Panel on Obama's Choice to Replace General McChrystal with General Petraeus

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation. I'm also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum in leadership that we need to succeed.



CHRIS WALLACE, GUEST HOST: President Obama making the dramatic announcement today of a change in command to lead the war in Afghanistan.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Erin Billings from Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

I have to say, as I listened to the president make the big announcement today it echoed words that I heard on this very panel last night. Let's take a look.


STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The people who the president put in that could help this, swap out the current team, put in David Petraeus --

WALLACE: David Petraeus who is the central commander who is McChrystal's boss. You're saying go back in the field.

HAYES: He could do a lot more good in the field on the ground in Afghanistan than he can in Tampa. We have seen this. The Iraq surge took place despite that Admiral Allen at CENTCOM was not in favor of the surge and fought against it.

WALLACE: Put Petraeus back in on the ground?

HAYES: Put Petraeus back on the ground and Ryan Crocker who is masterful on the diplomatic side and eliminate the deadline.


WALLACE: What number am I thinking of right now, Steve?


HAYES: It's the broken clock theory, right?

WALLACE: No, that's very good. Does replacement of McChrystal with Petraeus ease your concerns about this whole mess?

HAYES: It does to a certain extent. First should be said and the way the president started the comments today is McChrystal was an American hero. He risked his life his entire adult life. He helped shape the military victory in Iraq and he set the strategy for Afghanistan. So I think everyone should respect his service, and it's unfortunate the way he went out.

Having said that, I thought the speech that the president gave today was probably the best speech of his presidency. And it wasn't designed to be that. It was designed to state the new commander in Afghanistan.

But he restated the mission forcefully and made a compelling case for why we are in Afghanistan, something we've heard too infrequently from the president, and he basically laid out the mission once again. He's bought in again and by having David Petraeus in this role on the ground, he signaled to people, doubters, including myself, that because he has a political withdrawal date of July 2011.

With the speech today I think he says we're in no matter what. I'm invested in this, I am personally invested in this. I am picking the best man for the job, and we're going to win.

WALLACE: It would be pretty tough for him to tell David Petraeus, time to get out, general.

Erin, the president explained the decision to sack McChrystal, saying that the general's remarks undermined civilian control of the military and also it had eroded the trust of the war council. Do you think he made a convincing case for taking such drastic action?

BILLINGS: I do. This wasn't easy decision on any stretch, but he came out and said "I welcome debate but I will not tolerate division." And I think even the perception that there was not unanimity in his military team on Afghanistan -- and this guy came out and said disparaging things about his focus on Afghanistan. I don't think he had much choice.

But as to Steve's point, Petraeus was a brilliant choice. He's revered militarily and politically. He will sail through the Senate. I don't think anyone has anything negative to say about him and it will provide for continuity in the mission. I think it was a good day for President Obama.

WALLACE: Charles, are you willing to join the chorus of yeas here?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Absolutely. I long suspected that Stephen Hayes was the brains behind the Obama administration.

WALLACE: He's the brains behind the panel, too!

KRAUTHAMMER: Now he's been unmasked. They were obviously all watching and they said what a great idea.

I thought first, it was a very gracious speech that the president gave. He is canning a guy, and the bulk on the speech is how heroic it was, his service. He went into detail about that and lavished a lot of praise on him. Particularly, given what was said in the article I think that showed a lot of class and graciousness.

I am still -- even though I should now be humbled in the face of Steve's vision of the future, I'm still not sure that Obama is prepared to bypass or to overcome the impediment that he has created with the withdrawal date.

Yes, he reiterated the mission and his commitment, but he had an opportunity where he could have said -- all he has to do is say once is the date is one that will be conditioned upon. He hasn't said that. Some of his aides have, but the vice president said no. He said you will see in July of 2011 a lot of our troops leaving. You can bet on that. That is pretty hard evidence that at least that's what they are thinking about.

So unless he dispels the impression that we begin leaving by clockwork, automatically in July 11, the Afghans from the president on down to the lowest peasant in Kandahar will wonder should I give intelligence and support to the American side when they are going to leave in 13 months.

WALLACE: But Steve, given the fact here is a guy, Petraeus, who has already won one war for the Americans. He was out of a long commitment in Iraq and back at central command and back on the front lines. Doesn't Barack Obama owe him a lot? Doesn't he have a big chip he can call in anytime he wants with the president?

HAYES: Yes, he does. If you look at what he said before Congress last week, he was very clear that the withdrawal would be conditions- based. He came back and rationed it back a little bit.

I think David Petraeus can go to Barack Obama in a way that nobody else can go to President Obama and say we are close to winning or we are winning or we are making enough progress that merits doubling down on our commitment. We cannot have this withdraw.

I think the timing is right. Charles is right. As soon as we hear it in forceful way, and better to come from the president than David Petraeus, the better off we'll all be, because everyone is making post- American plans for post July, 2011 in Afghanistan.

It actually started on December 1st, 2009, when the president announced the withdrawal date drafted by his political advisors.

WALLACE: We have 30 seconds left in the segment. Erin, isn't that an awfully hard thing to ask the president there won't be withdrawal, particularly with the fire from the left and the election approaching?

BILLINGS: He can't do that. We have a debate raging on the Hill about this war supplemental. Liberals are still not on board and they want to leave yesterday. No, what we'll see when Petraeus goes before the Senate and has his hearings, we'll have the debate anew about when to get out.

WALLACE: All right, go to our homepage at and let us know what you want the panel to talk about in the all-important Friday lightning round.

But up next, this panel talks about the fight over the president's moratorium on oil drilling.



KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: With respect to the moratorium, I believe it was the correct decision, I believe it's the correct decision today, and with all due respect to the honorable court, we disagree with the court.


WALLACE: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar making it clear today the Obama administration does not intend a court ruling to end its moratorium on drilling in the Gulf.

We're back with our panel. Charles, what do you make of the judge blocking the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf, and as you saw there, the Obama administration's determination to appeal the ruling or to issue a new moratorium?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm surprised the administration is digging itself into this hole a lot deeper. It was just handed an out. First of all, the Gulf States are angry as hell over the moratorium because it's destroying the one remaining industry, the oil support industry.

Second, Salazar's own experts that he called in on this have said publicly that they are opposed to a six-month moratorium, and it actually endangers safety, because if you cap a well, there is actually a period of danger, you might as well keep drilling.

And lastly, now they have judicial cover. Now they have a judge. They could have walked away. The fact that Salazar is sticking with this and they will appeal and hang in there on this I think is a measure of how much this administration is in hock to its ecological left.

The people are not going to let him go. They blame the Obama administration for the small opening on drilling, which it did before the Gulf oil disaster, and this is the price that they are exacting. It's a big mistake, not just from the engineering perspective or economic, I think it's a big political mistake.

WALLACE: Steve, the ruling by the court was pretty strong and pretty critical of the Obama administration. The federal judge in the case, Martin Feldman, said the administration failed to prove the need for such sweeping action.

He wrote, "The blanket moratorium with no parameters seems to assume that because one rig failed, and although no one yet knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger." He basically scoffed at the administration ruling in this moratorium.

HAYES: He basically was taking issue with a matter of degree, saying you said this and you're doing this, and that's the problem with what you are doing.

But the basic logic of what the administration is doing doesn't work. For 64 days we have been told that the spill was the result of reckless and irresponsible behavior by BP, which was a departure from standard operating procedures.

Now on day 65, Ken Salazar and others in the administration say we don't have any idea what caused the spill so we can't possibly end the moratorium, because we have to find out. Which is it? Those two are self- contradicting and they have to get the story straight.

The question I have for Salazar, if you look at what Salazar is saying now, we'll provide the new information and tell you why we need the moratorium. Why are you hiding it? Why haven't you been telling us this all along?

This sounds like a scramble by the administration to do exactly with a Charles is saying, which is ingratiate itself with the political left and the environmentalists.

WALLACE: On the other hand, Erin, the White House's argument is it is dangerous, foolhardy to continue deepwater drilling until you know what caused -- I guess really two things. One, what caused the explosion on April 20, and, two, how you can control it and prevent it from happening again.

BILLINGS: That's right. But at the same time we had Salazar saying when we issue this new moratorium we may move back or maybe we'll allow some drill. So there are some mixed messages coming out.

But it's interesting to see the drilling wars reignite on the hill. You have Mary Landrieu, other Louisianans and a lot of Republicans saying look, this is reasonable, and the 33 rigs who want to drill, they should. Then you have Democrats, particularly, on the left saying absolutely not. This is a disaster. We can't have it.

I think at the end of the day no one is going to be drilling because it's a politically toxic environment. Irrespective of the environmental disaster we're facing, the politics are so toxic that I think the companies will say let's ride it out.

WALLACE: Charles, another interesting and sad development today, and that is one of the underwater submersibles knocked off the cap that was containing at least, capturing at least some of the oil spill. Now they said they will be able to put it back on.

But having said that, the president in his Oval Office address said that they are going to by the end of the month be able to capture 90 percent of the flow. That's going to be a hard standard to meet.

KRAUTHAMMER: And remember, when they cut the pipe to enable this new technique of capping, it increased the flow. We don't know exactly how much, but perhaps over 60,000 barrels a day, which is just unbelievable. So I think the president's prediction is really out the window.

It raises the issue, why are we drilling that deep? I repeat, one of the reasons why we are in the water that deep, that hard to fix is because the easy stuff, the shallow stuff in the Pacific and the Atlantic and the onshore stuff in the Arctic has been ruled out of bounds. That's why we're out there in deepwater and that's why it's so hazardous.

The environmental left sees an opportunity here to shut down oil production as Three Mile Island did on nukes, and that's why it won't allow more drilling.