Speaking on a day in which eight Americans and two Afghan policemen were killed in a dramatic daylight strike by insurgents in Afghanistan, White House National Security Advisor James Jones pushed back against assertions that the United States needs more troops in the violence-torn country.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” with John King, Jones said that the current U.S. force there is “robust.” That comment contradicts the top U.S. commander in the field, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has waged an unusually public campaign for more boots on the ground in Afghanistan, warning that the mission there could fail without them.
President Barack Obama met privately with McChrystal for 25 minutes aboard Air Force One in Europe on Friday. Asked on CBS's Face the Nation what happened during the session, Jones said, "the two had a good meeting and it was a good opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better." And, he said, "I'm sure they exchanged very direct views."
In September, the Washington Post obtained and published a candid 66-page report by Gen. McChrystal assessing the deteriorating situation American forces face in Afghanistan. And in a speech in London last week, McChrystal argued that any effort to scale down the war in Afghanistan would be misguided. Vice President Joe Biden is one of the most visible proponents of scaling back the U.S. footprint in the country.
In the interview Sunday, however, Jones said that the solution to problems in Afghanistan is "much more complex than just about 'X' more troops.”
Asked by CNN's King if he thought McChrystal's overt lobbying on the troop number was "unseemly," Jones offered a soft rebuke of the general:
"Ideally, it's best for military advice to come up through the chain of command," Jones said. The president should be presented with options, not just one “fait accompli,” Jones told CBS moderator Bob Schieffer.
The highly visible debate about what to do in Afghanistan, which included a multi-hour session at the White House last week, prompted a divided reaction among Senators. On CNN, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said, “I’m so pleased we have a president who isn’t just going to rush forward.”
But Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was more skeptical of the process. “If we know that the commanding general has requested more troops to win in Afghanistan and we know that time is of the essence, why are we having this big debate about it?” Kyl asked CNN’s King.
Jones said stabilizing Afghanistan involves more than just military might. He said three areas need to improve in order for Afghanistan to be a stable nation that is no longer a threat to the United States. The security situation needs to get better, the economy needs to improve, and the Afghan people need to be confident that their government is not corrupt.
Still, he said the situation there is better than it was, and Al Qaeda has been contained in Afghanistan, with fewer than 100 members of the terrorist organization operating there.
“The good news is that the Al Qaeda presence is very diminished," Jones said. "I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban. And I want to be very clear: Afghanistan in not in danger—is not in imminent danger—of falling… It would be unwise to rush to a final judgment here.”
But asked whether McChrystal could – or would – stay on as the top commander if President Obama refuses his request of more soldiers, Jones demurred, saying “I should not prejudge what General McChrystal will do or not do.”
That sets up a potentially politically disastrous scenario for the White House. If Obama were to decide not to send in additional troops, a dramatic resignation by McChrystal would represent an embarrassing rebuke of the President’s leadership.
Jones also offered a carefully worded but stern rebuke to former Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain. In a speech on the Senate floor last week, McCain said that Jones, the White House National Security Advisor, and others in the Obama administration were kowtowing to the political left. Asked about that by King, Jones replied: I've known John McCain a long time, I worked with him when he was a captain." McCain, Jones said, knows that "I don't play politics and I certainly don't play politics with our national security. I take exception to that remark."