Adviser Pins Hopes in Afghanistan on New Strategy, Coming Assessment
By John Amick
White House national security adviser Gen. James L. Jones stressed the effectiveness of the Obama administration's three-pronged strategy for Afghanistan, where violence in the southern provinces has increased, a major election looms and American military leaders are carefully assessing troop levels for possibly years of combat presence.
Jones, appearing on three Sunday morning talk shows, voiced what he and other military and administration officials believe is a new and improved plan for Afghanistan over the Bush administration's, which Jones said only focused on security and not the broader foundations of society that needed fostering throughout the country.
"(The new) strategy has essentially three legs, more security, followed by economic development, followed by better governance from the -- at the local levels in Afghanistan," Jones said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "My opinion was that we did not have a well-articulated strategy until March of this year. We had a strategy for security. We had a little bit of a strategy for economic development.... And we had a strategy that maybe addressed a little bit of governance and the rule of law. This strategy merges all of those three things."
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is currently assessing the American military's involvement there and is expected to release his analysis soon. Raising troop levels is a top point of concern, as many "military experts insist that the additional resources are necessary," as reported today in The Washington Post. Jones was non-committal on troop increases, saying all options are under consideration.
"... We have yet to be able to measure the implementation of the new strategy, so if you have recommendations, make it in the context of the new strategy. This -- we have learned one thing in six years, we -- this is not just about troop strength," Jones said on CBS.
Jones was even more apprehensive about suggesting any kind of time table for exiting Afghanistan.
"I don't want to predict a time line, just like we couldn't predict a time line in Iraq," Jones said on "Fox News Sunday." "But you get to that tipping point. If you -- if the pieces are all organized correctly, you get to that tipping point a lot quicker, and then it becomes irreversible."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that President Obama can use his significant political capital around the world to encourage more participation and funding from NATO allies, and that a kind of comprehensive, collaborative, thoughtful strategy is imperative if this administration wants to avoid the pitfalls that befell the Bush administration in Iraq.
"Let's not Rumsfeld Afghanistan," Graham said on "Face the Nation," invoking former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's name as a shorthand verb to symbolize the poor planning that marked at least the initial stages of the war in Iraq. "Let's don't do this thing on the cheap. Let's have enough combat power and engagement across the board to make sure we're successful. And quite frankly, we all have got a lot of ground to make up."
Graham explained his hopes for a strategy that won't ignore what is needed to secure and advance an unstable country.
"We went in with a strategy to defeat the Iraqi army that worked," Graham said of Rumsfeld's Iraq plans. "We never had enough troops on the ground to secure the population. You cannot have political reconciliation, economic progress, the rule of law, when the judges and the economy is under siege by the enemy. There is too much violence. We've lost parts of Afghanistan to the Taliban."
Putting in more troops, especially with the assistance of NATO allies, will help secure the population and train an army of Afghan soldiers to protect their own countryside, a key component of stabilization and subsequent exit of U.S. and NATO forces, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said.
"The Afghan army not only needs to get to 130,000, which is the current goal, from their approximately 80,000 that they're at now; they've got to double that to get to 250,000," Levin said on "Face the Nation."
One encouraging sign mentioned by Jones was the reported killing of Baitullah Mehsud, a top Taliban chief in nearby Pakistan, in recent days by a U.S.-launched missile. He said this disruption of the chain of command within the Taliban will give Pakistani forces a prime opportunity to help dismantle Taliban cohesion on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"This is an important moment," Jones said on Fox. "I won't say it's a tipping point, but it certainly shows that we're having some success. When you can take out a leader like Mehsud, you do show -- you do have some dissension in the ranks, and it reduces their capability to organize, regardless of how many they have. This is a strong message. Pakistan deserves to be -- to be credited for its role. And we hope that we continue the pressure and we don't -- we don't let up."
Recess Doesn't Slow Health-Care Rhetoric
As Congress has now left Washington for August recess, debate on health-care reform across America has taken a new shape in the form of town hall meetings with members of Congress. Many of these town halls have resulted in heated shouting matches reportedly dominated by opponents of reform proposals, some organized by well-financed opponents of reform.
While there is no final bill to debate, opponents have latched onto rhetoric aimed at exploiting fear of any kind of public option in the final bill. Without a consensus on specific proposals, Democrats in Congress are having a tough time selling the plan to constituents, and misinformation and speculation are neutralizing progress in these public debate forums.
Addressing the town halls, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voiced concern that legitimate opposition is being snuffed out. .
"When there are a group of people honestly sitting in the middle trying to ask the important questions and get the right answers, and instead someone takes the microphone and screams and shouts to the point where the meeting comes to an end, that isn't dialogue, that isn't the democratic process," Durbin said on CNN's "State of the Union." "You know, we need to respect free speech, but we need to respect one another's rights to free speech too. When these people come in just to disrupt the meetings, no, that isn't right."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countered Durbin's sentiments, saying these are not all intricately organized groups of detractors, but rather honest criticism of perceived unpalatable steps to manipulate health coverage.
"I think attacking citizens in our country for expressing their opinions about an issue of this magnitude may indicate some weakness in their position on the merits," McConnell said on Fox. "And I also think it's particularly absurd for the Democrats, who have over an $8 million e-mail list over at the DNC called Organize America, to be criticizing citizens for being organized. Frankly, the truth of the matter is we don't know who's organized and who isn't. The point is the issue, the substance. They need to deal with it. Americans are concerned about it."
McConnell's mention of an e-mail list through the White House's political arm, Organizing for America, refers to what conservatives and opponents to reform have claimed is a kind of enemies list the White House is constructing. Durbin countered on CNN, saying this is an attempt to reply to misinformation, not consolidate opponents' names for other purposes.
"I just heard my colleague talk about a government takeover of health care," Durbin said after Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the reform effort is an attempt by the government to control health care. "That isn't in any proposal before Congress today, and I think Senator Cornyn knows that. I've also heard the suggestion that this is going to pay for abortions across America, not true in any version of the bill. The same thing when it comes to coverage of undocumented people in America. There is no coverage of undocumented people. This idea we're going to take hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare, that isn't in there either. There's so much bad information out there, you can understand the effort to at least let people hear both sides of the story."
With so much confusion swirling around what is and isn't in play in Congress and what Obama will or will not support, former presidential candidate and Vermont governor Howard Dean tried to boil it down.
"Now, what Obama is essentially saying is, 'Let's give the choice of getting into a system like that or staying with what they have to the American people,'" Dean said on ABC's "This Week." "So if you're voting against having a public option, what you're voting against is something that 72 percent of Americans in two polls want, which is the choice. Most of them aren't going to sign up for the public option, but they think they have the choice. Why shouldn't they have the choice? Why should the health insurance companies have that choice?"
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich replied to Dean's points, saying that allowing any hint of a public option will cause people to flee from private insurance coverage.
"I think (it's) intellectually not honest to suggest that this is going to be a matter of choice," Gingrich said on ABC. "The way the bill in the House -- and we're talking about a specific bill -- the way the bill in the House would work, if your company didn't offer any insurance, they would pay an 8 percent tax on their personnel cost. For most companies, that would be a net savings of 3 percent, 4 percent or 5 percent."
Best of the Rest:
- McConnell on the slight improvement in the economy and whether Obama deserves any credit for such improvements (Fox):
"You do have to wonder, though, whether the stimulus has had any impact at all. Only 16 percent of it has been spent. We've run up an enormous debt. And it was sold to us as holding unemployment at 8 percent or under, and now it's 9.4 percent. I don't think the actions of the administration have had a whole lot to do with this. But look. If the economy is getting better, we're all happy about that."
- McConnell on health care negotiations (Fox):
"We'd like to make a deal, but we'd like to make the right kind of deal. I mean, this is not about embarrassing anybody politically. This is about getting it right. This is one-sixth of our economy. Health care is an enormous issue. It affects every single one of us. And we want to get it right."
- Jim Jones on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year (CBS):
"I think we will. I think there are some things on the table that we can't necessarily talk about right now, but hopefully there are some signs here that we will find the right way to do this."
- Levin on agreeing that Gitmo can be closed by January and that Michigan might help with the effort (CBS):
"I support that, providing we have local support and the governor when we are talking about state facilities, of course I do. You know, we should not be cowed by the terrorists so that we don't even keep them in maximum security prisons in the United States. We can't allow the terrorists to be intimidating us from trying them and keeping them in our jails."
- Jones on Iran (Fox):
"The fact of the election really makes a difference to the people of Iran. They are the ones that have to decide on the legitimacy of it. We have to deal with this -- the -- whatever the central authority is. If it turns out to be the same individuals, then that's who we have to deal with."
- Jones on Kim Jong Il's health and hold on leadership (Fox):
"We're still very much debriefing the party that went with President Clinton. But preliminary reports appeared that the -- that Kim Jong-Il is in full control of his organization, his government. The conversations were respectful and cordial in tone."
- Jones on any "concessions" to North Korea promised in the negotiations of the two American journalists' release from North Korea (Fox):
"I can do that with absolutely a straight face. There was no official message sent via the former president, and there were no promises, other than to make sure that the two young girls were reunited with their families."
Posted at 2:19 PM ET on Aug 9, 2009
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