouraging
political reconciliation within Afghanistan itself? And my guess is that
that is the track that they are heading down. That does not imply the
40,000 troops that the general wants, but it, it does not also imply
simply leaving the status quo as it is. But that seems to be the core
principal they are, they are organizing around.
MR. GREGORY: But, Katty, I, I go back to this question about assumptions. You
know, during Vietnam, did they fundamentally question the assumptions of
the war? They didn't do that. And in this case we went to war to beat
al-Qaeda. We're now in a struggle with insurgents, the Taliban, which
doesn't really have designs on the United States, it wants to take over
Afghanistan. And you can sort of play that out.
MS. KATTY KAY: Right. And I think...
MR. GREGORY: And ultimately, have the assumptions of the war been challenged?
MS. KAY: I think that's exactly what is happening in the White House at
the moment. In a sense, it's a false choice to say we're looking at the
McChrystal plan or looking at a Biden plan. It's not necessarily just
about these 40,000 troops or not 40,000 more troops, the discussions are
much broader than that. And at base, they are questioning whether, if the
Taliban did take over some of these rural areas--and no one's talking
about the Taliban being allowed into Kabul or even being allowed into
Kandahar. Say the Taliban took over some of the rural areas of
Afghanistan and the Americans pulled back some of their outposts from
there, would that necessarily even mean that they allowed al-Qaeda
leadership? Would the al-Qaeda leadership, which is currently in Pakistan
and seems to have a reasonably solid base there, move into some of those
areas of Afghanistan? So we're talking about really fundamental stuff
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. KAY: ...about the mission itself and what would happen if the Taliban
were allowed some encroachment in the country.
MR. GREGORY: Bob, but isn't it striking that you have the former chairman of
the Joint Chiefs who says we got to make Afghanistan stable, because you
got to have a functioning government to protect the population. Where
were the Republicans who want all these troops now and want McChrystal to
be listened to eight--during these eight years when this appears to be an
MR. WOODWARD: Well, as we know, we were fighting and resourcing the war
in Iraq, and, and that was the focus. But I mean, how--you know, who
knows what the outcome is going to be. But it is good that they are
questioning these assumptions. Paul suggests that politics is driving
this. I think that obviously politics is there, as it always is. I don't
think it's driving it. And I think, from the reporting I've done, Obama
is forcing them to dig into this. And the people who are on one side or
the other are kind of--it's, it's having a calming effect on them,
because they realize this is a really hard course...
MR. GIGOT: Bob, what was the, what was the debate that happened...
MS. KAY: One of the...
MR. WOODWARD: ...hard choice.
MR. GIGOT: What was the debate in March about? What was the strategic
review in March about?
MS. KAY: But that was, that was a debate, that was a debate, a short-term
debate to get us through the Afghan elections, to try and get us through
the fighting period of the summer. And I don't think that anyone thought
that the result of that debate was going to pre-empt what happened now.
MR. GIGOT: I can tell you, the Pakistanis...
MS. KAY: Now what's...
MR. GIGOT: ...the Pakistanis don't think it was a short-term result. The
president, when he announced his policy, didn't make it sound like this
was a short-term policy.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: But, Paul, Paul--well, that's...
MR. GIGOT: This was a strategic amendment.
MS. KAY: But, but...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Paul, it's not--but it's not clear, first of all, that he
would be renouncing what he, what he, what he affirmed in, in March. And
can I just make a broader point? The politics--I want to make a
counterintuitive point. The politics are not as dire, I think, as has
been suggested. I mean, the, the history is that the president has
enormous leeway in these kind of arguments. And the first time a majority
of Americans said the Vietnam War, it was a mistake to have sent troops,
was August of 1968; we stayed there another seven years. And for all of
the weariness and frustration with Afghanistan, the fact is that
Americans, I think, do see more of a genuine national interest there than
they did in Iraq. We still have 61 percent of Americans saying it was not
a mistake to send troops, and we have 80 percent of Americans in Gallup
polling saying that denying terrorists the opportunity to re-establish
bases in Afghanistan is in our core national interests. So I actually
think he has more leeway here to drive the debate than, than, than is
sometimes suggested. That doesn't mean he's going to end up where Lindsey
Graham or Paul wants him to go.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: But he does have more freedom to set his course than,
than many people argue.
MR. GREGORY: Let, let me just shift gears a little bit. When my children wake
me up in the morning, they say that they want a whipped cream waffle;
when the president's children wake him up, well, they say that he's won
the Nobel Peace Prize. So it's a little bit of a difference. And the
reaction to him winning the Nobel Peace Prize, this war president that
we're talking about, has been diverse. And here's Ruth Marcus in The
Washington Post, says she voted for the president. She writes this: "This
is ridiculous--embarrassing, even. I admire President Obama. I like
President Obama. I voted for President Obama. But the peace prize? This
is supposed to be for doing, not being." Did he deserve this?
MR. GIGOT: Did he deserve it? Well, of course he didn't deserve it. He
said himself he really didn't deserve it. His own advisers say he didn't
deserve it. Most of his own supporters say he didn't deserve it. And I
think that you get a sense that the White House is a little embarrassed
by it, because it's going to put enormous pressure on him to deliver. And
they said, look, Norwegian committee gave him credit for his support for
banning nuclear weapons. We're going to get rid of nuclear weapons.
You're going to take U.S. values and you're going to make them--subjugate
them, I think was their message, to global values, to the majority of
global voters. Well, what does that mean? There are a lot of dictators
out there, some of whom are in China, we have to deal with. But
nonetheless, subjugating American values is, is, I think, something
that's not going to really play in the American electorate.
MR. WOODWARD: Hm. Hm. But he's changed the nature of the debate in the
world, and that's what he said he was going to do, and the debate is out
there now. I, I think it's absolutely true, let's look at results.
Clearly the committee that awards these prizes wanted to stick it to
George W. Bush...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: You think?
MR. WOODWARD: ...and--yeah, I know. And it's evident. And actually, next
year they're going to have another opportunity to do that, because then
they can give it to Bush's dad for ending the Cold War.
MS. KAY: Some of the irony of this, of course, is that then the president
is criticized for once again being the darling of European capitals, and
the Nobel Prize was just another...
MR. GIGOT: Correct.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. GIGOT: Correct.
MS. KAY: ...recognition of that. But actually, on the day that it was
announced, I read some of the left-of-center press in Europe, and they
were just as surprised as the American press here.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. KAY: There was just as much questioning of whether this was
deserving. But I, I think Bob's point is, is true to some extent, that
changing the tone of the debate and shifting from a policy of
strong-arming allies to engaging allies has the potential--and this is
what the White House says...
MR. GREGORY: But that, but that gets to an important point.
MS. KAY: ...that this is an aspirational prize...
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MS. KAY: ...rather than a prize based on results, which of course it
MR. GREGORY: What is the role of America today in the world? I mean, that's
something that this sort of speaks to, because I think that's what the
Europeans are responding to. Like, here is the American ideal. This is
the America that we dream about. And the president said this on Friday,
reflecting something he'd said recently at the United Nations as well.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I know these challenges can be met, so long as it's
recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.
This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration, it's
about the courageous efforts of people around the world.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: The question: When he receives the award in December, does he
give a speech, as Peggy Noonan suggested on the pages of The Wall Street
Journal editorial page, that he should talk about America's role in the
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, look, I mean, first of all, I think the award
is probably more of a problem for the Nobel committee than it is for the
president. I mean, it's--it does seem premature here in the U.S. But the
problem, I think it's going to change the way the prize itself is viewed
in America. It will be seen as more overtly political. They've been kind
of nibbling around the edge of that with these last few awards, this more
so. But look, the fundamental divide in our debate about foreign policy, in
the U.S. politically, is whether you believe that the, that the core way
to protect and advance American interests in the world is through
unilateral American action or primarily through diplomacy and alliance.
The president's coalition, by and large, the, the new Democratic
coalition, very heavily dependent on upper-middle class college educated
voters, tend to see diplomacy and alliance as the core way of advancing
American issues. In fact, as we've talked about, when you went around the
country in 2008 you talked--saw--talked to people supporting President
Obama, one of the principle reasons they often said was they thought he
would change America's image in the world. This is a tangible reflection
of that fact that you talked about. This is kind of what you see in the
polling around the world. But he also has to be clear that while he does
embrace this idea of America being part of a global community, he is
going to defend our interests if it requires us to collide with that
MS. KAY: And the, the...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Paul's, Paul's point was one made very explicitly by
Republicans in 2004 when Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani, at the Republican
convention, argued that the fact that George Bush was unpopular in Europe
was proof that he was standing up for American interests. That
counterargument has already been made, and I think the president does
have to be sensitive to it. And he was in his statement on Friday.
MS. KAY: But the question...
MR. GIGOT: This is--go ahead, Katty.
MS. KAY: The question is going to be, in the end, whether he gets results
on things like Afghanistan and Iran, even on global economic stimulus.
And so far, perhaps on Iran, perhaps the Russians are making the right
sorts of noises that they will cooperate with more sanctions on Iran
because there has been the decision not to have the defense shield in
Eastern Europe. That might be an indication of a place where you could
say President Obama's new approach has produced tangible results. I'm not
sure that you can say that about Afghanistan yet. The Germans have not
shifted their troops from spraying poppy fields into Helmand province.
MR. WOODWARD: No. But look, what--where...
MS. KAY: And you can't say it on the Middle East peace policy yet.
MR. WOODWARD: Where's the first test of this going to be? In this Afghan
strategy review now going on. General McChrystal is not just the U.S.
commander, he's the NATO commander. There are 41 other nations who have
troops in Afghanistan. So what McChrystal and President Obama and the
others are going to do, and this is kind of a pre-Nobel test, go around
the world, do the briefings, get those people involved. They have 30,000
troops in Afghanistan.
MS. KAY: And there, and there is, there is no appetite...
MR. GIGOT: You're making, you're making my point. You're making my point.
MS. KAY: Right.
MR. GIGOT: Because if you're relying on the allies in, in Afghanistan, it
is a fool's mission. They will not help us. They have not helped us. The
Germans won't even fight.
MS. KAY: Well, no...
MR. WOODWARD: You know, I mean...
MS. KAY: On Wednesday...
MR. WOODWARD: ...that's insulting to the 30,000 troops...
MS. KAY: Right.
MR. WOODWARD: ...who are there.
MS. KAY: On Wednesday, actually, the British will announce...
MR. WOODWARD: I mean, you're saying that they...
MR. GIGOT: No, and you're, and you're right about this, the Canadians and
others are fighting and dying. But ultimately, if you think that they
are--the, the Canadians have already set a date explicitly to exit in
MR. WOODWARD: 2011.
MS. KAY: I think it's actually--I mean...
MR. WOODWARD: Yes, sure.
MR. GIGOT: That's right. And, and if we're going to finish this job the
Americans will have to lead, and that is why Madeleine Albite--Albright
called America a dispensable nation.
MR. WOODWARD: Wait...(unintelligible).
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And that's a, and that is a test, and, and that will be
one of the tests for the president. I mean, one of the questions asked in
2008, legitimately, was will a greater popularity for the U.S. around the
world translate into tangible results?
MS. KAY: Yes, absolutely. Because that's the whole thing.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: And right now, in polling around the world, often you see
publics in other countries saying they--more people trust him than their
own national leaders to make the right decisions in international
MS. KAY: But interestingly...
MR. GREGORY: I, I want to spend...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: That is not translating to anything on the ground.
MR. GREGORY: We've just got a few more minutes. I want to bring it back to
domestic policy, the economy and health care. Look at this poll numbers
from the Quinnipiac University poll out this week in terms of the most
important problem today: the economy, 42 percent; health care, 18
percent; war, 7 percent. We spend a lot of time about war, it's usually
important. But, Ron, the economy right now is huge, whether it's
approaching double-digit unemployment. This is still the, the biggest
challenge for this president. And then the question, is there more that
the president should be doing to create jobs?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, and clearly I think unemployment is shaping
the national mood. We do a quarterly poll, Allstate/National Journal
Heartland Monitor poll, and in the survey that we just put out this week
it is a very toxic mix of attitudes, and, and, and, and kind of a
combustible mix of attitudes out there right now. You see the public at
once apprehensive about the future, with large majorities saying they're
concerned there's going to be more boom and bust in the years to come.
You see declining trust in every major institution--government, the
private sector, the financial sector. And at the same time you see
intense polarization along partisan lines, racial lines, to some extent
age and income lines about what we do next. As long as you have this
overhanging fear of unemployment out there, I think it is very difficult
to build consensus for any direction.
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: So yes, I think the White House is going to be forced to
look at other means of dealing with this. There is discussion about a job
creating--a, a tax credit for people who create jobs. The problem is it's
expensive to do that in a meaningful way. And the next area of the debate
will be if we go down the road of trying to create a jobs incentive tax
credit, do you take the money away from already allocated dollars for the
stimulus or do you simply make the deficit larger?
MR. GREGORY: Hm.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: But I'm--they're beginning to discuss this, I don't think
there's any decision imminent. But clearly, clearly this unemployment is,
is hanging over, I think, and shaping this national mood, and there's a
great deal of anxiety out there about where we're going as a country.
MR. WOODWARD: But, but, but every, every president learns they're not
Commander in chief of the economy, and Obama is learning that too. And he
is commander in chief of the military, and the confidence factor is so
important here. If he does this in a way that the military is satisfied;
if his own party, if the Republicans are satisfied, then people will say,
"OK, we're confident in him." If he fails, if the--if there is a breach
between the White House and the military, which would be the nightmare
for Obama and the people who run the military, then we're really in
MR. GREGORY: Paul Gigot, if you think about the economy and the prospect of
a--some kind of second stimulus to create jobs, and health care, which
gained some momentum this week, you've got some prominent Republicans
signing on as the bill makes it way through the Senate, what happens?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I think health care is going to pass in, in some form.
And frankly, the fact that it hasn't moved through yet is creating
enormous uncertainty. People would--in the--who are job creators, small
business, big business, they want to know what costs is it going to take
to hire these employees? And there's so much uncertainty now about public
policy in Washington. How much are--is there going to be a big energy
tax? How big is a healthcare tax going to be? What about antitrust
policy? What about contracts? How secure are they? That is weighing
heavily on job creation.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Hm.
MR. GIGOT: Even as we get what otherwise is a, is a, is a recovery. We're
going to have 3 percent growth, I think, in the latter half of this year.
But unfortunately, it's probably not going to have any jobs until this
Washington uncertainty settles down.
MR. GREGORY: Whether it's war or health care, or still on the economy, Katty
Kay, I spoke to a business leader last week who said, "You know, the
problem is there's just no impetus for robust job creation and economic
growth." Double-digit inflation, if that's coming, hanging over the
midterm race, what impact does it have?
MS. KAY: Well, most economists that I've spoken to have said they don't
see jobs turning around until next summer. So actually, in some senses we
are on track. It's not surprising that jobs are still being lost at the
moment. Try telling that, though, to people who are losing their jobs.
It's not a very reassuring prospect to say, "Well, actually, this is what
economists were expecting." If they do start turning around, if the
numbers start turning around next summer, then that, of course, is
heading into the midterms and then that starts to look better for the
president. But it's going to be all about jobs next summer.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: The...
MR. GREGORY: I've got to--go ahead, real quick.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: The--I say, the picture to me, even more complicated. You
may have positive job growth early next year, but not enough to prevent
unemployment from continuing to rise. How the public reacts to that will
be a big impact on 2010.
MR. GREGORY: We're going to leave it there. Thank you all very much.
Coming next, our MEET THE PRESS Minute from 1968, at the height of U.S.
involvement in Vietnam. Then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara appears
here and has some surprising things to say about how the war had been
conducted after this brief station break.
MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: We're back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute. In the
early hours of January 31st, 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces
launched the Tet offensive, a massive and deadly attack against more than
a hundred cities and towns throughout South Vietnam, catching U.S. forces
off guard. U.S. troops recovered quickly, though, and managed to deliver
a military defeat to the Viet Cong. Still, the incident became a public
relations and political defeat for the Johnson administration, fueling
the anti-war movement back home. It also marked the height of U.S.
involvement in the Vietnam War. The man who would become known as the key
architect of that war, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, had already
announced his impending resignation months earlier. In a rare interview,
he appeared here on MEET THE PRESS just four days after the Tet offensive
and made the stark admission that the war had not gone as planned.
(Videotape, February 4, 1968)
MR. MAX FRANKEL: Looking back over this long conflict, and especially in
this rather agonized week in Vietnam, if we had to do it all over again,
would you make any major changes in our approach?
SEC'Y ROBERT McNAMARA: Oh, I, I--this is not an appropriate time for me
to be talking of changes in--with hindsight. There's no question but what
five or 10 or 20 years from now the historians will find actions that
might have been done differently. I'm sure they will. I--as a matter of
fact, my wife pointed out to me the other day four lines from T.S. Eliot,
to answer your question. Eliot said, "We shall not cease from
exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we
started and know the place for the first time." Now, that applies to
Vietnam. I'm learning more and more about Vietnam every day. There's no
question I see better today than I did three years ago or five years ago
what might have been done there.
MR. FRANKEL: Are you suggesting...
SEC'Y McNAMARA: On balance, on balance, I feel much the way the Asian
leaders do. I think the action that this government has followed, the
policies it's followed, the objectives it's had in Vietnam are wise. I
don't, by any means, suggest that we haven't made mistakes over the many,
many years that we've been pursuing those objectives.
MR. FRANKEL: You seem to suggest that we really didn't--that none of us
appreciated what we were really getting into.
SEC'Y McNAMARA: I don't think any of us predicted seven years ago or 15
years ago the deployment of 500,000 men to Vietnam. I know I didn't.
MR. GREGORY: One month later the U.S. commander in Vietnam, General William
Westmoreland, requested an additional 206,000 troops from President
Johnson. That request was denied as the administration began a
reassessment of the policy and ultimately an effort to de-escalate the
war. Still, the last U.S. military unit would not leave Vietnam until
March of 1973. All told, the U.S. lost more than 58,000 troops during the
We'll talk more about the parallels between Vietnam and Afghanistan and
hear from Bob Woodward about his 2007 interview with Robert McNamara, his
last interview on record before his death, where McNamara goes further
than ever before about the mismanagement of the Vietnam War. We'll post
that conversation later today in our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web Extra on
our Web site. Plus, look for updates from me throughout the week. It's
all at mtp.msnbc.com. And we'll be right back.
MR. DAVID MR. GREGORY: Before we go today, a couple of programming notes.
Tonight, tune in to the premiere of our chief foreign correspondent
Richard Engel's "Tip of the Spear," a one-hour special documentary on the
lives of soldiers on the front lines of the war in Afghanistan. That's
tonight at MSNBC at 8 PM Eastern. And next Sunday, right here on MEET THE
PRESS, we kick off NBC's special week-long series A Woman's Nation, and
we'll feature a special conversation with the first lady of California
and the project's guest editor, Maria Shriver. You'll also want to watch
the surging Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET