CNN panel makes up facts to defend Obama from Gates criticism

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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Liberal defenders of the president seem to be in panic mode over former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ forthcoming book “Duty.”

On CNN’s “AC 360 Later” Tuesday night, host Anderson Cooper’s panel discussed the scathing criticisms leveled against President Obama by his former defense secretary. Panelists Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Toobin dominated the conversation, defending the president at all costs — even by inventing facts.

“I also find it hard to understand because he says at a certain points that he agrees with most of the actual decisions that Obama took in foreign policies, and yet swings at him in the rest of the thing,” blogger Sullivan said. “To say that there was something wrong about Obama trying to get out of Afghanistan, when he was elected to get us out of Afghanistan!”

“I guess that’s something that struck me about the criticism of Obama for being committed to getting the troops out of Afghanistan,” Toobin, a CNN legal analyst, added. “First of all, Obama — as Andrew just said — promised to get us out of Afghanistan.”

In reality, President Obama did not campaign in 2008 on getting out of Afghanistan. He campaigned on getting out of Iraq and increasing troops in Afghanistan to defeat al Qaida and the Taliban.

“I’ll be very brief. We are going to have to make the Iraqi government start taking more responsibility, withdraw our troops in a responsible way over time, because we’re going to have to put some additional troops in Afghanistan,” Obama said during the second presidential debate against John McCain. “General McKiernan, the commander in Afghanistan right now, is desperate for more help, because our bases and outposts are now targets for more aggressive Afghan — Taliban offenses.”

“So part of the reason I think it’s so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that’s funding terrorism,” Obama said during another point in the debate.

“One of the things that I think is critical, as the next president, is to make absolutely certain that we not only phase out the Iraq but we also focus on the critical battle that we have in Afghanistan and root out al Qaida,” Obama said during a 2007 Democratic primary debate. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to potentially see another attack here in the U.S.”

These were just a few of Obama’s comments on his dual strategy of an Iraq withdrawal and Afghanistan surge — which was the central piece of his campaign’s foreign policy and would have been impossible for observers to mistake.

The exact criticism Gates leveled in his book is that he came to suspect by 2011 that President Obama did not believe in the mission he was sending American troops to Afghanistan to complete. “As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Gates wrote. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Throughout the five minute segment, Sullivan and Toobin did whatever they could to cast doubt on or bat down the critical claims Gates made about President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

“I find it hard to understand,” Sullivan said at one point. “The question is why the gratuitous insults?” he said at another point. “That’s such a subjective interpretation,” he said about Gates’ claim that President Obama treated his military chiefs disrespectfully.

As for Toobin, he attempted to minimize the stunning revelation in the book that Hillary Clinton admitted to the president she opposed the Iraq surge in 2007 for purely political reasons.

“That struck me — I read that part of the book — I bet Hillary Clinton would have a very different interpretation of that conversation,” Toobin said. “You know, to say that politics takes place in Washington I don’t think is a big scoop. But also the idea that the entire reason she opposed the surge is because of the campaign, I just find that hard to believe.”


Sullivan responds in an email:

“I think Gates is right about something. Obama was elected to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan responsibly. I see the surge as an attempt to do that. That’s why it had a time limit on it. It was one last attempt to avoid total humiliation — just like the Iraq surge. And it kinda worked as a face-saving exit.

“The moral question of it is another matter entirely and has long troubled me. If I were not speaking extemporaneously, I would have unpacked this some more and will do so today in a post.”

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