'Journal Editorial Report,' December 5, 2009

This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," December 5, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Obama's Afghan escalation. The president promises 30,000 more troops, but is it enough? The architect of the Iraq surge is here.

And with critics chiming in from the left and the right, our panel weighs the president's political prospects here at home.

Plus, Climate-gate claims its first victim. The scientist at the center of the storm steps down. Will the growing scandal lead to a crackup in Copenhagen next week?

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report," I'm Paul Gigot.

President Obama laid path forward in Afghanistan this week, committing 30,000 more troops to the embattled theater, but promising a drawdown beginning in July of 2011.

Fred Kagan is director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute. He was a principal architect of the Iraq surge, and served as an advisor to General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan this summer during his review of the war effort.

Fred Kagan, great to have you back us.


GIGOT: So, General McChrystal asked for 40,000 more troops. He's getting 30, plus maybe seven or so thousand from NATO. Is that enough to conduct a successful counterinsurgency?

KAGAN: Well, I think it gives us a reasonable prospect of success. And I think General McChrystal made it clear that he's very comfortable with this. And one of the reasons for that is that the president has dramatically accelerated the time line for the deployment of those additional forces. We've previously been talking about sort of a brigade a quarter, spread out over four or five quarters, which is really too slow a pace to achieve any kind of decisive effect. But now, we're talking about getting most of the forces in by May or June and maybe one brigade coming in a little later that. That makes a very big difference.

GIGOT: All right, what about the issue of the number of combat brigades. A brigade is about 3,000, 4,000 soldiers, and you're talking about only two, maybe three at most new combat brigades from the United States going in, compared to at least five in the Iraq surge. Does that give you pause?

KAGAN: Well, I'm not sure how many combat brigades we're talking about, because the White House has been briefing that General McChrystal has wide latitudes which units exactly deploy. I'm waiting to see exactly what units are designated to go.

GIGOT: OK, now on this question of the exit strategy, there is he been a fair bit of criticism, particularly in Congress, but including some of the allies, saying that July 2011 is only about 18 months from now. And that would be the start of a withdrawal date. Does that contradict the message we're trying to send about our recommitment to Afghanistan?

KAGAN: Well, it does, Paul, and it would have been much better for the president not to include that date. I think it was a mistake. I don't think he should have done that.

That having been said, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others in the administration have made it clear that the only thing that is actually set in stone is that some process will begin on July 2011, July 2011, and that the pace and duration of the drawdown is entirely based on conditions. So I think we've had some damage that was done in Afghanistan and in the region by the announcement of this date. But I think that, at the end of the day, people in Afghanistan and Pakistan are going to be affected more by what's happening on the ground, where you're going to have a lot more U.S. troops moving into enemy safe havens and patrolling key terrain.

So I think it was not a good thing for the president to do, but I think we can get by it.

GIGOT: What I hear you saying, Fred, was that this really, this withdrawal date target for the start of bringing troops home, looks to be entirely political or mainly political for a domestic audience.

KAGAN: Well, the White House has been briefing that they think that they need to do this because it will generate effects in Afghanistan and Pakistan that they think are positive. I disagree.

GIGOT: Yes, but do you believe that? You don't believe that, do you?

KAGAN: I don't. No, I don't think that. But they may believe that. I can't speak to what their motivations were. But I think it was -- I think it was a mistake, but I think it's not a fatal error. And I think it's not the part of this, frankly, that is worth getting into a big fight about right now. It's just a presidential statement. It was a mistake. It's not a law. It's not a treaty. This is something that can be revisited down the road, even if the president now says it can't be.

GIGOT: Everybody agrees we need to eventually turn this operation over to the Afghan government and to the military forces. and if the president reduced the number of Afghan security forces that were going to train in the short-term here, particularly within the next year or two, is that going to make it maybe a little longer before we have to pull out?

KAGAN: Well, I don't think that the president has reduced the number or the pace of the expansion of the Afghan security forces. What he's done is to refuse to set a target end-strength for those forces. There have been general agreement that we needed to get to 400,000 Afghan security forces as quickly as possible. And the White House has explicitly refused to endorse that number. On the other hand, General Caldwell, who has taken over the training mission in Afghanistan, is briefing that he is laying the groundwork to get to 400,000. And the administration is briefing that they're going to stick to the accelerated time line for now and review on an annual basis. I think that was a mistake. I wouldn't have done that. That having been said, it's not yet cheer to me we're actually moving toward a different target from what we originally had been thinking.

GIGOT: That's good news. The other issue is Pakistan. And the White House is saying, behind the scenes, in private, look, a lot of the message we're trying to send here is to Pakistan, get them to cooperate more on the border areas, particularly against the sanctuaries have that have been created there for the Afghan Taliban. Is it absolutely crucial to be able to get that cooperation? and is this commitment going to get that?

KAGAN: Well, I think that the signal that the White House sends, by saying we're going to start pulling out in July 2011, undermines the signals they're trying to send to Pakistan. On the other hand, I've always thought that we were very unlikely to get the Pakistanis to go after Omar or go after the Haqqani (ph) Network in North Waziristan. And I don't think that we have to well into the process of defeating these groups in Afghanistan. And frankly, when you talk about convincing the Pakistanis to stop supporting these groups or stop sheltering them, the best way to do that is to defeat these groups in Afghanistan and make them useless to the Pakistanis, which is similar to what we did in Iraq with the Shia militias that Iran is still backing, and would back tomorrow if they could operate. So I think we could get a long way down the road in Afghanistan without having the Pakistanis do what we'd like. And in the process, change their calculus more than words and speeches and statements and discussions will.

GIGOT: OK. Fred Kagan, thank you for being here.

KAGAN: A pleasure.

GIGOT: Still ahead, can the president muster a political surge to go with his troop surge? Our panel takes a look at the reaction to Obama's Afghanistan plan in Washington and beyond, when we come back.


GIGOT: Well, the president is facing criticism from both the left and the right for his Afghanistan plan. But the American public might be the toughest sell of all. A survey released by the Pew Research Center this week shows just 32 percent favor increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The survey was taken before the president's address Tuesday. So did he do enough to change the public's mind?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist and deputy editor, Bret Stephens; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

Bret, I want to get to the politics. Let me ask you first, do you agree with Fred Kagan's optimistic assessment that there's a pretty good chance of success here?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, I think, for a change, President Obama deserves some applause and encouragement from us. What the president has done, he's given General McChrystal the tools that he needs to fight this, particularly, as Fred pointed out, if what -- those 30,000 troops are mainly combat troops not logistical troops, supplementary troops. We have to remember there have been two previous surges in the last year, one from President Bush and an earlier one from President Obama.

GIGOT: At least 10,000 of the new troops are going to be facilitators and so on, who will not be combat troops.

STEPHENS: No, that's true. But this is the counter -- coined, counter insurgency is about many things. It's not simply about combat troops.

GIGOT: Sure.

STEPHENS: But he's given him the tools. The question is whether he's given them the will. And this is the question I have about this speech. There was a kind of vagueness built into the speech, particularly on the question of those 18 months, even some of American's European allies didn't really understand what the president was talking about, after the eight month period. Does this mean we really start withdrawing on the way to the exit or do we simply...

GIGOT: I think the administration has been walking back that withdrawal date ever since. I mean, the secretary of state, Clinton, secretary of defense, Gates, have been saying, well, that's just a starting date, we'll reassess it in 2010.

STEPHENS: But this is classic -- this is classic Obama. Both sides get what they want out -- or hear what they want from what the president said. and the question the people have to ask themselves is, was this a sop to people like McChrystal or Secretary Gates, saying we're going to give it one last shot in Afghanistan before we pull out? Or was the speech a sop to the left with noises about exit dates?

GIGOT: I think it's a sop to the left. That's what I think.

And this is...


GIGOT: The way I read this, Dan, is the underlying policy was better than the presentation was, which is the reverse of what most of Obama's first year has been.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, and, you know, we should point out, one of the reassuring things I take away from this, we've talked to some of the people involved in the decision, General David Lute, I find Obama's national security team to be the most reassuring thing I've seen in this administration so far, a very disturbing presidency to this date. But I thought that Defense Secretary Gates, Chief of Staff Mullen, Jim Jones, head of the National Security Council, and people we've talked to, and plus, General McChrystal, it looks to me like you can have some confidence that if they're allowed to do what they want to do in Afghanistan, Pakistan, we do have a chance of success.

GIGOT: All right, Kim, this was a defeat, no question about it, for the Democratic anti-war left, who really didn't want the president to go ahead with this. Are they going to give him enough leeway or can they stop this?

STRASSEL: You know, it's what you just said, the policy was good. The presentation was not. And that's really the problem, the mistake that president Obama made this week, because he did look hesitant. He looked not fully committed. And that is a green light for a lot of these guys. Yes, they've got a momentary defeat, but the anti-war left is going to continue to beat on them in the hopes they can get him to change his mind.

And there's also a timing issue here, too. The Democrats are going to stick with him and give him his surge. But it's going to take six months to get these troops up and running. There's going to be an election a couple of months after that. The Democrats are going to take away from that, that if they lose that, part of it has to do with the war. And the pressure is going to get ratcheted up on him yet again to start to pull out.

GIGOT: What I hear you saying, Kim, is they can't stop this, at least in the initial go, and probably they don't have an incentive to do that, because an intra-party war before the 2010 election is not what they need.

STRASSEL: No. And they also need a strong president. They've got a lot of initiatives of their own, health care, cap-and-trade, they want to get done. They don't want to damage their own president. So they'll stick with him. You saw Nancy Pelosi this week say, no, there's not going to be a war tax. And you heard rumblings from some of the critics, saying I guess we'll go along with it. He'll get it. The question what happens later down the road.

STEPHENS: Yes, on to politics, I think it's important to note that the president, made some comparisons with Vietnam, suggesting how this is different. And one way it's different is that Vietnam was the central political issue of its day. Lyndon Johnson did not run for a second term because of Vietnam.

I don't think that Afghanistan is -- if, in Afghanistan, we were losing 5,000 troops a year, where it really was a sort of central motivating force of the politics of the day, then the calculations for the Democratic Party would be different. But I don't think they're going to fight their president tooth and nail on this.

GIGOT: Dan, what about the Republicans? They seem to give wary support to the president, some even enthusiastic support. Newt Gingrich was complementary. Can he put together by a bipartisan coalition?

HENNINGER: I think he should be able to. The problem -- we do have a problem with the Democrats and their anti-war compulsion. Look, we're sending a message to Pakistan, India, to people all over, even the Europeans, if they find both of the parties in this are wavering, they'll pull back. And that will endanger our troops on the ground.

GIGOT: The president could help himself with the Republicans, I think, if he actually reached out to them on other issues. He's excluded them from just about every domestic issue. And if he started to work on trade and some other issues, it would help him build support for the war.

HENNINGER: And stop the sniping of his predecessor.

GIGOT: That's a good point.

When we come back, just days from the Copenhagen climate-change conference, some troubling signs for the cap-and-trade crowd. And it's not just climate-gate that has them worried.


GIGOT: Just days before President Obama joins other world leaders in Copenhagen for a U.N. climate summit, the British university at the heart of the growing scandal announced late this week that it would launch an investigation into allegations that its scientists manipulated data about global warming. The University of East Anglia's probe comes after thousands of e-mails between some of the world's leading climate scientists were leaked on the Internet last month. The e-mails reveal attempts to manipulate and hide data that downplayed global warming and efforts to avoid Freedom of Information requirements from global-warming skeptics.

Phil Jones, director of the university's Climate Research Unit, announced earlier this week that he is stepping down while the university investigates the incident.

Dan, so, do you think this is a big deal not only for global warming, but also for the reputation of science in general? Why?

HENNINGER: Well, you know, I think that hard science, climate, oceanography, chemistry, and the rest of it, this was one area of light that I think that most people who have become very cynical about things.

GIGOT: Unlike social science or the humanities.

HENNINGER: Yes, or the humanities. You know, your kid can't be an English major.


It was the one area that people automatically accorded respect and stature. Hard science was honest. Hard science was real. It had rigor. It had standards. This is showing it to be about as messy as the rest of academia. And Rasmussen did a poll this week in which it revealed that 59 percent of Americans think scientists are falsifying data. So I'm arguing that the rest of science, outside this global warming debate, should step forward and defend the people who are trying to get more transparency into the process.

GIGOT: Kim, where do you think -- what is the most disturbing thing that you have seen in these e-mails? Was it the peer-review process, is that -- trying to, trying to subvert that?

STRASSEL: You know, actually, the e-mails themselves are so interesting and say so much about the way that this has been politicized. But you know, if you talk to people, the most interesting stuff is that the things that most of us can't understand, which is the modeling and the data. Remember, all of these models about what is going to happen to the earth's temperature in the future are based on these very complex pieces of code. and the people who understand this, the statisticians, as they've gone through this, they say it's an absolute mess, filled with fudges and little slights of hand, all designed to plump up with a case for rising temperatures.

GIGOT: But, you know, the defenders here, Bret, say, look, fine, they shouldn't have deleted e-mails and you should have responded to Freedom of Information Act requests and you shouldn't exclude critics. On the other hand, it doesn't change the underlying climate science. The earth is still warming and men and our technology is still making it go warmer. Big deal.

STEPHENS: Well, it is a big deal, as a matter of fact, and the reason is this.

GIGOT: They said no big deal.


STEPHENS: Yes, I understand, but the climate scientists have been telling us that these models are comprehensive, that they're reliable, that they've been able to duplicate results in a number of cases. And what these e-mails really show is the kind of sausage-factory methods that climate scientists have been using, picking some data from temperature stations, excluding data from other, massaging or evening out the data going back several decades, and being selective about the rest. It shows is what they claim to be consensus-settled science is nothing of the kind.

And what's important is, as Kim said, we're talking about differences, fractional differences of degrees Fahrenheit, in trying to make predictions about where -- where the climate is going to go over the course of the next hundred years. So in order to move something from, you know, plus .1 degree Fahrenheit to minus .1, is an easy thing to do. And that's what's come out here.

GIGOT: All right.

Kim, what about Copenhagen. It starts Monday. It was supposed to be the Kyoto II, really the time when the world came together and united, declared this was a problem and we would all do something about it, with hard caps on carbon emissions. Not going it happen, is it?

STRASSEL: Yes, it's unraveling, and it's not necessarily unraveling because of Climate-gate. It was happening before that. And you do have the president now going -- President Obama and other world leaders.

But, look, the problem here is the world was in the middle of a recession and there's a lot less enthusiasm from countries and western countries and, in particular, developing countries, like India and China, to commit themselves to some sort of a treaty that is going to severely damage their economy further. So this is the main strike against it. But climate change is also -- I mean, the Climate-gate fiasco is also going to play into this, too.

GIGOT: Australia, you had the Senate down there repudiate the reject the prime minister's cap-and-trade program. You had the U.S. Senate walking away from cap-and-trade and putting it off, and probably until at least 2011. Is this the Copenhagen crackup?

HENNINGER: I think it may be. India's foreign minister said this week, that that country, joining China, would not allow itself to be bound by legally set caps. And they also demanded, if they're going to do this, they would want financing from the western world. Both of those are show- stoppers. There will never be any money transfers from the United States to India and China to do this.

GIGOT: But I don't think that the proponents are going to give up, Bret, because there's an awful lot of people that have a stake now in caps on carbon and investment in alternative energy.

STEPHENS: Absolutely, there's a whole green economy. There's $100 billion worth of government investments going into this. And they're going to fight.


STEPHENS: They're going to fight for this tooth and nail. But I think they've run up against not only political, but a scientist reality hard to overcome.

GIGOT: All right, Bret.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week -- Dan?

HENNINGER: The miss to the state of Florida, which found itself in front of the Supreme Court today trying to argue that the idea that it had restored some beach front property in Destin, Florida, meant that it could take about 40 percent of the property in front of people's houses. This is another one of these famous taking cases we've seen in New Jersey and California. The issue here was whether the courts can now order takings, which historically, the Constitution has not allowed. The one kicker here was that liberal justice, John Paul Stevens, had to recuse himself. Why? He owns beach front property in Florida.


GIGOT: All right.


STEPHENS: This is a hit to Susan Boyle. Probably, most people watching the show remember this somewhat awkward-looking Scottish lady in her late 40s going on "Britain's Got Talent" back in April. She sang, people took notice. Ten million people watched her on YouTube. She didn't win that competition and there was a great drama. It looked like this fairy tale was going to end in tears. But last month, she released her debut album. 700,000 records sold, beating U2 and Eminem. I think the fairy tale has a happy ending.

GIGOT: All right.


STRASSEL: A hit to the White House and Democrats for belatedly recognizing executive privilege. As everyone knows, a White House state dinner was crashed by people who weren't invited. When Homeland Security in the House committee asked the White House's social secretary to come testify as to what went wrong, the White House said, no way. So this comes a little late for all those Bush officials, who they were always saying needed to come testify, but better late than never.

GIGOT: Executive privilege for a social secretary, Kim? That's not a national security secret.


OK, that's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching.

I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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