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CNN's Zakaria: Obama's Afghan Speech 'Remarkable Speech for an American President'

Fareed Zakaria, CNN's world affairs analyst, hailed President Obama's Afghanistan speech as a "remarkable speech for an American president" Wednesday and defended the president's decision to ignore the advice of his generals on the target dates for pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

"It was a remarkable speech for an American president in the caution, the strategic emphasis, rather than the idealistic emphasis," sounded Zakaria, no stranger to praising Obama's foreign policy speeches. He lauded the president's May 19 Mideast speech as "remarkably comprehensive" and "fair" and "balanced."

[Video below.]

He also gave positive reviews of his "very thoughtful" face-to-face conversations with Obama on foreign policy. "What I'm struck by, though, honestly, Eliot, is how much time he's spending thinking about the issues of the Arab spring particularly the issues of Egypt," Zakaria told CNN's Eliot Spitzer May 12.

On Wednesday, the CNN pundit claimed Obama was "boxed in" by the military at the beginning of his presidency and only now has been able to carry out the foreign policy ideals he championed when running for office. He also defended Obama's refusal to heed the advice of Gen. David Petraeus on when the draw troops out of Afghanistan.

"Every general always wants more troops. And I think that the job of the president is to say, I have concerns beyond just Afghanistan and Iraq....And I've got to look at our – how much we have spent on these wars in blood and treasure."

On Thursday night, Zakaria also appeared on In the Arena to preview his interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, to air on his 10 a.m. EDT Sunday show Fareed Zakaria GPS. The CNN host claimed that the Taliban members who have returned to Afghanistan "do not have global jihadist aims. In other words, they don't want to kill Americans."

A transcript of the Anderson Cooper 360 segment, which aired on June 22 at approximately 10:05 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

ANDERSON COOPER: Fareed, first of all, what do you make of the president's announcement tonight?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN world affairs analyst: I think it's been in keeping with his basic strategic rationale from the start. He did announce the surge. Part of that was I think the military boxed him in. You remember Stan McChrystal leaked his recommendation. It became very difficult for a Democratic president to overturn it. But Obama has started his presidency saying, we are too committed overseas, we are too militarily engaged, we have too large a footprint, we have got to re-balance, we have got to focus on nation-building at home, we have got to focus on Asia.

And he sounded all those themes. It was a remarkable speech for an American president in the caution, the strategic emphasis, rather than the idealistic emphasis. He said things like, we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate, as strategic as we are resolute. People would have us – have America overextend itself, confronting every evil that could be found abroad. This is reminiscent of a very different strain of America, in many ways a strain that goes back before the Cold War.

(...)

COOPER: Do you both agree that this is a movement away from the McChrystal counterinsurgency, and more to a counterterrorist-style operation?

ZAKARIA: I think it is. I think that it clearly is a movement in that direction. It may not happen in the next few months because they will clearly want to show the Taliban that they are not drawing down. But there are two signs of that. The first is, of course, the nature of the troop withdrawal. The second is, who is going to prosecute the counterterrorism strategy for the United States over the next three or four years? David Petraeus. The movement of David Petraeus to the head – to become head of the CIA is very significant in this respect, because what he is doing is saying to Petraeus, you make counterterrorism work as well as you have made counterinsurgency work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(...)

GERGEN: And I, frankly, must say, what I'm partly puzzled about is, when you're trying to wind down a war – and everybody agrees you have to wind it down in Afghanistan - you've got a general who's turned around two wars, is the most successful general of modern times. And he comes to you with a recommendation on how to do it, and you say, no thank you. I'm going to do it a different way. I find that puzzling.

ZAKARIA: Every general always wants more troops. And I think that the job of the president is to say, I have concerns beyond just Afghanistan and Iraq. I have got to look at America's strategic –

GERGEN: I agree with that.

ZAKARIA: And I've got to look at our – how much we have spent on these wars in blood and treasure.

GERGEN: He's got the best defense secretary in decades. He's got the best general in place in a long time. And he did not accept their recommendation.

- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center