Panetta: 50-100 al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan; Cornyn: GOP is the party of change; Leahy, Sessions preview Kagan confirmation hearings
By Felicia Sonmez and Matt DeLong
Sunday Rundown: A quick wrap-up of the Sunday talk shows.
ABC: THIS WEEK - Panetta: 50-100 al-Qaeda remain in Afghanistan
CIA director Leon Panetta called the war in Afghanistan "a very tough fight," and acknowledged that "there are some serious problems." Panetta said that the Taliban "is engaged in greater violence" now than when President Obama took office, and said that they're stronger in some ways, but weaker in others, noting that "we're undermining their leadership." Panetta said that al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan is now "relatively small."
"I think at most, we're looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less. It's in that vicinity. There's no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in tribal areas of Pakistan," he said. Panetta added that "winning" in Afghanistan means "having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for al-Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaida."
On the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, Panetta said that it goes back "to the early 2000s" that we had the last "precise" information on where bin Laden is. "Since then it's been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location," Panetta said. Panetta said that the Taliban leadership is now "probably at its weakest point" since 9/11 and its escape into Afghanistan and Pakistan. On whether American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is on an "assassination list," Panetta responded that Awlaki "is a terrorist and yes, he's a U.S. citizen, but he is first and foremost a terrorist and we're going to treat him like a terrorist." The U.S. doesn't have an "assassination list," Panetta added, "but I can tell you this. We have a terrorist list and he's on it."
Panetta said that Iran is continuing to develop its nuclear capability, and that the country has enough low-enriched uranium right now "for two weapons."
Panetta said of the military contractor Blackwater, now called Xe, that "we have no contract in which they are engaged in any CIA operations," adding that we're "reviewing all of the bids that we have with that company." Panetta also said that "frankly, the morale at the CIA is higher than it's ever been."
CNN: STATE OF THE UNION - Cornyn: GOP is the party of change
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) appeared together to discuss the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. Reed set forth some criteria for when the U.S. can declare victory. "People ask the question, well, how do we know when we win?" Reed said. "Well, we'll know the same way we know in Iraq. That the burden of the battle is being borne by the local forces, not by American and NATO forces. That we will be able to withdraw our forces, not immediately, but we will be able to withdraw them. We will be able to focus on regional counter-terrorism, not country-specific counterinsurgency."
Both Reed and Chambliss expressed tfaint confidence in Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "I think he is very weak, but he is the best we've got," Chambliss said. "He has been elected by the Afghan people, and we have an obligation to recognize that and respect that and support him." Reed said he believed the U.S. will begin to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, but any drawdown will be governed by conditions on the ground. Chambliss said it was a "huge mistake" to set a timeline for withdrawal. "You better believe they will sit back and allow us to start pulling out and then hit us with their full force," Chambliss said.
Reed and Chambliss were followed by a talking-point jamboree featuring Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and his counterpart on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Menendez used much of his time to argue that Democrats were still cleaning up after the mess left by eight years of Republican rule, while Cornyn repeatedly called for President Obama and the Democrats to start taking responsibility for events occuring on their watch. Perhaps most notably, Cornyn sought to take a page from President Obama's 2008 playbook and cast the GOP as the party of change. "My basic message is that if you like the way things are happening in Washington these days, then vote for Sen. Menendez's slate of candidates," Cornyn said. "If you want change, if you want to cut down on all of the reckless spending and this endless debt, if you want us to really focus on job creation and incentives for the private sector to create jobs, then I think our candidates bear a close looking at."
Cornyn characterized Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's role during the Clinton administration as one of "a political strategist." He said it was "premature" to rule out a GOP filibuster of her nomination.
CBS: FACE THE NATION - Leahy, Sessions preview Kagan confirmation hearings
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) discussed the upcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan. Sessions said that Kagan is "entitled to a full and fair hearing," and she'll get that. He added that Kagan has "serious deficiencies" and that there are "issues that need to be raised." Leahy defended Kagan's lack of bench experience and predicted that she will get confirmed. "I think you're going to see a brilliant woman, a brilliant legal mind, and you're going to see somebody who is going to be the 112th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. Asked whether he'll support a filibuster of Kagan, Sessions replied, "I've never filibustered a Supreme Court justice. I hope I don't have to. And we didn't with Sotomayor." Leahy said that the process on Kagan has been "fair and honest," adding that "there's a lot more material for her than we've ever had before."
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that there's no question that Gen. David Petraeus will be confirmed to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal. President Obama "made the right decision" in firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Levin said. "It was something that he thought needed to be done," and there's "near consensus that it was a fair and appropriate decision for a commander-in-chief to make." Levin added that Petraeus "has said publicly and privately to me that he agrees with both pieces of this policy, which was the additional troops but also setting a date of July 2011."
"I think General Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy makes that clear but he also makes clear that if we want to win this, if we want to succeed, the Afghans have got to succeed," Levin added.
NBC: MEET THE PRESS - McCain: U.S. should send more troops to Afghanistan if needed
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said President Obama "took the appropriate steps" in firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal after the general was quoted making disparaging comments about administration officials in a Rolling Stone article published last week. McCain praised Obama's choice to replace McChrystal as the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, as "one of the greatest outstanding leaders in American history." The Arizona senator said Petraeus "can bring this [war] to a successful conclusion." McCain repeatedly blasted a July 2011 timetable for the beginning of troop witdrawals from Afghanistan, and instead suggested it may be necessary for President Obama to send more troops. "Let's have the president of the United States stand up and say [any drawdown will be] conditions-based," McCain said. "We will not withdraw a single troop unless we think it's necessary to do so and we may even add troops, if we think it's necessary to do so."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called on President Obama to come up with an exit strategy for the war in Afghanistan. "The American people, had they known that this would be the longest war in history, I think there would have been much more debate and discussion in Congress," Lee said, adding that the longer the war drags on, "We're going to hear the generals saying we need more money, more troops, and a longer time frame."
On Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, set to begin Monday, McCain said he is "going to watch the hearings" before deciding how he will vote. He added that he is "disturbed" by what he called Kagan's "obvious steadfast and even zealous opposition to military recruiters." as dean of Harvard Law School. McCain disagreed with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's comments last week that the majority of illegal immigrants are drug smugglers, but said there was no chance of passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill until "we get the border secured."
FOX NEWS SUNDAY - Feinstein, Graham talk Afghanistan, Kagan
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) discussed the war in Afghanistan. Feinstein said that the Taliban is "one part terrorist group, one part narco-cartel," and said that in addition to strengthening the central government, "the surge really has to be brought to southern Afghanistan." Asked what, if any, strategic changes Gen. David Petraeus should make when he takes up command, Graham said, "I'll leave that up to the general." But Graham noted that there's a "dysfunctional relationship between the military-civilian components that's essential to winning a counterinsurgency." Graham also called Ambassador Karl Eikenberry a "fine man," but said that he and Richard Holbrooke have a "poor working relationship" with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Feinstein voiced strong support for Petraeus. "If he can't work with the ambassador, the ambassador should change. If he can't work with Holbrooke, that should change. I think we put all our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage," she said. Graham advocated against a firm withdrawal date of July 2011, saying that a predetermined withdrawal date "will doom this operation." Feinstein said that if Petraeus asks the president for more time, Obama should "give it to him, absolutely."
On the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elana Kagan, Graham said that Kagan has "a liberal, activist background" and said that he's worried about her professed admiration of Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, whom Graham called "way out of the American mainstream." Ultimately, Graham said he thinks Kagan will do well, "but she's going to have to earn her way onto the court." Feinstein said that she believes Kagan "is superbly qualified" and that she will bring "new breath" to the court. "It will be a mainstream breath. It will not be far right; it will not be far left," Feinstein said.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R) said it's going to be a "terrific year" for Republicans, predicting that his party will "get the House back" and "get real close if not overtake the Senate." Huckabee said he's waiting until after the 2010 midterms to decide whether he will run for president again. "I haven't closed the door, and I think that would be foolish on my part when poll after poll after poll shows there is strong sentiment out there," he said. Huckabee also defended his remarks in a recent New Yorker interview referring to gay relationships as "ick." He said that the comment was actually a reference from a gay magazine, and that it's actually "a phrase that exists within the gay community."
Asked to weigh in on other potential 2012 candidates. He said that "there's no doubt in my mind" that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is running, and that nobody can "dismiss" him. Asked whether former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has the experience to run, Huckabee responded, "She's got the fire, the energy," and noted that she "would be a very strong presence in a presidential primary." Huckabee called Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) a "great manager" and said he "could be one of our most qualified potential candidates," but added that he doesn't want Daniels to "back away from" issues that energize the GOP base. Huckabee also praised former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and said that if Bush decided to run, "I think it would be hard for anyone to overwhelm him."
By Felicia Sonmez and Matt DeLong
Felicia Sonmez and Matt DeLong
June 27, 2010; 2:49 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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