Fox's and CBS' Sunday morning talk show hosts allowed Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to criticize President Obama's conditions-based troop drawdown date in Afghanistan without mentioning Gen. David Petraeus' endorsement of that timetable. By contrast, during his interview of Sen. John McCain, ABC's Jake Tapper played video of Petraeus endorsing the timetable.
Petraeus said he "supported" and "agreed with" Obama's 2011 timetable
Obama: "[W]e will execute this transition responsibly" beginning in July 2011. In a December 1, 2009, speech, Obama said that the additional troops he was sending to Afghanistan "will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."
Petraeus agreed with timetable, called it a "message of urgency." From the June 29 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Petraeus' nomination to be commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan (around 1:02:25):
SEN. JACK REED (D-RI): In the course of your colloquy with Senator McCain, you indicated that you did not make a recommendation with respect to a deadline, but your public statements indicate you support that approach. Is that correct?
PETRAEUS: That's correct.
REED: So that you're fully supportive of the president's policy, including beginning a transition based upon the conditions on the ground in July of 2011.
PETRAEUS: Let me be very clear if I could, Senator. And not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it. This is, again, an agreement that was made back, of course, in the fall of last year, based on projections about conditions that we hoped we'd obtain, that we were going to strive to achieve in Afghanistan a full year from now. So that was, you know, an 18-month or more projection at that time.
As I mentioned in my opening statement, I saw this most importantly as the message of urgency to complement the message of enormous additional commitment. Let's remember that it wasn't just this 30,000 additional forces, the president -- and actually, the previous president had started some deployment of additional forces before he left office. But we started with some 30-, 31,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2009. And we will now be approaching 100,000 by the time of the deployment of the final 30,000. So this is a substantial additional commitment complemented, again, by a message of urgency.
Lieberman's, Graham's criticisms of timetable left unchallenged
Lieberman on Fox: "[O]n balance, I think it was a mistake." On the July 4 edition of Fox News Sunday, guest host Major Garrett asked Lieberman if he wanted "U.S. forces, the surge forces, to start leaving July of next year, or do you want them to stay longer and fight longer?" Lieberman said that while he understood why Obama established the timetable, "on balance, I think it was a mistake because it sent a message to the Afghans, to the Taliban, to people in the neighborhood that we're going to leave regardless, and that's not the fact. General Petraeus has clarified that, the president has come some distance now in the last couple of weeks and clarified that. Whatever we do in July of 2011 will be based on conditions on the ground at the time." Neither Garrett nor Lieberman noted that Petraeus has endorsed the timetable.
Graham on CBS: "General Petraeus needs this monkey off his back." Asked by guest host John Dickerson on the July 4 edition of CBS' Face the Nation whether the timetable "has affected the pace of the counterinsurgency," Graham said it did, claiming that "confusion and uncertainty ... needs to be clarified." After Dickerson noted that "the administration says that all they're talking about is withdrawal based on conditions. The president's always said that from the beginning," Graham responded by saying that Vice President Joe Biden "reassured me that it would be conditions-based," adding that "General Petraeus needs this monkey off his back. It's not fair to him and our troops and our civilian counterparts to be operating in Afghanistan with the belief that come July 2011, we're going to begin to withdraw no matter what." Neither Dickerson nor Graham noted that Petraeus has endorsed the timetable.
Tapper challenged McCain's criticism of timetable with Petraeus' statements
Tapper plays Petraeus video in response to McCain criticism. McCain said on the July 4 edition of ABC's This Week that the timetable is "what I worry about more than anything else," adding that "we need a conditions-based situation, not a date for withdrawal." Tapper noted that under the Bush administration, "[t]here was an unlimited commitment of U.S. troops for an unlimited amount of time there, and that didn't seem to be effective, and yet you're criticizing this July 2011 deadline, which would be the beginning of a transition period." McCain responded that "I'm all for dates for withdrawal, but that's after the strategy succeeds, not before." Tapper then played video of Petraeus at his confirmation hearing saying that "not only did I say that I supported [the timetable], I said that I agreed with it," and his description of the timetable as a "message of urgency." Tapper then asked McCain, "Is General Petraeus wrong?" McCain responded by saying that Obama "should state unequivocally that we will leave when we have succeeded, and to somehow put that burden on General Petraeus is not appropriate."