Gates: Bush lacked Afghan strategy

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Sunday said that the United States has faced difficulties in the Afghanistan conflict because the Bush administration did not have the same kind of "comprehensive strategy" that President Barack Obama does for the nation.

Gates served as Defense Secretary in the Bush administration, under which American forces first arrived in Afghanistan in 2001. Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld in January 2007.

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"I will tell you, I think that the strategy the president put forward in late March, is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s," he told CNN. "And that strategy was more about [the] Soviet Union that it was about Afghanistan."

On "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, Gates said "having the wrong strategy will put even more soldiers at risk" when pressed on whether failing to send more troops will endanger current forces. 

Gates acknowledged, however, that the "surge" worked in Iraq.

"I think success in Afghanistan looks a lot like success in Iraq," Gates said, noting that Iraqi troops are increasingly taking the lead to protect their own territory, go after insurgents and protect their own people.

The Obama administration is currently undergoing a strategic review of the American mission in the war-torn nation. Casualties mounted in July and August, which led Gen. Stanley McChrystal to call for additional forces. The administration has maintained that it must develop a new overall strategy for the nation before considering the U.S. and NATO commander's request.

On CNN, Gates briefly offered his thoughts on the Bush-era fight against Taliban in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, saying "we were fighting a holding action...We were too stretched to do more."

Though the White House is under pressure to send more troops from top military officials and high-ranking Republican lawmakers, Gates asserted that President Barack Obama would make his own decision based on the new strategy and the results of the country's controversial elections.

"I think the president always has a choice; he's the commander-in-chief," he said. 

Gates said that the White House needed to take time to determine the right course of action, saying that the Bush administration took three months in late 2007 to launch the now-successful surge in Iraq. Gates added that if more troops are to be sent that they would not arrive until January at the earliest. 

On "Fox News Sunday," Senate Select Intelligence Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) agreed that the president should take his time to suss out alternatives that would avoid "nation-building" in Afghanistan for the next decade.

"I think the president is correct to take his time, to really examine what the alternatives are at this time," Feinstein said. "True, the Afghanistan strategy so far has not gone well. True, about one-third of Afghanis are now living under some form of Taliban control. That is untenable. True, there is some form of nexus between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. True, that represents a threat to the homeland of the United States and therefore creates a mission for the United States."

Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee member Jim Webb (D-Va.) said on "Meet the Press" that the administration was "smartly" assessing the options and the regional complications.

But on "Fox News Sunday," Senate Select Intelligence Committee member Kit Bond (R-Mo.) warned against taking too much time.

"I am afraid that for some reason, [Obama] has the answer of the question he asked Gen. McChrystal," Bond said. "It is here, it is clear, it is in great detail, it outlines a full range of things – why we need troops, we need troops now. And he says if we fail to provide that assistance now, it will be too late."

On "Meet the Press," Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said not following McChrystal's suggestions would be "a recipe for disaster."

On "Face the Nation," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the McChrystal report needed to be looked at "in context" of an addition of troops in the spring that's just now reaching the end of the deployment cycle and a civilian strategy that's included "beefing up" the embassy in Kabul.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee who has traveled to Afghanistan many times, said that the ground situation had deteriorated to the point where the civilian operations can't safely get around.

"The 68,000 soldiers there right now cannot turn Afghanistan around without some help," Graham said.

Gates also warned Sunday that success in Afghanistan was essential, arguing that U.S. defeat could embolden insurgents there like it did when they drove out the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

"Failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States. The Taliban and al-Qaeda, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be defeating a second would have catastrophic effects in terms of energizing the extremist movement, al-Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising and so on."

On "Meet the Press," former President Bill Clinton said McChrystal's plan was "maybe" the right one -- "and that’s why the president hasn’t answered yet."

“What the president has done here is not to dis the general," Clinton said. "He’s saying, ‘My responsibility is not just to win military battles, but to see that it leads to something bigger for ourselves and our security and for the people of Afghanistan. I’ve got to decide whether we’ve got a partner there.’ ”

Bridget Johnson contributed to this report