Liz Cheney's New Ad Distorts Military Leaders' Testimony To Accuse President Obama Of Not Supporting The Troops

July 12, 2011 5:41 pm ET

In a new ad attacking President Obama's timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Liz Cheney's "Keep America Safe" PAC edits testimony from General David Petraeus and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, to claim that "President Obama ignore[d] his generals' advice." In fact, both Petraeus and Mullen repeatedly indicated support for the president's drawdown schedule in their testimony, and both men described the long, deliberative and inclusive process behind the decision in terms that make the "ignore his generals" charge downright silly. The president's job as Commander in Chief is to exercise his own judgment based on the advice he receives, not to simply sign off on the recommendations of his military advisers.

"More Risk"

[President Obama clip:] "Your Commander in Chief has your back." [Narrator:] So why did President Obama ignore his generals' advice and impose a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan? [Adm. Mullen clip:] "It has more risk [snip] than I recommended." [Gen. Petraeus clip:] "A more aggressive formulation [snip] than what we had recommended." [Gen. Keane (Ret.) clip:]"He's fundamentally asking our troops to do more with less [snip] So what does that mean? That actually means more casualties." [Narrator:] Whose back does he have? Tell President Obama to put our troops before his politics. Tell him to keep America safe.

Cheney's Group Cuts Out Pieces Of Adm. Mullen's And Gen. Petraeus' Testimonies On Afghanistan Drawdown That Prove President Obama Didn't "Ignore His Generals"

Just Before The "More Risk" Quote, Adm. Mullen Said "I Think It's Well Within Reason For Us To Be Able To Do This." During Admiral Mike Mullen's June 23, 2011, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mullen had the following exchange with Rep. McKeon (portion quoted in "Keep America Safe" ad in italics):

CHAIRMAN BUCK MCKEON (R-CA): Would you term the redeployment for this summer 'aggressive'?

ADM. MULLEN: As you know, we all have to choose our words very carefully. I used 'significant' earlier. I think it is well within reason for us to be able to do this. As I said in my opening statement, it is more aggressive, and it has more risk than I was originally prepared to -- than I recommended. That said, in totality, it's within the ability to sustain the mission, focus on the objectives, and execute. [Adm. Mullen Testimony, House Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

Before And After The "More Aggressive" Quote, Gen. Petraeus Cited "Broader Considerations" From Those Above Him In The Chain Of Command That Make Decision "Understandable." From General David Petraeus' June 23, 2011, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee (portion quoted in "Keep America Safe" ad in italics):

The responsibility of a combat commander in that kind of situation is to provide options to the president to implement his stated policy, and that's what I did. Associated with each of those options was an assessment of risk, the risk being assessed in this case from my perspective, the risk having to do with the ability to achieve objectives of the military campaign plan, acknowledging that at every level of the chain of command above me, there are additional considerations, and that each person above me, all the way up to and including the president, has a broader purview and has broader considerations that are brought to bear, with the president alone in the position of evaluating all those different considerations, including certainly those of the commander on the ground, but also many others as well, in reaching his decision. [...] Now as Chairman Mullen, Admiral Mullen stated today before the House Armed Services Committee, the ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation if you will in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended. Again, that is understandable in the sense that there are broader considerations beyond just those of a military commander. The fact is that there's never been a military commander in history who has had all the forces that he would like to have, for all the time, with all the money, all the authorities, and nowadays withall the bandwidth as well. So there is always a process of assessing risk. And it is typically in a case like this as the Chairman put it today, "risk at the margin." We're talking about small differences here, albeit significant from a military commander point of view. [Gen. Petraeus Testimony, Senate Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

Elsewhere In Their Testimonies, Gen. Petraeus And Adm. Mullen Said Their Voices Were Heard And They Supported The Commander In Chief's Decision

Gen. Petraeus: "This Was Indeed Vigorous" And "All Voices Were Heard In The Situation Room." From General David Petraeus' June 23, 2011, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Madame Chairman, perhaps I could just walk through the process, because it was quite a substantial one although in a brief period of time. It included three meetings. After the first meeting I was given a homework assignment which I answered by the second meeting, and then the third meeting was the one in which the president ultimately reached a decision. [...] And so that's how I would lay out again the process that took place, the very good discussion. This was indeed vigorous. All voices were heard in the Situation Room, and ultimately the decision has been made, and with a decision made obviously I support that and will do all that I can during my remaining time as the commander of ISAF to implement it, to set up General Allen to do likewise so that we can achieve the objectives of the campaign plan, and then also if confirmed as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to do the same from that position as well. [Gen. Petraeus Testimony, Senate Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

Adm. Mullen: "The Truth Is, We Would Have Run Other Kinds Of Risks By Keeping More Forces In Afghanistan Longer." From Admiral Mike Mullen's June 23, 2011, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee:

The truth is, we would have run other kinds of risks by keeping more forces in Afghanistan longer. We would have made it easier for the Karzai administration to increase their dependency on us. We would have denied the Afghan security forces who've grown in capability opportunities to further exercise that capability and to lead. We would have signaled to the enemy and to our regional partners that the Taliban still possess strength enough to warrant the full measure of our presence. They do not.  We would have also continued to limit our own freedom of action there and in other places around the world, globally. The president's decision to allow us to reset our forces more quickly as well as to reduce the not inconsiderable cost of deploying those forces. In sum, we have earned this opportunity. Though not without risk, it is not without its rewards. And so, we will take that risk, and we will reap those rewards. [Adm. Mullen Testimony, House Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

Adm. Mullen: "The Commander In Chief Presided Over An Inclusive And Comprehensive Discussion About What To Do Next." From Admiral Mike Mullen's June 23, 2011, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee:

The Commander in Chief presided over an inclusive and comprehensive discussion about what to do next, and I am grateful for that. And I can tell you that foremost on everyone's mind throughout the discussion was preserving the success our troops and their civilian counterparts have achieved thus far. We believed, back when the strategy was established in December 2009, that it would be about now, this summer, before we could determine whether we had it right. Whether the resources were enough and the COIN focus was appropriate. Well now we know. We did have it right. The strategy is working. Al Qaeda is on its heels and the Taliban's momentum in the south has been checked. We've made extraordinary progress against the mission we've been assigned and are now therefore in a position to begin responsible transition out of Afghanistan. [Adm. Mullen Testimony, House Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

As Commander In Chief, The President's Job Is Not To Simply Do Exactly What The Generals Say — Presidents Exercise Their Own Judgment

Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.): "The Commander In Chief Hears What The Generals Have To Say And Their Advice, But The Commander In Chief Decides." In an interview on Countdown, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.) said: "In defense of soldiers, no soldier ever had enough of anything. We all wanted more soldiers, more ammunition, more vehicles, more tanks. It's normal. With additional soldiers, you buy down risk. The civilian leadership of the armed forces give us our missions, and we negotiate the resources to execute those missions. So there is a natural tendency to want to husband the resources to prosecute the mission. So this is a negotiation. The Commander in Chief hears what the generals have to say and their advice, but the Commander in Chief decides. And the generals will execute, and they'll do a great job of it." [Countdown, 6/21/11, via YouTube]

National Security Expert: "A President Is Supposed To Get The Best Advice From His Generals And Then Make Up His Own Mind." From Yahoo! News: "'A president is supposed to get the best advice from his generals and then make up his own mind. That is what we have presidents for,' said Heather Hurlburt, a former Clinton administration official who now serves as executive director of the progressive National Security Network. 'But it's very difficult: the president has to listen to the advice of the generals, [but also] to the level of fatigue of the American people [with the war], and a whole lot of other things.'" [Yahoo! News, 6/22/11, emphasis added]

Gen. Petraeus: "At Every Level Of The Chain Of Command Above Me There Are Additional Considerations" And The President Is The Top Of That Chain. From General David Petraeus' June 23, 2011, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

The responsibility of a combat commander in that kind of situation is to provide options to the president to implement his stated policy, and that's what I did. Associated with each of those options was an assessment of risk, the risk being assessed in this case from my perspective, the risk having to do with the ability to achieve objectives of the military campaign plan, acknowledging that at every level of the chain of command above me, there are additional considerations, and that each person above me, all the way up to and including the president, has a broader purview and has broader considerations that are brought to bear, with the president alone in the position of evaluating all those different considerations, including certainly those of the commander on the ground, but also many others as well, in reaching his decision. I provided such options. I provided assessments of risk. I provided recommendations. We discussed all of this, again, at considerable length. The president then made a decision, the Commander in Chief has decided, and it is then the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and to do everything humanly possible to execute it. [Gen. Petraeus Testimony, Senate Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

Adm. Mullen: "Only The President, In The End, Can Really Determine The Acceptable Level Of Risk We Must Take." From Admiral Mike Mullen's June 23, 2011, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee: "More force for more time is without doubt the safer course. But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so." [Adm. Mullen Testimony, House Armed Services Committee, 6/23/11]

Print