President Barack Obama made it clear to a small gathering of legislators Tuesday afternoon that pulling troops out of Afghanistan was not on his short list of scenarios for dealing with the current war.
“The President says that getting out is not an option because Afghanistan is very, very important to us strategically. It’s right next to Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons,” explained Congressman Buck McKeon, who was there as the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “An unstable Pakistan is something we cannot countenance. We just can’t keep the status quo.”
McKeon was one of a select group of legislators who met with President Barack Obama this afternoon to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. He held a telephone press conference after the meeting.
“We all understand that the president is in a tough position,” McKeon said. “He’s getting pressure from all sides to do all kinds of different things.”
McKeon said he thanked President Obama for holding the afternoon meeting with the group, which included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Republican Leader John Boehmer and the chairman and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees; Carl Levin, John McCain, John Kerry, Richard Lugar, Ike Skelton, Howard Berman and Lieana Ros-Lehtinen.
The President outlinined to the group where he was on the issue of Afghanistan, then opened the meeting up to questions and comments.
McKeon said that he briefed the President on his recent visit to Afghanistan, where he met with General Stanley McChrystal and other military leaders to discuss the current needs of troops in the war zone.
“What I wanted from the President was an assurance that he would not resource the war in a way that just continues the stalemate,” the Congressman said. “We could be supportive of him and his decision if he gave General McChrystal the sources he feels he needs to be needs to be successful.”
He said the general was specific in assessing the situation, quoting a statement McChrystal had issued: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the next 12 months risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible”
“It’s very important that we move forward on this,” McKeon said. “And the President said he would make the decision in a timely manner.”
McKeon stressed repeatedly that his priority was to give troops the proper resources to do their job.
“What I asked for were the resources to end the stalemate,” he said. “Right now we’re just kind of status quo. Give them what they need to be successful or get out.”
He said that abandoning Afghanistan was not an option being considered by Obama.
Despite media reports that came out prior to KHTS’s interview with McKeon, all of the participants did not cross party lines in blind support of whatever the President decided to do.
“I saw or heard of a poll last week that showed the American people were now opposed to the war. I’ve written a private letter to the President of what I think he should do and one of the things I think he should do is provide leadership,” McKeon said. “He is the only person who can go to the American people and explain why we’re there, the importance of Afghanistan and Pakistan and how it relates to out national security.
“He’s the one who has all of the information and the ability to communicate this to the American people. And I would hope that he would do that. He did say that when he makes his decision that he would take it to the American people and that many of us in this room probably won’t be happy with it, and the American people will not be happy with it.”
One request the group made of the President, according to McKeon, would be to have General McChrystal come before a joint session of Congress and testify as to the needs and conditions in the war zone.
“(Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates said that is not an option,” McKeon said. “But if we’re going to have a full debate, we think its important that the man on the ground that’s in charge on the ground, that knows the most on the issue come back and address Congress and answer questions on the issue.”
McKeon thinks they don’t want the general to publicly express his views until the President has made a decision.
“I would have a tough time supporting a decision that continues the stalemate,” McKeon reiterated. “We have 68,000 troops there now, we have a general who was sent over there to win the war and his best assessment says he needs certain resources. If he does not get them, I don’t want to see our troops put in harm’s way knowing they don’t have the best chance for success. It would be difficult for me. And I conveyed this to the President.
“I think it’s unacceptable to have Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen put in position of vulnerability because we don’t have the political will to give them what they need to be successful even though we know its very important for us to be there, it would be a hard thing for me to support.
“If we don’t prosecute the war to the best of our ability, even knowing how important it is, if we’re not going to fight it to the best of our ability, given them every thing they need, why are we there? I personally think it’s crucial to our national security to be there, but if you’re going to be there, you need to be there to win.
“I have to take Gen McChrystal at his word, he’s the most knowledgeable on this issue. The thrust is that he’s going to need more troops to be successful,” he concluded.