On Thursday's NBC Today, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd recited Obama administration spin as he gave a fully positive assessment of the President's Wednesday announcement of an Afghanistan troop withdrawal: "The President went with the most aggressive compromised withdrawal plan he could get commanders at the Pentagon to sign off on."
Moments later, Todd declared: "It was a sober sounding president, not a triumphant one, who announced from the White House that he's fulfilling his promise to begin the drawdown of U.S. forces next month." The headline on screen throughout the report touted a line from the speech that the White House was probably pleased with: "'A Position of Strength'; Obama Defends Plan For U.S. Troop Withdrawal."
Todd avoided citing any criticism of the speech. Near the end of the segment, he claimed that reaction in Congress was "muted" and concluded that meant general "reluctant agreement" with Obama's decision. Todd briefly noted that "the most critical of the speech was...former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty," but did not play a sound bite of Pawlenty or explain what that criticism was.
A main source of criticism of the President's withdrawal plan has been that it ends in September of 2012, right in the middle of the fighting season in Afghanistan, but just in time for the presidential election in the U.S. Todd failed to mention that.
Following Todd's report, co-host Matt Lauer spoke with former Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw about the speech and the positive reviews continued. Lauer wondered: "Do you think the President said what American people wanted to hear last night?" Brokaw replied: "I think so." He added that Obama "...had to strike a lot of balances. The military equation, obviously. It is important to talk about the effect of all of this on the economy. And then with 2012 coming up, there's a big political piece of it as well."
Brokaw went on to highlight supporters of the plan: "The Afghan defense minister said, 'We think this is a good plan.' I was told by White House people that both Admiral Mullen, who's the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary Gates signed off on this." He dismissed critics: "The civilian piece of it does run the Army after all. Obviously there was some push-back on the part of the military, but they lost that fight."
Here is a full transcript of Todd's June 23 report:
MATT LAUER: President Obama hits the road today to sell his plan for withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan. In a primetime address last night, the President vowed to bring 33,000 troops home by the end of next summer. NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd's at the White House with details. Chuck, good morning.
CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Matt. Well, in the end, the President went with the most aggressive compromised withdrawal plan he could get commanders at the Pentagon to sign off on. What it means? The first significant troop withdrawal from Afghanistan since the war began.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "A Position of Strength"; Obama Defends Plan For U.S. Troop Withdrawal]
BARACK OBAMA: We take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.
TODD: It was a sober sounding president, not a triumphant one, who announced from the White House that he's fulfilling his promise to begin the drawdown of U.S. forces next month.
OBAMA: We're starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. We've inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of it's strongholds.
TODD: Here's how the withdrawal plan breaks down. Of the nearly 100,000 troops now fighting, approximately 10,000 of the surge forces will come home by the end of this calendar year. Another 20,000 troops will be withdrawn by the end of September of next year. As for the remaining 70,000, the time line for their withdrawal in 2013 and 2014 could be decided next May, when leaders of NATO gather in President Obama's hometown of Chicago.
OBAMA: This is the beginning, but not the end, of our effort to wind down this war. We'll have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we've made.
TODD: The President, while acknowledging the importance of the Osama Bin Laden killing, was careful not to underestimate al Qaeda.
OBAMA: Al Qaeda remains dangerous and we must be vigilant against attacks, but we have put al Qaeda on a path to defeat and we will not relent until the job is done.
TODD: He also used part of his speech to defend the decision to get involved in Libya, linking it to lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
OBAMA: Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America's engagement around the world. We must chart a more centered course. We don't have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we're doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground.
TODD: Acknowledging the economic anxiety gripping the nation, the President said what many politicians in Congress and running for president have suggested for weeks.
OBAMA: America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.
TODD: You know, the reaction on Capitol Hill was quite muted. Somewhat odd, frankly, if you put it all together, you'd come up with reluctant agreement. Whether somebody was wishing there was more troops coming home, or somebody was wishing the time line had been slower. On the presidential campaign, the most critical of the speech was Minnesota Governor, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Matt.
LAUER: Alright, Chuck Todd at the White House this morning. Chuck, thanks very much.