By J. Taylor Rushing and Sam Youngman - 10/21/09 12:22 AM EDT
The GOP threat is significant, because with many Democrats opposed to an infusion of troops, Obama may need Republican votes to pass a war supplemental bill.
“The president charged Gen. McChrystal with the challenge of figuring out what’s wrong and how to fix it, and McChrystal’s come forward with a recommendation,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), another member of the Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the third-ranking GOP member on the panel, said he has read the leaked report by McChrystal and believes the general makes a clear case for no fewer than 40,000 troops.
“It was so thorough and so thoughtful … I feel like they’ve given immense thought to it,” Sessions said. “The president is the commander in chief, but he needs to listen very carefully to what his commanders are telling him.”
McChrystal is expected to testify before the committee later this year, after the chamber approved a measure requesting such testimony a few weeks ago.
Another central question on an Afghanistan troop surge comes closer to uniting Democrats and Republicans — whether such a surge should wait until after the country’s pending runoff election establishes the government’s legitimacy. Afghanistan’s elections in August were in severe dispute, prompting President Hamid Karzai to announce Tuesday that he would participate in the runoff race.
The top two members of the Armed Services Committee — Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican John McCain of Arizona — both said the administration’s troop decision shouldn’t wait.
“To wait until after the runoff harms our overall effort of getting our troops over there,” said McCain, “there’s no rationale for letting that happen.”
“The possibility of a new government does complicate things,” said Levin. “But is it a showstopper if the president is otherwise ready to make a decision? It is not, necessarily.”
There are also divisions among Obama’s closest advisers over how to proceed next. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who holds significant sway with Obama, has said the White House cannot wait until the election because “whatever emerges in Kabul is going to be an evolutionary process.”
But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on Sunday that a decision to send more troops would be contingent on having “a credible Afghan partner” to help provide security and government services.
“It’s now clear that it’s the folks on the president’s political team who are slowing this process down, not his military advisers,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said, adding: “Our men and women in Afghanistan deserve better than having their resources delayed until Rahm Emanuel can find a political solution to deal with his party’s base.”
On Tuesday, Obama was noticeably silent on the matter of a timetable for his decision, even as he told reporters in the Oval Office that he was appreciative of Karzai’s decision and had spoken by phone with Karzai earlier in the day.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs repeated Tuesday that the president will make a decision “in the coming weeks as the president goes through an examination of our policy.”
Republicans have grown increasingly vocal in their demands for a troop surge in Afghanistan, with Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) saying Tuesday that “wavering in Washington is disheartening American troops, demoralizing the people of Afghanistan and emboldening our terrorist enemies.”
“The clear message for the president is ‘no more excuses,’ ” Bond said of Karzai’s decision. “Delay leads to defeat, not victory; it’s critical for the commander in chief to support his commander on the ground now.”
Earlier this month, after a meeting with Obama at the White House, most Republicans suggested they were willing to give the president the time he requested to hold meetings with his national security advisers and devise a new strategy.
The White House’s delay comes as it awaits a political outcome in Karzai’s disputed election, which has emboldened Republicans.
“Gen. McChrystal was clear that the window for success in Afghanistan is short,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Every passing day that goes by is a day that could have been used to give our commander on the ground the resources he and our troops need to achieve the goals the president outlined in March.”
Ferrier and other Republicans questioned whether the administration is “allowing domestic political considerations to drive the reassessment, rather than a commitment to doing what it takes to secure our strategic and direct national interests in the region.”
“We hope that is not the case,” Ferrier added.
Democrats fired back hard on increased Republican criticism, with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blasting Boehner and other Republicans for taking their eyes off the ball in Afghanistan during the George W. Bush administration.
“McChrystal has now made recommendations — in light of the fact that we are now focused on Afghanistan — on what we need,” Hoyer said. “But we have more people than Mr. Boehner and his party put in Afghanistan over the last five or six years. So this business of wringing your hands and saying, ‘You’re not doing what [is needed]’ … We’re doing much more than they did.”
Hoyer defended Obama’s approach, which to date has included five meetings with top national security advisers, with at least one more to come.
“The president taking the time to determine whether or not, whatever policies we adopt going forward, can and will succeed, and that we can sustain those policies with the resources necessary to succeed, is, I think, what he ought to be doing,” Hoyer said.
One GOP Senate aide pointed to remarks from then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), when Reid blamed Republicans for inaction in surging in Iraq and ignoring the advice of commanders on the ground.
“We know that [Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld ignored the advice of the uniformed military and went into battle with too few troops and no plan to win the peace,” Reid said in 2006. “As a result, the insurgency was able to gain a foothold, and now civil and sectarian strife threatens our troops and our future and the future of Iraq.”
Jared Allen and Roxana Tiron contributed to this article.