Conservative columnist Ann Coulter debated no less than two former Clinton operatives on Friday’s Good Morning America, guest host George Stephanopoulos and former State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin. On the show, she decried President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan as a "Hamlet routine."
Despite facing off against two liberals, Coulter went on the attack. She labeled 2009 as a "year where it's still Bush protecting us from terrorism. But the next four years, Obama's going around creating disasters across the world. He is lighting matches and throwing in gasoline."
Interrupting Rubin’s defense of the Obama White House’s Afghanistan policy, Stephanopoulos, who is rumored to be a candidate to replace Diane Sawyer on GMA, offered his own, similar appeal: "But, what is wrong, Ann, of having the President take a few weeks to get this decision right?"
Earlier in the segment, Stephanopoulos repeated White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ talking points that the Bush White House ignored troop requests: "What about that though? 30,000 troops requested for eight months and he [Bush] did not do anything?"
However, as ABC reporter Jake Tapper reported on his Political Punch blog, it’s a little more complicated than that:
Throughout most of 2008, the Bush administration tried to get NATO countries to fill that gap, though they had to have known that would be a challenge. By the late summer, 2008 Bush administration officials realized NATO wasn’t going to come through.
In September 2008 that led the Pentagon to order 2,000 Marines to replace Marines sent to Afghanistan in January as a one-time deployment. At the same time, it also ordered in the first of the additional four combat brigades that McKiernan had requested. This unit of 3,700 soldiers would arrive in January, 2009 and had been originally scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
In December 2008, President Bush sent 2,800 troops to Afghanistan from an aviation brigade that McKiernan had also requested.
So as McKiernan’s outstanding requests for more forces accumulated throughout 2008 to roughly 30,000 soldiers, President Bush sent at least 6,800 troops – months and months after the requests had come in.
By March, President Obama had ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan – which can be seen as roughly the outstanding balance of McKiernan’s original request.
So Gibbs’s claim that for "eight months" McKiernan’s request for troops "sat on desks" isn’t accurate.
A transcript of the October 23 segment, which aired at 7:42am EDT, follows:
DICK CHENEY: It's time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger.
ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The latest verbal battle brewing between former Vice President Dick Cheney and the White House. The topic, President Obama's decision over what to do in the war in Afghanistan. Should he send tens of thousands of more troops? Here to debate the latest skirmish, we're joined by conservative pundit Ann Coulter and Jamie Ruben, former State Department spokesman for the Clinton administration. Ann, let me begin with you. The point that Robert Gibbs was making at the White House briefing. Basically, he says, and he's backed up by some military officials who say, the White House ignored Afghanistan for seven years. And actually, President Bush let a request for 30,000 troops sit on his desk for months.
ANN COULTER: Well, a couple of things. One thing, I do think it’s kind of weird that Cheney, who has been described as Dr. Strangelove all this time, is suddenly being accused of, "Oh, you weren’t paying attention to national defense and Afghanistan and Iraq." I think that's crazy. And I think more of what was happening was, they were choosing the battlefield. And the battlefield they chose, was Iraq. Which was very good, strategically, for the United States military. And we're finding out now, not as bas as I think the Obama administration is claiming, that Afghanistan's a much tougher battlefield.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What about that though? 30,000 troops requested for eight months and he did not do anything?
COULTER: I think it was a good idea to have the world and the terrorists focused on Iraq and have them streaming into Iraq. Because, that was good for us. We had strong air power there. Afghanistan, look, we took it. We had a presence there. I don’t think you wanted to get them focused. But this guy, Obama, the President, he- his whole focus during the campaign was, Afghanistan is the war of necessity. And now, he has guys like Hamlet. He has a time line on the time line.
JAMIE RUBIN (Former State Department spokesman): Well, look, Vice President Cheney gave a speech that really belonged in a campaign. You know, it was waffling. The President is afraid to make a decision. He lacks political courage. He slandered our intelligence officers. He's talking down the country. Turning the guns on our own guys. This is undignified. The Vice President is like one of those bullies who has graduated from school and can't help but get back into the schoolyard, yelling taunts at those in the game.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the substantive point he makes?
RUBIN: The substance is very clear. Vice President Cheney should have the dignity to not talk about Afghanistan. For seven years, these people avoided making the hard decision about Afghanistan. They avoided the subject. They sent the best intelligence, the interest military intelligence, our diplomacy, all of that, the greatest strategic blunder, moved off Afghanistan to Iraq. They said that was the right decision. But they almost lost Afghanistan for us after eight years. And now- This is a subject they really shouldn't be talking about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move to President Obama's decision. Because, I think the substantive point the Vice President is making is that the President came out and announced a brand new strategy in March, after a review. And now is completely rethinking the strategy. A major course correction. He says that sends mixed signals.
RUBIN: Well, Vice President Cheney's, you know, entitled to have his opinion. But when it comes to Afghanistan, which is the issue in play here, the President is looking at all the problems and difficulties that he inherited. He's cleaning up their mess. And the problems are complicated. We had an election in which the President of that country was accused of stealing votes. So, the President is looking at all the problems. But in the end, it's pretty clear that he's going to support additional forces to get the job done. And that's why I think it's particularly outrageous for the Vice President to be-
STEPHANOPOULOS: You might have insight that others don’t. I'm not sure that we know what the President is going to decide. But, what is wrong, Ann, of having the President take a few weeks to get this decision right?
COULTER: It's been more than a few weeks. And although I agree with you, you know, the argument over whether they should be doing this or not, I think they should go back to attacking Fox News. You want to get to the substance here. But, you know, it's come out that they adopted the Bush plan. This is what, as you say, in March, Obama says this is what we're going to do. And to act like nothing was happening in Afghanistan when bush was president, is crazy. We took Kabul in three weeks. And wars-
RUBIN: And then, they forgot about it after seven years. We're still there because of President Bush's policies. You would acknowledge that?
COULTER: No. Wars change as we discovered in Iraq, you do need a surge. I mean, wars change. They fight back. You send many more troops. You send in fewer troops. And now, it's just going on and on and on. And it isn't cleaning up Bush's mess. In fact, it's to the contrary. He is living off the legacy of Bush's success in the war on terrorism.
RUBIN: In Afghanistan?
COULTER: We’re going to have- A year where it's still Bush protecting us from terrorism. But the next four years, Obama's going around creating disasters across the world. He is lighting matches and throwing in gasoline. We're just going to wait for the entire conflagration, not only in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Turkey, in China, in Russia. Every place, he is doing the wrong thing. And Afghanistan, his Hamlet routine, I do not think is putting the fear of God in the savages.
RUBIN: I don't know about Ann's strategic look at the chess board. But when it comes to Afghanistan, this is a issue where the Bush administration got it wrong. For seven years, they wouldn't make the hard decision to finish the success they had in the first couple of months. And we, the United States, the American military, the Obama administration, is having to live with that mess. Now, yes, it's hard. And I agree it's taking a lot of time to make those decisions.
COULTER: Can I ask something?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait. We only have 15-
RUBIN: We should be focused on the fact that this was a Bush administration error.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ten seconds.
COULTER: I want to use the liberal line. What do you design as success in Afghanistan? Do you want regime change there? I don’t think so.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You guys can answer that on the internet. We’ll be right back.