By Sam Youngman - 10/22/09 12:15 AM EDT
President Barack Obama strongly hinted Wednesday he’ll put off a decision on increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan until after that country’s Nov. 7 election.
In an interview with NBC Nightly News, Obama said that “it is certainly possible” the administration will have “a strategy formulated” before the winner of the runoff is determined.
Separately, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told reporters that “common sense” dictated the president would want to wait and see what the Afghan government looks like after the runoff before making a decision on troops.
“It’s very hard for me to believe that the president would decide otherwise,” Kerry said following a meeting with Obama.
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, just returned from Afghanistan, where he helped convince Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to commit to the runoff.
The signals that the announcement of a decision could be put off until after the election came as Republicans continued to howl that Obama is putting U.S. troops in jeopardy by not making a quicker decision.
They argue Obama should waste no time in heeding the request for 40,000 additional troops from U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) went to the Senate floor Wednesday to say using the runoff as a pretext for delay is a “red herring.”
“While we would all like to see a pristine election in Afghanistan, something we still haven’t accomplished 100 percent in our own nation, the Taliban is not waiting for election results to continue to kill our troops and attack the people of Afghanistan,” said Bond, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence panel. “Security in Afghanistan will not come from Kabul; it has to be built village by village and valley by valley.”
Kerry noted that the runoff is only two weeks away, and voiced confidence that the results would be found “rapidly.”
He said Obama did not tell him his schedule for making a decision and that the topic of timing did not come up.
Kerry said the stakes are too high to rush a decision on a strategy that depends so much on having a legitimate Afghan government in place.
Obama told NBC that he and his top national security advisers will not drag out their decision.
“Our basic attitude is we are going to take the time to get this right,” Obama said. “We’re not going to drag it out, because there is a sense that the sooner we get a sound approach in place and personnel in place, the better off we’re going to be.”
Kerry’s suggestion could carry more weight with the president after a senior White House official hinted Wednesday morning that the senator will play a larger role in the way forward.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that after Kerry spent “time and energy” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the president was “anxious to get his read on the situation in both countries ... as well as what he heard from our commanders over there.”
Gibbs said the White House did not arrange for Kerry, who was considered to be on Obama’s shortlist for secretary of State, to travel to the region, but he “played an enormously effective role” in convincing Karzai to agree to a runoff.