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Transcript: Sens. Levin, Kyl on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published October 26, 2009 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a rush transcript of the October 25, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to discuss the choices President Obama must make are the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, who comes to us from his home state of Michigan, and here in studio, Jon Kyl, the number two Republican in the Senate.
Senators, you just heard Dr. Abdullah. He's leaving open the possibility that he may boycott this runoff unless there are significant changes to the Afghan election system.
Senator Levin, let me start with you. Should the U.S. pressure President Karzai to make those reforms?
SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: Well, I think we ought to put as much pressure on that process to be open and honest and transparent as possible without looking as though we're intervening in the process. It's got to be an Afghan process.
There are more than one — groups there that are looking at it. There's one controlled by Karzai, of course, but there's another one which is an international group, and it was that group which I think caused the re-election to take place when it found that there were so many fraudulent ballots.
But I would think it would be a mistake for Dr. Abdullah to do anything other than what he just did, which is to avoid calling for a boycott, because he's hoping that he can win. So I think, yes, we ought to press as hard as we can without appearing to be dominating or taking off — taking over the process.
WALLACE: Senator Kyl, Dr. Abdullah also says that the record is clear over the last eight years that Hamid Karzai has not been able to deliver as president of Afghanistan.
Should the U.S. get more involved in Afghanistan if Karzai, after the runoff, ends up being our partner?
SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.: The answer is I believe we should follow the recommendations of General McChrystal and continue the mission so that we can prevail.
That means for a while we will have to be more involved. Obviously, when you're talking about a country like Afghanistan, you don't have a perfect government. That's why you have to have a counterinsurgency policy. The populace can't be protected by their own government.
And the point of a counterinsurgency policy is for the United States forces and the other United — NATO forces to be able to help protect the Afghan population. Our being there will, as Carl Levin said, provide some leverage over the government to be more cooperative and assist us in that effort.
So I think for all of those reasons, following General McChrystal's recommendation makes a lot of sense.
WALLACE: As we said earlier, President Obama is now just about one month into his second strategy review about the way forward in Afghanistan.
This week former vice president Cheney was upset about the president's long policy review. He accused him of dithering, said he is encouraging our enemies and demoralizing our troops. And the White House responded very sharply. Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete the mission
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Kyl, three weeks ago you defended the president against critics who said that he was taking too long in this strategy review. Do you still feel that way?
KYL: Republicans want very much to support the president's decision. And if he makes the decision along the lines that General McChrystal has recommended, I believe we will do that. I think that's — that's an element of bipartisanship that is called for here.
But let me read what General McChrystal himself said. "Time matters. We must act now to reverse the negative trends and demonstrate progress." And he also said, "I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term, next 12 months, while the Afghan security capacity matures, risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
It's been more than two months since the recommendation went to the president. And General McChrystal is talking about a 12-month time frame. So clearly, time is of the essence here.
WALLACE: Do you believe that the review the president has undertaken has hurt our chances and hurt our mission there?
KYL: It depends upon how quickly we can get the forces in. And remember, Afghanistan is not a country like Iraq where you've already got roads, and electricity, and water and so on. So you basically have to set up your camps from scratch.
If we can quickly get forces in there, then perhaps we will not have lost critical time. But as General McChrystal said, time matters. And I'm afraid with every passing day we risk the future success of the mission.
WALLACE: Senator Levin, is there a cost to the president engaging in such a long and such a public review? And do you think at this point that he should wait till after the election so that whatever his decision is, it doesn't affect the runoff?
LEVIN: Well, first of all, I thought that the comments of the former vice president were totally out of bounds. I don't think he has any credibility left with the American people in any event.
But I think it's really wrong for the vice — former vice president of the United States to be talking as he did about the president dithering, because the president needs to reach the right decision.
President Bush took three months in considering whether or not to surge troops in Iraq. When he made a decision to surge those troops, he overruled the recommendation of his commander on the ground, General Casey, who was opposed to sending in more troops at that time.
I think that history will show that President Bush reached the right decision. It wasn't the only cause for the improved situation in Iraq, to the extent it has improved. But nonetheless, he took the three months.
No one pressured President Bush at that time to reach a decision more quickly than he felt he could. And for — I think for some of the Republicans in general — and Senator Kyl is not one of those Republicans who is unduly pressing the president. I give Senator Kyl credit for not pressing the president the way Cheney and some of the Republicans have.
But it just is important the president reach the right decision. And this is a NATO decision. Right now we have Secretary Gates going over to NATO, talking to NATO allies. This is not just a decision of the United States and whether to send more troops. There is a lot more involved than just more troops.
There's a question of equipping the Afghan army. There's a question of reintegrating the lower-level Taliban. There's a number of issues that are involved here. The whole training mission is critical. We need our NATO allies on board.
And the president is taking the appropriate amount of time. I'm hoping he'll reach a right decision, which is to Afghanize this process much more than it has been.
WALLACE: All right. Let me — let me break in here, because I think we all agree that less important than — the question of when he decides is less important than the question of what he decides.
The Wall Street Journal just yesterday had a report that said that the president is moving towards a hybrid strategy that will be part training Afghan forces, part counterinsurgency, somewhere between the 10,000 added troops, which was the lowest level that McChrystal was talking about, and 40,000 troops, which is what McChrystal is asking for.
Senator Levin, would you support this — what's being called a middle ground? And do you think that's where the president is headed?
LEVIN: Well, I'd want to see the entire mix. There's a lot of ways of showing resolve, and resolve needs to be shown. General McChrystal himself said that it's appropriate to deliberate and to change, as he put it, the strategy to one which is more workable than the one that is currently in place.
And so it would depend upon the mix of actions which we take, not just the question of more trainers, which are critically important because we've got to increase the size and the capability of the Afghan army, but also the question of equipment for the Afghan army. We took a vote just this week which allows for our equipment to be transferred from Iraq to the Afghan army.
It has to do with a plan to reintegrate the Afghans. There's a lot of things that need to be done to show resolve. I think it would be a mistake to have any significant number of additional combat forces, because I'd like to see the large increase in the Afghan army be the major way in which this war is successful.
WALLACE: Senator Kyl, there were some who say that this would be a kind of "split the difference" decision that would give General McChrystal and the military part of what that want, but it would also give something to the president's liberal base. What do you think of the idea?
KYL: Well, first of all, I would note that Friday in Bratislava the NATO ministers agreed and they supported the counterinsurgency policy that General McChrystal laid out, so I think NATO will...
LEVIN: Could I interrupt there just for a second?
KYL: Wait, let me just finish, Carl.
WALLACE: Well, let him finish.
WALLACE: I'll give you a chance, Senator.
KYL: Secondly, I don't believe that this is a choice between one or the other. The policy has always been to try to take out Al Qaida when we can. The policy has always been to train up more Afghan military and police.
The question was how many additional combat troops would go into theater. And if we can get close to 40,000 combat troops into theater and also do the other things that everyone agrees need to be done, then I think it is a workable strategy. It basically follows General McChrystal's recommendation.
So when it's described as a hybrid, I think that's a bit of a misnomer. We were always going to do the other two things. But you can get better intelligence and perform more effectively both the training with more troops and the counterterrorism against Al Qaida if you have more American combat troops in theater.
WALLACE: Senator Levin, you get a brief final word.
LEVIN: Yeah. I just — in Bratislava, the minister — defense ministers supported a counterinsurgency strategy. That did not reach any conclusion relative to additional number of troops.
This is a NATO effort. Many countries have to be involved in this.
WALLACE: But it is a fact that they endorsed General McChrystal's plan, is that not true, Senator Levin?
LEVIN: No. They — what they — no. They endorsed the counterinsurgency plan, the part that has been made public. They specifically did not decide whether there should be additional...
WALLACE: No, but — but — but...
... they did endorse a counterinsurgency.
LEVIN: I do, too. I think the counterinsurgency plan is the right way to go and the way to make it effective — I believe is to have a much larger, much quicker Afghan army and a much better equipped Afghan army.
WALLACE: All right. We're going to have to leave it there.
Senators Levin, Senator Kyl, thank you both so much for coming in. Please come back, both of you gentlemen.
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