On Wednesday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith served as an apologist for President Obama, who failed to credit President George W. Bush with the Iraq troop surge in an Oval Office address Tuesday night: "...while he [Obama] did not acknowledge...President Bush's support for the surge....he at least gave it tacit agreement – approval. And he has certainly approved a surge in Afghanistan."
Smith made the defense during an interview with Arizona Senator John McCain, who took the President to task for opposing the 2007 troop surge: "...it was President Bush who made the decision – over the vociferous option of the President of the United States, then Senator Obama – to do the surge. And if we had done what President Obama wanted, we would have failed in Iraq because he even voted against the funding for it." After Smith claimed that Obama "had a year and a half to rescind" his opposition to the surge and eventually gave "tacit agreement" to it, McCain replied: "...if we had done what he wanted to do, we would have left and we would have lost and had a horrendous setback to America's national security."
Smith moved on to Afghanistan, still skeptical of the success of the Iraq surge strategy: "If, in fact, the surge was successful in Iraq, is that – is there a lesson from that to be applied to Afghanistan now that we've – there are more than 320 kids have been killed in Afghanistan this year. Are the lessons of Iraq applicable to Afghanistan?"
Prior to Smith's interview with McCain, fill-in co-host Erica Hill interviewed Vice President Joe Biden. She wondered about Obama changing focus to the economy during the prime time address: "This was, though, supposed to be a speech about ending combat operations in Iraq, about the men and women currently fighting, those who have fought. Was this really the appropriate place and time to make that transition?"
On Iraq, Hill questioned the stability of the security situation: "There has been increased violence, we're hearing more and more about the sectarian divisions. Is there any concern on the part of the administration that there could be the creation of a vacuum of sorts at this point?" Hill failed to question the Vice President about his and President Obama's opposition to the troop surge.
Hill wrapped up the interview with Biden by lobbing a softball about the economy: "...you noted the fact that Democrats and Republicans should be cooperating, should be working together on the economy. As the administration does move forward, this is, of course, a major concern for the American people. What do you have in terms of planning, looking out now, to help stimulate the economy today?"
Here is a full transcript of Smith's September 1 interview with McCain:
7:10AM ET SEGMENT:
HARRY SMITH: And joining us now from Phoenix is Senator John McCain. Senator, good morning.
JOHN MCCAIN: Good morning.
SMITH: What did you think of the speech last night?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Taking On Obama; McCain's Reaction to Presidential Address]
MCCAIN: Well, I was – I was pleased that the President gave such well-deserved praise to the men and women who have served and those who have sacrificed. It certainly was not generous of him when he mentioned former President George Bush as one who also appreciates the military, but the fact is, that it was President Bush who made the decision – over the vociferous option of the President of the United States, then Senator Obama – to do the surge. And if we had done what President Obama wanted, we would have failed in Iraq because he even voted against the funding for it. But the thing that disturbed me the most about it is this continued repetition that we are leaving at a date certain. You don't win conflicts when you tell the enemy you're leaving. Our friends are accommodating, our enemies are encouraged. A Taliban captive says 'you've got the watches, we've got the time.' It should be conditions-based. And when those conditions are met, then we can do exactly what we're now doing in Iraq.
SMITH: You're referring to Afghanistan now.
MCCAIN: Afghanistan, yes. I'm sorry.
SMITH: One of the things – but one of the things he did say in the speech last night, the pace of reductions in Afghanistan will be determined by conditions on the ground.
MCCAIN: If he had stopped there, we'd be in great shape. And then he had to repeat what was purely a political decision, no military person recommended it, that we were going to go ahead and continue – or begin our, quote, 'withdrawal,' the middle of next year. Look, that accounts for the behavior, to some degree, of Karzai, the – many of the things that are happening in the region, because they believe that we are leaving. Look, Harry, I was even – I talked to a police chief outside Kandahar who said, 'yeah, we think you're leaving and the Taliban are telling us they're going to cut off our heads when you do.' All he had to do was say it's conditions-based.
SMITH: The – I think part of the subtext of the message last night was, while he did not acknowledge the President's – prior president, President Bush's support for the surge, I think that-
MCCAIN: Or his opposition – or his vociferous opposition and his opposition throughout-
SMITH: Well he also had a year and a half to rescind it. So, he at least gave it tacit agreement – approval and he has certainly approved a surge in Afghanistan. My question is, if – is, are there-
MCCAIN: Harry, if he had had his way and he won the nomination of his party opposing Hillary Clinton, who had voted for it, that was the whole basis of his campaign. And if we had done what he wanted to do, we would have left and we would have lost and had a horrendous setback to America's national security.
SMITH: Let me ask this question, then. If, in fact, the surge was successful in Iraq, is that – is there a lesson from that to be applied to Afghanistan now that we've – there are more than 320 kids have been killed in Afghanistan this year. Are the lessons of Iraq applicable to Afghanistan?
MCCAIN: The fundamentals are. The same general who made it succeed the last time in Iraq is in charge in Afghanistan. I think he's the finest general that I've had the opportunity – ever had the opportunity of being in the company of. He believes that we can succeed. But I can tell you, the commandant of the Marine Corps said recently that the announcement of beginning a withdrawal, it gives sustenance to the Taliban. I mean, you cannot win conflicts when you say that you are leaving. And again, no military person – no military person with any military background would recommend what the President did. It was a political decision. He made it to please his political base. And he should change it. And it's wrong to put young Americans in harm's way when you're telling your enemies and your friends alike in the region that you're going to be leaving.
SMITH: Alright. Senator John McCain, thank you very much for your time this morning. Do appreciate it.
MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you.
SMITH: Alright, good to see you.
Here is a full transcript of Hill's interview with Biden:
ERICA HILL: And joining us now from Baghdad is Vice President Joe Biden. Mr. Vice President, good morning.
JOE BIDEN: Good morning, Erica.
HILL: The President last night, of course, said this was time to turn the page and then took that opportunity to say, and I'm quoting here, 'our most urgent task is to restore our economy.' This was, though, supposed to be a speech about ending combat operations in Iraq, about the men and women currently fighting, those who have fought. Was this really the appropriate place and time to make that transition?
BIDEN: Yes. It was at the end of his speech. He did speak exactly about turning the page here as well. He didn't use that phrase. He talked about 'change the mission.' I'm about to go to a ceremony literally in the next hour where that is taking place. And he did speak at length about the bravery and the sacrifice made by the men and women of this country. But the truth of the matter is, at the end of the day, our ability to maintain our national security is, in fact, dependent upon the economy. And it's time to focus on that as well. Lastly, Erica, what he was really talking about was, just as we turn the page and are cooperating as Democrats and Republicans on the issue of Iraq, we should be doing the same thing on the economy, cooperating.
HILL: When it comes to Iraq, you are there – you are there right now on the ground, of course. As people look at the Iraq that we're seeing today, the government still in flux six months after an election. There has been increased violence, we're hearing more and more about the sectarian divisions. Is there any concern on the part of the administration that there could be the creation of a vacuum of sorts at this point?
BIDEN: Well, there's always the possibility, long term, if this goes on, creating a vacuum. But the truth of the matter is, violence is the lowest level it's been since we arrived in 2003. Number one. Number two, the fact of the matter is, that I have been speaking with every one of the major leaders. I've met with every one of the groups that are – that won portions of the vote in the election. And I'm absolutely convinced that they are nearing the ability of forming a government that will be a government representing the outcome of the election, which was very much divided. There's 325-plus members of their parliament, the largest party got 91 votes. So, it takes a while to put together this coalition. But I believe they're close to doing that.
HILL: I do want to bring you back to the economy for one second because, as you said after that first question, you noted the fact that Democrats and Republicans should be cooperating, should be working together on the economy. As the administration does move forward, this is, of course, a major concern for the American people. What do you have in terms of planning, looking out now, to help stimulate the economy today?
BIDEN: Well, a continuation of what we're doing now, which is to stimulate the economy by continuing to focus on infrastructure by giving taxes and more tax breaks to small businesses. They're the job creators, they're the incubators of job creation. They need the help. And by continuing the middle class tax cut so that middle class people have disposable income in order to meet their needs and, in turn, that stimulates the economy. And I hope the Republicans, when we get back, will, in fact, lift their hold on us being able to vote on a tax cut for small businesses that is tied up in the Senate. So, I just hope we begin to focus more on job creation than on – as the leader of the Republican Party, Mr. Sessions, in charge of the election – re-election of the Congress – said that what we have to do is return to exactly what we were doing before. That's not much of an alternative.
HILL: Vice President Joe Biden, thanks for joining us this morning.
BIDEN: Thank you very much, Erica. Pleasure to be with you.