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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cheney Ad ‘Hasty’ with Quotes

Liz Cheney's group quotes U.S. military leaders out of context to attack President Obama's Afghanistan policy.

Keep America Safe, which is headed by the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is airing a TV ad that uses brief video clips of congressional testimony given by Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen to support its claim that Obama's plan to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan will put U.S. soldiers at greater risk. It's true that both military leaders recommended maintaining higher troop levels. But they supported the president's decision, and their full congressional testimony shows they believe the risk is manageable and won't jeopardize the mission.

The title of the ad — "More Risk" — comes from Mullen's testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on June 23. Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, was asked about the president's decision to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, including 10,000 of them by the end of this year. The ad quotes Mullen as saying, "It was more aggressive and it has more risk than I recommended." But the full context of his remarks shows that Mullen also said the plan is "well within reason."

Mullen, June 23: I think it’s well within reason for us to be able to do this. As I said in my opening statement, it was more aggressive and it has more risk than, you know, I was originally prepared to — than I — than I recommended. That said, in totality, it’s within the ability to sustain the mission, focus on the objectives and execute.  

Mullen also said later in his testimony that the U.S. "would have run other kinds of risks by keeping more forces in Afghanistan longer," and he described the president's drawdown plan as a "manageable risk."

The ad — which was scheduled to air on Washington, D.C., TV stations July 12 — also quotes Petraeus, the outgoing commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. In the snippet from Petraeus, we hear the general say that the drawdown of troops is "a more aggressive formulation than what we had recommended." Again, that's true. But in his full answer, which comes in response to a question at about the 39 minute mark of this C-SPAN video, Petraeus also said, "we're talking about small differences here."

Petraeus, June 23: Now, as chairman 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 he would like to have, or all the time, all the money, all the authorities, and nowadays with all the bandwidth as well. So there’s always a process of assessing risk, and it's 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 the military commander point of view.

Lastly, the ad describes the president's plan as a "hasty withdrawal." That's a matter of opinion. But it should be noted that there will be more U.S. troops in Afghanistan after Obama's withdrawal plan is complete than when Liz Cheney's father was in office — as illustrated in Figure 1 of a March 29 report by the Congressional Research Service.

— Eugene Kiely, with Wendy Zhao