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' comments are eye-opening considering he served as Defense Secretary in the Bush administration and because American forces first arrived in Afghanistan in 2001. Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld in January 2007.
"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."
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.
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.
The secretary also warned 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 super-power. For them to be defeating a second wold have catastrophic effects in terms of energizing the extremist movement, al-Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising and so on."