Good Morning America host Diane Sawyer on Tuesday badgered Robert Gibbs from the left, quizzing the White House press secretary about Democratic resistance to a troop surge in Afghanistan. She began by fretting, "Is this the last time the President is going to ask for American troops from the American people?"
After Gibbs mentioned the dangerous threat of al Qaeda, Sawyer reiterated, "...If the generals come back in six months and say, we need just another 10,000, another 15,000 to finish this job, you're saying the answer will be no?"
The GMA host, who will become the new anchor of World News in January, worried about the cost of a troop surge: "What about the cost of the war? What do you say to members of the Democratic Party, the President's own party, who say we simply cannot afford this $100 billion cost?"
Later in the segment, Sawyer returned to complaining about a troop surge:
DIANE SAWYER: Taking a look back at March 27th, when the President made his first speech about strategy in Afghanistan, he talked about the need for an exit strategy. He talked about turning over to the Afghanistan troops. He talked about securing the country by cracking down on corruption and development projects. What's changed in these eight months that will make it work this time?
The ABC anchor allowed for a single tough question. Citing former Vice President Dick Cheney, she wondered, "And [Cheney] has said, specifically, according to Politico, that the President's approach projects, quote, ‘weakness.’ And that the President is looking, quote, 'far more radical than I expected.’ Your reaction?"
In comparison, Early Show co-host Harry Smith offered a more skeptical critique. He complained to Gibbs: "Why did it take so long to make this decision?" After the White House press secretary dodged the question, CBS’s Smith tried again: "But the numbers are pretty close to what General McChrystal asked for in the first place, the difference, hopefully, being made up by people from NATO. France, for instance, has already said no."
On the Today show on NBC, Meredith Vieira queried about whether the troop surge implied "open-endedness" in its commitment. Echoing Sawyer, she worried about cost: "What about the cost of this surge, Mr. Gibbs? The Office of Management and Budget, the White House Office of Management and Budget estimates it costs about $1 million per troop per year, so we're talking about $30 billion per year. Will the President address exactly who he's gonna come up with that money?"
It seems as though the hosts of the NBC and ABC morning shows are far more concerned about the costs of Afghanistan then they are about the spiriling price tag of government-run health care.
A transcript of the December 1 Good Morning America segment, which aired at 7:06am EST, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: And, as you know, a few minutes ago, I had a chance to ask some questions about the speech, of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. And Mr. Gibbs, thanks for being with us this morning.
ROBERT GIBBS: Thank you.
SAWYER: We have just heard that the President is going to talk about an exit strategy. He's going to talk about turning the Afghanistan war over to the Afghanistan people. But this is the question: Is this the last time the President is going to ask for American troops from the American people?
GIBBS: The President sure believes so. Diane, what we're obviously in Afghanistan because of the attacks of 9/11. And we understand that al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, plotting those attacks again.
SAWYER: When you say we hope so, if the generals come back in six months and say, we need just another 10,000, another 15,000 to finish this job, you’re saying the answer will be no?
GIBBS: Well, look, Diane, I'll let the Commander in Chief make those decisions. Understanding that the number of men and women in our armed forces right now sitting in Afghanistan is twice the number that was there when the President took office in January. We're committed to ensuring the safety and security of the American people by taking on al Qaeda and its extremist allies in that very dangerous part of the world. I think that the President strongly believes that, tonight, he will announce a strategy that will accelerate what we're doing in that region of the world. And help us get out of Afghanistan.
SAWYER: As you probably know, the former Vice President, Dick Cheney, has mounted another attack on the President, on the eve of this speech. And he has said specifically, according to Politico, that the President's approach projects, quote, "weakness." And that the President is looking, quote, "far more radical than I expected." Your reaction?
GIBBS: Well, you know, I would be a busy man if all I did was respond to the poppings-off of the former Vice President. I'll be honest with you, Diane, I'm not entirely sure what qualifies the former Vice President to render an opinion on Afghanistan.
SAWYER: What about the cost of the war? What do you say to members of the Democratic Party, the President's own party, who say we simply cannot afford this $100 billion cost?
GIBBS: Well, Diane, look. This is a very expensive endeavor. The President will address that a little bit tonight. But, look, going forward, the President's not going to make a national security decision simply based on money alone. I will tell you this: The President has taken some of this into account. And will be discussing this, as we go further because we don't have unlimited resources, whether it's the men and women who wear the uniform of our country or in taxpayer dollars. We're going to make sure that this is part of our budget. And we understand that going forward, we have to pay for this kind of stuff.
SAWYER: Taking a look back at March 27th, when the President made his first speech about strategy in Afghanistan, he talked about the need for an exit strategy. He talked about turning over to the Afghanistan troops. He talked about securing the country by cracking down on corruption and development projects. What's changed in these eight months that will make it work this time?
GIBBS: I think what the President's going to do, Diane, again, is set forward a strategy. Set forward some benchmarks that he believes we can meet. Understanding that we're not going to be there forever. And this can't be open-ended. We have to talk about transitioning our forces out and putting forward the Afghans to provide their own security and stability.
SAWYER: Was there a moment, a place in the White House, where the President made this decision? Where he finally said, this will be it?
SAWYER: How did it happen?
GIBBS: You know, truthfully, Diane, I think that decision was likely made after many, many meetings. Probably alone up in the residence, thinking through all of what he heard. I have to tell the American people, Diane, that this is a process that I think everyone that participated in can look at the announcement today and believe that their involvement helped make this policy better for the men and women of our armed forces and better for the men and women in our country. I do think this was a valuable process. Something I think that, really, in terms of Afghanistan, had not been done to the degree that it needed to be. And I think the American people will be proud of the outcome of this.