Rove Fires Back at Lauer Charge That Bush Administration 'Took Its Eye Off the Ball' in Afghanistan

Previewing the President's speech tonight, NBC's Matt Lauer invited on Karl Rove, on Tuesday's Today show, and pressed the former White House senior adviser if the reason Afghanistan still required the U.S.'s attention is because the previous administration "took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan," and "concentrated too heavily on Iraq." Rove hit back, accusing Lauer and Bush administration critics of "revisionism." And later, when Lauer questioned if there were enough "resources" to counter the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan Rove fired back that any one in the Obama administration was in no position to criticize:

"Well look, first of all, they, resources were sent as they were needed, but I would remind you this, President Obama is in no position whatsoever to criticize what President Bush did. Because in 2007, President Obama, then a member of the United States Senate, voted against war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. If this was so vital, then why did he not speak out? He was chairman of a committee overseeing NATO. He could have easily called a hearing to say, ‘I'm concerned about this issue.' He did not."

The following a complete transcript of the interview as it was aired on the December 1, Today show:

MATT LAUER: Karl Rove is a Fox News contributor and former senior adviser to President George W. Bush. Karl, good to see you. Welcome back.

KARL ROVE: Thanks for having me.

LAUER: Let's get back to Afghanistan for a second. You have said in the past that the President was wobbly on Afghanistan. He's going to announce tonight that he's gonna send between 30,000 and 35,000 additional troops there. Wobbly any more or is that a definitive action?

ROVE: That's a definitive action, and if the President does do that, I'll be among the first to stand up and applaud.

LAUER: What do you mean, if he does do that?

ROVE: Well I'm, the President gets to make the speech. So I mean we're operating on news reports. If the news reports are correct, that the United States is going to send between 30,000 - Wall Street Journal, 34,000 - Washington Post, and then add 5,000 that the Brits have already arranged to recruit from NATO, then we're getting pretty close to what McChrystal said was necessary to execute the strategy that the President laid out on March 25th.

LAUER: So, you would say then, if he takes this action and sends these additional troops, that he is, is making Afghanistan the priority it deserves to be?

ROVE: He is providing the resources that his commanders said are necessary to execute the strategy, or most of the troops necessary to execute the strategy that he himself laid out on March 25th.

LAUER: Let's talk about why these additional troops are necessary. The resurgence of the Taliban, the infiltration of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and critics of your administration, President Bush's administration, are gonna say, this is, first of all, this hasn't happened in the last 10 months, this has been happening for years, and one of the reasons it happened is that your administration took its eye off the ball in Afghan-

ROVE: Uhh-

LAUER: Well let me, let me finish. Took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan, concentrated too heavily on Iraq and allowed this to happen in Afghanistan.

ROVE: Well I think that's revisionism. If you look at it, Afghanistan was improving until about two years ago, and as Iraq began to improve, al Qaeda looked for other places to operate. As it became increasingly more difficult because of the surge for them to operate with impunity in Iraq, they went elsewhere, and they went two places, a little bit to the horn of Africa and a lot back to Pakistan and tribal regions to expand their activities in Afghanistan. A strategic-

LAUER: When it started to-

ROVE: One other thing.

LAUER: Go ahead.

ROVE: Let me, let me, one other thing. There was a strategic review begun last year under President Bush to look at what was needed to meet this changing threat in the Afghan, in the Afghan/Pakistan region that strategic review was undertaken by the previous administration, handed off to this administration at their request, and they executed the recommendations of it in March.

LAUER: If this started to happen two years ago, by your own estimations, at that time, the Bush administration had how many troops in Afghanistan?

ROVE: And they began to surge additional brigades into-

LAUER: But how many did they have, about 35,000?

ROVE: And they began to add to those as conditions, you remember, we redirected some Marines, for example, who were meant to go to Iraq, to meet the new threat in Afghanistan.

LAUER: If you look back at what the, the military said, General, or Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen said in 2008. He said he would love to send more troops to Afghanistan, "but I don't have the troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send to Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq." Were the resources available?

ROVE: Well look, first of all, they, resources were sent as they were needed, but I would remind you this, President Obama is in no position whatsoever to criticize what President Bush did. Because in 2007, President Obama, then a member of the United States Senate, voted against war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. If this was so vital, then why did he not speak out? He was chairman of a committee overseeing NATO. He could have easily called a hearing to say, "I'm concerned about this issue." He did not. The Foreign Relations committee had three hearings on Afghanistan. He bothered to show up at one, and I can find no evidence he raised a single point or asked a single question. So President Obama is not in a place to be critical of, of this. He can look back and rewrite history, whatever, but at the time, he didn't speak out on this.

LAUER: The, the President says, or Robert Gibbs just said, that the goal now is to disrupt, destroy, and dismantle al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Is that the correct stated goal, in your opinion, at this date in time?

ROVE: Well, that's, that's an important goal. That is the, the most important goal, but it's not the only goal, and I thought there was a little bit of confusion in Gibbs' statement. He said it's not nation-building, but then he went on to say we gotta nation-build, by, we've got to build up the Afghan police, we gotta build up the Afghan military and we gotta have, a change in governance. Look, no president, in fact, the previous president was not a fan of nation-building, until he got into office and until he faced the reality of the situation and realized you can't simply insert military, U.S. military power and not be concerned with creating a, a democratic ally. We faced that problem in Korea. We faced that problem in Germany, we faced that problem, you know, in the Balkans. We still have U.S. troops in the Balkans, and, and why? Because we, the, the, the necessary condition of the, of the use of American military power is not simply to send the military in. It's to be able to have a stable situation in which there's regional, in which regional conflict is diminished. So we, there, there's a little bit of confusion. He said, "not nation-building," but then went on to describe some essential elements of nation-building.

LAUER: Karl Rove. Karl, good to have you here.

ROVE: Thanks for having me.

LAUER: Thanks very much.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.