'Journal Editorial Report,' June 26, 2010

This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," June 26, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the Petraeus Hail Mary. Can the master of counterinsurgency turn the tide of the Afghan war? And will the president give him the support he needs to succeed? We'll ask a man who knows General Petraeus well.

Plus, shaping the Supreme Court. A look ahead to next week's confirmation hearings for Obama nominee, Elena Kagan, and a look back at Justice Sonya Sotomayor's first term.

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

President Obama's war plan in Afghanistan suffered another setback this week when his top commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, was forced to resign after comments he and his aides made to Rolling Stone magazine disparaging the president and his national security team. But the president says he has full confidence that the man he chose to replace McChrystal, General David Petraeus, will carry out his administration's strategy there.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are in the midpoint of implementing the strategy that we came up with last year. We'll do a review at the end of this year. General Petraeus understands that strategy because he helped shape it. And my expectation is that he will be outstanding in implementing it and we will not miss a beat.


GIGOT: Joining me now is a man who knows General Petraeus well. Fouad Ajami is the director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Fouad, welcome.


GIGOT: Here is the irony. The President Obama, who opposed the surge in Iraq, now names the architect of that surge —

AJAMI: Right.

GIGOT: — To help rescue his Afghan surge. What do you make of that?

AJAMI: Well, he has own — he has — this is a good surge as indeed the —

GIGOT: As the president says, and a good war.

AJAMI: Exactly, as Afghanistan was a good war, the war of necessity as opposed to Iraq, which was the bad war, the bad war of choice. I think, look, the president's strategy in Afghanistan is troubled. And what the president has done — and rightly, you can see what happened — is he has replaced a very talented, but indiscrete commander with a very talented, but discrete commander.

And I think that General Petraeus is one of the most discrete commanders you'll ever meet. I've known him for many years and I've seen his command, mostly when he was a major general to Iraq, and this is a brilliant commander. But I think the war is not just about the commander in the battlefield. It's about the other commander, the commander-in-chief. And that is what we're going to find out, will be testing in the days to come.

GIGOT: Do you think that General Petraeus, when he was asked by President Obama, look, would you do this —

AJAMI: Right.

GIGOT: — because he's taking at least a nominal demotion — would you do this, go back to the battlefield, do you think that General Petraeus would say, Mr. President, sure. I'll do that, you've asked, I'll accept, but I want certain things from you. Would he be the kind of general who would do that?

AJAMI: I would think so. But he's also a man who salutes and obeys orders.


GIGOT: That's what I mean. Exactly. He believes in the regular order of command.

AJAMI: He is a patriot. But there is an issue here, which is that withdrawal, the planned withdrawal in the summer of 2011, because last month, testifying before the Armed Services Committee, General Petraeus said that the president doesn't mean this as hard data, that he doesn't say, let's head for the exits and turn the lights off. That depends — the famous euphemism — conditions on the ground. And conditions on the ground means, is there native regime in Afghanistan that's ready to defend its own country? Is there a national army that can take the burden off the Americans? And that's the question on the next phase.

GIGOT: Do you think he would have asked the president, look, you have to listen to me if that —


GIGOT: — when I tell you what the conditions on the ground are? And does General Petraeus have more leverage than, say, General McChrystal would have had.

AJAMI: Obviously. And, of course, General Petraeus is a much better politician than General McChrystal, as we know.


AJAMI: These generals are amazing. You have Fallon, who fell because he gave an interview to Vanity Fair, and then, Stanley McChrystal, an interview to Rolling Stone. I don't think —

GIGOT: These anti-war magazines.

AJAMI: Right.

GIGOT: Basically. It's astonishing to me.

AJAMI: Right. I don't think that General Petraeus would ever do such a thing. Would he have asked? There is an issue here, that on November 29, and we understand from the chronicle of these events that just before the president went to West Point to get his famous statement and his speech and outlining his strategy on Afghanistan, there was a discussion about this deadline for a 18 month period.

GIGOT: Right.

AJAMI: We now have only a year to go. So we want General Petraeus to be a magician. We want him to remake the politics of Afghanistan and to remake Afghan culture in just, on deadline, and I think that is mission impossible in my view.

GIGOT: You don't think that he can actually succeed? Is that what you think?

AJAMI: I think he's going to basically say what he said to the Armed Services Committee last month, that these deadlines for withdrawal is not a hard deadline, that it depends on the conditions, it depends on the ability of the Afghan army. And one thing we know from General Petraeus's record, in Iraq, I mean, this is someone who really can work with the native — the government on this scene. He has to go and see what Afghanistan is all about, as he learned the tricks of Iraq.

GIGOT: One of the virtues of General McChrystal everybody said was he got along pretty well with Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.

AJAMI: Oh, absolutely.

GIGOT: Which most of the civilian leadership does not in the United States, the civilian leadership.

AJAMI: Right. Right.

GIGOT: General Petraeus, does he have the personality who could win the confidence of Karzai?

AJAMI: General Petraeus can work with anyone. And that's the talent of the man, the unusual talent of the man. I don't think he was particularly fond of Nouri Maliki in Iraq. But he worked very well with him.

GIGOT: He was a hard man to get along with.

AJAMI: Exactly. He worked very well with him.

But I think there's something that stalks the American adventure in Afghanistan. I find you a quote from General Petraeus' PhD dissertation of 25 years ago in Princeton. And the title of the dissertation — this is the most studied dissertation, by the way, in recent years — which was the American military and the lessons of Vietnam. And this is what he said about Vietnam. He said, "The war was a painful reminder that, when it comes to intervention, time and patience are not American virtues in abundant supply."

GIGOT: Oh, yes.

AJAMI: He's going to meet this in this new assignment. He's going to come up against time and he is going to come up with American patience and he's going to come up against Joe Biden and against the Democrats in the House and against Senator Boxer and Senator Feingold. He's going to come against the coalition of President Obama that never really has supported this war to begin with.

GIGOT: So you're saying that the president has asked him to save a war that the Democratic Party and the president himself are really only half-heartedly committed to?

AJAMI: I've written a piece for the Wall Street Journal. I submitted it to — I can't say it's being published. My editor hasn't said so yet. But I've written something which begins, if you will, with Lyndon Johnson and his relation to the war in Vietnam. What he actually didn't know, he didn't like the war. He didn't want the war. He couldn't win the war. And he couldn't abandon the war. And I just have this sinking feeling, as someone who supported the Iraq war, I look at the Afghan war with a jaundiced eye that maybe this is also a war that the commander-in- chief will not fight to victory and will not abandon.

GIGOT: We'll let's hope that General Petraeus can turn it around.

All right, Fouad Ajami, thank you very much.

When we come back, moving ahead in Afghanistan. As General Petraeus prepares to lead the war effort there, is next summer's withdrawal deadline still set in stone?



OBAMA: We did not say that starting July 2011, suddenly there would be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. We didn't say we'd be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. We said, as we begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government is taking on more and more responsibility.


GIGOT: President Obama, a day after replacing his top general in Afghanistan, saying a significant number of U.S. troops could remain there well after his withdrawal time line begins next summer.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger; editorial features editor Rob Pollock; and editorial board member Matt Kaminski.

So, Matt, with that quote, are we seeing the president make a commitment to General Petraeus and to the war effort beyond that July 2011 deadline.

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think that would be the best outcome of this unfortunate week for the Obama war effort in Afghanistan. When he introduced Petraeus, he sounded more committed than he ever has, at least since the West Point speech last December. And the real question for him is really — I mean, the unfortunate irony of what happened to McChrystal was he was on board with the strategy.

GIGOT: Right, absolutely.

KAMINSKI: On the provision that he was fired are actually much more apparent on the civilian side, with Vice President Biden, with Obama's national security adviser and with most of the Democratic left.

GIGOT: But, Dan, it sounded to me like the president is now at least moving somewhat over to the Petraeus point of view, even if he won't say that directly to his base yet.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I agree. And if he did, it happened within the last 24 hours.

I want to go back to the Petraeus testimony of the Armed Services Committee and Senator Carl Levin. What Petraeus said, in front of Carl Levin, when asked about the deadline is, I give a, quote, unquote, "qualified yes to the deadline." OK? That caused a sensation, a qualified guess. The next day, he appeared before the Appropriations Committee and was pressed on that. And he said he was giving a firm yes to the deadline. He was on board.

If this is true, I think, in some sense — because this was at the heart, I think, of McChrystal's disagreement with the civilian side.

GIGOT: Right. I agree with that.

HENNINGER: Then Stanley McChrystal fell on his sword for the — you now have the president coming over to the military's more realistic view, that you cannot possibly get out there have by next July. I think that McChrystal gave himself up for —

GIGOT: You can't fire your vice president, who is on the other side of this debate, and lets everybody know it, at every stage, while leaking to everybody through his aides. And you've got an ambassador over there who doesn't agree with it, Karl Eikenberry. To some of the civilian advisers, that the president has — he's already said we're not going to change anymore. But should he sack these people to send a message?

ROB POLLOCK, EDITORIAL FEATURES EDITOR: I think he's already sent the main message, which needs to be sent, which is, again, although he's not explicitly renounced the time table, by putting Petraeus in, he's effective said conditions on the ground are going to dictate further moves. It's not going to be in July of 2011. That was a problem because that was causing Hamid Karzai to go now and start trying to make deals with the Taliban, thinking they he was going to be left alone with them a year from now.

GIGOT: Right. That's right. So that's one of the reasons that Karzai has been dealing with Pakistan.

POLLOCK: Yes. Yes.

GIGOT: He keeps saying, look, we have to cut a deal with the Taliban because they see that the Americans are high-tailing it out of here in 2011. We'll have to deal with these guys one way or another so I might as well start now so I'm not the victim, I'm not ousted when we depart.

What do you think about the president's — what does the president need to do, Dan, to build domestic support here? I don't think he's given a speech on Afghanistan, solely to Afghanistan, since the West Point speech.

HENNINGER: No, he hasn't and obviously, he needs to build more domestic support. I think though that who he has to speak to are the troops in Afghanistan. One of the other issues that I believe was at the heart of this was the matter of rules of engagement, how hard can the troops fight over there when they go into the villages? And the issue for them is, if they go in and make a mistake, kill some civilians, are they going to be called to account? Are there going to be investigations?

There's two words, I think, that hangs in the minds of most soldiers there: Abu Ghraib. And Barack Obama and the Democrats, when George Bush was president, used that constantly against the war in Iraq. I think the president has to make clear to these soldiers that he has their support.

POLLOCK: I think one thing we have to be careful about here is expecting General Petraeus go into Afghanistan and do a surge, the same as in Iraq —

GIGOT: Kind that he did in Iraq.

POLLOCK: Because Afghanistan is a very different place, doesn't have the same political preconditions. In Iraq, you really had a democratic process moving forward to capitalize on the military gains that were made —

GIGOT: What would be the big difference?

POLLOCK: The big difference is the political conditions the ground. No matter what military gains we make, we don't have a civilian government yet emerging in Afghanistan that —

GIGOT: Are you saying —

POLLOCK: — that can command the loyalty of the people and can command an effective Afghan —

GIGOT: Briefly, does that mean we have to get rid of Karzai?

POLLOCK: I don't know what it means.

GIGOT: Can we work with Karzai? We have to, don't we? I mean, that's the — I think we do have to work with Karzai. And you're fated to do it. But the way to do it is not to alienate him, which is, I think, the mistake that this administration has made from the beginning, saying, look, we're going to treat him differently than Bush did, we're not going to be as accommodating. And he's got his back up. And it's been a tougher deal now. And we'll see if Petraeus can come back and fix that relationship. I hope he can.

All right, when we come back, our Supreme Court roundup. A look at some of the big decisions this term and where the court's newest justice, Sonya Sotomayor, came down.

And a look ahead at next week's confirmation hearing for President Obama's latest Supreme Court pick, Elena Kagan.


GIGOT: With confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan set to begin Monday on Capitol Hill, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have one final weekend to pour over the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that have been released on Kagan so far, including e- mails from her four years in the Clinton White House.

Opinionjournal.com editor James Taranto and senior editorial page writer Colin Levy have been digging through the Kagan files. They join us now.

All right, before we get to Elena Kagan, James, what have we learned so far this year about this Supreme Court term about the court?

JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM EDITOR: That the court hasn't changed that much with the change from Souter, who was a reliable liberal vote, to Sotomayor, who so far looks like a reliable liberal vote. It could change. Souter wasn't obviously a reliable vote his first term on the bench, either.

But one thing that's significant, it seems to me, is with the departure of John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by Gerald Ford, being replaced by Elena Kagan, appointed by Barack Obama —

GIGOT: Right.

TARANTO: — assuming that Kagan is a reliable liberal. And I don't think anyone expects the unexpected from her, we will have a four-member liberal block entirely appointed by Democratic presidents, a four-member conservative entirely appointed by Republican, plus Justice Kennedy.

GIGOT: And what does it mean?

TARANTO: It will be the most partisan court since at least the New Deal.

GIGOT: So you mean, because they were named partisan, they're going to behave partisan?

TARANTO: No, but the alignment of the court will now fit the alignment of the political parties. It's become more that the politics has reached the court in a way that it hasn't completely before.


Colin, what have we learned about Sonya Sotomayor this year?

COLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: I think James is right. Sonya Sotomayor has really performed very much as expected and she has voted with the liberal block in every major decision and, in many cases, actually been more liberal than some of the liberal justices. We had a situation last week where the Supreme Court struck down three cases from the Ninth Circuit and, in each of those instances, she was among the dissenters. And those were cases where occasionally Stevens crossed over. And, you know, she was still — she was still there on the left. So I think we can see that from her.

GIGOT: The Ninth Circuit being the notoriously liberal Ninth Circuit and oft overturned by the Supreme Court.

LEVY: Yes.

GIGOT: OK, Dan, what do we know about Elena Kagan?

HENNINGER: We don't know all that much about her because she hasn't written all that much. She's very highly politicized. She was a highly politicized member of the Clinton administration. And I expect she will be so on the court. And you know, I suspect the hearings are going to be fairly boring. They won't get anything out of her.

GIGOT: Because that's what Supreme Court nominees do now in the era of post-Bork. They don't say anything.

HENNINGER: Yes. Let's pursue this point that we've raised here about the politicalization. This goes back to the Bork hearings. At that time, there was still a view that nominees to the Supreme Court should be great legal minds and constitutional jurists. Because of what happened to Bork, I think that has fallen to the side and now what you're getting is nominees that basically reflect the practical politics of the president or the party in power. And that, I think, is what you have seen in Sotomayor and now in Kagan. Not a great constitutional theorist, but simply a reliable vote.

GIGOT: Colin, what do we know about —

LEVY: Yes. In fact — sorry, if I could break in to —

GIGOT: Yes, sure.

LEVY: — to just expand a little on Dan's point. I was just going to say, one of the things that's interesting is we looked at Sotomayor during her hearings, and you might recall there was a lot of focus on whether or not she would rely on foreign law, and whether or not she thought that was an appropriate basis for the Supreme Court to make any decisions.

GIGOT: Sure.

LEVY: And she very much said she wouldn't do so. And recently, she joined the decision that cited foreign law. So, as Dan would say, these hearings, you know, they play it close to the vest, and they're often not predictive at all.

GIGOT: What do we know about Kagan's view about federal power over the state? The challenge to Obamacare will be one of the biggest cases in decades that this court will hear. Do we have any expectation that Kagan might have some sense that there are limits on congressional authority over the states?

TARANTO: I would very much doubt it. We don't know that much about her views because she has no record as a judge. She will be the first Supreme Court justice with no judicial experience since William Rehnquist in 1972. But one thing we do know is that, in the Clinton administration, she argued for a federal law allowing New York City workers to — the workers, who worked with the city, to report suspected illegal aliens, even though it was against city policy. So in that case, she took a — she took the side of federal power against a locality and in an ideologically — where it played against an ideological type.

GIGOT: Colin, very briefly —

LEVY: Yes?

GIGOT: — any surprises we can look for on — from a jurisprudence do you think?

LEVY: I don't really think so. Just to James' point, I think she has already expressed an expansive view of power. And she did so in some of the memos she wrote during the Clinton administration.


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


GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Colin, first to you.

LEVY: Well, it's a hit to federal judge, Martin Feldman, who, this week, overturned the Obama administration's six-month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Critics have desperately tried to discredit the ruling by saying that the judge owns stocks in companies that were involved with drilling. But this is something that actually is true of more than half of judges in the region. So I think the real scandal here was an Obama administration policy that had really no tether to science or safety.

GIGOT: All right, here, here, Colin.

All right, Matt?

KAMINSKI: Paul, as you know, the World Cup in on in South Africa. And even if they don't make it all the way, I think Team USA is a very big hit, not for winning their group this week, which they did, but for the way they did it. They withstood some terrible calls, never gave up, and played with a modesty and a class that you see rarely in American sports. These are American values on display in the world's game.

GIGOT: Now if you can get Taranto to watch, they'll really have a —

TARANTO: Good luck.

Mr. Rory — who is Rory? He's the Democratic nominee for the governor of Nevada. And his website describes him only by his first name, Rory, like Suharto or Madonna. That's because the last name is Reid, as in Senate Reid — Majority Leader Reid, who is also on the ballot and doing terribly in polls. Rory is running away from his family name because Nevadans just aren't wild about Harry.

GIGOT: Is he going to win, Reid?


GIGOT: Rory?

TARANTO: Rory definitely not, Harry probably not.

GIGOT: All right.

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@foxnew.com.

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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