CBS’s Smith Frets Over Left-Wing Opposition to Obama Afghanistan Strategy

Harry Smith and Michael O'Hanlon, CBS Speaking with Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon on Tuesday about President Obama’s upcoming decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan, CBS Early Show co-host Harry Smith worried: “...how much is this going to cost him on the Left? Because I’m – I’ve got this sense that there will be people on the Left of President Obama who are not pleased by this.”

Despite representing a liberal leaning think tank, O’Hanlon dismissed the political concern: “Of course that’s right, Harry. But I think the real risk is if the war isn’t won. You know, the Left won’t like this, but if in a year we can see progress, people will forget their original doubts and they’ll be glad there is an exit strategy emerging ahead.”

Prior to Smith’s discussion with O’Hanlon, White House correspondent Bill Plante reported on the soon-to-be-announced war strategy and pointed out: “A new CBS News poll shows 69% of Americans think the war is going badly. And only 36% believe more U.S. troops would make things better.” A clip was then played of another Brookings analyst, E.J. Dionne, who lamented: “We’ve been at this since 2003. We have spent a lot of money, we’ve lost a lot of lives. When does this end?” He mistakenly confused the start of the Iraq war with that of Afghanistan, which began in 2001.

Plante concluded his report by making sure to promote White House spin designed to appease the President’s anti-war liberal base: “But here’s the key. This won’t be presented as a troop increase. It will be presented as a plan to stabilize Afghanistan and begin a timed withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country.”

Smith began by asking O’Hanlon: “Is General McChrystal going to get everything he wants?” O’Hanlon responded: “Well, I doubt it, although I’m hearing that NATO countries, our allies in Europe, may actually provide a few more troops than expected.” O’Hanlon went on to praise Obama for reaching out to U.S. allies: “And of course with President Obama preaching multilateralism and trying to create a new tone in American foreign policy there was hope that allies might want to contribute more in this sort of a situation. It hasn’t happened yet, but that may compensate for any gap between what General McChrystal has proposed and what President Obama may want to provide.”

Here is a full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: Breaking news. After months of meeting, President Obama will soon announce his decision about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. We’ll bring you the very latest from the White House.

7:06AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: The White House says President Obama is ready to announce his new Afghanistan strategy within days. But will his decision, which took months to make, cost him politically? CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has more on that. Good morning, Bill.

BILL PLANTE: Good morning to you, Harry. The long wait is over. The President has made his decision on Afghanistan. And he’ll tell the nation about it next week. Last night’s session with his war council is expected to be the final one before the President announces both an Afghanistan surge and an exit strategy.

ROBERT GIBBS [WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY]: I characterized a decent part of it as not just how we get people there, but what’s the strategy for getting them out.
                    
PLANTE: The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has recommended 40,000 additional troops. Many military officials expect McChrystal to get most, but not all, of the requested troops. Between 20 and 30,000. A new CBS News poll shows 69% of Americans think the war is going badly. And only 36% believe more U.S. troops would make things better.

E.J. DIONNE [BROOKINGS INSTITUTION]: We’ve been at this since 2003. We have spent a lot of money, we’ve lost a lot of lives. When does this end?

PLANTE: Now, the new strategy will involve more troops, no doubt about that, but it’ll be –  and it’ll be presented to the nation by the President in a speech nationally televised, probably next Tuesday. But here’s the key. This won’t be presented as a troop increase. It will be presented as a plan to stabilize Afghanistan and begin a timed withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country. Harry.

SMITH: Bill Plante at the White House this morning. Thank you very much. Joining us from Washington is Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Good morning, sir.

MICHAEL O’HANLON: Good morning, Harry.

SMITH: Is General McChrystal going to get everything he wants?

MICHAEL O’HANLON: Well, I doubt it, although I’m hearing that NATO countries, our allies in Europe, may actually provide a few more troops than expected.

SMITH: They certainly have been pushed in the last couple of days to put up more troops.

O’HANLON: That’s right. And of course with President Obama preaching multilateralism and trying to create a new tone in American foreign policy there was hope that allies might want to contribute more in this sort of a situation. It hasn’t happened yet, but that may compensate for any gap between what General McChrystal has proposed and what President Obama may want to provide.

SMITH: All of these meetings, nine – some people have counted ten meetings in all – over several months, this still doesn’t necessarily guarantee the outcome the President is looking for, no matter what the strategy.

O’HANLON: Well, that’s right. Because you need a strong host partner. You need a strong Afghan government. Or at least a competent – you know, even if it’s just a mediocre one, one that can at least start to move forward. The good news here, even though President Karzai has a lot of cronies who are not very good actors and are corrupt, there are some people in key positions who run, for example, the police and the army. His two top guys in the cabinet who do that, who are seen as pretty good, who are working pretty well with us. And we have this very vigorous program now to train the Afghans and essentially do an apprenticeship program with the Afghan army and police under McChrystal’s proposal. So that gives me some hope.

SMITH: This is a little bit like Iraq after the country was stabilized.

O’HANLON: Yeah, I mean, you know Iraq did work out, at least in military terms. We obviously see the politics there continue to be difficult. I’m not quite as confident yet that we’re going to get there in Afghanistan, but the plan is equally intense and equally focused and I think McChrystal, frankly, is as good as Petraeus, so do I have some reasons for hopefulness.

SMITH: And very quickly, how much is this going to cost him on the Left? Because I’m – I’ve got this sense that there will be people on the Left of President Obama who are not pleased by this.

O’HANLON: Of course that’s right, Harry. But I think the real risk is if the war isn’t won. You know, the Left won’t like this, but if in a year we can see progress, people will forget their original doubts and they’ll be glad there is an exit strategy emerging ahead. The problem will be, of course, if we don’t have progress in a year, that’s going to mean that we reinvested in a failing mission and that would be the problem.

SMITH: Michael O’Hanlon, thank for your expertise this morning. Thank you sir, appreciate it.

O’HANLON: Thank you, Harry.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC