General David Petraeus Goes Before Senators


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It is going to be a number of years before the Afghan forces can truly handle security tasks in Afghanistan on their own -- on their own. The commitment to Afghanistan is necessarily, therefore, an enduring one.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: The president's chief adviser Rahm Emanuel said, "Everybody knows there is a firm date. July, 2011 is not changing. Everybody agreed on that date."

General, at any time during the deliberations that the military shared with the president when he went through the decision making process, was there a recommendation from you or anyone in the military that we set a date of July, 2011?

PETRAEUS: There was not.


BAIER: General David Petraeus trying to navigate a political minefield today on Capitol Hill in his confirmation hearing. He made it out of committee and is expected to get full approval from the Senate quickly and move to the theater to take over in Afghanistan. What about this hearing, what we learned and what we didn't learn? Let's bring in our panel, Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, And Tucker Carlson, editor of Mara, there was a lot of talk about July 11, the start date for withdrawal. They won't turn off the light or close the door, but there was a lot of quotes read in this hearing from administration officials.


BAIER: July, 2011.

LIASSON: July of 2011 has become a pretty good umbrella for everyone's opinion inside the administration on Afghanistan. The president has been clarifying it bit by bit. The choice of Petraeus in and of itself is recommitment of the strategy to Afghanistan by the president, a doubling down of strategy.

He said that is when some withdrawal will start. Every single thing we heard since Petraeus was appointed, it will be gradual withdrawal and that's what Secretary Gates and General Petraeus said all along.

BAIER: Fred, at one point Senator Lindsey Graham pointed out that Vice President Biden said publicly you will see a significant number of troops coming out starting July, 2011. And then Petraeus said he took him aside in national security meeting and say I'm 100 percent behind the policy, however you see it on the ground.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Bret, that was a perfect example of his navigating the minefield you talked about. This was a brilliant performance by General Petraeus. Just watching some of it, you can think of what he is to Stanley McChrystal is what Eisenhower was to George Patton. And Eisenhower was very deft politically and Petraeus is deft politically. And generals like that wind up being chairman of the joints chief and sometimes president.

That answer in particular, Lindsey Graham wanted him to repudiate what Vice President Biden was quoted to have been saying. He switched and said the last time I saw the president, the president said he is 100 percent behind the policy. It was very deftly done.

And as Mara said, he said in July of 2011, what we do will be conditions-based. He said we have enduring commitment. Then he said we're not going to see the troops rapidly flying out the door the way Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said it would happen.

He did President Obama a lot of good and himself, General Petraeus, a lot of good and established, I think, beyond any doubt not much will happen in July of next year.

TUCKER CARLSON, EDITOR, THEDAILYCALLER.COM: When the president asks General Petraeus to replace Stanley McChrystal I heard the Republicans grousing that this was a political move designed to take Petraeus off the market so he couldn't enter the presidential race as a Republican.

I have no idea if that is true, but you could see why people would come to the conclusion. He is very deft, very skillful as a political player.

But I don't think it's so easy for the president to go back on the public commitment he made to begin pull-back a year from this week.

BAIER: Petraeus is saying conditions-based. The president needs to say conditions-based.

CARLSON: There is a large constituency, the president's prime constituency, that wants to see a pullback soon, Nancy Pelosi chief among them. She has said we are not going to pay for the war unless we have assurances that the withdrawal begins next year.

BAIER: To that point, Lindsey Graham also asked Petraeus about that, the effort by the left to attach strings to funding that there be a definitive withdrawal date, much like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has talked about with members of the left. Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Should we put a number on war funding to say you have to have a plan for withdrawal by the beginning of next year? Does it undercut the position or not?

PETRAEUS: It would be contrary to the whole policy that is conditions based. So again, that is enough of an answer.



LIASSON: That is his job, to give just enough of an answer.

I don't think there will be conditions on war funding, maybe a lot of debate about it. I think when and if they start to get some success in Afghanistan, the pressure from the left will subside. The reason the war is becoming unpopular over the last couple of months is because it looked like it wasn't working. If the surge starts to work, there will less pressure to bring them home right away.

BAIER: And concerns still about President Karzai and the Afghanistan leadership?

BARNES: There's only so much you can do. The U.S. is stuck with Karzai and there is no alternative to him. We're stuck with him.

The big thing today, we see that the July, 2011 date becoming more and more meaningless, which is good, because when you have a date like that, when you set a date, which George Bush never did in Iraq, it's a bad idea. Now it's slowly vanishing.

BAIER: Let us know what you think the general's toughest challenge might be by voting in the online poll. Go to

The military was a big part of today's Elena Kagan Supreme Court confirmation hearing. We talk about that and all of the issues there when we come back.



SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA., SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Greg Craig, the former chief counsel to President Obama, has known you for some time, I understand, said of you, "She is largely a progressive in the mold of Obama himself." Do you agree with that?

ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Senator Sessions, I'm not quite sure how I would characterize my politics, but one thing I do know my politics would be, must be, have to be completely separate from my judgment.


BAIER: Elena Kagan today in her confirmation hearing asked numerous times about her politics. She said she is a long-time Democrat, no surprise there, worked for Democratic administrations, and says it would not interfere with her work on the Supreme Court if she gets approved.

We're back with the panel. Fred, anything surprising in this, the questioning day of Elena Kagan's confirmation?


BAIER: None?


There was a great headline today, I think at The Wall Street Journal website, about the World Cup that said, "Paraguay survives scoreless yawner." You could say the same think about Elena Kagan today. "Kagan survives scoreless yawner."

That's what it was, particularly at the beginning when she said she repudiated the law review article 15 years ago that said nominees was - -

LIASSON: Her only hope.

BARNES: I know, that nominees don't have to talk about the specific cases, but at least discuss the views on issues, like the privacy rights and so on.

BAIER: She called the hearings "vapid and hollow."


BARNES: And her hearing was that.

She only got in trouble once when she responded to questions again by Senator Sessions about this whole military recruiting issue at Harvard Law School in which she tried to make the point she was tremendously supportive of the military and recruiting at Harvard Law School while at the same time banning.

That is a hard sell to make. And Senator Sessions said she was unconnected to reality when she talked about it, and he was right.

BAIER: Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama had really the most pointed questioning throughout the day and spent a lot of time on military recruiting at Harvard. Do you think he laid out the points effectively?

LIASSON: I think he did, but it is not enough. That issue will not derail her or change many minds. I think she is on her way to confirmation and she will get the Republican votes.

He did try to make the point that she was progressive. Sure. Why wouldn't the solicitor general of the Obama administration share the politics of President Obama?

He tried to make a point she was a legal progressive, meaning she would somehow in an activist way rule on the bench according to her politics rather than analysis of the law. I don't think that will work. Democrats tried to do the same with Justice Roberts, to say he's a conservative legal activist, and many liberals thinks he is one.

But I didn't see anything today that would stop her from being confirmed.

BAIER: Tucker, we talk about the hearing and the process and how cautious the nominees are. Also, I interviewed Senator Feinstein yesterday, and listen to this sound bite where she talks about what they say in the hearings as opposed to what they do on the bench.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.: We had a litany of nominees that come before the committee and say I believe in the super precedent, yes, yes, yes, I will recognize it. And then they go on the court and do exactly the opposite. And that's one outstanding problem. The fact of the matter is we never know.


BAIER: Lifting the curtain there, Tucker.

CARLSON: Remind me again why they can't comment on actual Supreme Court cases? I have heard lawyers explain this so far why it would be bad, but I don't find a convincing argument in the slightest.

The truth is we don't know much about these people before we give them a lifetime appointment to a coequal branch of government, kind of a big deal. And that's a major problem. I'm with the senator from California. It absolutely is.

And it's interesting today. My favorite quote of all time from Kagan is the one you read that these are ludicrous hearings. They tell us nothing.

She actually blamed Orrin Hatch for her silence today. If you caught that, she said I was planning to tell you the truth today but then Orrin Hatch took me aside and said whatever you do, don't do that. Don't reveal what you really think.

I don't know. I think we ought to rethink what we expect from a nominee. Why shouldn't they answer the question?

BAIER: Senator Al Franken yesterday, we caught him just for a moment and it appeared he was dozing off. We have the shot of that. That was from yesterday.

Today, the Associated Press got this shot. And this was Al Franken and he was drawing, doodling. And apparently that is a picture of Senator Sessions doing the questions. It's actually pretty good. But it goes to show you perhaps what these hearings are like to go through, Fred.

BARNES: Did they ever get to Franken's time to question?

BAIER: I think at the very end, yes.

BARNES: Obviously, it was not memorable.

BAIER: So, no problems?

BARNES: I don't see any. I think she has a problem on the whole military recruiting thing, but I agree with Mara it won't jeopardize her confirmation.

BAIER: Three words, "elections have consequences."

LIASSON: That is right. And this is not earth-shattering change on the Court because she is replacing another liberal, and that's why it's a yawner.

CARLSON: That's exactly right.