The Rachel Maddow Show | January 07, 2013
>> hour. president obama announced on mayday, on may 1st a couple of years ago that osama bin laden had been killed. the president said he had approved a covert mission inside pakistan that resulted in the death of the founder and later of al qaeda , the group that attacked us on september 11th , 2001 , which led congress to pass the authorization for use of military force , which has justified the 12 years of war that have followed ever since. so the announcement that bin laden was dead on may 21st -- excuse me, on may 1st , 2010 , may 1st , 2010 . two days later, two days later on may 3rd , 2010 , two days after that announcement, retired senator chuck hagel gave an interview to his hometown paper in lincoln, nebraska "the journal star". he told the paper should reassure america and the world that america is still a leader, and we can and will get the job done. he said, quote, that is very important for the world to realize. more the point, though, chuck hagel then said, "well, now that we've killed osama bin laden , let's leave afghanistan ." he said that the pursuit of bin laden and al qaeda was, quote, the reason we invaded afghanistan ten years ago. now that bin laden was dead, the president he said has to, quote, start heading toward the exits. he said, "i believe the president will come up with a cogent way to disengage. we need to start winding this down. ." he said the taliban and al qaeda are two different elements. if we stay after killing bin laden , we have lost our purpose. he said the worst thing we can do is get bogged down without getting out. it wasn't that long ago, but it was interesting to look back a year and eight months ago to when bin laden was killed. i mean, at the time, anybody else think that maybe that would have meant we would come home from afghanistan ? it seemed like one of the real possibilities that opened up with that almost unbelievable news on that cold night in may. but we did not leave afghanistan after this happened. this was roughly 600 days ago. we've got another 700 days ahead of us before the white house says this war will officially end, near hi two years from now. but how many american troops are left there between now and then? and what are those troops expected to do? how much fighting are they going to be doing? how much of our 11 and a half yearlong war is going to continue to result in americans getting hurt and killed between now and then? all of that remains to be decided. what is going to happen in afghanistan this year and next year remains to be decided. and a lot of it is being decided right now. and some of it is being decided in a very unexpected place. i present to you le chateau delatour. it's not just some ponsi place in the midwest that put on a french name to sound fancy. this is a place in france. it's located about 40 miles outside paris in a place called chantilly. it apparently has fine dining and live music . they have a pool table in the bar where you can play billiard anglais. you can also get hot stone massages. and here is the entrance sign for the hotel driveway. you see the little arrow there on the right? those two guys who look like they're wearing matching ski jackets from an old olympics opening ceremony, those are actually the french police . and they are guarding the chateau delatour because the taliban is there. the taliban is at the chateau delatour, i should be clear, because they were invited. see, technically what our troops are doing in afghanistan is supporting what is supposed to be the afghan government 's war against the taliban . and representatives from the afghan government and the taliban spent last month at this hotel in chantilly, france, talking about peace, talking about how the war ends from their perspective. because when our war is over , over there, they of course will still live there with each other. you do have to kind of wonder, this is from the front page of the website from the hotel, if the taliban like went to the website when they found where the talks were going to be. you have to wonder what they thought about the hot stone massage iconography. regardless, the taliban is at the table, maybe even at the massage table. the various afghan sides are talking to each other about the end of the american part of the war and what it means for them. president obama listed ending the afghanistan war first on the list of -- on his list of priorities for the things he is going to work on post fiscal cliff at this new start of his second term. the outgoing commanding general for the u.s. in afghanistan , general allen, the other guy whose e-mails are being investigated in connect with the sex scandal that caused general petraeus to resign, general allen, his outgoing recommendation as he leaves as commanding general of the war in afghanistan of course we should leave tens of thousands of americans there as long as possible until we finally have to leave at the end of 2014 , and then we should leave tens of thousands of americans there even thereafter. naturally that is his recommendation. when is the last time a general asked to please have fewer resources to work with. but however many americans get left in afghanistan in some training capacity in the long run after the end of 2014 , after combat operations are over, however many people are going to be around in some capacity doing work other than fighting a war, once the war fighting is over, how quickly we scale down to that number, which means how many of our fellow americans might die or get hurt in that war between now and then? that decision is being made right now. this is a live policy decision that the president is mulling right now in washington. on friday of this week he is scheduled to meet in person with the president of afghanistan , with hamid karzai . he is on his way to washington already before his friday meeting with the president, mr. karzai gets the privilege of one of the only in-person meetings that secretary of state hillary clinton is taking all this week after she returned to the office this week following her very scary concussion and blood clot. of course, the job of replacing hillary clinton as secretary of state had looked early on like it was going to go to this woman, a current ambassador to the united nation , susan rice . susan rice is a long-time friend and ally of the president whose name was floated very early on as a favorite for secretary of state. ultimately, though, before anybody was nominated for the position, the white house sort of backed down from the prospect of nominating her. they allowed her to take her name out of the running when republicans attacked her for the grave, grave crime of saying something wrong on sunday morning talk shows . something that by the way turned out to be mostly correct. but never mind, they criticized her anyway, and the white house did not back her up in the face of that criticism, and her name was removed from consideration. now, faced with another high profile nominee who has attracted loud republican nomination, this time it appears the white house is not backing down. this time president obama has officially nominated chuck hagel to be secretary of defense as of today. interestingly, another potential nominee for a big high profile national security job for this white house who president obama reportedly initially wanted, but who also backed off from was this guy, john brennan . this was john brennan with president obama when president obama first took office. john brennan was reportedly president obama 's choice to lead the cia after he first became president in his first term. john brennan had been a career cia figure. he had served as chief of staff to george tenet when george tenet under george bush developed their torture and secret prison program. john brennan 's association with the torture and secret prison program of the george bush era of the cia is what sunk his chances for being picked as director of the cia at the start of the obama presidency. it's kind of weird. it's almost a con foreign concept in american modern politics that the left might block something from happening, but it's true. liberals thought obama stopping the torture program wasn't enough. that people tarred by association with that program should not be promoted, that there should be political accountability for people who were close to the torture policy. liberals raised enough noise about john brennan 's potential nomination to run the cia in 2008 and 2009 that it never happened. at least it never happened in the first obama term. now it is happening in the second obama term. now apparently with the official nomination of john brennan to lead the cia today, now apparently we know that the white house has decided to go for it. yes, the secret prisons are closed, and yes, this president outlawed torture. but i think the administration's calculation is that the political statute of limitations on john brennan 's liability for being associated with the torture and secret prison policies under the previous president, that statute of limitations means that it's not enough to keep him from the incredibly powerful job of cia director in the president's second term. because president obama signed that executive order against torture, and because he did not reopen the secret cia prisons, and because he has been trying to shut down guantanamo, even though he has not been able to, because even if the idea of american troops flying covertly into a supposed allied country and killing somebody on the ground there and taking his body away with them when they left, even though that might not appeal to most civil libertarian minded americans , the fact that the dead dude in question for that particular scenario for us as a country was osama bin laden has pretty much neutered any concerns about how exactly that went down. because of all those things, the big picture is that the most controversial national security elements of this administration are two. the first one is using drone strikes to kill people not in war zones. the controversial expansion of drone power so that it is used frequently in nonwar zones to kill people who aren't on any active battlefield after a kill list process that the white house describes very much like due process , but nobody else would ever describe as due process that is one of the two most controversial elements of the national security legacy of the obama administration thus far. john brennan has thus far during the obama presidency been the most visible face of that policy. when the obama administration decided just this past year that for the first time they were going to admit to the fact that they do this, instead of just allowing it to be reported while they never confirmed it, it was john brennan they had give that speech. he is the man who has been the face of the u.s. government basically outfitting a second air force outside the u.s. military to kill people around the world without the chain of command and authority and political responsibility that we expect from the u.s. military . if there were any doubts about how president obama feels as part of his legacy, about whether president obama was going to be shy about that being a central part of his national security legacy as president, those doubts would presumably be laid to rest today when he nominated john brennan to be head of the cia , offering this big promotion to the man who more than anybody else in government stands for that drone policy. the second most controversial element of the obama national security agenda, of course, has been the fact that he tripled down on the war in afghanistan . now this was not a surprise. he said he was going to do it before he got elected. once he got elected, he did it. he tripled the number of troops there, and he put this long, long end date on when the war was going to end, at the end of 2014 , even after killing osama bin laden when guys like chuck hagel were saying okay, osama bin laden is dead. can we go now? we have not gone. and there is potentially another two years of it not ending ahead of us. by picking chuck hagel as defense secretary today, yes, the president has picked a political fight, although probably it's one that he can win. but by picking john brennan and chuck hagel together today, the president has made a complicated but emphatic statement about national security and how he intends to be remembered. and how he intends to either keep fighting or bringing americans home from the fighting after 12 long years over the course of this second presidential term. joining us now is andrea mitchell . she is nbc's chief foreign affairs correspondent. andrea, thanks for being here. i appreciate you taking the time.
>> thank you. happy new year. i haven't seen you since the new year.
>> thank you. why was john brennan too hot a political potato in 2009 , but he is not too hot now?
>> you know, i've been thinking than question. and certainly the president had to be much more careful coming into office about his base and about his campaign promises. and i think once you inhabit that seat at the head of the table in the situation room , and you are responsible for fighting terrorism, and you take on that commander in chief mantle, your perspective changes. and clearly it did for barack obama . we see that. i think the two sides of his brain are really -- his foreign policy brain are really being exercised in these two nominations today, because you have chuck hagel , which is the barack obama who as a state senator had established his bona fides as someone against the iraq war , and also against expansion i military engagement overseas. and that is chuck hagel . and the other side of that he has also been slower to fight the good fight some would say from his base perspective of shutting down guantanamo. he has made compromises. and he has also signed some of the defense authorization and the reauthorization acts which many civil libertarians find offensive.
>> one of the interesting things about brennan is his comments about political controversies that have happened while he was in office. divert pretty strongly from what has happened as policy around him. he said at the time he withdrew his name from consideration in 2009 he wanted to be known as somebody who was against the iraq war , known as somebody who was against torture, enhanced techniques, specifically against water boarding. he said recently he is against the shifting of military power to the cia , treating cia effectively as an air force . he says a lot of the drone strikes should be carried out by the military, under traditional military authority so we're not doing this exotic extra legal stuff. those policies that he says he favors haven't been enacted by him. and he doesn't seem to argue for them publicly in a way that makes them happen. how should we interpret that as he is being considered for this big job now?
>> i'm not exactly sure how that is going to evolve, because the cia clearly has been running the drone war. has taken on more and more of the apparatus and the policies and decision-making that formally had been with the pentagon. and it has been a cia mission, as you know, in large parts of pakistan and yemen and other places. so seeing how john brennan now in his new perch, if he is confirmed, and he was a career, 25-year career person at the cia and today they are welcoming him home if he gets confirmed, it's going to be very interesting to see how he decides to rebalance that, and whether he does move it back to the pentagon.
>> so much attention on the haguele side of this has been paid to the relative handful of republican senators who have been complaining about chuck hagel and the conservative media figures who have been complaining. this one of the things where we're getting a squeaky wheel getting a lot of the attention? my thoughts about chuck hagel is he a consummate beltway choice. even if he does have his loud republican critics. what is your sense of the magnitude of the opposition to him?
>> well, it's always very hard to predict when the opposition is going to achieve critical mass . he has extraordinarily deep roots, as you point out, within the beltway. and also without, outside the beltway. and in the military circles and retired diplomatic circles. really deep connection to the brent scowcrofts and the colin powells and the more moderate wing of the republican party . and what was really clear today, rachel, is these two nominations were really close personal friends and colleagues. and intellectual soul mates if you will of barack obama . he really felt good about these two nominations. this is not a team of rivals. these are the people he likes being around. these are his friends. and it was personal and it was a happy day for him, i thought. remember that when john kerry was nominated on a friday hastily in the roosevelt room , kerry was not even invited to say a word at the microphone. and there was no acknowledgment really of john kerry other than a quick statement from the president, and then out. and today everyone had his turn, even those who, frankly, had not been nominated. mike morel, the activing director of the cia had been passed over. and he had his opportunity. and leon panetta was given a very nice moment there, a platform. so this was a very expansive moment. they feel that they wanted to make a big deal out of this thing today. they're hoping that he is easily confirmed, but you never know. you remember the john tower nomination. you never know when one little thing will take off and reach critical mass . he does not have a ringing endorsement at all from many democrats, including chuck schumer . there are a lot of disparate groups including some in the guy community who are waiting to see. i interviewed tammy baldwin today, and the new openly gay senator said she has a lot of questions that she wants to ask. oso the wisconsin democrat is going to ask some questions as well.
>> this is going to be a fascinating process to watch. what you're talking about there, that sort of nonexplicit endorsement offered by the president's warmth towards these nominees is itself a form of endorsement saying listen, if you get him, he is going to be effective because he'll have my ear because he is my friend. it's fascinating dynamics at times like this. andrea mitchell , thank you as always.
>> you bet.
>> talking about tammy baldwin there, one of the things that has been interesting to watch with the chuck hagel nomination in particular, a lot of the criticism you might expect from the left toward chuck hagel has been silenced or has at least gotten a little bit quieter as the criticism from the right has gotten louder. we are in an enemy of my enemy kind of moment right now, which makes for some kind of bad strategic thinking . that's