Interview with Rep. Joe Sestak

Interview with Rep. Joe Sestak

By John King, USA - June 22, 2010

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight a closer look at the fallout over General McChrystal's daring comments to "Rolling Stone" magazine and a closer look at the stakes because of the Afghan policy (ph). One of the remarkable things about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is because of Internet technology. Troops in the field can get the latest news instantaneously if the went to the Department of Defense Web site, for example, they would see right here Secretary Gates' statement on the McChrystal profile story.

Secretary Gates saying that McChrystal has a lot to explain. If you go to "The Marine Times" (ph) right here, tell us what you think. They are reaching out as we often do. Asking troops in the field what you do you think of this big controversy? If you move over to McChrystal's job at risk after article flap. Any troop in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan who gets a computer could read this as well.

And finally "Stars and Stripes", a very familiar name in terms of the military press right here, McChrystal forces Obama into a no-win situation. That is the coverage in the military press, what the troops see. Let's go back and take a look at Afghan policy right here. I'll start off on the top here about President Obama and Afghanistan.

In July 2008, when still a candidate he first traveled to Afghanistan; he was a Senator of course. In May 2009, President Obama replaced the commanding general, General David McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal who is now in such hot water. And then back in December, you remember this, President Obama pledged an extra 30,000 troops to the Afghan war effort. Who is General Stanley McChrystal?

He's been in the Army since 1976. He is a four-star. Before Afghanistan he was the commander of the Joints Special Operations from 2003 to 2008, also directed the Joint Staff from August 2008 to June 2009 when he headed to Afghanistan. Importantly, as the president makes this decision, look at this -- 2002, 2003, you come all the way through 2007, then you had the spike from President Obama, troop levels in Afghanistan.

There are more troops in Afghanistan now, 92,000, than in Iraq, 85,000 as the troops there start to come home. And sadly, of late, as you see, you go back to 2002 and 2003, spikes in violence back there. Of late, since 2008 with the surge in troops, casualties have gone up as well. As you can see right here, it's a very tough time in the war effort as the president makes his decision.

Let's take a closer look now and have a conversation. Joe Sestak is a member of the House. He's a Democrat. He is running for the United States Senate. He also happens to be a retired three-star admiral. Excuse me, sir, for crossing in front of you, the highest- ranking military officer ever elected to either branch of Congress.

Let me ask you a simple question before I go to the map. In your view, can this general keep this command?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: He can if the president believes that he's necessary for the success of this mission. And that's what he's going to have to make his decision upon.

KING: Let's zoom in and look at the mission. As you see it play out, the green dots are the major stations for U.S. and other coalition troops, but this is largely. They call it a coalition effort. This is a U.S. military effort in Afghanistan right now, almost exclusively. You can see the June deaths, they're going up 38 U.S. deaths, 68 coalition, why is there a stall in Afghanistan right now? What is the problem?

SESTAK: Well, the real issue for it and I think at times we tend to forget, the speech that the president made a year ago in March, he actually said it's really about Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Secretary Gates in a closed hearing said part of the reason we have this and a major reason and increase in these troops is to help seal this border. So that as Pakistan goes from south to north Waziristan and after the al Qaeda up there, they will feel as though they are in a partnership for us because our challenge is not Afghanistan. It's al Qaeda and the safe haven there.

KING: But when you read this article, General McChrystal, is he just venting steam? Do you see major personality issues? Or more importantly do you see a policy disagreement with the civilians? Whether it's Ambassador Eikenberry (ph) or President Obama or someone in between? Is there a major policy clash that you see right now that is a fundamental problem?

SESTAK: First off, he broke a military code. You go into a commander's in chief's room and if you disagree you keep it there and that means the same for the men and women who work for you. You don't go out and say I don't like the cut of his jib. That said the general has by and large the policy support that this president -- by the president. There are some personality conflicts going on up there. People know that.

But the general should be able to rise well above that. General Eisenhower did it with General Montgomery (ph) as we went into Normandy. So the issue is not the policy difference. This general has been over there fighting both in Iraq and this war. It gets pretty tough at times and there is some venting that shouldn't have been done. It calls for dismissal, without a question, but this president, this commander-in-chief who supported this policy that this general wanted, has to make his decision.

Do we need him to be successful for the mission here? So if he keeps him, I think without a question the general is going to keep his mouth shut but that's the decision he has to make. Is there still a chance that this strategy of the president can work for our security?

KING: And if he replaces him, how much drift? How long would the drift be even if you found a fine commander to come in as soon as possible, how much drift would there be?

SESTAK: I think there would be a step that would be missed because Kandahar, as you know, we're going into this offensive right here; it's a very important moment. There are other generals that I knew, General Mattis (ph), for example, that could step in. But this is also a general who actually has changed the tables over there. Where the men and women know they've been asked not just to think about taking down an adversary but winning the hearts and minds of those who are here and I think the general has by and large the right strategy.

The question is, is it necessary to be successful to keep him there today. Look, other things have happened that have been worse. You remember I mean reading about General McArthur (ph); he circled over Guam and stayed up in the air until Truman actually landed, so the president would have to greet McArthur. But the general was wrong in what he did. This is all about, however, is this strategy going to help us destroy al Qaeda.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) Sestak appreciate your time tonight.


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