White House Says Bush Administration ‘Unserious’ About Afghan War

October 22, 2009 - 6:06 PM
The Obama administration and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued their verbal jousting Thursday, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs accused the Bush administration of not taking seriously requests to increase troops in Afghanistan.
Dick Cheney

Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks at the National Press Club in Washington on June 1, 2009. (AP File Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued their verbal jousting Thursday, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs accused the Bush administration of not taking seriously requests to increase troops in Afghanistan.

The strong words from Gibbs came the day after Cheney delivered yet another withering critique of the administration on foreign and national security policy on a number of fronts, including what he called President Barack Obama’s “dithering” on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The U.S. top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has asked for an additional 40,000 troops.

“What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public,” Gibbs told reporters. “I think we’ve all seen what happens when somebody doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.”

In March, Obama pledged to increase troops by more than 30,000 troops.

“Having announced his Afghanistan strategy last March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission,” former Vice President Cheney said Wednesday night as he received the “Keeper of the Flame Award” from the national security think tank Center for Security Policy.

“It’s time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger,” Cheney said. “Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries. Waffling while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy, endangers them and hurts our cause.”

Gibbs repeatedly said that Gen. David D. McKiernan already requested an increase in troops eight months before President George W. Bush left office, giving the Bush-Cheney administration plenty of time to do what Cheney is criticizing Obama about.

“It’s pretty safe to say with the vice president was for seven year not focused on Afghanistan, even more curious given the fact that an increase in troops requests set on desks in this White House – including the vice president’s – for more than eight months,” Gibbs said.

“A resource request was filled by President Obama in March. What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public,” Gibbs continued. “I think we’ve all seen what happens when somebody doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.”

In a more specific criticism during his Wednesday speech, Cheney said the Bush administration handed off a recommendation about Afghanistan to the incoming administration. Cheney said he wanted to talk about this because White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made a charge that must be answered. 

“The president’s chief of staff claimed that the Bush administration hadn’t asked any tough questions about Afghanistan, and he complained that the Obama administration had to start from scratch to put together a strategy,” Cheney said.

“In the fall of 2008, fully aware of the need to meet new challenges being posed by the Taliban, we dug into every aspect of Afghanistan policy, assembling a team that repeatedly went into the country, reviewing options and recommendations, and briefing President-elect Obama’s team,” former vice president Cheney continued.

“They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt. The new strategy they embraced in March, with a focus on counterinsurgency and an increase in the numbers of troops, bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them. They made a decision – a good one, I think – and sent a commander into the field to implement it.

“Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity,” Cheney said.

Asked about this at the daily press briefing, Gibbs was unsure about a specific review.

“I have not looked at that review. I don’t know whether what he describes is accurate. Again, we were eight months from a commander’s recommendation from Afghanistan for additional troops,” Gibbs said.

Asked about it further, Gibbs explained, “I have no doubt the former administration briefed the incoming administration on a number of specific regions in the world. I am specifically reacting to a very pointed charge about a current resource request and juxtaposing that against a resource request that didn’t come to their desk in the transition, didn’t come to their desk in December, didn’t come in November, didn’t come in October. For eight months they had it.”

Pressed on what he meant about whether the Bush administration was serious about troop levels in Afghanistan, Gibbs said, “Whether it was taken seriously or not, it wasn’t filled. I assume since it wasn’t filled, it wasn’t taken seriously. Maybe they filled serious ones and didn’t fill unserious ones.”

He continued stressing that Cheney’s criticism does not add up, mathematically speaking.

“There were half as many troops as are now in Afghanistan under his watch to 68,000, to now wanting an additional 40,000,” Gibbs said. “How do you go to 68-plus from 34-plus. It defies some modicum of logic to say I didn’t want to go from 35,000 to 65,000, but you want to go from 65 to 100. That’s fuzzy math.”

Cheney credited Obama for recognizing Afghanistan as a necessary war to win.

He pointed to Obama’s comment in March that, “If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”

Speaking to the VFW this year, Obama said, “I will give you a clear mission,” he said, “defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s my commitment to you.”