Return to Transcripts main page
Trump Delivers Speech on Afghanistan Policy. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 22, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our troops will fight to win. Conditions on the ground will guide our strategy.
[05:59:30] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm very pleased with this plan, and I am very proud of my president.
TRUMP: Victory will have a clear definition. Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Obama's strategy 2.0. Just some nibbling around the edges.
TRUMP: There is no room for bigotry and no tolerance for hate.
SEN. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do believe that he messed up on Tuesday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump's aides hoping he won't veer off message at a campaign rally in Arizona tonight.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: You're going to go to Phoenix and make a speech, fine. Say something that's going to bring people together.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday August 22, 6 a.m. here in New York, and here is the starting line.
President Trump reversing course, recommitting the United States to the war in Afghanistan, and offering few details, certainly, about any exit. The president did not say how many more American troops will be deployed or how success will be measured.
President Trump also attempted to clean up his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, without actually mentioning the city by name.
Now a new national poll shows the problem. Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of how the president handled the aftermath.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And House Speaker Paul Ryan is one of those. In a CNN town hall last night, Ryan says the president, quote, "messed up" his Charlottesville response and needs to provide the American people with moral clarity.
All this as President Trump heads back on the campaign trail tonight with a rally in Arizona. Many are watching to see if his message to supporters will change when he's not and the Teleprompter.
So let's begin our coverage with CNN's Athena Jones. She is live at the White House. Give us all the latest, Athena.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
It was a long-awaited new strategy, delivered in a speech that was long on broad themes but short on specifics. The president emphasized the importance of a regional approach to fighting terror groups. He insisted that he would not lay out a specific U.S. timetable for its commitment to the country, and he said that eventually the U.S. would win the fight.
But he didn't lay out details on troop levels, and he didn't explain how this new strategy, which borrows heavily from previous ones, would help ensure a victory that has eluded this country for 16 years.
TRUMP: The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable.
JONES (voice-over): President Trump recommitting the United States to the nearly 16-year war in Afghanistan, despite repeatedly calling for America to pull out of the conflict entirely.
TRUMP: It's a total and complete disaster, and I'd like to see money spent on this country.
At some point are they going to be there for the next 200 years? You know, at some point what's going on? It's going to be a long time.
JONES: The president acknowledging this change of heart on Monday.
TRUMP: My original instinct was to pull out, and historically, I like following my instincts, but all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. However, our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.
JONES: President Trump vowing to build up America's military presence in the region but refusing to offer specifics.
TRUMP: We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.
JONES: the commander in chief criticizing his predecessor while pledging to roll back Obama-era restrictions on military engagement.
TRUMP: Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles.
JONES: But certain key components of President Trump's strategy largely echoing the previous administration.
TRUMP: We are not nation building again.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have no interest in occupying your country.
TRUMP: Perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
OBAMA: We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandoned violence.
TRUMP: Pakistan often gives safe haven to ages of chaos.
OBAMA: This same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan.
TRUMP: The initial response of Republicans to the address largely positive.
RYAN: I'm pleased with the decision. We cannot allow another safe haven for terrorists to materialize again.
JONES: While Democratic leaders criticize the president for declaring an open-ended commitment to America's longest war. The commander in chief used the beginning of his speech to call for unity, a belated attempt to address the damage caused by his unwillingness to immediately condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.
JONES: His tone a stunning departure from his language just six days ago, which drew widespread condemnation.
RYAN: I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday when it sounded like a moral equivocation or, at the very least, moral ambiguity when we need extreme moral clarity.
We'll be watching to see if the president's gentler tone focus on unity continues at the rally tonight in Arizona. We know that Vice President Mike Pence will be joining him on that stage, but the state's Republican governor and two Republican senators, both of whom have been frequent critics of the president, won't be there -- Alisyn, Chris.
Athena, thank you very much for all of that. Let's talk about all of this. We want to bring in our CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza and CNN political analysts John Avlon, and Karoun Demirjian. Great to see all of you.
John Avlon, so the speech, you know, look, it's very hard to define what success would look like. He didn't spell out benchmarks, and he also didn't say how many troops will be going, how many more will be going to Afghanistan. Do the Americans deserve to know those numbers?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is probably the first time in American history we've had an announcement about troop increases without making specifically clear what those troop increases are. We've got maximum promises but uncertain details. I think the clear consistency of the speech, and I think what some some folks on the right applauded, certainly not his base, which I think feels betrayed, but Lindsey Graham and others, is that he's basically delegating the details to the military, and he's expanding, to some extent, the theater to Pakistan, recognizing the Haqqani network.
So he's basically saying, look, gloves are off. You guys, troop levels and time line is deferring to the military. That's a clear departure from his policy in the past, but it's also very murky for the American people.
CUOMO: Well, it's murky by nature, though, but it is not hard to describe what you want as success in any situation. we've done it many times. The problem with Afghanistan it's called the graveyard of empires for a reason. Anybody who has been there will tell you what the main problem is and it wasn't addressed in that speech last night, and it's not addressing with the military really feels, which is what do you do about corruption and how do you get that government to deliver the services to the people that they need so that they don't need the Taliban. He didn't address that last night, because it's too hard to do.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very hard to do, and he didn't address even what the success measure is for something less -- excuse me, less than that. He talked about everlasting peace. He talked about getting rid of all the terrorists. He also talked about making economic commitments. He did not actually challenge the Afghan government except for that part at the end to say we expect to see something. It's not a blank check. He didn't specifically say what he was expecting from the Afghan government either. So you've got a system of basically throwing out all these things that, you know, we're going to commit ourselves diplomatically, economically and military, but it's not nation building.
CUOMO: The old Donald Trump would have rejected every one of the points of this plan.
DEMIRJIAN: The doctrine of principled realism, which just basically means when things change strategy, that's what that is. Which is what he has done, campaign, because he had to, but it doesn't tell us what the benchmarks are that we're aiming for or where we're going or how we get there, even. If that's troubling, it may be realistic, but that's troubling for the troops. It's troubling for the country. It's troubling for a lot of people.
But look, we know it's an escalation of some kind. We know that Mattis and McMaster feel very invested in Afghanistan. McMaster worked in anti-corruption efforts in particular. But you know, this was a speech containing multitudes of contradictory phrases. I mean, they all sounded good on their own. But when you added them up it was pretty incoherent. We know the broad direction. The details are utterly unclear.
CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, here are some of the things that we know, in terms of the broad direction. So let me put them up for you and our viewers. No timetable for withdrawal, no specific troop increase. Our numbers suggest, our sources suggest 4,000. The president did not say that last night. The plan is to obliterate ISIS, reduce Taliban's influence, target terrorist networks, strengthen the Afghan security forces, and pressure Pakistan to fight terror. What did you hear?
Honestly, a speech about troop withdrawals -- troop increases and time lines that had neither details of troop increases or time lines. I actually think Donald Trump used that speech last night in the prime- time format of it to try to make right the damage done from Charlottesville.
I thought the first five minutes of the speech, in terms of what he was trying to do, was by far the most important. Some of the quotes coming out of Donald Trump, love means love for all of us, talking about an injury done to one is an injury done to all. Anyone who suffers an injustice means we all suffer an injustice. Those are not typical Donald Trump lines.
To me, that was a clear attempt to apologize for Charlottesville without apologizing for Charlottesville, because Donald Trump is not going to be apologizing for anything. Everything else, it seems to me we were covering a speech about things that he didn't speak. So, you know, the Charlottesville stuff, I thought, was quite important.
The rest was just sort of, you know, well I'm going to give a speech about Afghanistan and our next steps forward. As Karoun and John have rightly pointed out there's no details of that. The only thing I think I take away is that he knows he screwed up in Charlottesville. He is at least being told he needs to try to make it right, and that's what that was last night.
Now, a campaign rally is a whole different animal.
CILLIZZA: I'm not sure he stays on track with that. If Donald Trump's past is prologue, that was a one-off for the duration of that speech, a call for unity.
AVLON: I'm going to try not to be so cynical as to suggest the whole speech was a wag the dog. It's too important to simply be done to distract from Charlottesville. The opening of the speech was very well-written. But again, you've got this stark dichotomy between Teleprompter Trump, and Twitter Trump, and then there's town hall Trump. And that's what we're going to see.
CUOMO: Moral agency is about what comes out of you at your core, OK? It doesn't matter how you say it. You don't have to be articulate. You just have to mean it. And the problem is, you can have an eloquently spoken word, as we saw at the top of this speech last night; but it doesn't mean that people are going to believe especially when it has been contradicted time and time again. DEMIRJIAN: Also, which people, which audience? Determine which one
you're talking about. Was there an audience of the country that needed to hear something on Charlottesville, is he talking to the troops who need to hear a strategy? Is he talking to the world in Afghanistan who needs to figure out are we going to stay or are we going to go? Is he sending out messages to Pakistan and say, "We're going to get touch on you but then actually make a, you know, talk to India, too, and kind of, you know, that there's a conflict there.
CUOMO: He has the same problem that each one of those are, which is that he has said something opposite. He spent years saying, you know, Pakistan, stay out of there. You've been giving them lots of money. They do nothing for you. Afghanistan, get out. Give me a date certain. When Obama said he was getting out it was one of the few times that Donald Trump said, "I like what the president's saying." And on Charlottesville, we know what he really believes. He made it clear. He looked at the media and the nation in the eye and said, "I know it's true, and you know it's true but only one of us wants to admit it." That's his truth.
CILLIZZA: Sorry, go ahead.
DEMIRJIAN: In the speech basically, you're right, absolutely, how he addressed all these things but in so doing leaves everything a little bit more muddled, a little bit more confused about where it's going and where he stands.
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Chris.
CILLIZZA: I was just going to say, it's not just Charlottesville. I mean, look at his comments, you know, in the past regarding Barack Obama and birtherism, for example. I mean, there's a lot of bridge under the Donald Trump racially coded, not all that racially coded language bridge. You know, and a lot of water under the Donald Trump as divider for political reasons, not uniter bridge.
It's just hard to say -- for Donald Trump to say, "Look, we need to love one another." I think he's right. It's just, is he a credible messenger, given everything he's said and, given the fact that, if you were in Las Vegas and you could bet on things like this, the odds would be in the favor of Donald Trump being more confrontational, more fiery, rhetorically, far less of a uniter in a speech tonight because he's at a campaign rally.
CAMEROTA: Well, listen, everyone. Stick around, OK, because in our 8 a.m. hour, we have another one of our voter panels of diehard President Trump supporters and how they feel about it. Also, we have Nikki Haley coming up, of course, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. She's going to be here to talk about the president's Afghanistan strategy. Maybe she can put a few more details into this.
CUOMO: Right. We have big polls now that show that the president needs to be speaking, not to that little shrinking core but this huge group that we don't talk to the same way, that are against what he said. So as we mentioned, President Trump is trying to circle back, clean up
the mess. It's his mess from Charlottesville. He fanned the flames of hate. There was plenty of opportunity to say the right things coming out of it. He just didn't. Speaker Paul Ryan had strong reaction. Does he own the mantle of authority in moral agency? Judge for yourself, when we come back.
[06:18:49] CUOMO: All right, if you didn't watch the speech last night, and you're going to listen to some sound this morning, it's really the top of the speech that you want to listen to, because everything else gets muddy after that. The top of the speech was the president trying to deal with his response to Charlottesville. The president did not mention the city explicitly, but he made numerous references to diversity, peace, especially in the military. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other. As we send our bravest to defeat our enemies overseas, and we will always win, let us find the courage to heal our divisions within.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Now, you saw the president there locked on the Teleprompter, those words were the right words. Are they his words?
Let's bring back the panel: Chris Cillizza, John Avlon, Karoun Demirjian.
Chris Cillizza, you were making this point in the last segment. Let's get some meat on the bones of it here. There is no question that the top of that speech, contextually, was not necessary to sell the plan in Afghanistan.
CILLIZZA: Not at all.
CUOMO: But obviously, somebody has gotten to the president and say we know that you doubled and tripled down, but you are wrong and people aren't with you and you can't draw moral equivalence between the KKK and people fighting against them. So let's do this, and he did it last night. What's its net effect?
CILLIZZA: Well, look, Donald Trump is a believer mostly in polling, and a poll came out yesterday, "The Washington Post"/ABC News, that had his approval in the way he handled Charlottesville at 28 percent and the disapproval at 56 percent. Man, your graphics people are good.
So the point here being, it is pretty clear how it went over, no matter what Donald Trump thinks. And these were words that he said. Now, are they words that he believes? His candidacy in the first six months of his presidency would not bear out that Donald Trump is the "what's so funny about peace, love, and understanding" candidate, right? He is someone who has really focused heavily on what divides us, the bad state of the country, remember? The American dream is dead, folks.
So words you read versus words you say in a non-formal speech setting are different. It seems to me based on Saturday, August 12, when Charlottesville happened, then the response on Tuesday in that back- and-forth that we have a pretty strong sense of where Donald Trump is coming from us.
AVLON: This is terribly complicated. I appreciate the Elvis Costello reference, by the way, but this is not terribly complicated. You know, as a former speechwriter, you know, you can get the words, you know, just crystal-clear right, and there was a strong lead to the speech but, of course, it doesn't represent what Donald Trump truly believes. It's not weird to say off the cuff. So I mean, let's put that conversation on the shelf. It's done.
DEMIRJIAN: Well, tonight he's going to talk also, right, and so this has been his pattern, is to be on his message one day and then the next day not be on message quite so much. And so if he's going to undercut what he said, it's probably going to be at the rally. And if it's not, then maybe he actually said, OK, let's just end this now.
CAMEROTA: Here's what White House speaker Paul Ryan said last night in the town hall meeting about how he interpreted the president's response in Charlottesville, which was not good. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: So I do believe that he messed up in his comments on Tuesday, when it sounded like a moral equivocation or, at the very least, moral ambiguity, when we need extreme moral clarity.
Let me just back up and make one or two other points. It should not be about the president. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. This shouldn't be about some voting Congress or some partisan issue. This is so much more important than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: So where was he? If it's all true, what you just heard from Speaker Ryan, Karoun Demirjian, where was he last week, you know, with his kind of non-committal tweet about it? Where was that sense of clarity? Where was this sense of leadership? If it's so much more important than just sticking to the politics of getting your agenda through and backing the president, because he's the best you've got within your party. Where was he last week when we needed him?
DEMIRJIAN: He was not as far forward as other members of his party were, who were stepping out and making very bold statements like Senator Tim Scott, like others who were saying Mr. President, this is not good enough. And but this is what Paul Ryan does. I mean, he does not seek out the limelight in moments like this. It
was -- it was fortuitous, I guess, you had the town hall scheduled right after the president's comments. Because otherwise, we'd expect to hear from him. At least 24 hours and then usually, how it goes is when Congress is in session, reporters will ask him questions at his weekly briefings. And he will be like, why are you asking me to answer for the president all the time? I'm trying to govern in Congress. And it ends up being this pattern over and over and over again that he doesn't usually step out front.
AVLON: No, and look -- look, he answered questions, tough from the audience last night, forthrightly. And he deserves credit for that, but he does not deserve credit for that answer, and here's why.
What he's trying to do is say, look, talking to about what the president said directly, while it may have been less than ideal, that conversation and directing at the president demeans the whole moral conversation we've had as Americans by making it partisan, by directing the criticism at the president or the Republican base.
That ignores the facts of what happened and what we need to actually deal with to talk about the problem, just so it's great to try to raise yourself above the partisan fray, but it doesn't comport with the reality of the situation, because that's because politically, it's uncomfortable for him to do so.
DEMIRJIAN: That's also a pattern, right? Is when the president makes a conversation we blame the media, whether it's Russia, whether it's Charlottesville, you know, when the GOP is having a conversation within itself about whether something is right or wrong, it's easier to blame the media or other people.
CAMEROTA: So Chris, tonight the president goes to Arizona for a campaign-style rally. Obviously, he won't be using Teleprompter. This is where he, you know, feels he's in his element. Obviously, it will be a different message.
Interestingly, the top Arizona officials in Congress and the governor will not be at that rally. They have different excuses. The governor says that -- something about for public safety. He's focused on public safety somehow, so that he doesn't want to get in the way of that. But is that notable that they're skipping this?
CILLIZZA: Yes, of course. He's president of the United States. And look, frankly, Donald Trump has clashed with both John McCain and Jeff Flake, the two senators from the state very publicly.
Arizona is a fascinating political state. It has a very conservative element. Obviously, the immigration bill where you could stop people and ask if you could see their paperwork, came out of that state legislature, one of the most conservative in the country. It is also a state that is heavily Hispanic now and growing in that direction.
So you have a very bifurcated electorate there. Still tingeing Republican. Trump won it by 3.5 points. I'm skeptical that the Donald Trump we saw from Ft. Myer on Monday night is anywhere within the known universe of the Donald Trump we will see at a campaign rally tonight.
[06:25:29] CUOMO: He knows that, right? He knows what the expectations are.
CILLIZZA: He does. But that's never stopped him before.
CUOMO: But he knows that last night wasn't the test. Tonight is the test. If he comes out and echoes what he says last night, if he can go so far as to say, "Here's what I said, and here's what I need to say right now." It could be a big night for him.
AVLON: Will you put money on that, Chris Cuomo?
CILLIZZA: It absolutely could be. It absolutely could be, Chris. I would just say that if everything that is -- it would have to be a break with everything we know about who he is as a politician.
AVLON: I agree.
CILLIZZA: Doesn't mean it's impossible, just means it's unlikely.
CUOMO: Which way, though? I'll put money that tonight may be the night that the president doubles down on doing the right thing, not just backing himself up, but that he's had enough of the beating he gets when he doubles down the wrong way. Tonight will be the night.
AVLON: I will gladly give you a fiver onset tonight if he does that.
CAMEROTA: We look forward to seeing what happened tonight and tomorrow. Thank you very much, panel.
Meanwhile, other stories that we're following. Divers are searching through the hull of the USS John McCain, looking for ten missing sailors after that collision at sea. We have a live update for you next.