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sunday show blog

Gates Demurs on Afghanistan Drawdown


Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks at his final press conference at the Pentagon last week.(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Durbin and Graham on the Constitutionality of the War Powers Act

11:24 a.m. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., shared some broad agreements on the importance of U.S. involvement in Libya on Sunday but clashed on the value of the War Powers Act in requiring the Obama administration to get congressional authorization for any further action.


Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press on the 90th day of the operation against Libyan ruler Muammar el-Qaddafi, Durbin and Graham disagreed on whether the War Powers Act was even constitutional, much less binding, with Graham saying it’s “not worth the paper it’s written on” and Durbin countering that the Constitution “makes it clear that the American people make decisions about going to war through members of Congress.”

Under the War Powers Resolution, the administration had 60 days to secure approval for its actions in Libya and 30 more to withdraw forces. While Durbin said President Obama did the right thing in building an international coalition against Libya and then taking a diminished role in the conflict, “I think that the War Powers Act and the Constitution make it clear that hostilities by remote control are still hostilities. We are killing with drones what we would otherwise be killing with fighter planes.... What we should do is act on a timely basis to pass congressional authorization under the War Powers Act.”

Graham criticized Obama’s handling of the action so far but said “Congress should sort of shut up and not empower Qaddafi.”


“I will be no part of an effort to defund Libya or try to cut off our efforts to bring Qaddafi down,” he said. “If we fail against Qaddafi, that’s the end of NATO, Egypt’s going to be overrun, and... if [Qaddafi] survives this, you’re going to have double the price of oil we have today because he will take the whole region and put it into chaos.”

The South Carolina Republican sounded a similar note when asked by host David Gregory about the tone several GOP presidential contenders took in their debate last week against Obama’s actions in Libya and Afghanistan, particularly Mitt Romney's comment that Afghanistan was a "war of independence" for Afghans.

“If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama’s left on Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, you’re going to meet a lot of headwinds,” he said. “This is not a war of Afghan independence, from my point of view, this is the center of gravity against the war on terror, radical Islam. It is in our national security interests to make sure the Taliban never come back. If we fail in Afghanistan, they will kill every moderate who tried to help us and no one in the future will step up.”

Tom Madigan


McConnell: Entitlement Reform Key to Long-Term Debt-Ceiling Deal

11:00 a.m. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday that without a “really large comprehensive reform” on entitlement programs as part of a debt-ceiling agreement, he expects only a modest deal that will force another agreement later in the fall.

“We’ll probably end up with a very short-term solution over a few months,” said McConnell.

Lawmakers, in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, have been negotiating in recent weeks a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling. They have hoped to reach a deal by July, with a deadline for raising the ceiling in early August.

Asked whether removing tax breaks could be part of the deal, McConnell said Republicans are “discussing everything,” but emphasized the focus is on spending reductions.

Alex Roarty

McCain: ‘We Cannot Move Into an Isolationist Party’

10:57 a.m. Former Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Sunday chastised the 2012 GOP field for using last week’s presidential debate to criticize the country’s intervention in Libya and indicate support for a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. McCain said the isolationist viewpoint betrays the Republican Party’s tradition of supporting freedom around the world.

“I do want to send a message: We cannot move into an isolationist party,” said Arizona’s senior senator, appearing on ABC News’s This Week. “We cannot repeat the lesson of the 1930s. We are the lead nation in the world.... Sometimes that leadership entails sacrifice, sadly.”

He added that isolationism has always been part of the GOP, but it troubled him that it seemed to take “center stage” during the presidential debate.

McCain singled out Mitt Romney, his former presidential rival, saying he wished the former Massachusetts governor would sit down and talk with Gen. David Petraeus, who has led the military’s counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and now Afghanistan. Romney said during last week’s debate that America cannot fight a “war of independence” for Afghan citizens, remarks that drew widespread attention and had some pundits saying it signaled a new foreign policy direction for the GOP.

McCain said he wondered what President Reagan would think about the creeping isolationism.

“He would be saying that’s not the Republican Party of the 20th century, and now of the 21st century,” he said. “That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom all over the world.”

Alex Roarty

Gates on Afghanistan, Libya, Defense Spending

10:10 a.m. In valedictory appearances on two Sunday talk shows, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates touched on a variety of topics covering Afghanistan, Libya, national security in a time of tight budgets, and the consequences of politicizing defense.

On CNN’s State of the Union, host Candy Crowley talked about Afghanistan and the scope of the troop drawdown expected to be announced soon. Gates demurred on what level of reduction he would support, but he cited progress made over the past 15 months and said, “We will present the president with options, and with the different levels of risk associated with those options, and he will decide.” He added that any drawdown would have to be “politically credible” as well and said he thinks “there's a lot of room for maneuvering there, frankly.”

Gates would also touch on that theme with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, saying his main takeaway from his long tenure in Washington is that “when we have been successful in national security and foreign affairs, it has been because there has been bipartisan support.” No single international problem can be solved by a single administration, he said, and “unless it can be extended... the risks of failure are high.”

With Sunday marking the 90th day of hostilities against Libyan ruler Muammar el-Qaddafi, Wallace led by asking Gates if the Obama administration was in violation of the War Powers Resolution’s ultimate deadline to secure congressional authorization for the conflict. The White House has maintained that with the U.S. playing a support role to NATO, its continued involvement was legitimate.

Gates agreed: “I believe that President Obama has complied with the law consistent in a manner with virtually all of his predecessors. I don’t think he’s breaking any new ground here.” He did say, however, that “from our standpoint at the Pentagon, we’re involved in a limited kinetic operation. If I’m in Qaddafi’s palace, I suspect I think I’m at war.”

When asked by Wallace about the Republican presidential contenders beginning to criticize U.S. military operations from a budgetary perspective, Gates said that combat in Afghanistan had a targeted end date and would not be an indefinite drain, and that the appropriate question was “what’s the cost of failure?”

“Of course there’s war-weariness—the country’s been at war for 10 years,” he said. But he said the president has to “look out for the long-term national security interests of the United States. He has to have a longer view. And frankly, other than the first couple years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in American history.”

Tom Madigan

Stewart: Where's the Change?

10:10 a.m. Daily Show host and satirist Jon Stewart said Sunday that he is disappointed in President Obama because the nation’s chief executive hasn’t done more to change the country’s political system.

Stewart, appearing on Fox News Sunday, said Obama has installed too many old political hands in his administration.

“You can’t expect to have a different result with same people,” Steward said. “That was in many ways his seminal campaign focus. All I see is economic stewardship from the guys who got us into this mess.”

Much of the interview with host Chris Wallace focused on a frequent topic on Stewart’s show: media criticism, in particular of Fox News. Asked by Wallace if the mainstream media had a liberal bias, in the same way Stewart accuses Fox of having a conservative bias, the comedian demurred.

“The thing you will never understand, the thing some conservative activists will never understand, about Hollywood: Yeah, they’re liberal, but ideology is not their primary motivating factor,” he said.

Stewart didn’t back down from criticism of Fox News, either, saying over Wallace’s protests that the channel’s viewers are the most misinformed in the country. 

Alex Roarty

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