CB: "Fight or flight."
October 06, 2009
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Michael (in NY), James Carville (in NOLA), and Gloria Borger (in DC) discuss what options President Obama really has in regards to Afghanistan.
CAMPBELL BROWN: Tonight, after weeks, if not months, of bad news and frustration for President Obama, he is finally catching a break.
Take a look at this brand-new Associated Press-GfK poll just out. It shows the president's approval rating up to 56 percent. That is a six-point jump from September and the first time his numbers have gone up since taking office.
He still faces very strong opposition on Afghanistan. Again, these are new numbers showing 57 percent of Americans against the war right now. This afternoon, the president sat down with more than 30 congressional leaders from both parties.
Republicans urged the president to listen to his commanders, including the man in charge of the conflict in Afghanistan now, General Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal, as many of you know, is openly pleading now for more boots on the ground, while some Democrats are pushing for a troop decrease.
So, our big question tonight, does President Obama have any good options in Afghanistan?
Let's bring in CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville, who we should point out advised one of the candidates in the recent Afghan presidential election. Also with us, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger. And here with me in New York, CNN's Michael Ware, who has repeatedly been on the front lines covering Afghanistan.
So, Michael, to that point...
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly.
BROWN: ... bottom-line this for us. You know, you have been on the ground there -- 40,000 troops, is it going to make a difference or not?
WARE: Depends how they're used. Basically, the president right now faces an extraordinarily tough choice.
It's foreign policy vs. domestic survival.
In terms of the war in Afghanistan, he's not fighting it. He has a choice to make: fight or flight. All right? Those 40,000 troops is what the military -- the top of the line of what the military is asking for. Even they won't be enough.
But you still need them, plus additional forces from the Afghans themselves, to start putting the hurt on the Taliban, because you're not even touching their war machine. America is making the Taliban war machine stronger.
This president still has, what, three years left in this electoral cycle. He can use two to do what's unpopular, bite the bullet of public opinion, and actually fight this war and try and salvage something. A war that's no longer about al Qaeda and is now as much about America's position in the world, its status with Pakistan, which treats it like a joke, India, and Iran.
BROWN: So you make it sound like, if McChrystal doesn't get these troop, it's over.
WARE: Well, it's not over, but it's going to fall apart very, very badly, and the egg is going to end up on the president's face.
BROWN: Okay. That's a fairly stark assessment there.
James, it seems very much like he's caught, like President Obama's caught between these generals, who clearly want more boots on the ground, and the leaders of his own party, who made it pretty clear today they are ready to bring these troops home.
I mean, does it have to be an either/or? How does he balance the two right now?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, well, and we don't know -- the secretary of defense is not a bit player in this. And if we look at the chain of command, General McChrystal is probably somewhere about fifth or sixth in that. And there is a chain of command in this country in the United States military. And we adhere to it.
The other thing is, is that the president gave, I think, an additional 20,000 or so troops in Afghanistan right after he took office. And the result there is not very encouraging so far. It's the longest war we have had in American history.
I think a review of what's going on here is in order. And before we go and ask an additional 40,000 of our young people to serve over there, we have to have some confidence that what they're doing is going to work. And I think the president is imminently justified in taking time and looking at this and discussing this, not only with just the military people in Afghanistan, but with other -- with his secretary of defense, with the secretary of the Army, with the State Department and other people involved in this. And we're going to have see where he comes.
In answer to your question, does he have any good options in this? Not that I can see. And judging from what Michael said, he doesn't seem to think there's a lot of great options available also.
BROWN: I mean, Gloria, what's going on at the White House right now? I mean, obviously, they're weighing this. Are they coming to that same conclusion, I guess?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think his national security adviser, General Jones, is sort of heading up a team that's looking at all of this.
And I think what you have got, Campbell, is you have got divisions within the administration. What we don't know -- and the person to watch here is the defense secretary, Gates, because he's the one who's dealing with his generals, I believe, trying to come up with some kind of a plan that they can live with and that the president can live with.
And we have to see if the president can do that. It sounds, from what Michael is saying, that you can't really split the difference here, that you have to decide very cleanly whether you're going to continue with a counterinsurgency strategy, or do what Joe Biden wants you to do, which is adopt a counterterror, more targeted strategy that deals with Pakistan.
BROWN: James, you mentioned the chain of command, how important that was, a moment ago. Does it surprise you that General McChrystal has been so outspoken? You have even seen the defense secretary publicly urging him to tone it down a bit.
CARVILLE: Well, again, I think, look, from everything that I know -- and I defer to Michael on this, whose judgment I really trust -- I think General McChrystal is a first-rate military man. People who have read his report and said it's really -- it's really very good.
Sometimes, people get very excited or very passionate about something, but we need to step back. And there is a chain of command here. And I think probably General McChrystal understands this now better than anybody.
And this is worthy of a very serious -- a very serious look by the president and his advisers. And there are a lot of very smart people, by the way, a lot of very smart military people that say that it should be some kind of thing to contain terrorism and that a full-fledged thing would not be in the best interests of the United States. That's a legitimate question. And I'm sure it's something the president has under advisement right now.
BROWN: So, Michael, how much time does he have to make this decision? McChrystal has said it's a pretty urgent situation right now.
WARE: It's 12 months. I mean, right now, you're losing the war. You're not going to win it. But you don't have to lose it. And that's what General McChrystal is saying. Give me what I need to stem the blood loss. And there's two tracks here. There's a military track, and, of course, there's a political track.
Now, militarily, even 45,000 troops isn't going to be enough to do what has to be done. You need to couple that with some inventive thinking. You need to unleash some Afghan allies to add to your troops. Right now, you really don't have any you can trust.
And that will do more than target al Qaeda and the Taliban. It will send messages that America needs to send around the region. And, politically, President Obama has the time to do this. You can go to midterm elections. You can have anti-war Democrats beating him up if he does go on a war footing.
But come the presidential election, if he does it right, if he actually fights this battle, he may actually have something to produce to the American people.
BROWN: Quickly, James, go ahead.
CARVILLE: Campbell, if I say something, the House -- he's got to get enough votes in the House to pass it.
BORGER: Well, he will. I think he will. There was a blowup, as Ed Henry reported, today at that meeting at the White House, with a liberal Democrat who's the chairman of a very important committee, Appropriations Committee, saying to the president, we're not going to give you this money, or you're going to spend $1 trillion over there.
But, in the end -- and I don't know if you agree with me, James -- I think he will get it out of the House if he wants it.
CARVILLE: Yes, I'm not sure because of a very influential House Democrat whose name I can't say, but initials are Nancy Pelosi, said that rounding up the votes for the first Afghanistan vote was one of the toughest things that they ever had to do.
CARVILLE: And I suspect a second one is going to be tougher than this. It's not a given. They're going to have to work hard if the president decides that he wants more troops. This is going to be a very, very tough vote.
BORGER: Could be bipartisan, though, first bipartisan piece of legislation they get.
BROWN: We will see.
CARVILLE: It will, but it's got to come to 217 -- or it's got to come to 218.
BORGER: That's right.
WARE: If not, the word appeasement springs to mind.
BROWN: James Carville, Michael Ware here with me in New York -- Michael, as always, thanks -- and, Gloria Borger, thanks, guys.
BROWN: A little update we want to add here, too, Sarah Palin urging the president on her Facebook page tonight to increase troops in Afghanistan. Not sure she's the one he will be listening to, but there you go.