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Analysis of President Obama's Speech on Afghanistan
Aired December 1, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Perhaps he is, but, you know, he put a very political cast on it tonight, too. He was -- I thought he gave a good speech, by the way. He was emotional. You could see the passion, especially when he was talking what he's -- the sacrifice he's asking our young men and women in that audience in front of him to make tonight. You could see it, beneath the cool surface, a lump in his throat.
But I -- he did something tonight that I was stunned at. And I don't know if the administration realizes, I think, the peril of what he said. He said this war is worth fighting, this war is worth asking Americans to sacrifice their lives for, but only until 2012, only until there's a re-election campaign for me.
Now, however, he meant that -- and -- and I'm sure, you know, you don't want a president -- you don't ever want to think the president is talking about politics first and his own well being and not the -- the security of the country.
But how is the rest of the world going to interpret that?
How is it going to be interpreted here?
I think that puts a very -- excuse me -- political cast on the speech tonight.
And he did it -- I think it raises the argument, did he do it just to appease the left?
This war is worth fighting, but only for a little while. And, you know, we've had a country at war -- a military at war, but a country that isn't. We haven't been engaged in this. And I think that's true during the Bush years. It's a fair criticism of Republicans.
He didn't heal that. He didn't really ask us all to get involved. He said this will end soon.
CAMPBEL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Donna...
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me...
BROWN: ...very quickly.
Donna, go ahead.
BRAZILE: ...just say this. I think the president was referring to 2011 as the beginning of when our troops will begin to withdraw. And that's predicated on the Afghanistan Army stepping up to be -- to be able to hold the territory that our troops are able to clear. That's the ingredient that we keep missing in this so-called counter- insurgency strategy is to clear, hold and build. That involves the Afghanistan government and the troops there.
And our troops cannot stay there until the end of time, knowing that it might take the end of time to make that a stable country.
BROWN: And we're going to talk more and what is exactly possible on that front with our military folks, coming up in just a moment.
But I want to go back to Wolf now, who has Senator Lindsey Graham coming up in a moment -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Campbell, thanks very much.
Anderson Cooper it's going to be joining us in a few moments, as well.
But let's talk to Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a Republican from South Carolina. He spent a lot of time thinking about Afghanistan, the war in Iraq.
Senator Graham, thanks very much.
What did you think of the president's new strategy?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, there's some consensus and concerns. I think every American is disappointed that eight years into this thing, we need to send more troops. But that's reality. And I -- I support the president's decision to send 30,000 more troops. I hope it's enough. If General McChrystal says it's enough, that's good by me.
I hope the NATO troops that go in will be able to engage the enemy. Numbers matter, but you've got to be able to fight. So if we're sending more NATO troops in with rules of engagement that won't engage the enemy, we're probably defeating our purpose.
But I guess the one concern I have is that what does this mean about July 2011?
How -- how will the enemy perceive that?
How do the Afghan people perceive what we're going to do?
It's not realistic we can withdraw a lot of troops in 18 months, if your goal is to train the Afghan Army and police force to stand up and fight.
BLITZER: Is it your understanding that the withdrawal of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would start in July 2011 and would be complete by election day 2012?
Is that your understanding? GRAHAM: I don't know. And that's a really good question. I've enjoyed the panel, by the way. This is a thinking, devious enemy. They're going to compute in their strategy what this means. They're going to try to figure out what population centers to attack. They understand we're going into an election cycle. But maybe tomorrow we'll know better.
But from listening to the president, I'm uncertain as to what that means we're going to do in 18 months.
BLITZER: But why is it OK to have an end game -- an exit strategy for Iraq right now -- all U.S. combat forces will be out by the end of next August, all U.S. forces will be out by the end of 2011. That's the strategy. That's the time line for Iraq.
Why is it OK to have a time line for Iraq, yet it's not OK to have a time line, as I hear you suggest, for Afghanistan?
GRAHAM: Well, what we did in Iraq, Wolf, is that we surged troops without any deadline or withdrawal date. And as things got better, we negotiated with the Iraqi government a security agreement that seems to make sense. We're withdrawing troops in Iraq based on conditions on the ground and an agreement we negotiated with a robust government. We did not put conditions on withdrawal the moment we sent the troops.
Some of these people are going to meet each other coming and going. Eighteen months is not a very long period of time. There's a fundamental difference of how we started the surge in Afghanistan versus Iraq.
And my question is, have we undercut our efforts before we start?
BLITZER: What about the overall strategy that the president spoke about, to basically defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future?
What do you think about that basic goal?
GRAHAM: Sound, very sound. The goal is to deny the Taliban a safe haven in Afghanistan, but also to put pressure on the other side of the border. I hope the Pakistan government and army will see this as a commitment by the United States to make sure that we hit them on both sides of the border.
But time and capacity have to go together. The goal of denying a safe haven to the Taliban and Al Qaeda is the right goal. Fighting on both sides of the border makes sense. You need more troops to be successful in Afghanistan. The one thing I'm concerned about is this idea we're going to begin to leave before we get there. I don't know how that's going to play.
BLITZER: Well, these are -- I think are goals that the president established. And, obviously, he can change his mind as he goes forward. GRAHAM: Sure.
BLITZER: Let me read to you one line that really jumped out at me, because it reminded me, to a certain degree, of those mushroom cloud warnings that we heard on the eve of the war in Iraq.
BLITZER: And I'll read it to you and you tell me if you -- what you think. "And the stakes," he says, "are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan because we know that Al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons and we have every reason to believe that they would use them."
Is -- is that -- because that sounds so ominous, that Al Qaeda now is going after nuclear weapons, maybe in Pakistan.
Is he exaggerating here or do you agree with him that this is a realistic threat?
GRAHAM: I totally agree with the president that the -- the fate of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, hangs in the balance. And if the government is Pakistan is not very popular and is not very capable, but it is in our national security interests to make sure it doesn't fall to extremist groups.
The Afghan government is not very capable. It was very corrupt. But that's the hand we've been dealt after 9/11.
We've become allies with some people who are not very capable, who have problems. But they're better than the alternatives. So the president is not exaggerating the consequences of losing in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Having said that, if you believe what the president does -- and I -- I know he believes it -- why would you condition this thing before you start, because the outcome in Afghanistan is tied to Pakistan and the results could be catastrophic if we fail?
The price of success is enormous, also. So we should be all in.
BLITZER: A mixed report card from Senator Lindsey Graham to the president's speech tonight.
Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue our coverage right now.
Anderson Cooper is joining us -- Anderson, this is a -- a tough day for the president. He's got his work cut out for him because now he's got to continue -- he and his advisers, his aides -- have to continue to sell this new strategy and make sure it really works. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, this is not, certainly, a one night speech that he's going to be making. We're going to be hearing, probably, a lot from the president and certainly a lot from his aides over the next several days, if not several weeks, on this.
I want to go back to a point Donna Brazile made, that a lot of this is contingent on the Afghan government's ability to -- to reform itself, to -- to lessen the corruption and to actually get an Afghan security forces that are -- that are up and running.
We're joined by Fareed Zakaria for the first time tonight -- Fareed, just briefly, your thoughts on what the president spoke about tonight.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": I think he was trying to square a difficult circle. I don't know that he strategically entirely agrees with the military that they have to have these troops. But I think he recognizes that once it was public, it was impossible for him to say zero.
So he has come up with a -- a compromise, if you will, that is both strategic and political. Strategically, it gives McChrystal what he wants, but it puts him on notice that he has to deliver some kind of results pretty soon for it to be sustainable. And politically...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the next presidential election.
ZAKARIA: Well, and politically, I think it gives him the -- the ability, before the Congressional elections, to say we have begun to turn the corner, we are beginning to deal -- to -- to bring some troops out.
Look, these are -- these are not purely grand strategy decisions, there are also political ones. He has to sustain support for this surge in the United States, as well. It's a compromise, clearly.
COOPER: What -- what proof, though, is there that the Afghan government can lessen the corruption?
I mean you said early on, back in 2002, before the -- the emphasis was put on Iraq, there were changes that were made. But in terms of transparency, we have not seen anything in recent years -- or anything really serious...
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Well, clearly...
COOPER: -- on part of the Afghan government.
AMANPOUR: -- it's a big challenge. And, of course, a legitimate and credible Afghan government is a vital component to making this successful. There are others who have said, though, that when a political situation is underway, which it was in 2001, 2002 and up to 2003, progress was being made. Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister and World Bank, the person who knows the most about this kind of thing, has said that it is possible...
COOPER: The man who -- who lost the presidential election...
AMANPOUR: Well, yes...
COOPER: -- and the man who won the presidential election, Hamid Karzai, won because he linked himself with some pretty rough characters...
AMANPOUR: He may...
COOPER: -- in this last election.
AMANPOUR: He had made a very clear inauguration speech. And, look, it's going -- the proof is going to be in the pudding. Either he's going to change his ways, hold people accountable -- his own interior minister talked about a new accountability office for the first time, a judge and a court where ministers will be held accountable and tossed out if they don't perform.
We'll see whether it happens. They're saying the right things. But more to the point, this notion that they didn't need more forces to actually try to beat back the Taliban is -- is ludicrous. The military out there is quoted every day as saying we need more forces to be able to dominate the areas that we need to dominate. And everybody knows that it was because there were not enough forces on the ground that Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and his people were allowed to escape in Tora Bora.
COOPER: In terms, though...
AMANPOUR: It's a fact.
COOPER: -- of what the Afghan government is capable of doing, as you all know, you've all been to Kabul. You go on the streets of Kabul and there's these McMansions popping up. And they're owned by, you know, some colonel in the Afghan Army who's making, you know, supposedly, a couple bucks a week.
COOPER: Corruption is widespread.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you go to talk to, you know, the government official who's responsible for cutting corruption, the -- the -- the statistics that he gave me, there's some I -- look, we're doing this to combat corruption in vehicle licensing. I mean that's not the country's central problem. Yes, it's one of their problems. And, yes, they're tackling it in a small way. But the problem is so vast.
What Karzai has done is create a government that doesn't have checks and balances, that he hasn't given power to provincial governors, that he's managed it and it is set up in such a way -- and he brought his old cronies back in to get re-elected -- that it -- that it's not possible to do it with just one small office like this.
(CROSSTALK) ZAKARIA: I think it's very important, honestly, that we stop obsessing about corruption.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.
ZAKARIA: Afghanistan is the third poorest country in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ZAKARIA: America is pouring in money that amounts to several times its total GDP every year. There's going to be corruption.
COOPER: But doesn't it matter because...
COOPER: -- when the Marines go into these villages...
COOPER: -- and try to convince people that their government cares about them, people point to this corruption?
ZAKARIA: What wins the argument is not, you know, good, clean, honest government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ZAKARIA: What Karzai has to do is win the Pashtuns back. It is an...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ZAKARIA: It is an ethnic problem.
If you look around the world, the places that, you know, civil wars have been won, it has not been the squeaky clean guys who won.
ZAKARIA: It is the guys who...
ZAKARIA: It's the guys who make political deals. He's got to figure out how to do that.
WARE: Fareed's right. The Afghans are not expecting a -- a Washington-style, squeaky clean Afghan government. No Afghan is waiting for that. That's never going to come.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The whole society is built on a feudal system.
ROBERTSON: But to win the Pashtuns back, they have to have trust in the government of the country.
WARE: Yes, but what...
ROBERTSON: And that's completely eroded.
WARE: The trust they want is that...
WARE: ...the trust is that Kabul isn't going to keep screwing them.
WARE: Essentially, the Pashtuns lost the war and the Northern Alliance won. And among the Pashtu, America has picked its few favorites like Gulagasherzi (ph) and Karzai himself and a couple of other tribal leaders and they're America's pets.
The largest Pashtun tribes have been left totally out in the cold. And you're not going to bring the Pashtuns back...
WARE: ...until you start engaging them.
ROBERTSON: ...is one of the -- one of the leaders, one of the governors who's actually shown promise in Nangarhar, Nangarhar Inc. He's cut down the drug growth there. He's improved the infrastructure. He's actually shown some positive -- some positive results.
AMANPOUR: Interestingly, Michael, there are a lot of local tribal leaders now, a lot of sort of -- sort of indigenous military militias that are growing up to actually combat the Taliban.
WARE: That's exactly what I'm talking about.
AMANPOUR: This is a big deal.
COOPER: We want to talk about that...
WARE: This is exactly what I'm talking about.
COOPER: We want to talk about that and how it compares to what happened in Iraq...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: -- a return to local militias and whether that's a viable possibility...
COOPER: -- that the U.S. could get behind.
We're going to take a quick break.
Our coverage continues. We'll also talk about all the political aspects of this back in the United States with our political panel.
Our coverage continues.
BLITZER: We've got our national security team standing by, our political strategists and analysts standing by. A lot to digest from the president's 35 minute speech outlining his new strategy in Afghanistan, including the deployment over the next six months of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops, followed, within 18 months, by the withdrawal -- or at least the start of a withdrawal of some of those troops from Afghanistan.
Let's get some analysis now from Zalmay Khalilzad. He knows this subject very well. He's the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, also the former U.S. ambassador, during the Bush administration, to the United Nations.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much.
A lot depends on the Afghanis right now going ahead and doing what they need to do.
Is this mission impossible or is this realistic, what the president has outlined?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I think the president's definition of the problem, the stakes involved and the objectives are -- are very much on the mark.
However, I -- I do have some concerns about the strategy. Some of the elements of the strategy are also on the mark, such as the buildup of the Afghan forces. But others, such as setting a time line for the beginning of withdrawal, is insufficient emphasis on getting Pakistan and Afghanistan to cooperate, particularly ending the sanctuary in Pakistan, I think were problematic.
I believe one of the challenges is how to work with the Afghan government to get the Afghan government to do its part. The administration has had difficulties in getting President Karzai, over the course of the past nine months, to do what is in Afghanistan's interest and what is in America's interests. So that's going to be a challenge. BLITZER: The former secretary of State, the man you worked with, General Colin Powell, when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the first Gulf War, he always had an exit strategy. He said you need an exit strategy. Today, the president of the United States, he announced an escalation of the war, if you will. But he also coupled that with an exit strategy, including a goal of when the -- when the troops can start coming home.
What's wrong with that?
KHALILZAD: Well, it is important to have an exit strategy, but not to have an artificial time line as an exit strategy.
BLITZER: But Mr. Ambassador...
BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting. If you don't have some sort of deadline like that, that you impose, what's to -- what's to stop the Afghani government, if you will, and others, from just simply delaying in getting done what they need to do?
KHALILZAD: Well, you know, that is a dilemma. But, on the other hand, if you do put a time line, you encourage the enemy to outwait you, to regard the strategy as not enduring.
When I was the ambassador in Afghanistan, the Taliban sent me a message saying you have all the watches, but we have all the time.
So you have a dilemma, as you correctly have pointed out. But I think the emphasis on an artificial time line may encourage the Taliban to persist, to endure and for the region to assume that we do not have the staying power and, therefore, make the job of succeeding harder.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.
Appreciate your perspective.
KHALILZAD: It's good to be with you.
BLITZER: Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He knows this subject quite well.
We're going to go to John King over at the Magic Map momentarily.
We also have our political strategists -- our analysts to assess what the president has announced to day.
Our coverage will continue right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And as commander- in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interests to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's the dual approach that the president outlined in his speech -- getting 30,000 additional troops over there within the next six months, but then within 18 months, start withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
It's what the hawks wanted to hear -- at least the first part of that statement. The doves wanted to hear the second part, when the troops will start coming home.
Let's take a look at the deployment of U.S. troops. Following 9/11, the U.S. began moving troops into Afghanistan. By 2003, there were 13,600 U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It went up steadily throughout the Bush administration, around 20,000 or so. Then in 2008, it went up to 31,400. And most recently, it's gone up to 68,000 during the Obama administration.
Now, the president says another 30,000 will be going to Afghanistan, bringing the level close to 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
This is a going to have a huge price on the human side of what's going on.
John King is over at the Magic Map to pick up this part of the story -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, you heard the president say how he did not take this decision lightly -- he did not make the decision to escalate so lightly, because the president knows, both from a policy standpoint, more troops means more fighting. More fighting means more casualties. And more fatalities would affect the political calculation here at home.
I want to use this. This program is called the Map of the Fallen. But I want to play this out here and you watch. Each of these rifles and helmets is a fatality here in Afghanistan. We see this play out. This is back to the early days, 2001 and 2002.
Then, the casualties, of course, started mounting in the war in Iraq. And as we come home, watch this fill out. This is the combined death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan of the past eight years. And the president has to be mindful of this.
We're going to circle in just right here on this one fallen and we bring it up here and you see -- wait for the -- wait and it will fill in for us here.
You see Anthony Mark Carbullido. He lived in South Dakota and he was killed in Afghanistan in August, 2008. If you use the Map of the Fallen, you can check your hometown. You can go all across the country and you can learn about the brave men and women who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can come to their hometown like this or you can go back to Afghanistan.
And, of course, as we come back around -- and this is exactly where he was killed in combat. And you saw, we were talking about this with Michael Ware earlier. As I close this down, you see some of the very tough terrain that the troops the president is sending now will fight in.
And I'm going to just circle down now and close in on Afghanistan. And, Wolf, this is it. This is the cost of war in human toll of more than 900 Americans killed in Afghanistan since 2001. And the president knows as he sends more and more in, that you will see these.
And you touch here, you see you can bring up right here. Travis Wayne Grogan -- he was born -- he died in Afghanistan in November of 2004. He's from Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was 31 years old.
We can come back to somebody else killed in that same episode here. Michael Jerome McMahon, died in Afghanistan in November, 2004, 41 years old. He was from West Hartford, Connecticut.
And so the president knows as he sends these new troops in, Wolf, every one of them will go into the fighting here. And the president understands that is his policy choice, to send more. But he knows, as every commander-in-chief does, he may well pay a political and a personal price. You heard him talk about writing a letter to each of those who are killed -- to the family of each of those killed. That's part of the political calculation the president made tonight -- Anderson.
COOPER: It certainly is, John King. And it's not just the difficulty of the battle, the fight. It's also the strategy that's involved that's going to determine the -- the casualties moving forward.
What we're seeing is a lot of foot patrols, where in Iraq, we saw an awful lot of vehicle patrols. In Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province right now, what you're seeing is Marines on foot patrol every single day, going out there exposing themselves. And that is part of the strategy, to kind of blend in, to -- to move in amongst villagers, talk to them and relate to them in a very personal way. But it's also an extremely dangerous strategy, indeed.
We want to talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was recently in Afghanistan, back in September with us, on our trip for a -- for about a week in Helmand Province. You were looking at medical needs there. That is, with 30,000 more troops going to -- going into the country, the medical needs are going to change drastically.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it was already -- Kandahar air field is already one of the busiest air strips in -- in the world because of what you just said. When they do MediVacs, they do the vast majority of them by chopper because of the terrain out there. But, also, it was just a very busy hospital. About 150 operations performed a month. We just talked to them today. They said that could go up to 300.
And if you look at the numbers, for every 10,000 troops or so, there's about 127 who are wounded. About 10 percent of them have traumatic brain injuries. So these are serious injuries.
What I think I was most struck by is sort of, you know, looking forward, Afghanistan just has a terrible medical infrastructure. There's about 11 physicians for every 100,000 people out there. There's no vascular surgeons. There's hardly any neurosurgeons. So...
COOPER: For Afghan civilians?
GUPTA: For Afghan civilians, the way things stand right now in Afghanistan.
So, you know, what is it going to look like a year from now, 10 years from now?
Who is going to take care of traumatic injuries or -- or all kinds of injuries later on down the road?
It's just -- that's -- that's a larger -- a larger part of the problem.
COOPER: And we're going to have more with Sanjay on "360" tonight, starting in about half an hour at the top of the hour.
We're also going to be talking to all of our cond -- our correspondents extensively, who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan -- Christiane Amanpour, Michael Ware and others -- Peter Bergen is also going to join us -- for really a kind of a -- a very eye level view of the front lines, what the fighting has been like.
Here's some of what we'll show you.
COOPER: Somebody threw some sort of a homemade flare that (INAUDIBLE) at U.S. forces. And now they're going to investigate in this compound.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, guys. Let's hop on this real quick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger.
WARE (voice-over): A hidden Taliban roadside bomb -- an IED -- is about to hit this Afghan police gun truck. A CNN cameraman and I are riding in it. By some miracle, it detonates a heartbeat too soon. Otherwise, we'd all be dead.
There's a Taliban here that wasn't here just a few years ago. And this city now lives in the shadow of the Taliban.
GUPTA: They were asking me to help out. They needed four surgeons. They only had three. This is what happens when they have a hospital as busy as this one.
COOPER: We're returning to base after a long patrol along the same road that we came down. So any Taliban who had been watching us would know that we're going to be using this road. So we have to be very careful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me be clear. There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010. So there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period.
Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options, along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people and our troops no less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: President Obama not only announcing his new policy earlier this evening at West Point, but also kind of explaining the process that got him there and also trying to preempt criticism, by answering some of the criticism he has already received. Gloria Borger, we haven't talked to you since the speech. How do you think he did?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he was more forceful than I heard him in the past. What he elaborated was a very high-risk political strategy and a military strategy as well. I think you are right, he anticipated people's complaints.
The thing that was so interesting to me was the way he addressed or did not address, Anderson, the cost of the war. And what people at home were thinking about, gee, we have got an economic crisis in this country; how can we spend 40 billion dollars over in Afghanistan. And he used that to justify his timetable in getting out of the war in Iraq.
I thought one of his best lines was that our troop commitment can't be open ended, because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.
COOPER: David Gergen, can he have it both ways? At one point both announcing a troop increase, but also then kind of announcing a withdrawal?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, the country is so divided that I don't think he succeeded tonight in doing the most important thing he hoped to do. That was to rally the country to heal the wound and rally the country behind him. I just don't think it happened.
COOPER: Because it was too workman like?
GERGEN: It was a studious, serious speech. But I think he had a hard time squaring the circle, to use Fareed's analogy.
Let me just say, in all of the discussion so far, I think we have given too little credit to the president and people around him developing the policy. Several of us here at the table have been in to talk to the president and to the people around him about what he's doing. They are completely aware of all the downside risk. They have thought through all the issues. They understand this extremely well. One could not always say that about the Bush administration some times when it want to war. I think they thought through it.
Secondly, they had -- they do have a sophisticated approach, given all the compromises they have had to make. They do have a sophisticated approach to this. I don't think they explained it very well. The idea of going in with these 30,000, they really hope to have a punch to throw the Taliban back on their heels, to secure some of the big cities like Kandahar. And while they secure them, then to engage in the training. They want to stay long enough to get the Afghan troops to work with the American troops in the field, not just in classrooms but in the field, working with them.
After 18 months, they think they can get people trained up. At that point, assuming the Afghan troops are trained up, they can begin to draw down. It is not -- it's not as crazy as it sounds at the beginning. The cavalry is coming, but they ain't staying long, which was sort of the message of the speech. I think if they had given a little more time to explain it, I think it would have been -- appeared to people, they have to give this a shot.
COOPER: Roland, did you find it unclear?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This speech was not about how we are going to fight. It is why we are going to Afghanistan. That's the whole point. General McChrystal's job is to lay out the strategy. It's not the president's job. In the second paragraph he went right to the point of why we are going to Afghanistan. He came become to that point three or four times in the speech, in terms of why we must be fighting in Afghanistan.
So we can sit and talk about, well, the emphasis should be on this strategy and strategy. His whole point is this is why we are going there. He also spoke to the whole issue in terms of, look, I want to be rebuilding in America, not rebuilding in other countries. He linked, as Gloria said, the economy to also the military.
COOPER: I want to bring in Fareed, because you had lunch with President Obama today?
ZAKARIA: I did.
COOPER: Was the tone, his tenor different than tonight? What did you learn today?
ZAKARIA: He was very calm, cool, very considered in his manner. I think that he had -- I think David has it exactly right. He has considered all the options. He has talked them through. I think he understood. I am now not quoting directly, but the feeling that I got was he understood that there was a complexity here in creating a surge which you then draw down.
The reading I got was that was a political decision, not as much a strategic decision. But I think he had a fairly strong case, because, as you can imagine, that was one of the things people asked him about. It was a small group of us. I was not alone. He said, look, first, if we are going to say we are never going to -- we are not going to tell them when we are going to leave, because they can out-wait us, that is an argument for staying in Afghanistan forever. I am not going to stay in Afghanistan forever just to out-wait the Taliban.
The second point he made was the one David is making. Look, if they just melt away and run away while we are there and wait for us, we will take control of population centers, we will train an Afghan army, we will hold territory. That is a substantially weaker possession for them to then try to climb out of.
BORGER: But it's such a roll of the dice, isn't it, Fareed. The policy is depending on the Afghans. And they're not dependable.
MARTIN: There is no guarantee. There is no guarantee of success. There is none. You take the shot when you can. We didn't know if we would be successful in Iraq. This is also a president who is not afraid to invoke Vietnam in the very speech. What do you do? Do you sit here and say this is -- this is where the attacks were launched then we do nothing?
ZAKARIA: We have to remember, of course it ultimately depends on the Afghans. It is Afghanistan.
COOPER: It is their country.
ZAKARIA: Ultimately what is the alternative. We occupy the place forever? I think the place where one can wonder is the Pakistan element. He was pretty soft on Pakistan. Now, perhaps that's a calculated decision that you need their cooperation and so we -- we can't push them too hard. But it was odd. Here, if you looked at it from Mars, all of the al Qaeda leadership is in Pakistan.
COOPER: This is a debate that's not only occurring between Republicans and Democrats. There were a lot of Democrats that were very unhappy with the president's decision. Wolf?
BLITZER: Let me walk up, because Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California is joining us now. She is one of those Democrats not very happy with the president's new strategy. Congresswoman, are you? REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let me say, first, I think the president did give a very comprehensive speech. It was a very thoughtful speech. And many of his policy statements I agree with.
But let me tell you, I do not agree with escalating the war in Afghanistan. I did not support this in 2001, because I believed it would be open-ended. And as was said earlier, the troop escalation continues to increase. And in fact, the stress on our military is just horrendous, when you look at the numbers of suicides, when you look at post-traumatic stress syndrome, when you look at what is taking place with our young men and women. The costs in blood alone should really cause us to -- to be very, very concerned.
BLITZER: You disagree with the president when he says it is in America's vital national interest right now to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan?
LEE: I disagree with the president that we need to insert another 30,000 troops to escalate the war in Afghanistan. I believe, at this point, we need to look at ways to help stabilize Afghanistan in terms of its security. And I agree that we have to look at how we address Pakistan. My concern, of course, is the fact that Pakistan has many -- a huge nuclear arsenal. We should focus on nonproliferation and disarmament.
When you talk about Yemen and Somalia, which the president talked about, al Qaeda is -- is more prevalent in other countries. His own administrators and administration officials indicated that they're less than 100 members of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. I think it was too much of an open-ended speech, in terms of where do we go from here. I worry that the 30,000 troops, in terms of the escalation, will just fuel the insurgency, and create more hostility and more anger, and will not enhance our national security, but do just the opposite.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Barbara Lee is not alone in that concern of the president's new strategy. There are others, especially House Democrats, who agree with her. We'll see how strong that opposition is. Congresswoman, thank you very much for coming in.
LEE: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Oakland, California. Ed Henry is joining us right now, our senior White House correspondent. You are at West Point. The cadets had an opportunity to hear the commander-in-chief.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I am going to stand up a little straighter, because I'm here with Tyler Gordy, who is the first captain in the senior class here among the cadets. That means he's the top ranked cadet. He's likely to be deployed to Afghanistan next year after he graduates in May. First of all, is your family worried? Are you scared when you see the violence there?
TYLER GORDY, WEST POINT FIRST CAPTAIN: I would say my family is always worried about me regardless where I am at. Personally, no, I am not scared. I am a veteran of the Iraq War. I was there during Operation Iraqi Freedom One. I was there for a year as infantryman. I have experienced combat. I came to West Point fully knowing that combat could be in my future. So I am not scared.
HENRY: You are very humble about it. But you won a Purple Heart in Iraq because you were wounded there. You heard now from the commander-in-chief tonight about a surge. There was a surge in Iraq while you were there. Now there is going to be a surge in Afghanistan. What did you hear tonight? And what do you think about the future in Afghanistan?
GORDY: Well I think what the president did tonight for myself and the rest of my classmates is he laid out the strategy and the future for us. He gave us some goals to look at, in order to prepare ourselves to become platoon leaders in the United States Army. That is ultimately what we are here for at West Point, is to become future leaders in the Army.
I think by him doing that, that gave us a point of reference to -- to kind of guide us until graduation.
HENRY: Last question, you served in Iraq, when the public -- the American public was not very supportive of the war. Now the polls are very low for the approval in Afghanistan. What does that mean for the soldier out in the field, when they hear the American people are not behind the mission?
GORDY: The soldier in the field takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We are blessed in the United States. We are subjected to civilian authority, as members of the armed forces. Myself, I am subjected to the same authority. I don't think we really are focused in on what the polls say. We're focused on getting the mission done over there when the time comes.
HENRY: Tyler Gordy, we want to thank you for your service to our nation. Wolf, you heard it right there from one of the senior cadets here, who heard from his commander-in-chief tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: May be hearing from a future General Petraeus or General McChrystal, right with you, Ed Henry. Thanks very much. Thank that cadet for us and wish him god-speed and good luck, as he gets ready to graduate from West Point.
A lot more coverage coming up. The president has the left West Point. Before leaving after the speech, he went and shook hands with a lot of those cadet whose gathered at the Eisenhower Theater on the campus at West Point. We will continue our coverage right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.
So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And that was President Obama earlier tonight at West Point. Already, we are starting to see politics rearing its head, in terms of how people are reacting to this. There has been already criticism by Republicans. Also, we just heard criticism by liberal Democrats as well.
A lot to talk about with our political panel. Alex Castellanos, what do you think we are going to be hearing from Republicans tomorrow all over the airwaves?
CASTELLANOS: I think you're going to be hearing that the president made a good speech, that they want to support our president. Frankly, I think you will get more support for the president from Republicans than from Democrats. His problem's within his own party.
But you are also going to hear Republicans say that the president gave an intensely political speech, and that he basically told the bank robbers he is going to guard the bank, but only until 18 months from now. What do you do then? You wait. And I think it is going to raise a lot of questions about his commitment to this strategy.
COOPER: Paul, was it a mistake to set some sort of time line?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the liberals will like that, but not the surge. The conservatives will like the surge, but not the exit strategy.
COOPER: A political decision on his part to try to appease all sides?
BEGALA: I think that's clearly part of it. But he is trying to lead a diverse and divided country here. On top of that, I do think Donna's point is right. He's probably trying to send a message to the folks in Afghanistan as well.
I think that they believe that, fundamentally, occupying huge countries with a giant army is not the best way to fight al Qaeda. General Jones, national security adviser, says there are only about 100 real al Qaeda in Afghanistan. A hundred thousand American troops to go after 100 al Qaeda terrorists seems a little out of whack. He mentioned some of the other countries where al Qaeda operates in his speech tonight. Talked about Yemen, talked clearly about Pakistan. I wonder if he has the time -- we'll see a much more fundamental shift in his strategy on terrorism, moving away from large armies of occupation, and towards a very different counter-terrorism strategy.
COOPER: What about that? The military is not united on General McChrystal's plan. Former Lieutenant General Eikenberry, now the ambassador, opposed any kind of a surge of more troops? MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's because the focus on the surge always goes to the number of the troops. That is not the point. The point is what they're deployed to do. Donna talked about this earlier, again, part of the Bush doctrine, declare, hold, and build. That's what worked in Iraq. They're not exactly analogous. But everyone is also obsessed, relative to the surge, on the exit strategy.
The exit strategy for Colin Powell or for any military person in the history of wars -- the exit strategy is victory. So when something is not working, a strategy is not working, you change your strategy, as we did in Iraq. So in 18 months -- as he says, our security is at stake -- these existential threats are still going to be there. What makes them less existential in 18 months? We're not working. We'll have to come up with a strategy.
BEGALA: What's victory? President Bush said it was -- I'm quoting him -- our ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world. OK, I'm sorry, that is nonsense. As long as there are political consultants, there will be tyranny in the world. There is evil everywhere. That was too airy-fairy. This president gave very specific goals tonight.
MATALIN: You think this is a good speech? After 92 days of waiting, 20 hours of meetings, all the build up, it was a really limp speech.
BEGALA: After eight years of failed war, it is impossible to cure it with a speech.
CASTELLANOS: Wait a minute, I think the thing we saw tonight -- and you noted it -- he tries to get everybody together by giving everybody a little something. Sometimes that's now how unite people. That's how you keep them divided. And that is what he did tonight. You know, Bush lost his base because he spent too much. He lost the middle because of an unpopular war. This president may turn the Bush formula on its head, lose his base because of an unpopular war, and lose the middle because he spends too much.
BRAZILE: We're focusing all our time on things that really don't matter. What really matters is that we get it right, and that we begin to bring our troops home. We have systemic problems in that region. If I was the president, since he has all of these hookups at the White House, I would try to get on the phone with some of the warlords and tribal leaders, and the Pashtuns.
CASTELLANOS: You should give them a call.
BRAZILE: I'm grassroots. I would go out to the villages. I would serve in whatever way they like and say, look, guys and gals --
MATALIN: Educate your daughters. Get them out there. You've done for centuries, warlords. They did this. They got the Soviets out of there.
BRAZILE: General McChrystal -- I read everything -- he said we have to win the hearts and minds of the people. We're not going to win them over with the best missiles and bombs. We're going to win them by letting them know this is their country and their future. Now step up.
COOPER: That depends on the Afghan government's ability to step up.
BRAZILE: I've already said what I thought about Mr. Karzai.
CASTELLANOS: The president didn't bring up the issue of human rights tonight. We're talking about a country that could suffer a devastating blow if the Taliban returns, women, children. He didn't talk about the moral imperative of that tonight.
COOPER: We'll have a lot more, especially from our correspondents, who spent a lot of time over the years in Afghanistan, on the ground, on the front lines. We'll hear from them in a moment.
BLITZER: The president delivered a very, very detailed speech. But he left out some critical details as far as Afghanistan is concerned. Christiane Amanpour, we heard nothing from the president as far as Opium and poppies, the drug trade in Afghanistan. It's the largest supplier of Opium in the world. And there's no mention of it.
AMANPOUR: That's right. It's really big problem right now. We just had the head of the U.N. Drug Interdiction on our program. It's a very, very big problem. What you actually didn't hear is almost anything about the whole civilian effort under which drug control does fall. It was remarkable in the lack of detail. In fact, he said no nation building. And this is a real contrast with what he said in March, when he talked about investing in Afghan's future, in really making sure that that place and Pakistan stayed secure by investing. He said it was much cheaper to give them the wherewithal to create a better future for themselves, than the U.S. paying for it. None of that tonight.
BLITZER: The number one source of revenue, Chris. You were just in Afghanistan. You saw what's going on over there. More money exporting drugs, Heroin, Opium, if you will, poppies, than they do anything else.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 100 meters from one of the police stations, huge marijuana hash field, as far as the eye can see, stalks 10 feet tall, 100 Meters from a police station. That tells you how pervasive that it is there.
BLITZER: So much of the economy, Michael Ware, depends on this.
WARE: Look, if I lived in Kandahar. Every time I went to see the police chiefs, his guards would have red palms. That's from they had just been smacking and shaping the last hashish batch. It's the whole currency of -- it's the oxygen that fuels or allows the economy to breathe. I'll just spend time with Karzai's brother, the president's brother. They grow Opium. Their tribe, the Populzide (ph) grows tons and tons and tons of Opium. And I said to the president's brother, can you get your own people to stop growing Opium? He went no, are you crazy? He said I'd be finished if I did. He said, one thing at a time. Security first, opium second.
BLITZER: Nic, are the NATO allies really going to step up and help the president right now?
ROBERTSON: There's no indication that they are. I mean the numbers that have been talked about recently have been 10,000. In Europe, right now, they're talking about 7,000. Europe is only talking about coming up with perhaps 3,000 to 4,000.
One of the interesting things, Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week talked about a draw-down and a hand over of security to the Afghans in the north of the country. That's where the Germans are. It may impact, as well, the Italians and the Spanish, who have stayed out of the fight.
So what you may begin to see -- this is reading the tea leaves here -- is that the Europeans will be corralled in a way that they haven't been until now towards the fight in the south. But, no, the numbers are not going to be forthcoming.
BLITZER: Barbara, you're heading off to Afghanistan tomorrow. What's the most important thing you'd like to discover when you're there?
BARBARA STARR, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd like to see what the troops think about this and whether they think they can succeed. I think Alex said it all really a little while ago, when he said what this is about is not the U.S. exit strategy, but what did we hear tonight that will lead to a Taliban exit strategy from this war? Maybe not very much.
BLITZER: Sanjay, you've been in Afghanistan. You know what it's like, 68,000 US troops. Now, 100,000 are going to be there within six months. There will be more U.S. targets for the Taliban, for al Qaeda, for the enemies of the United States. Does that automatically mean that the U.S. should brace for greater casualties?
GUPTA: I think so. We have already seen that over the early Summer and the early Fall. This is the real human cost of this war. I think it's different than other wars as well. We talk about these improvised explosive devices. I was in hospitals, Wolf, and the horrific types of injuries that these devices leave is just hard to describe. There's people with double amputations, all of a sudden. And it is very hard to treat. They certainly have to airlift the patients out, often going into dangerous areas themselves. The people who are the healers are oftentimes the targets.
BLITZER: Are there enough healers there, enough medical personnel? GUPTA: I think clearly not right now. Kandahar Airfield, which is the biggest hospital, role three hospitals, probably doing about 300 operations a month right now, about ten a day. That's right now. You can figure out the numbers here. They're going to go up. About three quarters of those patients, incidentally, are Afghan nationals or Afghan soldiers as well. So they're treating coalition forces. But the vast majority are Afghan citizens.
BLITZER: Roland, you know that as casualties increase, support for the war, presumably, will decrease.
MARTIN: And that's one of the reasons why he kept reminding people what took place eight years ago. Look, we can sit here and talk all day about all the problems in Afghanistan. But the president made it perfectly clear, 3,000 Americans died on 9/11. They were launched in Afghanistan. We screwed up by putting all of our attention on Iraq. You have to deal with what's there. You have to deal with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and deal with the unstable situation in Pakistan.
Clearly, he has listened to the likes of General Colin Powell and other advisors. This is not solely about, well, how do we sit here and deal with human rights and deal with women and children and poppy fields and all the stuff like that. No, he is saying to the American people, remember how scared you were eight years ago? Do you want to go down that path again? Then you must understand why we have to be in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: There's no doubt that this is going to be a tough challenge for the president in the immediate period ahead.
GERGEN: Wolf, it has been an axiom since Vietnam. First commit the nation, then commit the troops. Did he get the nation behind him?
BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Thanks very much. Our coverage is clearly going to continue. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is standing by. We'll be back tomorrow in "THE SITUATION ROOM." The president's national security adviser, General Jones, will be among my guests. Thanks very much for joining us. "AC 360" starts right now. Anderson?