Advice to Obama on Afghanistan: Listen to Your Commanders, the Time to Act Is Now

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 29, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, the news about Afghanistan is bleak. General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander if US and NATO forces in Afghanistan wants as many as 40,000 more troops to fight this war. President Obama is debating with his advisers what to do.

Now, this is a very tough problem. It is getting worse, and the clock is running. Senator Lindsey Graham was just in Afghanistan. He joins us live.

Senator Graham, I guess there're no dispute that it's getting worse and worse.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R - S.C.: And it's getting worse because the Taliban have reemerged, the 68,000 American troops combined with the NATO forces, according to General McChrystal, are not enough to regain lost momentum, and I'm going to side with General McChrystal. He's come up with a counterinsurgency strategy to take back over lost ground and to come up with a different plan to govern. We need civilian help too, but in the short term we need more combat power.

VAN SUSTEREN: When did he come up with this plan, and when did he - when did he send it up along - up the totem pole to the president?

GRAHAM: It's been in the works since March. The new strategy was to engage Afghanistan like we did Iraq, where our soldiers would not only train the Afghans but live with them, fight with them. That's the way you make an army better. You just can't train them and let them go on their own.

So it's been in the works for a long time. He's been ready to send it to the president for weeks now. And I - I appreciate the dilemma the president - but you're not doing a good service to the 68,000 who are in Afghanistan with no hope of changing the environment, so I would urge the president to act quickly, because to get more troops in, we got to start now to get them in by next year.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, isn't the whole idea to be decisive. I mean, each day - I was looking at the numbers of people, and this year the numbers of American military deaths in Afghanistan is 218 so far this year, which is already 40 percent more than in 2008. So we - we need to do something.

GRAHAM: Yes, ma'am. And my view is that General McChrystal has thought of - thought well - long and hard about what that something is. The something is to regain lost ground, to take the 40,000 additional troops, deploy them in areas where the Taliban have reemerged, 1,000 percent increase in IED attacks.

We learned in Afghanistan - in Iraq, when we put more troops in, the people trusted us. They told us more about what was going on. So more combat power will win the population over to our side, and if we don't act quickly, the casualties are going to go up. But worst of all worlds is to keep in place what we have now. It's an unsustainable situation. It needs to change one way or the other, and I think more troops is the way it needs to change.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any doubt in your mind that President Obama is going to do as his general on the ground, McChrsytal, says needs to be done?

GRAHAM: You know, I worked really hard for Senator McCain. This is not President Obama's war. I want him to be successful. I want to help him. If he ignores the general's advice and we don't send those troops, I don't see how we win. I know General Petraeus and General McChrystal very well. They understand what they're asking - the people going to Afghanistan are going to come from Iraq.

So I would urge the president to listen to his military commanders. These people know what they're doing. They turned Iraq around, they could turn Afghanistan around. And every day we wait to make this decision makes it harder for those who are there in Afghanistan. So if the president said tomorrow to the nation, I know it's not popular, but we need more troops, Lindsey Graham would be standing by his side.

I would not do to President Obama what they did to President Bush. If President Obama will embrace the commander's recommendation for more troops, I will be one Republican standing by his side, trying to tell the American people we can't lose in Afghanistan. This is the place where we were attacked. Losing in Afghanistan to the Taliban is a nightmare for this country, for Pakistan. It's the end of NATO. A lot is at stake here.

VAN SUSTEREN: He's - and to go back to my question, we doubt that President Obama is going to follow what his commander on the ground says. That's the first question.

GRAHAM: I don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: The second is anyone telling him anything differently?

GRAHAM: Well, I know he's got a lot of people talking to him, and he's very worried about sending people into combat, as he should be. But those who suggest a different strategy, and counterterrorism strategy where you use less troops, we tried that in the 90s.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that the sort of the - the Rumsfeld military light, where we try to do this light thing a little bit?

GRAHAM: Exactly. The idea of fighting from a distance - and we understood one thing in Iraq, that the Iraqi Army had about 200,000 troops, but when it - when they went into battle, they folded. Only when we put more American troops into Iraq, living with the Iraqi Army, training with the Iraqi Army, fighting with the Iraqi Army, did they get where they are today. We need to do the same thing in Afghanistan.

VAN SUSTEREN: I - I don't remember the exact day. I think it was August - maybe August of 2003 when Senator John McCain said we needed more boots on the ground in Iraq. I think it was - I think that was when you first starts - you told me again in April of '04, and it's a long time before anyone sort of listened to John McCain. He seemed to be the one pushing that. Has anyone called Senator McCain and said "What do you think?"

GRAHAM: Well, the president talked to him, and I - I appreciate the president reaching out. The president has to evaluate, you know, what will work, what will not work. What we're about to do in Afghanistan, what we did in Iraq, not have enough manpower to affect the outcome.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you think this is going to happen, then? I mean.

GRAHAM: I think we're - Well, I think we've forgotten the lessons of Iraq very quickly. I hope the president will listen to the commander. These are the commanders that turned Iraq around, and if we don't act quick, we're going to lose more ground. Every day that we wait, the Taliban gets stronger and our troops get more at risk.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So let me go - Do you have any doubt he's going to do that?

GRAHAM: I don't know what he's going to do. I've got no doubt what the general is recommending. Read the report, the general says if we don't reinforce Afghanistan, we will lose to the insurgency within a year.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's taking him so long to make this decision, the president? I'm not saying long, but why - why is he making that right now? If.

GRAHAM: I am sure he's worried about what will happen with the governing part. If we send a bunch of troops in, will that affect the governance problem? The problem in Afghanistan is the Karzai government has failed. I understand. I've got doubts about the Karzai government, but without better security, no government can function.

So I would urge the president, get a better security environment, then we'll push Karzai together - Republicans and Democrats will hold his feet to the fire to do a better job of governing the country. But if you let the security situation deteriorate, we're going to have more casualties and we're going to lose the ability to turn around Afghanistan. If we had not had a surge in Iraq, we would have lost. We're at the same point in Afghanistan in 2009 as we were in Iraq in 2007. We need to change strategy.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I have twice (INAUDIBLE). It's fair to say, though, that the president, you know - and the president's very concerned about this, and he's looking - it's not like he's just blowing this off.

GRAHAM: He's very concerned, but he needs to act because time is not on our side, according to General McChrystal. The longer we wait, the worse it gets.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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