Guests: Howard Fineman, Rep. Maxine Waters, Cenk Uygur, Karen Finney, Lawrence Wilkerson, Steve Clemons
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
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OLBERMANN: Some, they‘re within weeks, but all to start coming home as early as July 2011, no later than January 2012.
The president‘s speech on the troop escalation in Afghanistan.
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OBAMA: Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully.
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OLBERMANN: The troop escalation with a caveat of a surprisingly firm timeline and caveats about congressional oversights, stringent, transparent budgeting and the elimination of sole-source military contracting. And with all this, is it still the wrong course?
With Howard Fineman on how the speech will resonate politically. Congresswoman Maxine Waters on whether the president moved her and other critics. Steve Clemons on why Afghanistan if bin Laden is in Pakistan.
Former DNC communications director Karen Finney and Cenk Uygur of Radio‘s “Young Turks” in a mini-debate symbolizing the doubts merely among progressives.
And Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson on the arrogance of the former vice president who has spoken out, even though it was his insistence in Iraq in 2002 that made Afghanistan what it is today, who‘s cutting and running as secretary of defense in 1991 made the Taliban what it is today.
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DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: This continual, sort of, agonizing over what the policy ought to be has consequences.
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OLBERMANN: And the comic relief, the Chinese politician who wanted to deny the world this newspaper‘s recreation of Tiger Woods‘ bad night driving.
OLBERMANN: Look out, there‘s a computer-generated fire hydrant there.
All the news and commentary—now in the special post-speech edition of COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening, again, from New York.
If, in a speech at U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June 2002, President Bush declared, “Our war on terror is only begun, but in Afghanistan, it was begun well,” earlier tonight, President Obama also speaking at West Point, declared that the conflict in Afghanistan already in its ninth year, far from having begun well, is in need of a new beginning—a fresh start that would include an escalation of American troops to the region as well as a start date for bringing all U.S. forces there home.
Tonight, in this special post-speech edition of COUNTDOWN, the reactions to the president‘s address, but first, the details. The commander-in-chief announcing tonight he will be sending roughly 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the first to arrive around Christmas—even as he tried to reassure the nation that American forces would start coming home from the region by July 2011, roughly 19 months from now.
President Obama explaining the challenges that remain in the conflict after eight years after it had begun.
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OBAMA: Afghanistan is not lost. But, for several years, it has moved backwards. There‘s no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border, and our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population.
Our new commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short, the status quo is not sustainable.
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OLBERMANN: The president‘s announcement ending months of deliberations with a decision he did not make lightly, he said, and a burden he says he does not want to bear alone.
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OBAMA: This is not just America‘s war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda‘s safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are in danger and the stakes 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 they would—they would use them. These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies.
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OLBERMANN: Before an audience of cadets and officers as well as the nation by television, Internet, radio, the president seeming also to address his political critics, specifically on the question of what the escalation will cost.
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OBAMA: All told, by the time I took office, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, approached $1 trillion. And going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year. And I‘ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.
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OLBERMANN: That will include, as we reported last night, budgeting through ordinary congressional transparent means, no special budget requests as the Iraq war was handled largely by President Bush.
Meantime, the man who lost to Mr. Obama in the 2008 presidential election, Senator McCain, Republican of Arizona, among the first to speak out in the speech‘s immediate aftermath, liking all but one part of the president‘s new plan for Afghanistan.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: The president made the right decision to embrace a counterinsurgency strategy. It is properly resourced. I believe the 30,000 troops, plus additional troops from our NATO allies will be really sufficient to get the job done. What—and I believe that Republicans and Democrats should support this strategy.
What I don‘t support and do not agree with is an arbitrary date for withdrawal. If you set an arbitrary date, it emboldens our enemies and disparage our allies. And so, I believe that we need to clear that up because you‘re either going to set an arbitrary date, or it‘s going to be based on conditions on the ground.
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OLBERMANN: Time to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: How did the speech go? Could it have changed many minds tonight in either direction?
FINEMAN: Not based on the soundings that I‘ve taken, e-mailing with people, talking on the phone, checking out the blogs, I don‘t think he changed many minds one way or the other. There was a kind of grim realism to this speech. And I think it will be viewed realistically by everybody all across the spectrum.
Dick Cheney has already sounded his notes. People, like, McCain, sounded theirs.
Senator Dick Durbin, a liberal Democrat of Illinois, one of Barack Obama‘s earliest supporters issuing a very torn (ph) statement tonight, which I just got on my BlackBerry saying, you know, “It took the president a long time to decide this strategy, it‘s going to take me a while to decide what I want to say.”
On the blogs, at least the ones that I looked at right away, a kind of grudging understanding that he was making a grim, calculated, minimalist defense of the existing strategy.
OLBERMANN: Extrapolating from your point and from a point that Rachel Maddow made before the top of the hour here, was he trying merely to do that? Was he trying merely to tamp down loud criticism from either side rather than to get anybody running behind him while he‘d wave the big flag like other presidents have?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think so. I think he‘s focused on the reality on the ground, Keith. I think he understands that his decision is going to be judged politically—not now. People have taken their positions now as we were just saying.
What‘s going to matter is what happens in Afghanistan over the next year, year and a half or two years. He‘s making the bet in believing in General McChrystal, essentially, that—an infusion of troops here. And the president is really doubling down on McChrystal‘s strategy by trying to get all them in there—get them all in there quickly. It‘s going to have a demonstrable effect in Afghanistan and next door in Pakistan that will yield real results.
And then the president can come back in almost accountants-like way a year from now and say, “We spent $30 billion. That was worth it. We‘re safer. Let‘s begin to pull out.”
OLBERMANN: Two points here about counter-intuitiveness. More troops now and quickly in order to get all the troops home sooner. In other words, pull out but only after you‘ve gone in further. And look, part of this problem is Pakistan. We‘re not really at war in Pakistan, we‘re not fighting everybody in Pakistan, but a lot of these people are in Afghanistan, so, we have to send them to Afghanistan.
There are—these are too complicated complex questions. Did he—did he sell them both? Did he get both of them across?
FINEMAN: No, I don‘t—I don‘t think he really did. And, by the way
· you know, I don‘t think he really did.
First of all, I know that people at the White House have a very—
I‘ve used the word “grim” already, I‘ll use it again—view of Pakistan. One person is telling me that‘s basically a dysfunctional country. And the people at the White House know that.
But, of course, we can‘t put troops directly in there. That‘s just forbidden (ph). We don‘t have the rationale. We don‘t have the freedom. We don‘t have the standing. The Pakistanis would never allow it. So, we‘re going in the side door, but the president is saying, “All right, if we‘re going to do it, we‘re going to do it quickly.”
The president also believes, I think—in talking to people over there, I‘m pretty sure this is correct—that he can‘t give the military an open-ending commitment, the American military, because they‘ll just keep coming back, asking for more troops and more troops and more troops. So, his strategy with the military is to say, “Fine, I‘m going to give you what you want in stage right now but you better show me and show me quickly that it‘s going to work.”
OLBERMANN: The July 14, 2008 edition of “The New York Times,” an op-ed page from then-Senator Obama seemed to promise to do exactly what he announced earlier tonight, to pursue a new strategy in Afghanistan in order to accomplish the U.S. mission there, including more troops in the region, in order to get the job done.
Why then, was tonight‘s speech framed? How did it wind up being framed, as a surprise? Is it still being held in that—in that frame even after it‘s been completed?
FINEMAN: Well, the president and his advisors set it up this way, Keith. They said they wanted to reconsider everything. It didn‘t make a whole lot of sense in a way, because back in March, he said that Afghanistan was the necessary war. Iraq was not the necessary war. When he—and he added troops then.
But then, he said, “No, wait a minute, I better reconsider here.” And I think the reason is, because he understood or at least he believes that the military, American military will keep asking for more and more and more troops. And he said to himself, look, economic—Obama believes this—that economic power is ultimately the key to military power and we can‘t keep spending the money there. It‘s pretty much that simple.
So, that‘s the reason for the drama. He made it himself.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—as always, great thanks, Howard.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: For more reaction, let‘s turn to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a Democrat of California.
As ever, Congresswoman, thanks for your time tonight.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: You‘re so welcome. Delighted to be with you, again.
OLBERMANN: The president‘s new strategy for Afghanistan. Are you for it or are you against it?
WATERS: Well, first of all, I‘m terribly sad after having to listen to the speech. I felt that for this young, bright, articulate president who wants to do the right thing but made commitments, too, in his campaign that he was going to Afghanistan, he was going to get Osama bin Laden and now, he‘s back against the wall with a strategy that I think has no end. It doesn‘t really resonate for me.
I‘m saddened because 30,000 new troops are going to go into Afghanistan. I guess they‘re going to be fighting in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, al Qaeda and Taliban—and where does it end? And what do we do? We have to kill all of the Taliban and we‘re going to try and transition that government into a democracy? I don‘t get it. It doesn‘t work for me.
OLBERMANN: Was the—the setting of a—of a beginning of the end essentially, and saying that the troop drawdown will begin no later—will begin by July 2011, and we‘ll be fully underway no later than January 2012. Was that not sufficient in terms of an end date or are you suspicious that at some point, the military will have to talk him out of it or try to talk him out of that end date?
WATERS: Well, for me, it sounded as if we were going to begin training the Afghanistan troops in 2011. I did not hear that they were going to have them all trained and we would be able to get out. I think that he meant it to be—to begin the withdrawal. But, of course, we don‘t know when, there‘s no end date to it.
OLBERMANN: Then—if he said or if someone from the administration says, in the next few days, look, this is—this is the timeframe, the withdrawal begins, ready or not—for want of a better phrase—July 2011, August 2011, somewhere within there, will some of your concerns be mollified at that point? Or is this larger than that?
WATERS: Some. I like the idea that we would get involved in a real withdrawal and we would employ diplomacy and that we would engage the 43 other nations that he pointed to, to help us to do all of this. But I‘m not convinced.
OLBERMANN: Have you been able to speak with any of your colleagues about this either since the speech or before it? Do you have sense.
OLBERMANN: Do you have a sense of this, and have you a sense of whether you and those who think like you are going to be grudgingly supportive of this president? Or will you attempt to stop what he wants to do?
WATERS: Yes, I did have an opportunity to speak with my colleague, Barbara Lee, who is the head of the Black Caucus and who is very firm on it in the progressive caucus. And we both agree that we cannot support the president and this continuing effort. And we will not support him.
OLBERMANN: So, what happens? We‘ve heard from several sources that this will be budgeted through ordinary means. There will be no special bits of legislation the way President Bush handled Iraq. If these regular requests for funding come through you, you will have to vote against them?
WATERS: Yes. I would have to vote against it. As a matter of fact, the president did say that his request would be transparent and that it would be shown in the budget. People are talking about a war tax. They‘re talking about all kinds of things.
But for me, I cannot support this expansion. I cannot a budget that will cost $1 million per year for every soldier that we send there. It‘s too much.
And we‘re losing a lot of young lives. And we have a domestic agenda that‘s unmet, a big deficit. I want to focus more on the domestic agenda. I want to wind out of Afghanistan with some help to rebuilding that infrastructure of being of assistance to the people. But I did not hear that articulated quite that way.
OLBERMANN: Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California—great thanks for your—for your frankness and for your time tonight.
WATERS: Well, you‘re certainly welcome.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
This issue has driven the progressives, and more broadly the Democrats, and most probably of all the nation, is an understatement as some of Congresswoman Waters‘ remarks might reflect.
What is the picture now more generally after the speech? A mini-debate among Democrats over a Democrat president‘s policy—next.
OLBERMANN: What are those who voted for President Obama saying about his plan for Afghanistan? Former communications chief of the DNC and Cenk Uygur of “The Young Turks” presenting different viewpoints about the way forward and out in Afghanistan.
Also, unfriendly fire, perhaps unhinged fire from the right. The former vice president speaks in terms of treason. In terms of—prior to the delivery of the speech, how his attacks on the commander-in-chief may have revealed much more about himself than they did about Obama. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson will join me for that.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: To suggest Afghanistan has divided the nation is to oversimplify the case. Whatever hearts and minds the president won over tonight, which ones he lost, there are those on both sides who otherwise are near-perfect political matches. The rift is perhaps so profound that it merits something unusual here—a debate of sorts involving two people who would otherwise not have much to debate about.
Participating with us tonight: Cenk Uygur, the host of the progressive talk show, “The Young Turks.” Mr. Uygur does not support Mr. Obama‘s strategy in Afghanistan. And Karen Finney—former communications director of the DNC, current Democratic strategist. Ms. Finney supports the president‘s plan.
Good evening to you both. Thanks for trying this.
CENK UYGUR, “THE YOUNG TURKS”: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: It‘s cable. There are two guests. Unlike every other cable show you‘ve ever been on, I‘d like to do—to discourage you from yelling at each other. I‘ll ask one of you the question, and then offer the other a chance to rebut or reply, and then reverse the procedure.
Cenk, let me start with you. What did the president say tonight that did not change your mind?
UYGUR: Well, he laid out three prongs: military strategy, civilian strategy, and then, of course, our approach to Pakistan.
The first two, I was completely unconvinced. What are we going to do militarily with 30,000 troops that we couldn‘t already do? In fact, we probably need about 300,000 troops or maybe even more, if we really needed to tamp down a popular insurgency. He says there is no popular insurgency. I was unconvinced by that.
He says, on prong number two, on the civilian strategy, we‘re going after the guys who are corrupt. I‘m sorry, I would love to believe that, but I don‘t, because the guy who‘s most corrupt is the president of Afghanistan and we just let him become president, again, knowing full well that his brother is one of the biggest drug lords in the world at this point.
So, I‘m not convinced on the first two prongs. The third is really interesting. Pakistan, but he didn‘t lay out a case of what to do about Pakistan and what our troops in Afghanistan would be doing about in the fight against al Qaeda in Pakistan.
OLBERMANN: Karen Finney, Cenk points about military strategy, civilian corruption and Pakistan. Your replies?
KAREN FINNEY, FORMER DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. Well, I actually—obviously, I disagree. And I think the president made a pretty strong case for why these are the three, sort of, pillars of the strategy and what it is we hope to accomplish.
And, look, one of the things I was most encouraged by is, I thought he gave a pretty frank, open, honest assessment on each of those three pillars, which is something we‘ve not had in Afghanistan. I think that‘s very important, going forward.
So, I—obviously, I support the president. I would like to hear more details. I do think we have to go in with a belief that, you know, again, the general‘s have told us they need more troops, then we got—again, give them the resources they asked for. I like the idea that it‘s being coupled with a need for a civilian surge, as the president talked about—because I think, too often, we‘ve only heard about the military side of things. So, I think it‘s important.
And I‘m very pleased about the Pakistan piece, because, again, I think we have to remember, we‘re not just fighting—we‘re not at war with Afghanistan. We‘re at war with al Qaeda and the Taliban. And we know they are not in just Afghanistan, they are in Pakistan, and—as the president touched on—other parts of the world.
So, there‘s a much broader global context that we have to be thinking about.
OLBERMANN: My second question is—starting with you, Karen—do you believe that the president approached the speech in an attitude different from previous president‘s speeches on the subject of war, that this was less a rallying cry than a sober comments made to adults? For want of a better term.
FINNEY: Yes. I really did. And I was very pleased to hear that. I was very pleased, again, that it was a frank, honest assessment. I thought that it was very positive that he also—you know, on the one hand, he said that the troops—“You deserve to hear directly from me,” the mission, but also reminded all of us that there is, you know, a coupling of our military needs as well as our domestic agenda.
And I thought it was great. No sloganeering, and you know, none of that, you know, usual B.S. if you will, that we had in the last few years. I think it was a very straightforward speech.
OLBERMANN: Cenk, was it, indeed, a straight forward speech? And did we benefit from the fact that there was—and I‘ll echo the term—no B.S.-ing in this one?
UYGUR: Well, yes and no. I mean, I was a little concerned about—when he said our—the homeland security is at stake here. I‘m not sure what the few al Qaeda fighters there are left in Afghanistan, if that‘s the case. He seemed very concerned about bipartisanship. I‘ve not seen him this aggressive in fighting back against partisanship. And I know that is to be positive.
You know, he was straight in some ways. But in other ways, I thought, are you letting us know how we‘re going to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan? Because he didn‘t really address that and I wish he‘d done a little bit more of that.
OLBERMANN: To that point specifically, that‘s my third question. And, Cenk, I‘ll start again with you. The president clearly did not convince you that more troops in Afghanistan will address the al Qaeda presence on the Pakistan border, even though he used that terminology, that the cancer has also taken root in border region of Pakistan.
What was missing? What is the strategy? How are these two countries connected in our role in both of them?
UYGUR: You know, Keith, you know that I was in favor of Obama‘s strategy on this until about a month or so ago. And—so, I‘m predisposed to believing that we can‘t—we‘re doing a decent job of squeezing al Qaeda between Afghanistan where we are and with the Pakistani army moving up north as they are. So, I want to be convinced of that.
I just—I don‘t believe he‘s got the Afghanistan side figured out because I don‘t think Karzai is a credible leader there, and I don‘t think we‘re going to turn around Afghanistan in 18 months and all of a sudden, they‘re going to be a flourishing democracy.
Can it—is it possible that we do succeed in Pakistan in killing the al Qaeda leadership? Yes, but when do we call it a victory? Is it just if we get bin Laden? Just if we get Zawahiri? Or how many al Qaeda guys in Pakistan do we have to kill before we say “mission accomplished”?
OLBERMANN: Karen Finney, without perhaps embracing that controversial phrase.
OLBERMANN: . too closely, when do we say that the job has been done in Pakistan?
FINNEY: Well, look, I think what the president was trying to lay out was, you know, here‘s an 18-month plan of what we‘re going to do, and sort of stripping away from some of the rhetoric that we‘ve heard over the last eight years about mission accomplished and when we‘re going to win.
I mean, look, we‘ve got a strategy. We know we need to go after al Qaeda. We know we got to go after the Taliban.
Again, I don‘t think it‘s about, sort of, setting these arbitrary deadlines that say, “OK, this is when we‘ll know we won.”
There‘s one other point, though, I really think it‘s important to make here, Keith. You know, I was the DNC communications director when we took back the House and the Senate in 2006. Democrats largely campaign on a critique against the way Bush was going against doing things in Iraq by saying we needed to refocus on Afghanistan.
President Obama, himself, has been very clear all along throughout the campaign that this was his strategy. So, again, this should not come as a surprise that he‘s now keeping his word.
OLBERMANN: Cenk, I‘m going to have to—I know you‘re champing at the bit to answer that, but time has escaped us.
Cenk Uygur, the host of “The Young Turks” show, and Karen Finney, Democratic strategist—great thanks for participating in our experiment tonight. I think it went pretty well. And thank you for making that happen.
UYGUR: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Twenty-four hours before the commander-in-chief addressed the nation, the troops, the allies, the enemies abroad, the previous vice president accused him of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, committing, in legal terms, treason. Dick Cheney—on the warpath, out of his mind.
Plus, now, we know the plan for the country where bin Laden is not, what indeed about the country where he reportedly is?
Pakistan and the path forward—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On the eve of the president‘s speech tonight, the former vice president may have eclipsed Spiro Agnew and Aaron Burr on the list of infamy in that office, essentially accusing this president of treason and accepting no responsibility at all for the state in which he and his president left Afghanistan.
If, as this administration has suggested, it‘s really about Pakistan, why aren‘t the resources focused on Pakistan, not Afghanistan? And what did the president mean in that speech?
And on the night we need it, the damnedest piece of television, quote, “journalism” you have ever seen. The Tiger Woods incident recreated with computer generated graphics. You are watching “COUNTDOWN” on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The very day before Mr. Obama‘s speech tonight, former Vice President Cheney gave an interview primarily about Mr. Obama‘s Afghanistan plan in which Mr. Cheney accused the U.S. president, in legalese, of treason and revealed, not for the first time, that the vice president, who failed to fight terrorism, had instead personally succumbed to its most insidious aspect, panic.
In a 90 minute interview yesterday with “Politico,” Mr. Cheney revealed that unlike authentically tough people, he‘s still so panicked. But he still mistakes acting tough for being tough and makes the corollary error that failing to act tough implies that you are weak.
Because, apparently, in trashing America‘s president the day before a vital foreign policy speech, Mr. Cheney cannot conceive that displays of grace and humility might arise instead from actual grace and humility.
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DICK CHENEY, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: Here‘s a guy without much experience, who now travels around the world, apologizing. I think our adversaries - especially when all of that‘s preceded by a deep bow to the head of government or whoever he‘s visiting - I think they see that as a sign of weakness.
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OLBERMANN: Wouldn‘t you think when Nixon bowed to Hirohito, the guy is the president of the United States and it was a former elected official you can‘t summon up? Just the boilerplate grim respect your former responsibilities still demand, maybe you should shut up, Dick.
Perhaps betraying just how effective terrorism has been against Mr. Cheney, he described himself as both worried and beginning to get nervous blaming Mr. Obama‘s policies for his lack of nerve, his deficit of courage despite the fact that his own doctor has said, quote, “There was real fear throughout Mr. Cheney‘s office after 9/11.”
Former vice president even imagines others feeling his fear claiming Afghan citizens, after eight years of Bush-Cheney dithering will suddenly now switch sides out of fear if America says, as the president did tonight, it may one day leave.
So cowardly is Mr. Cheney, in fact, that he trembles at the thought of an accused terrorist coming to New York City in chains. So lacking in faith is Mr. Cheney or simply an understanding of America‘s strength that he revealed that he‘s afraid, not of what a freed terrorist might do, but of what a captured terrorist might say.
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CHENEY: Our al-Qaeda adversaries out there are going to think that this is a great set of developments for their cause. Because of their top people will be given the opportunity, courtesy of the United States government and the Obama administration to have a platform from which they can espouse this hateful ideology that they adhere to.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Which administration distributed and verified all those Osama Bin Laden tapes? Sadly predictable perhaps that Mr. Cheney thinks a feeble, primitive, fear-based ideology would benefit from exposure.
But Mr. Cheney went further in his critique of the Obama administration decision to put Khalid Sheikh Muhammad on trial claiming, quote, “I think it‘s likely to get encouragement, aid and comfort to the enemy,” U.S. Constitution defining giving aid and comfort to America‘s enemies as treason.
The former vice president of the United States accused the current commander-in-chief on the eve of the presidential declaration about the way forward against the enemy with treason.
Joining us tonight, retired U.S. Army Cornel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell and is currently the Pamela Harriman visiting professor at the College of William and Mary. Thank you for your time tonight, Colonel.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Can you think of anyone in our history who served as high as Mr. Cheney did in the U.S. administration accusing a sitting president of the legal definition of treason on the eve of a wartime speech to the American people and the troops and the allies and the enemies?
WILKERSON: I think it would be difficult to find such an example in our history. Keith, I don‘t recognize this man anymore. He‘s not the man that I knew who was Colin Powell‘s boss when he was Secretary of Defense. He‘s a mystery to me.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Cheney was also asked whether his administration bears any responsibility for the current status of Afghanistan as a nation or as a problem today. And he replied, “I basically don‘t.” You were part of that administration. Do you basically don‘t as well?
WILKERSON: Not at all. I saw former Vice President Cheney‘s remarks as sort of being like Macbeth, accusing the king of getting in the way of his lady‘s dagger. This is incredible. In an administration that took its eye off as early as November 2001 in Afghanistan, turned it into an economy of forced (UNINTELLIGIBLE), told Gen. Franks to concentrate on planning for Iraq and then began shifting troops and other assets that her husband did, at best, already, toward Iraq.
It would now be accusing a president, who inherited a mess they created, of malfeasance in office. This is laughable, Keith.
OLBERMANN: You say you don‘t recognize him anymore. There was another thing in the interview that‘s a little bit off the main beaten path of the topic here. But he said that he believes Mr. Obama does not believe that the United States is special, quote, “the greatest, freest nation mankind has ever known.”
And yet, at the same time, he‘s arguing - Mr. Cheney is - for secret prisons and for torture. Do you have a sense of what Mr. Cheney thinks makes America great and particularly free? I mean, is this just sort of knee-jerk nationalism? Or does he even still get what America means and that the ideas of torture and freedom are pretty much mutually exclusive.
WILKERSON: Well, you hit the heart of the matter here. The power that we wield that is most formidable is the power of our ideas and our ideals lived up to on a day-to-day basis.
No one, in a long time, has done a better job of restoring those ideals and restoring what they mean, rhetorically at least, than President Obama. I‘m waiting for him. I‘m waiting on tenterhooks for him to put action behind those words.
And I‘m giving him every benefit of the doubt that he will eventually do that. But I will not brook any opposition from the man who did more to damage those ideals and those ideas than anyone in our history, Dick Cheney.
OLBERMANN: Then, contextualize your reaction to tonight‘s speech in that context. Did the president take the best option of a bunch of bad ones that were available to him? Could he have chosen a different path? What did you think of this speech?
WILKERSON: I‘d have to say that what he did was, in my mind, deliberate at some length, listening to all manner of advice from all manner of people. That‘s good. He didn‘t pull a 45 from his holster and shoot like the last administration did. I know, I was a member of it.
He deliberated and what he came up with was the least worst of a whole range of very bad possibilities. And that was reflected in the speech. It was very realistic. It was very sober and somber.
And I think it was justified given the audience and also given the degree of the challenge that this president and that audience confronts.
OLBERMANN: And do you think that this tone will be recognized by this country that has been used to, when the subject of war has been brought up in the last two presidential administrations has really had the flag kind of thrust foremost into their face before any rational calm, good points, bad points analysis of a situation has been offered to it?
WILKERSON: Keith, I think that - I continue to believe, as I think the president does, he probably wouldn‘t put it this low. But at least 75 percent, maybe 85 percent of the American people are staying sober, pragmatic and realistic. They seek the center, the radical center, if you will.
And those people will understand the challenge the president faced and understand the speech he gave and the decision he has made. The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the next 18 to 24 months.
I‘m really worried in that regard about the economic situation. The president has a real challenge there that, in many ways, it‘s a bigger threat than al-Qaeda or Afghanistan or Iraq or any other potential foreign threat.
OLBERMANN: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly chief-of-staff for Secretary of State Powell, now at the College of William and Mary, always, we benefit from your insight. Thank you again for it, sir.
WILKERSON: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If al-Qaeda - if Bin Laden himself is really in Pakistan, why is the president sending 30,000 of our neighbors into Afghanistan? He brought the problem up. We‘ll address it at length. When Rachel joins you on the top of the hour, stopping the Taliban in Afghanistan, she will talk with a retired lieutenant colonel who helped author the military‘s counterinsurgency manual. And just before than, a moment humorous relief - humorous unless you are Tiger Woods or Elin Woods or even a young Harry Belafonte.
OLBERMANN: The long-term consequences of failure. They far outweigh those in Afghanistan. There, according to the Obama administration‘s own strategy review, is Pakistan. So if Pakistan is the real risk, the president even suggested something like that tonight.
What is being gained by directing so very much in U.S. resources to Afghanistan? One senior administration official, even before tonight‘s speech from the president, having bluntly told “The Washington Post,” we can‘t succeed without Pakistan.
But the same unnamed official also said, quote, “Our leverage over Pakistan is very limited.” Of course, the president did, in his speech tonight, address Pakistan‘s role in the complicated, fragile regional equation that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan and India as well as al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But al-Qaeda has a more serious presence in Pakistan and it has Osama Bin Laden, presumably, there. And the relationship between certain Pakistani military officers and insurgent groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is more complex even than the relationship between the Afghan President Hamid Karzai and whatever might loosely be called his people.
So as President Obama puts in more resources into Afghanistan because he can and has this new strategy while arguably giving more attention to Pakistan than past strategies, still falling short of making Pakistan the focus. It is our lack of leverage there that makes the solution even harder to delineate and to execute.
We‘re joined now by the senior fellow of the New America Foundation and the author the foreign policy blog, “The Washington Note,” Steve Clemons, who is with us from Berlin in Germany.
Steve, the president‘s speech, obviously, was designed to address his decision on Afghanistan. But he said about Pakistan - but the same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. Was that and what he said and the rest of what he said about Pakistan sufficient? Did he adequately frame the Pakistan role in this situation in his speech tonight?
STEVE CLEMONS, SENIOR FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well, in part he did. He wedged Pakistan as a national security priority deeply into the speech. The speech was entitled both the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The problem is, he left a lot of unanswered questions. I mean, and think Jane Harman, a member of Congress, tonight, put it quite well in her own reaction.
She said it‘s not clear that deploying 40,000 more troops and increasing the size of the military footprint really solves our problem with Pakistan or Afghanistan. And so while he put it on the table, I don‘t think he‘s necessarily adequately fixed the issues for Americans.
OLBERMANN: He said that Mr. Karzai reelection - that election in Afghanistan was rife with fraud. He used the word “fraud.” But isn‘t Pakistan, in fact, doubly difficult because it harbors a demonstrably greater threat to U.S. security interests in Afghanistan. But in fact, its government is far less pliable, in some respects, far less legitimate?
CLEMONS: Well, the textbook issue which Barack Obama put on the table is that, of course, Pakistan is a nuclear nation with a very fragile government. We‘ve seen recently that the president of Pakistan has had to cede authority over nuclear control to his prime minister. It‘s a fragile system.
But the real complexity wasn‘t addressed and that is a significant part of the Pakistan government actually prefers an Afghan Taliban leadership in Afghanistan. That‘s not often talked about, but Afghanistan is a place in which India and Pakistan have essentially had a proxy struggle for a long time.
So our enemies are sometimes Pakistan‘s friends. And while in Pakistan, the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, are an enemy of the Pakistani state. So you‘re talking about a triple-level chessboard here.
And the real issue, again, I think, and what could get complicated in the Af-Pak question is really what is happening with the Pashtun. Let‘s drop the word “Taliban.” Let‘s drop al-Qaeda. Let‘s even drop Afghan. The question is, do we have a Pashtun strategy that effectively will work to stabilize that area or not?
OLBERMANN: So in the context of your last answer is, would that have been a better thing for the president to be dealing with? Or is the only thing he can do right now, not the Pashtun, but the Afghanistan situation and hope that somehow that reverberates beneficially to the actual Pakistan problem?
CLEMONS: Well, Keith, I think so, because I think, ultimately, what we‘ve begun to do, we saw the president set as his primary goal tonight, al Qaeda. We know that al-Qaeda has been largely squeezed out of Afghanistan and it‘s the process of getting squeezed out of Pakistan.
So that‘s not while they say it‘s the big issue. Then subordinate issue is the political, economic and security stability of Pakistan and trying to set the Taliban off-balance there.
The question is, it doesn‘t give you the parameters with which to deal with. The Pashtun, which are increasingly morphing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) calling the Taliban as a whole needs to be more of the president‘s target so you can explain to the American public how we can develop a strategy that doesn‘t make these ferociously independent people feel that we‘re there to be in there for the long haul and antagonizing them.
And I think the other part of the speech that isn‘t getting a lot of attention tonight is that, on one level, we‘re trying to communicate to the Afghanis and Pakistanis that we are going to be there, that we‘re going to pump over the next 18 months a lot of new forces to train people.
But on the other side, you‘ve got them saying, well, we do have an exit strategy sort of broadly in the game. So we‘re saying we‘re going to be there, but we‘re also saying we‘re leaving. And that sends real confusing messages to the players in the Af-Pak region.
OLBERMANN: Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, author of the foreign policy blog, “The Washington Note,” up late with us in Berlin, in Germany tonight. Thank you, Steve.
Rachel picks up our post-speech coverage at the top of the hour. First, “The Worst Persons” and Tiger Woods and the fire hydrant recreated by a Chinese newspaper. I am begging you - watch this.
OLBERMANN: Rachel will pick up our coverage of the president‘s speech at the top of the hour. But take three minutes with me for a break, including what may be the most unbelievable thing you‘ve ever seen done by a television network, possibly by mankind as we give you COUNTDOWN‘S number one story tonight, worst persons in the world.
Bronze to Rupert Murdoch, owner of the “New York Post.” Another fired “Post” employee has now sued former reporter Austin Fenner, alleging much more than just that he was a victim of racism while in Murdoch‘s employ and fired for being black.
In his suite, Mr. Fenner says that after the “Post” published its infamous dead chimp Obama cartoon, New York Gov. David Paterson, who is also African-American, made it known that he wanted to be interviewed by the paper about the cartoon and would answer any other questions the paper had on any other topic. The white editors at “The Post,” the suit claims, summarily refused to interview him.
The runner-up is Bill O. Mike Huckabee now says that as governor of Arkansas and he had looked at every file of every request of leniency. But the parole board and the judge recommended doing something about Maurice Clemmons‘ 108-year sentence. Clemmons allegedly ambushed and killed four police officers in Washington State Sunday morning and was himself killed in a shootout there today.
After initially folding on responsibility, Huckabee stepped up slightly today. “What I acted upon,” he said, “I‘m responsible for that.” Bill O. disagreed, “Well, it‘s not your fault, governor. I mean, look, you‘ve got 1,200 of these cases a year. You got to look at them. I‘m not saying it‘s your fault. I don‘t think anyone watching thinks it‘s your fault.”
So Bill, if you don‘t like a judge‘s ruling in a case, you‘ll send your stalker producer out to harass the man, like he was - I don‘t know - a TV critic who told the truth about you.
But if the official responsible for excessive leniency now works for Fox, you, Bill O‘Reilly, are happy to be soft on crime?
But our winner, Hau Lung-bin, the mayor of Taipei City in Taiwan. On Friday, he banned students under 18 from looking at the newspaper, “Apple Daily,” while in school. The paper‘s Web site posted graphic, computer-generated recreations of crimes unsuitable for kids.
Mayor, I‘m flabbergasted. “Apple Daily” is the news organization that has created, not just the greatest computer-generated recreation of a crime, but in this case, careless driving, charged today by the Florida Highway Patrol.
But very possibly it has created the greatest thing in human history. “Apple Daily” brings you both theories of the crime, the title card translates as follows, “Woods broken windows at night to save his wife crash, shady husband.
OLBERMANN: Or -
OLBERMANN: Young Harry Belafonte, no! That Mayor Hau Lung-bin of Taipei City - that, sir, is what you seek to deprive the students of your city - that‘s what you would deny them? That puppet theatre on speed? How dare you, sir. Anti-“Apple Daily” computer-generated recreation of the Tiger Woods thing, the Mayor Hau Lung-bin of Taipei in Taiwan, today‘s worst person in the world.
And now back to the real world to resume our coverage of the president‘s confirmation tonight, of his sort of surge in Afghanistan, ladies and gentlemen, here‘s Rachel Maddow. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>