CBS: Obama 'So Thoroughly Researching Critical' Afghanistan Decision 'a Good Thing'

News that President Barack Obama is demanding new Afghanistan options and answers, after months and eight meetings with top officials on General Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops, led ABC anchor Charles Gibson to express exasperation Thursday night: “What new questions are there to be asked after all this time?”

CBS and NBC, however, weren't so dubious. Though Katie Couric painted “a long, drawn out process,” Chip Reid assigned gravitas to Obama as he asserted Obama “has been agonizing over this decision” and “recently immersed himself in the agony of war.” Reid touted: “That the President is so thoroughly researching such a critical decision is a good thing, according to CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate.” Reid acknowledged that “there's great danger, he [Zarate] says, if it looks like uncertainty.”

Journalists, though, are making Obama look more deliberative than uncertain. ABC's Martha Raddatz assured Gibson that Obama “has four options in front of him” and “he wants to combine those options...to find the best option.”

NBC anchor Brian Williams offered no hint of any dithering as he segued “to the overall decision about the way forward in Afghanistan,” providing just one sentence of information: “President Obama has reportedly sent his war council back to the drawing board to come up with new options for a possible troop increase and a way to let the Afghans know the U.S. is not making some sort of open-ended commitment.”

Reid began his CBS Evening News story with how “the President has been agonizing over this decision for two months already, and now he's sending the Pentagon back to the drawing board.” He recounted: “Sources say the President is especially concerned that the options fail to include an exit strategy and a timeline for turning over control to Afghan forces, fail to make clear the  commitment is not open-ended, and fail to address mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai.”

Reid also fretted over how leaks are impairing the President, not a common media concern: “There's another problem for the President. Instead of this being debated in the situation room, it's all over the front pages. Today Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he's appalled by the amount of leaking.”

From the Thursday, November 12 World News on ABC:
CHARLES GIBSON: Yesterday, he had his eighth meeting with his national security advisers on the question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. The White House said the President's decision won't be announced until after he returns from Asia. Our chief foreign correspondent, Martha Raddatz, joins us now. Martha, eight meetings, we understand he's raising new questions about a number of plans that are in front of him. What new questions are there to be asked after all this time?

MARTHA RADDATZ: Well, you'd think he'd be through with the questions, Charlie. In fact, we thought this was the last war council meeting yesterday, but there are going to be more. He has two specific questions. How soon could Afghan troops be trained, and what is the exit strategy? He simply does not want this to be open-ended, Charlie. And he has other concerns as well about Hamid Karzai.

GIBSON: But are there definitive answers to those questions?

RADDATZ: Well, I think there are probably better answers. I've talked to military officials today and they said, “look, these are very good questions. We have to get better answers to the President.” He is looking for the best option. He has four options in front of him. He wants to combine those options, somehow, to find the best option.
Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News:
And now to the overall decision about the way forward in Afghanistan. President Obama has reportedly sent his war council back to the drawing board to come up with new options for a possible troop increase and a way to let the Afghans know the U.S. is not making some sort of open-ended commitment. There's also word the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, former army general, has come out strongly against any major troop increase. The President spent a few hours on the ground late today in Alaska, refueling stop on his way to his first trip to Asia as President.
The full story on the CBS Evening News, transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:
KATIE COURIC: Now the road ahead in Afghanistan. It appeared at the beginning of this week that President Obama had finally made up his mind. He was about to agree to a huge troop increase. But that has apparently changed. The President has rejected all the proposals his war planners have given him. Chip Reid in Tokyo is traveling with the President, and, Chip, this has really been a long, drawn out process.

CHIP REID: You've got that right, Katie. The President has been agonizing over this decision for two months already, and now he's sending the Pentagon back to the drawing board. On the way to Japan today, the President stopped in Alaska to refuel and spend time with the troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today we also send our thoughts and prayers to all those who at this very moment are serving on the front lines.

CHIP REID: The visit comes one day after the President told his war council he's not happy with any of the Pentagon's four options for sending between 10,000 and 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Sources say the President is especially concerned that the options fail to include an exit strategy and a timeline for turning over control to Afghan forces, fail to make clear the  commitment is not open-ended, and fail to address mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai.
Concerns about Karzai took on new importance with reports that general Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, has expressed deep concern about sending more troops until Karzai shows he'll fight the corruption now crippling the Afghan government. Eikenberry, the top general in Afghanistan two years ago, has now joined Vice President Joe Biden in resisting General Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops.
The President has now held eight lengthy meetings in the situation room on Afghanistan. More are expected, and he's recently immersed himself in the agony of war, honoring the fallen at Dover Air Force Base and, on Veterans Day, walking through Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery where war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. That the President is so thoroughly researching such a critical decision is a good thing, according to CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate, but there's great danger, he says, if it looks like uncertainty.

JUAN ZARATE, CBS NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CONSULTANT: It's the body language of indecision or the perception of indecision that may matter more in some ways. Matters in terms of how our allies view our sense of resolve in Afghanistan, how our enemies perceive our willingness to have backbone in whatever decision is made.

REID: And there's another problem for the President. Instead of this being debated in the situation room, it's all over the front pages. Today Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he's appalled by the amount of leaking.

COURIC: And, Chip, when is the President expected to make his decision?

REID: Well, the earliest that we could hear this decision from the President is ten days from now when he returns from Asia, but we're told it could still be several weeks.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center