Image: A U.S. soldier in Afghanistan
Rahmat Gul  /  AP
A U.S. soldier stands on the road which leads to the site where a road site bomb hit a U.S. vehicle in Mehtar Lam, Laghman province east of Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday.
updated 10/25/2009 11:47:41 AM ET 2009-10-25T15:47:41

Top lawmakers sparred Sunday over the timing of President Barack Obama's decision on how to move ahead in Afghanistan, with Republicans urging a quick move to boost troop levels and Democrats counseling patience.

In partisan displays, senators generally agreed on the need to support whatever Afghan government emerges from a Nov. 7 run-off election between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah. But they differed on exactly how to do that and when.

Republicans said Obama must sign off soon on a recommendation from the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to substantially increase the number of American troops there by 40,000. Democrats warned against a hasty decision on any increase.

"Clearly, time is of the essence here," said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican. "I'm afraid that with every passing day we risk the future success of the mission."

"I think it's taken too long," added Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Why not follow the advice of his hand-picked general?"

‘A rapid decision’
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee for president last year, said that "every day we delay will be a delay in this strategy succeeding." The deteriorating situation "argues for a rapid decision," he said.

Video: Afghan army ready for wider fight?

None of the Republicans would second a claim made last week by former Vice President Dick Cheney that Obama is "dithering" in making a decision, but they agreed that continued delay would endanger the 68,000 U.S. soldiers now on the ground in Afghanistan.

"I would never want to call my president dithering," Hatch said. He stressed, though, that "they need these troops, there is no question about it. We're exposing them without the proper help that they have just got to have. ... I think it's a mistake."

Distancing himself from Cheney, McCain also said he "wouldn't use that language." But, he added, "The sooner we implement the strategy the more we will able to ensure their (troops') safety."

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, lashed out at Cheney's criticism, which came in a speech on Wednesday while accepting an award from a conservative national security group.

"I thought that comments of the former vice president were totally out of bounds," said Levin, D-Mich. "I don't think he has any credibility left with the American people in any event. But I think it is really wrong. ... The president needs to make the right decision."

In addition to differing on the timing of the decision, lawmakers were divided over on what it should be. Republicans wholeheartedly endorsed McChrystal's appeal while Democrats were more skeptical.

‘Prevent this mistake’
Levin, who has urged that the Afghan security forces be built up before any increase in U.S. combat troops, said "it would be a mistake to have any significant number of additional combat forces because I would like to see a large increase in the Afghan army be the major way in which this is successful."

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., was more strident, saying he is against a build up of American forces.

"It is time to start thinking about bringing troops out of Afghanistan and reducing our commitment there," he said. He pledged to oppose a decision to send more.

"There will be resistance to this if necessary," Feingold said. "If necessary, we will act to prevent this mistake."

Kyl and Levin spoke on "Fox News Sunday," Hatch and Brown were on CNN's "State of the Union," and Feingold and McCain appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Cornyn, Schumer on Afghanistan, Cheney

  1. Transcript of: Cornyn, Schumer on Afghanistan, Cheney

    GREGORY: ...just a couple of minutes left. First, Afghanistan ; as the president decides about his strategy , the former Vice President Dick Cheney was outspoken this week. This is what he said.

    VICE PRES. CHENEY: Having announced his Afghanistan strategy in March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete the mission. The White House must stop dithering while America 's armed forces are in danger.

    GREGORY: Senator Schumer , dithering?

    SEN. SCHUMER: Well, you know, Afghanistan , I agree with Joe Biden . He said when we hear Dick Cheney , we remember seven years of neglect of Afghanistan that once again now President Obama is going to have to deal with. He's dealing with it in a thoughtful, careful way. He's listening to everybody. He will not be rushed to judgment. It's a -- I, I'm wrestling with it myself, and boy it's difficult. There is no good answer. But for Dick Cheney , after seven years focusing on Iraq , the wrong place, instead of Afghanistan , to now say, "It's a few months into this administration, they'd better come up with a solution," that's not fair or right.

    SEN. CORNYN: Americans are fighting and dying in Afghanistan today as they have for the last seven years. I don't understand, for a president who said this is a war of necessity to now question the recommendation of his lead commander General McChrystal ...

    SEN. SCHUMER: Mm-hmm.

    SEN. CORNYN: ...on resourcing the war in order to be successful and win.

    GREGORY: Did President Bush and Vice President Cheney provide enough troops to win in Afghanistan ?

    SEN. CORNYN: I think we've learned that we need a, a change of strategy as, as, as opposed to just raw numbers.

    GREGORY: It's a simple question. Did they provide enough troops to win in Afghanistan ?

    SEN. CORNYN: Well, obviously we haven't yet won Afghanistan .

    GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. CORNYN: And winning in Afghanistan may be different from Iraq because of the, of the nature of the country.

    GREGORY: But did Bush and Cheney provide the troops to win?

    SEN. CORNYN: Well, we haven't won...

    GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. CORNYN: I guess...

    GREGORY: So they didn't. You don't think they did?

    SEN. CORNYN: But it's a strategy ...

    SEN. SCHUMER: Well...

    SEN. CORNYN: David , the problem is it's not just -- as we saw on the surge in Iraq , it's not just the troops , it's the change of strategy .

    GREGORY: But to be, but to be, but to be consistent on this...

    SEN. CORNYN: A counter...

    GREGORY: ...if you say that this president should commit more troops , can't you render an opinion about whether the previous administration that started the war provided the resources to win it?

    SEN. CORNYN: Well...

    SEN. SCHUMER: Hey, David , we all know the facts here.

    SEN. CORNYN: Well, if I can answer the question.

    SEN. SCHUMER: Go ahead.

    GREGORY: Yeah.

    SEN. CORNYN: I think the -- my problem with your question, David , is you're assuming that just additional troops will achieve a victory. It will not. What we need is a change of strategy . We need a counterinsurgency strategy such as General Petraeus and General Odierno executed in Iraq .


    SEN. CORNYN: If we do that...

    GREGORY: Right.

    SEN. CORNYN: ...which is what General McChrystal 's recommending in Afghanistan , I think our chances of success are good.

    SEN. SCHUMER: Just quickly, one, they were so busy with Iraq they didn't pay attention to Afghanistan . And if the right strategy is that we need a new strategy , where was the strategy for seven years? Now, I'm not -- I don't want to point fingers of blame. Our soldiers are out there in the fields. But it's a little bit, gee whiz , here Obama 's trying -- President Obama 's trying to come up with a strategy listening to everybody, and immediately the Republicans are pounding and say, "Do this, do this, do this," when for seven years they didn't, either in number of troops or good strategy .


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