By Sam Youngman - 10/06/09 09:16 PM EDT
After a high-profile meeting at the White House, congressional Republicans said they want President Barack Obama to follow the advice of U.S. commanders and increase troops in Afghanistan.
Democrats who emerged from the bipartisan, bicameral meeting counseled patience, as the president has in recent weeks, pleading for more time to put "strategy before resources," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) put it.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, emerged from the nearly two-hour meeting saying the U.S. must increase the amount of troops in Afghanistan with "deliberate haste."
"It's pretty clear that time is not on our side," McCain said.
McChrystal said publicly last week that the U.S. needs a significant troop infusion in the region or else the mission will fail. McCain said that advice "is not only correct but should be employed as quickly as possible."
Obama and White House aides have said the president will make a decision on the way forward in a matter of weeks, and they have stressed that the president is undertaking a very deliberate process to ensure there is a successful strategy in place.
An administration official said the president "made it clear that his decision won't make everybody in the room or the nation happy, but underscored his commitment to work on a collaborative basis with the understanding that everyone wants what is best for the country."
"The president underscored the importance of the decision, and the need to ensure that we have a strategy in place that guides a decision on resources," the official said. "Given the importance of the policy to our security, and to our troops, the president said that he will be rigorous and deliberate, while moving forward with a sense of urgency."
Obama has held two meetings on the war with his top national security advisers. He has two more scheduled for this week, on Wednesday and Friday.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Wednesday's meeting would focus on Pakistan.
McChrystal's call for more troops has met with some resistance from Democrats who want to streamline the strategy and use fewer troops focused on targeting al Qaeda.
McCain criticized that approach Tuesday, saying that he did not want to see "half-measures" like those advocated by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. George Casey, which McCain said "lead to failure over time."
"The fact is we all know that if the Taliban come back, al Qaeda will come back," McCain said.
The administration official said that the president told the lawmakers that he wants the debate over the way forward to "be honest and dispense with the straw-man argument that this is either about doubling down or leaving Afghanistan."
Obama heard from 18 members during the meeting in the State Dining Room.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the meeting that everyone at the table with the president agreed that "whatever decision [Obama] makes, we'll support it."
Pelosi, however, said that even though Democrats appreciate how difficult a decision Obama has to make, "whether we agreed with it or voted for it remains to be seen."
It is clear that many Democrats are getting impatient with the worsening situation in Afghanistan. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said earlier this year that he was committed to giving the White House one year of war funding to make significant progress in Afghanistan.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that Senate Republicans are hopeful that "at the end of the day, the president will follow the advice of some of our finest generals."
McConnell said Republicans "will be able to make their decisions for themselves" on supporting whatever Obama decides to do, but if U.S. commanders are "on board, I think a significant number of our members will be as well."
Pelosi said that a number of questions were raised during the meeting about the commitment of NATO allies in the region, how "able" a partner Afghan President Hamid Karzai can be and whether the Afghan government can be constructive or will be "fraught with corruption."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said that members urging the president to make a decision need to be prepared to answer questions about how much money they're willing to spend on the effort and how long they're willing to deploy U.S. troops.
"Until these questions are answered, I think it'd be irresponsible" to deploy more troops, Kerry said.
Kerry said the president did a good job of describing for lawmakers exactly what the process is he is negotiating before making a decision.
McCain said the decision will be a test of Obama's abilities as commander in chief, which is why he thinks Obama wants to be deliberative in making that decision.
But McCain, Obama's opponent last year, said he believes "that the president will make the right decision."
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he thinks the president was "honest about wanting our input and our advice," and he is inclined to give Obama time to make a decision if the end-goal is to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"He wants ample time to make a good decision," Boehner said. "Frankly, I support that."