Reps. McGovern and Hunter on Afghanistan

Reps. McGovern and Hunter on Afghanistan

By John King, USA - June 24, 2010

KING: Many in Congress disagree. They think the war is bogged down. They include liberals who feel that the only way to end it is to bring the troops home and conservatives who see drift but don't rule out sending more troops to fix it and say those already there should be allowed to fight more aggressively. I spoke a short time ago with Republican Duncan Hunter of California and Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts asking them first about the president's assessment.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Short answer is that what we saw yesterday was a change in personnel but not a change in policy.

KING: Congressman McGovern, is that good enough for you?

REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It isn't. I have great admiration for General Petraeus and I certainly have great admiration for President Obama but I think our policy is flawed. All of the things that we were told seven months ago that were going to happen today haven't turned out the way the administration told us they would. And here we are about to consider another supplemental. We're in a war here that is not clearly defined, and it's a war that can go on forever and it is costing us hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money and I think some of that money would be better spent here at home.

KING: Do you have the votes to block the president from getting his money?

MCGOVERN: Well I'm going to vote against the supplemental and I'm going to push for an amendment calling for an exit strategy. I think if you go to war you ought to have a clearly defined mission, a beginning, a middle, a transition period and an end. I don't know what the transition period and the end are in this war. I'm not even quite sure how you define victory or winning in this war and so we have 100,000 American soldiers over there, they're doing an incredible job, I'm in awe of their dedication and their commitment but it's the politicians here in Washington that are keeping them there. I think we need to rethink our Afghanistan strategy.

KING: Congressman Hunter, are you comfortable, change the general but don't change the strategy.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes and you know General Petraeus basically invented this (INAUDIBLE) strategy. General McChrystal changed it, tweaked it a little bit to make it fit Afghanistan. I think the overall strategy is the same and I think that General Petraeus has some leeway in what he can do now in Afghanistan, whether he's going to tweak that coin doctrine to have more counterterrorism or not.

I think he's able to do that but listen, President Obama has already set an actual deadline for withdrawal. He's gone too far I think in an exit strategy. You know July 2011, I was just over in Afghanistan over Memorial weekend and that pressure bearing down of having only one year left to fix Afghanistan really weighs heavily on all the military commanders over there so I think that we've done enough when it comes to setting deadlines, we ought to be talking about achieving victory, that should be the exit strategy.

KING: Well you mentioned that deadline. Our Dana Bash caught up exclusively with General David Petraeus today, the new commander, when he was making the rounds on Capitol Hill and she put that question to him. Let's listen.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you see yourself doing anything to change the 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawal?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: No, as I said, I support the president's policy and I will also provide my best professional military advice as we conduct assessments.


KING: So am I right here, Congressman McGovern, you want a sooner date and a firmer date and Congressman Hunter, you think there should be no date, period.

MCGOVERN: What I want is a clearly defined mission and that includes an exit strategy. What the president talked about seven months ago at West Point was the beginning of withdrawal. I want to know not just when the first soldier comes home, I want to know when the last soldier comes home and if we can set a real deadline then I think it puts more pressure on the Afghan government and the Afghan people to step up to the plate and to figure out what they want for their future. We're dealing with this guy, President Karzai who is corrupt and incompetent and fixed the last election. I don't want American forces there forever defending a guy like that.

HUNTER: I agree actually with Mr. McGovern on his take on Karzai and the Afghan government standing up, but I don't mind having a deadline at all, as long as our enemy doesn't know it. Al Qaeda knows what the July 2011 deadline is, the Taliban know what that July 2011 deadline is. We don't want them to know it.

MCGOVERN: I don't think the administration knows how this war comes to an end and I don't think there is a clearly defined mission. I don't think anyone could define what winning is. (INAUDIBLE) they're in a very difficult situation. I'm reminded of Lyndon Johnson's you know statement that it's easy to get into war, it's hard as hell to get out of one. It is hard to get out of this war. You know what's happening now is this mission is changing month to month to month.

We are borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars that we don't have the guts to pay for, our kids and our grandkids are going to pay for. I'm all for doing nation building in Afghanistan. I'd like to do a little bit of nation building here in the United States of America.

HUNTER: John, but look at this. We know what victory looks like. Iraq, we've achieved victory over there. We only have about 35 Marines left in the entire country. We had General Odierno in today briefing us on it. We're going to be out of Iraq almost completely by the end of next year, that's what victory looks like.

It's a country standing up on its own, able to secure itself, able to protect its own sovereignty, standing up its own police, its own military so we can leave. We're going to do in Afghanistan what we did in Iraq and General Petraeus I think is the right guy to do that because he has proven it there. We're going to prove it in Afghanistan.

That's what victory looks like. We've already shown what it is. If Mr. McGovern had his way we wouldn't have achieved victory in Iraq at all.

MCGOVERN: Well first of all, in Iraq, the Iraqi government only stood up when we told them that we were going to leave. We gave them a date certain and that forced the government to take action. And Iraq and Afghanistan are two different things. It's not like comparing apples and oranges. It's like comparing apples and Volkswagens.


HUNTER: I'm pretty familiar --


HUNTER: They aren't that too disparate.

KING: Congressman McGovern, you're a Democratic congressman who just compared your Democratic president to Lyndon Johnson. Is Afghanistan Vietnam?

MCGOVERN: Well I don't like to make those comparisons but I do think that this is a war that this president inherited and I think he, like Lyndon Johnson is finding it very, very difficult to get out of this war.


KING: Congressman Hunter, you mentioned your service. I want to close on this note, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did something remarkable today. He several times in his statement at a Pentagon briefing went out of his way to say we who wear the uniform answer to the civilians and nobody in uniform should ever think twice about that or ever doubt that.

Obviously, he said he was sickened by this article involving General McChrystal. Did he have to go that far? Do you think there's such a crisis in confidence that America's top uniformed military officer needed to make that clear?

HUNTER: He probably did. Here's why. If you look at this administration, if you look at then Senator Biden, then Senator Obama, then Senator Clinton with the way that they went after Petraeus three years ago and said that Iraq surge was not going to work I think that the military commanders right now, the ones that have three and four stars have a little bit of a burr under their saddle when it comes to this administration because these are the same senators who basically said that General Petraeus was incompetent three years ago.

But now they're looking to him to win in Afghanistan. So I think that there's kind of an undercurrent of that and I think Admiral Mullen did have to go out of his way to say that. To say hey look, it doesn't matter what your personal feelings are. You have to respect the office and as a military person you respect those over you, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with their policies or not, you have to respect them and you have to obey them and that's it, period.

KING: Congressman Hunter, Congressman McGovern, appreciate your time today.


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