CBS’s Smith Discusses Obama’s ‘Long Contemplation’ on Afghanistan

Harry Smith, CBS On Monday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith glossed over President Obama’s indecision over sending more troops to Afghanistan by describing it this way: “...there are so many moving parts in this part of the world. And here is President Obama in this long contemplation about what to do next in Afghanistan with our troops.”

Smith discussed the war in Afghanistan with the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, who was equally happy to mask Obama’s inaction in thoughtful terms:
He’s really got his own dynamic in Afghanistan and I think you’re going to see everything slow down on decision making. In part because of the winter, there’s no real urgency to get more troops in right now. Also the administration has already signaled they want to see what happens internally in Afghanistan, whether there’s new elections, more important, what kind of government is formed. So I think the administration’s going to hold back sending more troops for quite a while.
Smith followed up by asking Haass: “There’s been so much written about this decision, the Vietnam model, is this Obama’s Vietnam? Is it that or is it something else entirely?” Haass replied: “Well, it’s nothing of that scale yet, but it has become Barack Obama’s central foreign policy decision. He’s got to decide if he’s going to introduce tens of thousands more troops.”

Haass then began listing the uncertainties in Afghanistan as excuses for Obama’s “contemplation”:
Again, he’s holding back, in part because the United States has a very flawed partner, in part, that the advocates who – of sending in more troops haven’t yet made the case, will doing more accomplish more? Not clear. Is what happens in Afghanistan that central to the global struggle against terror? Not clear. And where you began, its not even clear that what happens in Afghanistan is all that central to Pakistan. So you have to ask yourself what scale of commitment do we want to make? The administration’s deciding that.
Smith responded: “And ultimately if any of that has so much to do with our day to day safety where we live.” Haass finally stressed the importance of the war: “Well, for sure. You know, 9/11 is a reminder that what happens there – it’s not Las Vegas – it doesn’t stay there. It could come here, we’ve go to think about that.”

Here is a full transcript of the segment:
7:08AM

HARRY SMITH: As President Obama meets this week with military leaders to determine which path to take in Afghanistan, we’re joined by Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Good morning.

RICHARD HAASS: Morning, Harry.

SMITH: Such an interesting week this past week, especially the last several weeks in Pakistan, with all of these attacks, Taliban attacks, on Pakistani military institutions, on civilian institutions, on U.N. institutions, so finally the Pakistani military is fighting back in a big way. Can they – do we have enough faith in their ability to really crush the Taliban as we know it? Right here in Waziristan, this kind of no-man’s land.  

RICHARD HAASS: The short answer is no. The Pakistani military simply doesn’t have enough relevant capability, it’s not clear, also, how strong their commitment is. There’s not going to be a decisive battle here. This is part of a longer struggle that’s going to be messy, if you will, in its outcome.

SMITH: Right. And some of the Taliban commanders have said ‘well we’ve got them just where we want them, we want the Pakistan military in the mountains chasing us around all winter long.’

HAASS: They could well have that and the Pakistani military’s not well suited for that. The Pakistani military was largely designed for a conventional war against India. Now they’re fighting an unconventional war against radicals in their own territory. My hunch is they’re not going to fair very well.

SMITH: And the reason we bring this up is because there are so many moving parts in this part of the world. And here is President Obama in this long contemplation about what to do next in Afghanistan with our troops. How does that affect what his decision is going to be?

HAASS: Not centrally. He’s really got his own dynamic in Afghanistan and I think you’re going to see everything slow down on decision making. In part because of the winter, there’s no real urgency to get more troops in right now. Also the administration has already signaled they want to see what happens internally in Afghanistan, whether there’s new elections, more important, what kind of government is formed. So I think the administration’s going to hold back sending more troops for quite a while.

SMITH: There’s been so much written about this decision, the Vietnam model, is this Obama’s Vietnam? Is it that or is it something else entirely?

HAASS: Well, it’s nothing of that scale yet, but it has become Barack Obama’s central foreign policy decision. He’s got to decide if he’s going to introduce tens of thousands more troops. Again, he’s holding back, in part because the United States has a very flawed partner, in part, that the advocates who – of sending in more troops haven’t yet made the case, will doing more accomplish more? Not clear. Is what happens in Afghanistan that central to the global struggle against terror? Not clear. And where you began, its not even clear that what happens in Afghanistan is all that central to Pakistan. So you have to ask yourself what scale of commitment do we want to make? The administration’s deciding that.

SMITH: And ultimately if any of that has so much to do with our day to day safety where we live.

HAASS: Well, for sure. You know, 9/11 is a reminder that what happens there – it’s not Las Vegas – it doesn’t stay there. It could come here, we’ve go to think about that.

SMITH: Richard Haass, as always, we do appreciate it. Thank you so much. 
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC