CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Obama to Address Nation on Afghanistan; 33,000 Troops Will Come Home

Aired June 22, 2011 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I am Joe Johns. John King is off.

Tonight, important news about the war in Afghanistan. A senior White House official tells CNN President Obama is ordering all 33,000 U.S. surge forces to leave Afghanistan by summer of 2012, specifically the official tells CNN, the forces will be withdrawn by no later than September next year.

The president will make that announcement in an important speech in about an hour. You will see it live right here on CNN. During this hour, we're using CNN's global resources, including correspondents here in Washington and Afghanistan to give you a closer look at tonight's high stakes in the war on terrorism for U.S. taxpayers and for the president politically.

Let's start now with what CNN's White House correspondent Brianna Kielar has learned about what the president is going to say tonight. Brianna --

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Joe, the headlines are the numbers, and the breakdown on bringing the 33,000 troops home from Afghanistan, no later than September, 2012, this according to a senior administration official.

Ten thousand home by end of this year, 2011. The remaining 23,000 of those so-called surge troops coming home no later than September of 2012.

But keep in mind, Joe, that leaves a significant number of U.S. troops, about 70,000 in Afghanistan, through 2014, though this draw down that we have new numbers on, that is quicker than the initial reports we were hearing.

JOHNS: Always important when a president gives a speech like this with such high stakes for him to make his case for why it's acceptable in this case to bring troops out of Afghanistan. What do you expect he is going to say?

KEILAR: Joe, for days now we've been hearing a really concerted effort from White House officials to justify a drawdown. Expect the president to continue on that.

Some of the points we've been hearing, the successes that U.S. troops have had against al Qaeda, namely, killing Osama Bin Laden, being able to push the Taliban back from population centers, and readying Afghan forces to take over control.

Here, a lot of emphasis on that, Joe. There are still some challenges, especially the tenuous relationship with Pakistan. But certainly it is the successes that President Obama will highlight.

JOHNS: Brianna Keilar at the White House, thanks so much for that.

President Obama will be speaking to a number of important audiences tonight. We're going to explore each of them in detail. Starting on Capitol Hill, where sentiment about the Afghanistan war really appeared to be shifting, and quite rapidly, is making for some very strange alliances.

Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been keeping track as lawmakers' two sides. Strange bed fellows here, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For a growing number of lawmakers what the president is going to announce tonight is simply not going to be enough because they believe that troops should begin to come home much more quickly.

It was really interesting, Joe. I talked to Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals who rarely agree on anything who were saying pretty much the same thing when it comes to the mission in Afghanistan.

That Osama Bin Laden is dead, that the threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan is now diminished, that's what's going on there now is more nation building, and for those reasons, they believe it is time to bring many, many more troops home.

The other issue that I am hearing from these Democrats and Republicans is cost, the cost in lives and the cost in dollars. And at a time where this Congress is trying to take away money in places that affect their constituents at home, they say they have a harder time justifying spending this money in Afghanistan.

I should also note that's a growing sentiment. It's not necessarily the majority. We're also hearing already that with the president's announcement is too fast, that is too precipitous. So you're going to hear that as well from both sides of the aisle.

JOHNS: Really sort of talking about a cost benefits analysis there in the end. But, Dana, we are talking so much about Afghanistan. The other fight on Capitol Hill, of course, is U.S. involvement in Libya. So give us an idea what you're learning about the resistance on the Hill on that front.

JOHNS: The headline is that House Republicans have now decided that they're going to put up a bill to de-fund the military mission in Libya.

What's most interesting about that is that this actually changed from just yesterday, Joe. Yesterday, the House Republican leadership said they would have a resolution, nonbinding resolution to say they would not allow U.S. troops to participate in combat missions.

That changed because of a private meeting among House Republicans, rank and file said the leadership is not tough enough. They want to be much tougher when it comes to President Obama, send a message for the way he handled this mission.

That he hasn't come to Congress. So that is why the House Republican leadership is going to change that and they probably going to have that vote as soon as this week.

JOHNS: Really very interesting to see the position the Republicans are taking on this. Thanks so much for that, Dana Bash. We will be checking back in with you.

Two more important audiences for the president's speech tonight are in Afghanistan, the men and women of the U.S. military, of course, as well as the Afghan government.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us now live from Bagram Air Force base. Nick, what's the reaction in Afghanistan as the president announces the surge troops are going to start coming home?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, soldiers here aren't going to pre-empt their commander in chief. He hasn't spoken yet, but we are privately hearing from them that general emotion of this particular key - the commander in chief ordering the beginning of the end of America's longest ever war.

I think it is fair to say not the same kind of variable energy for this conflict we have seen in Afghanistan previously or in Iraq even from U.S. soldiers. One said we got Bin Laden, the job is done, we should go home.

Another expressed fears that a precipitous withdrawal could let the Taliban come back in force. Another one, could I go home tomorrow. So I think a recognition of the dangers here, but also perhaps acknowledgment that maybe some of America's cards are being played. And perhaps it's time for the Afghans come throw an accommodation, Joe.

JOHNS: From your perspective though, that question of a vacuum being created and the Taliban stepping into it, to sort of seize control, how likely is that for real?

WALSH: I think across the whole country that is unlikely because of the pockets created in Kabul where the money is and where the Afghan government has some rift.

If you go out, for example, towards the Afghan, Pakistani border where we sent a cameraman recently, there is a town where it does appear the Taliban have significant influence. We have some camera men there that filmed a flag above the local administration building.

People talking there about how the Taliban were providing some kind of system there. They deny that, contest that the Taliban have control over the areas and say the pictures we receive amount to some sort of propaganda.

Afghan officials accepting since late March of this year that Taliban insurgency have had a pretty strong grip over this particular area, a place where they used to be NATO outposts, they pulled away, Afghan security forces rushed in to try to control. Eventually, the insurgency seems to have gotten the upper hand.

JOHNS: Nick Paton Walsh at Balgram Air Base, thanks so much for that. We will be asking some more questions of you as we progress.

Tonight we're told Defense Secretary Robert Gates among others, wanted the president to go with smaller troop drawdown. We'll get reaction from the Pentagon next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: We are waiting for President Obama's announcement of U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan. A White House official tells us the president will announce all 33,000 surge forces will be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by summer of 2012.

But another source tells CNN top defense officials were pushing for a smaller draw down. Joining us is CNN correspondent Chris Lawrence, and Chris, we're going to talk about the Taliban and the size of the people on the ground.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, sources are telling us, Joe, that basically the Defense Department was pushing for a smaller drawdown, a gradual drawdown, no more than 5,000 troops at the end of this year and probably keeping the bulk of the surge through end of next year, not just the summer.

Here is why. When you look at the Taliban presence, Afghanistan has what's known as fighting seasons, which means they go after the Taliban in the spring and summer and then when the Taliban go to ground in the winter, that's when U.S. troops sort of consolidate a lot of their gangs.

If the troops are going to be out by summer, they are not going to have those surge troops next winter to sort of consolidate some of those gangs. But, again, some people will look at it, and say when you look at troop levels.

And you say this is a massive reduction, you're still going to have around 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan even at the end of next year, and that is twice the number, Joe, twice the number that was there when President George W. Bush left office.

JOHNS: So there's still a lot of troops on the ground dealing with a very small number of Taliban essentially.

LAWRENCE: That's right. The ratio is pretty big.

JOHNS: Why do we need so many people to fight so few people? LAWRENCE: Well, because we're doing more than just fighting. We are building up institutions. We're building schools. We're trying to raise a government. We're doing more than just a bang, bang.

JOHNS: This is the civilian surge they talk about. The State Department, USAI --

LAWRENCE: The military is doing a lot of it, which the military has been providing security to allow a lot of that to go on.

JOHNS: Great, thanks so much, Chris Lawrence. Appreciate your reporting.

Now, let's explore the impact of the president's decision to withdraw the Afghanistan surge forces. It may have left in the war on terror.

Joining us right now from London tonight is CNN's national security contributor Fran Townsend who advised President George W. Bush, is now on the External Advisory Board for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security. And also in London, CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who reported extensively from Afghanistan, and with us here in Washington is retired Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmit who was involved in key defense deliberations about Afghanistan during the Bush administration.

Let's start with you, Nic. You spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. How different is the situation on the ground now compared to before President Obama took office?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the surge has definitely contributed to bringing better stability and better chance of getting Afghan governments into places like Kandahar.

But the number of troops involved in the surge and number of troops across the whole country really can't provide that same level of control over key cities around the country that perhaps we would all want to see.

That would give the Afghan government a chance to put in their police, to build up their army, get their army to come in, back fill behind the successes that the surge troops had.

But the reality is, commanders on the ground have taken ground. They wanted to move the surge troops to combat the Taliban in other locations, but haven't been able to back fill with Afghan forces because they haven't been ready.

Part of the reason they haven't been ready is the real sense there hasn't been a real strong political commitment from the Afghan leadership, and that comes to a lot of reasons. President Karzai, trying to share power with power brokers around the country.

The Taliban despite gains made by the surge, Kandahar an example, police chief put in there last year killed despite the fact he had security around him. That's an Afghan partner that a lot of U.S. forces were counting onto help deliver.

So the Taliban has still been able to pack some big, significant punches in Kandahar. So the successes have been there, but the ability to build on them hasn't happened and that's hampered what you could do further down the road with the surge.

JOHNS: OK, Nic, now I want to go to the General Kimmit. General, I want to ask you to listen to a sound bite we have here, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez was on CBS this morning, very critical of the president's decision to leave so many troops there to keep fighting. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Spending $10 billion a month in this counter insurgency effort. We have spent nearly $38 billion to stand up, 290,000 Afghan security forces. It seems to me that if 290,000 Afghan security forces can't fight 20,000 Taliban fighters, 14 to 1 ratio, then we're in deeper trouble than we think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So what do you think? Number one, do the numbers sound about accurate to you? I guess the other question is just about the Afghan forces. Are they ready to do this themselves?

BRIG. GENERAL MARK KIMMIT, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Well, the numbers, if Senator Menendez says those are the correct numbers, I have no doubt they are correct.

However, I think he comes across missing a point. If every American leaves right now, there will be a security vacuum that will not be filled by the Afghan national security forces, it will be filled by the Taliban.

And all the work, the blood and treasure that has been given by our soldiers and given by this country will be for naught. We've seen that happen before. We saw after the Soviets left in '89, Taliban came in, took over, 10 years of heinous occupation.

Now, are Afghan forces ready? They are in far better shape now than they were as recently as a year and a half ago. General Bill Caldwell, a close friend of mine, has done tremendous work over there on the training side.

General Rodriguez has done a great job on the fighting side, all of them led by General Petraeus. But the training side really is our exit plan.

To be able to turn the security responsibilities over to the Afghan security forces, they are coming along, but they will still need significant American presence to help them in that training and mentoring for years to come.

JOHNS: The U.S. experience in Iraq perhaps is a little bit instructive on what happens when you turn power and control over to forces on the ground in another country like this?

KIMMITT: There's always a danger in making false comparisons, but I think that there are good comparisons between the handover the security responsibility to the Iraqi security forces and the same plan that's being presented inside of Afghanistan.

Good lessons learned in Afghanistan. Iraqi security forces clearly have security responsibility now. Let's take the time to do it right with the Afghans and we could have the same outcome.

JOHNS: Now let me get Fran Townsend in here. We heard reports that General Petraeus recommended a slower withdrawal than the president will announce. What do you think the risks are of moving too quickly here, Fran?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as you heard from Mark Kimmit and Nic, these are fragile gains. I mean, let's remember it less than a week ago, the Taliban successfully executed multiple simultaneous suicide attacks inside Kabul.

Kabul is sort of the last perimeter for coalition forces, and one that's always been closely guarded. This is a time when the Taliban will begin to test us. I think what you are hearing from the Pentagon, from General Petraeus and Secretary Gates, make the initial draw down modest.

Let us do it in a way that doesn't have us pulling forces out, but not replacing forces rotating back, do it very slowly, so it is not perceptible withdrawal in terms of what our enemies are seeing, in terms of our presence, our patrols and our ability to use force when necessary.

It will be interesting to see how when you look at the numbers that we're talking about now, 10,000 by end of the year as opposed to 3,000 to 5,000 recommended by our commanders in the field, this is double.

How will they manage that and not lose the really fragile gains that we have gotten by use of blood and treasure.

JOHNS: Great. OK. Now General, I would like to ask you the question that Chris Lawrence talked about just a little while ago, the idea of the seasons and the importance of them to people who are fighting on the ground in Afghanistan. How important are the seasons?

KIMMITT: Well, the weather is significant over there. In the high country, you can't really fight in that snow in a dramatic way. You really can't. If you're the Taliban, seize new terrain during the winter time.

You basically hunker down. So that's the time if there's going to be minor reduction, that's the best time to do it. Let's not rush to failure by speeding this too quickly.

If you try to do it too quickly, you will probably do it wrong. So I agree with Fran. Let's perhaps do the reductions in more gradual pace during the non-fighting season and there will probably be a better outcome and we will certainly set it up better for the Afghan security forces to take over.

JOHNS: General Kimmitt, Fran and Nic, thanks so much for joining us.

Now even though the president's troop announcement is getting most of the attention, there are other important stories you should know about. Next, a gloomy assessment about the U.S. economy, and the first lady gives new life to a political slogan you're probably going to recognize.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Welcome back. Here is the latest news you need to know right now.

A law enforcement official says the FBI has recovered evidence linking the man arrested in Friday's bomb scare at the Pentagon with a string of five shootings last fall at the Pentagon and other military facilities.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicts slower than expected economic growth this year and only slight decline in unemployment.

A tsunami advisory has been lifted, and no damage is reported after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck off Japan's coast about 90 minutes ago.

In South Africa today, first lady Michelle Obama encouraged women to take on the challenges of fighting poverty, hunger, HIV and AIDS, and she introduced South Africans to a phrase you'll recognize.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And if any one of you ever doubts that you can build that future, if anyone ever tells you that you shouldn't or you can't, then I want you to say with one voice, the voice of a generation, you tell them yes we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: And for how Mrs. Obama's speech went over, let's check in with CNN international correspondent Nkepile Mabuse.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe, the first lady's speech in Soweto today has received a huge reaction. Some people going as far as saying the best speech they've heard this year.

She managed to inspire. She paid tribute to those that fought for democracy in this country, but she also challenged the youth of Africa. She says this continent is facing new challenges and they need to take up the fight. She spoke about HIV, AIDS, unemployment, poverty, she said to the youth of today that the Nelson Mandelas of this world were the freedom generation. What kind of generation will they be?

She's also here to reiterate her husband's African policy. She said the United States is not happy being a helping hand for Africa, but they want to be a partner with Africa.

Now this speech comes at a crucial time on the African continent. Everywhere I go, young people are talking about being masters of their own destiny. They are sick and tired of being aid dependent, and I think Mrs. Obama was speaking their language today, Joe.

JOHNS: President Obama speaks to the nation about Afghanistan at the top of the hour.

Next, a U.S. senator who says we need to rebuild America rather than Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: As we await President Obama's speech on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, our next guest says the question the president and all of us face is quite simple -- will we choose to rebuild America or Afghanistan?

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia incurred the wrath of Senator John McCain when he asked that question on the Senate floor. But Senator Manchin had the last word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I can only speak from a sense of common sense and speaking for the people of West Virginia and what they feel. We are a very hawkish state, as you know, and we're a very patriotic state. But if 10 years is not enough, how long is enough? And I think that's the question being asked, the sacrifices are being asked by them.

And when we can't build the water lines and sewer lines in West Virginia that are needed, fix roads and repair the bridges, but yet they hear of the billions we're spending in a country that really doesn't want us there, I think it's time to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Senator Manchin joins us now.

And, Senator, thank you for joining us. Military leaders and colleagues of yours on both sides of the aisle say significant withdrawal in the short term could be disastrous to the progress of the U.S. and its allies made in Afghanistan. You said yesterday it's time to leave. You disagree with this assessment.

What makes you think that? MANCHIN: Well, I believe if we would go back and change our mission to war on terror, counterterrorism which is why we got there in the first place, the harm that was done to our country, the innocent lives that were lost, Joe, we went there and looking for those terrorists that did that, and it turned and morphed into what we have today. I don't think we should be there trying to nation build. We need to rebuild America.

We have a lot of -- a lot of needs in West Virginia, as all America does. I think we can do a much better job back home. We're facing financial challenges, and I think our war on terror should be very direct.

And I know that we can do that mission. We did it. We found Osama bin Laden. They can't hide.

We've got the greatest special op forces in the world, and they are quick, and they're mobile, and they're fluid. I think let them do their job. And we shouldn't be there trying to build a nation and place they don't want us anyway.

JOHNS: Now, is your position to just pull them all out right now? And if so, is there a risk in your view that immediate withdrawal will end up costing the United States more in the long run if we have to go back and sort of clean up the aftermath?

MANCHIN: Joe, here's the thing: I have never nor have I ever attempted to tell the military experts, the generals and all of the forces that we have so much expertise on how to do their job. I know one thing. When the civilians give the military in America the mission to be done, it's accomplished, and it would be done in the best manner that possibly could.

So, I would not advocate any of the things that would be harmful to the troops that we have and what we accomplished. But other than that, how long is enough? If 10 years is not going to get the job done, are we there to build their nation, are we there indefinitely in perpetuity?

I don't believe that we should be.

JOHNS: You know, that was quite an exchange on the Senate floor. Your original speech yesterday elicited an immediate response from Senator McCain. And let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I feel compelled to respond to the statements by the senator from West Virginia which characterized the isolationist, withdrawal, lack of knowledge of history attitude that seems to be on the rise of America. In case the senator from West Virginia forgot it, or never knew it, we withdrew from Afghanistan one time. We withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban came eventually, followed by al Qaeda, followed by attacks on the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Senator McCain really went after you. He simply called your statement uninformed on the challenges posed by al Qaeda. And the question is this: should domestic, fiscal concerns actually outweigh security risks posed by a faster withdrawal?

MANCHIN: Joe, let me say first of all -- John McCain, I am -- I am proud to serve with John McCain. He's a great American. He's made tremendous sacrifices and his service to his country is unquestioned.

With that being said, I don't have the experience he has. But what I do have like most west Virginians is a little common sense, and enough is enough, and if 10 years hasn't done it, we spent $443 billion. We're on track to spend another $485 billion.

I don't believe that the purpose or America's purpose was ever to go over and rebuild Afghanistan. You have a country that doesn't have infrastructure, that doesn't have an economy, and by all accounts has a corrupt government. That's not a country that we can rebuild or should rebuild.

JOHNS: Secretary Gates told "Newsweek" recently that scaling back U.S. engagement with the rest of the world calls our commitment into question of being a world super power. Are you comfortable in a world where the U.S. is no longer a super power?

MANCHIN: I think in order to be strong, you have to be strong within and take care of your own also. And if we're not careful, we can get ourselves in a position that we can't help the needs of Americans.

I don't want to get in that position. We are a super power, and we have been and we always will be. But we ought to direct efforts back home again.

JOHNS: Senator Manchin from West Virginia -- I thank you so much for coming in and talking to us for a few minutes. We'll be watching the speech with you tonight.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Joe.

JOHNS: President Obama hasn't made his troop withdrawal announcement yet. It is at the top of the hour. But the political fallout has already started. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: (VIDEO GAP) has already started to discuss some of the politics of the president's decision.

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, to start off, you know, over the weekend, John McCain talked about this isolationist strain that were sort of taking over the country.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

JOHNS: Maybe we can listen to a little of what he said to Dana Bash when she asked him about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I think it is war weariness on the part of all our citizens which is being reflected in our candidates. I also think it is a dislike of President Obama, which sometimes affects reviews of at least some. And I worry about it a great deal. It's always been there in our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So you know, Republicans were supposed to be the national security party, weren't they?

BORGER: Yes.

JOHNS: What happened?

BORGER: You know, this could be a seismic sort of shift in American politics. I was talking to senior White House adviser who was really emphasizing what he called the president's steadiness on foreign policy as compared to the Republicans whom he says are all over the lot.

Now, obviously, this is a Barack Obama person. But when you look at the Republican Party, you have the McCain wing, including Lindsey Graham, for example. And then you have some presidential candidates who we heard in the debate calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It used to be -- in the 2008 election, I remember Ron Paul seemed to be the odd man out when it came to foreign policy. Now, he seems to feel a little more comfortable within the Republican framework. And I'd have to say, Joe, it's really because of money issues.

You just interviewed Senator Manchin. It is all about not only people being more weary, but you have got huge debt and deficit. And people are saying, what about us back home?

JOHNS: David Gergen, let me bring you in.

Do you agree this could be a seismic shift or is it more about money and once we get out of the financial situation in the country is in, we'll go back to the way the parties were before?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I worry that it's a shift. I think, in the short term, it's very much driven by money and war weariness. But the Republican Party as you well know, Joe, was for a long time the isolationist party in the country. It did not want to go into World War II. We held back on that. It really wanted to hold back after some of the war.

Then, it became the internationalist party, and really had kept that banner up for a decade after decade, especially after Vietnam, and it is I think very concerning. You know, there was a part of that party that was also way hawkish, and I think more so than the country. They're so-called neocon.

But the party has been internationalist party. And I think it goes back on those recent traditions. I think it will be a loss for the country.

JOHNS: Gloria, I read your article today and you talk about how the White House is going to try to emphasize its consistency. But out of the country, it's sort of chaotic.

BORGER: Right. You know, the White House is going to say they gave a speech in West Point in December of 2009, that was when the surge policy was introduced. At that time -- and they got criticized for it because it was a timetable -- the president said we're going to withdraw in 18 months, if certain goals are accomplished. They say they've had some success in defeating al Qaeda, for example, killing Osama bin Laden.

So, you know, they're going to say they had the success.

But around the country, the American public and Republicans -- and this is what David is talking about, are reacting to the economic problems at home. And there are questions and I guarantee this after the president's speech tonight -- don't forget, we're still going to have 70,000 troops remaining there.

People are going to say, OK, if we have been such a success, why do we need to keep 70,000 troops there?

So, you've got lots of views on the country about this. It's hard to win on this one.

JOHNS: Sure. It's kind of interesting, too. The administration almost has to go out and say, we're not going to say "mission accomplished."

BORGER: Of course not.

JOHNS: But, David Gergen, aren't they going to have to send the message that the mission is pretty much accomplished?

GERGEN: I think, yes. I think they're going to have to say and I think they will say that the main mission was to defeat, destroy al Qaeda. And they have made very remarkable progress taking out main al Qaeda leaders. They have about a list of about 30 at the top and they have taken out about 20. So, they have made progress.

I think the surprise here -- I think Gloria is right -- there are a lot of people in the country, especially on the left, who wanted to pull out all together. On the right, there are going to be people will say, wait a minute, you know, you entrusted this to General Petraeus. You trusted Bob Gates. Those people persuaded you to put in place this surge. And now, these same people are coming back and saying we need a little more time, don't do it too fast, and you basically reject a lot of their advice. BORGER: You know, it's interesting because I think the death of Osama bin Laden that's kind of made it a little easier for the White House to meet its own timetable, because they can say we're changing from broad counter insurgency strategy to a much more narrow strategy, along the lines of how we killed Osama bin Laden.

And so, they can say that -- look, we had some success, we degraded al Qaeda, we hurt the Taliban, we helped the Afghan security forces. Now, it's time for us to go back to a narrower policy, which David points out the generals may not like, but, you know, the generals won last time around.

JOHNS: It seems like they always win, though, don't they? I mean --

BORGER: This time, I think, and I don't know what you think, but this time I think Joe Biden is actually the winner here.

GERGEN: There's no question that General Petraeus wanted to have a much slower drawdown, and that he wanted to leave basically most of the troops in place through next year, through the next fighting season, and that's not going to happen because of this.

JOHNS: All right. Great. David Gergen, Gloria Borger, thanks so much. Fascinating discussion.

We are getting closer and closer now, just minutes away from President Obama's live address to the nation on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Our own Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper joining us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Here to continue our coverage as we wait for the president's address on Afghanistan, Wolf Blitzer.