- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the White House would be committing “an error of historic proportions” if it doesn’t accede to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s requests for tens of thousands of new troops in Afghanistan.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, meanwhile, upped the ante from the other side of the partisan aisle, saying that it makes no sense to stay in Afghanistan but not grant Gen. McChrystal the forces he says are necessary.

Mr. McCain said he doesn’t think the United States can win in Afghanistan unless President Obama sends at least 40,000 more troops to augment the 68,000 now there — as suggested by Gen. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

“To not give the resources … to our leaders in the field, given in light of the experiences we’ve had, would be a fundamental error that would lead to consequences for a long, long time,” said Mr. McCain on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday.

Mrs. Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, agreed with the premise, saying that “if you don’t want to take the (general’s) recommendations, then you put your people in such jeopardy.”

“I don’t know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as General McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you’re not going to pull out,” said Mrs. Feinstein on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Mrs. Feinstein, who has called in the past for a timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan on the grounds the American public will not support a drawn-out nation-building program, added that the president needs to make a decision on troop levels “sooner, rather than later.”

Mr. McCain said that despite reports the terrorist group’s numbers have dwindled in Afghanistan, easing pressure on the country’s Taliban rebels would embolden and strengthen al Qaeda.

“They will become inextricably tied,” Mr. McCain said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed that the Taliban and al Qaeda must be confronted simultaneously.

“You do get the impression … at least some in the administration are trying to distinguish between al Qaeda and the Taliban,” the Kentucky Republican said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “They are different. But they are inter-connected.”

“We know that we can’t have a haven over there for the reconstitution of al Qaeda and attacks against the United States.”

Mr. McConnell said he is “troubled” over reports that the administration may consider working with the Taliban on some level to rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda.

“When the Taliban was in charge in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda was allowed to operate freely,” he said. “We know they launched the 9/11 attack from there, planned it and launched it from there.”

Mr. McConnell said that the strategy in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is about protecting the United States.

“People use the term ‘nation-building.’ This is about protecting the United States of America,” Mr. McConnell said.

The minority leader said he is confident that his Republican Senate colleagues would support a White House request for more troops.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, urged the president to listen to a multitude of opinions before reaching a decision on troop levels in Afghanistan.

Mr. Levin added that a “surge” of Afghan troops — not Americas — is the ultimate path for success in Afghanistan.

“We don’t have a plan yet to get those lower-level, those local Taliban fighters who were on a payroll” to quit the Taliban, Mr. Levin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Conservative Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of Mr. Levin’s committee, said stabilizing the fragile government in Afghanistan also is a must if the U.S. strategy is to succeed in the country.

“You could send a million troops into Afghanistan, and it would not legitimize their government,” said Mr. Graham on “Meet the Press.”

Mr. McCain, the president’s Republican opponent in the 2008 presidential election, said he sympathizes with Mr. Obama as he faces a difficult choice about Afghanistan troop levels and whether to focus the fighting more narrowly on terrorists or more broadly on Taliban insurgents.

“I’m not trying to rush the president,” Mr. McCain said. “I think the president has to be deliberate, because this is the most difficult decision that any president makes, to send young Americans into harm’s way.”

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