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Couric Relies on Albright to Blame Obama's Afghanistan Conundrum on Bush

On Monday's CBS Evening News, Katie Couric delivered a "How We Got Here" review of Afghanistan after eight years of U.S. troops on the ground, culminating with Couric conveying as fact - based on the view of Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright - the relatively simplistic liberal critique of how Iraq distracted the U.S. from the more important battle in Afghanistan.

"With Hamid Karzai in place as the interim leader of Afghanistan, the drum beat of war moved west to Iraq," Couric recalled in using the loaded "drum beat of war" language, leading into Albright's scolding of former President Bush: "The problem was that he took his eye off the ball and linked two things that didn't go together, which is al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and so things got much worse." Couric pounded home the point: "By October of 2006, there were 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and just 21,000 in Afghanistan."

Viewers then heard corroboration from John Nagle, President of the liberal-leaning Center for a New American Security where Albright sits on the Board of Directors. Nagle asserted: "We gave the Taliban time to re-group, chased them out of Afghanistan, they re-grouped in Pakistan and now the years of neglect are coming back to haunt us." Couric concluded with how President Obama is following through on his pledge to fix the misjudgment: "Making good on a campaign promise, President Obama called for a troop increase in Afghanistan, bringing the number of U.S. forces there to a record 68,000."

CBS devoted its entire Monday newscast (with more coming over the next two nights) to "Afghanistan: The Road Ahead."

Not considered in the Couric/Albright/Nagle history lesson: The paltry troop commitments to Afghanistan from NATO countries with no or virtually no troops in Iraq and whether fewer U.S. troops in Iraq would have led to more in Afghanistan, or more stateside given public perception (and reality for a long while) that the Taliban had been defeated in Afghanistan.

And if Obama rejects General Stanley McChrystal's recommendation for more troops, doesn't that undermine - if you assume Obama is wiser than Bush - the premise a massive, Iraq-like troop presence is the key to fixing Afghanistan?

Couric's only expert source, the Center for a New American Security, has some Republicans in its ranks, but is overseen by Chairman of the Board Richard Danzig, Navy Secretary during the Clinton administration who held a political slot at the Pentagon during the Carter years; and Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Fick, whose bio reports he "spoke at Denver's Invesco Field at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and later served on the Presidential Transition Team at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs."

From the Monday, October 5 CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: In a break with his predecessor, President Obama has called Afghanistan - not Iraq - the central front in the war on terror. And back in the spring, he announce there had would be a new strategy. He'll be holding another meeting about that with his war council this Wednesday. One key question, whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan where 869 Americans have been killed in eight years of war. A war that began with a terrorist attack on America and a vow to hunt down those responsible.

PRESIDENT BUSH AT GROUND ZERO, SEPTEMBER 14, 2001: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. (Cheers and applause)

COURIC: September 11, 2001, wasn't the first time America had heard from Osama bin Laden. Since the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, the United States had been pressuring the Taliban regime to hand over the al Qaeda leader, believed to be hiding out in Afghanistan training terrorists. They did not comply.

PRESIDENT BUSH, OCTOBER 7, 2001: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

COURIC: By November, the U.S.-backed fighting force known as the Northern Alliance had reclaimed Kabul. By December 7, the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar had fallen.

JOHN NAGL, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: There's no doubt that the United States thought that we had succeeded in Afghanistan, that we had Osama bin Laden on the run, that this was a war that was essentially in the bag.

COURIC: With Hamid Karzai in place as the interim leader of Afghanistan, the drum beat of war moved west to Iraq.

PRESIDENT BUSH AT THE UN, SEPTEMBER 12, 2001: The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations. And a threat to peace.

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: The problem was that he took his eye off the ball and linked two things that didn't go together, which is al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and so things got much worse.

COURIC: By October of 2006, there were 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and just 21,000 in Afghanistan.

NAGL: We gave the Taliban time to re-group, chased them out of Afghanistan, they re-grouped in Pakistan and now the years of neglect are coming back to haunt us.

COURIC: The International Council on Security and Development reports that today the Taliban has a presence in 80 percent of the country, up from 54 percent just two years ago.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops.

COURIC: Making good on a campaign promise, President Obama called for a troop increase in Afghanistan, bringing the number of U.S. forces there to a record 68,000. Those troops face an enemy that's battle-tested and extremely disciplined.

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center