Obama vs. Military: How Dire Is the Situation in Afghanistan?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, our president may be in a showdown with our military. It's about the war in Afghanistan. By Friday, U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal is expected to ask the president for as many as 40,000 more troops to fight the war in Afghanistan. Now, according to The Washington Times, General McChrystal told his staff he was prepared to resign if President Obama does not implement the counterinsurgency strategy approved by the White House in March. The Washington Times reports the general has since told his staff he will stay in command.

But is there are a rift growing between the White House and the military command? And what is going on with Afghanistan? Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was just in Afghanistan. Senator Graham joins us live.

First big question. Do we need -- you were there. How bleak is it? Do we need more troops, in your opinion?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R - S.C.: It's bad. Yes, we need more troops. We've...


GRAHAM: Yes, it's very bad. It's deteriorated. The violence is greater than I've seen since I've been there. We're losing more troops. The Taliban have reemerged. The question is why. They don't have an army. They don't have an air force. But the governance problem is real in Afghanistan. And we don't have enough troops to go to the outlying areas of Afghanistan, so the Taliban have emerged and intimidating the population.

And General McChrystal is recommending more combat power to bring about better security, which will allow us to have a second chance of better governance. With more troops, I don't know if we'll be successful. I think we will be. But without more troops, it's unfair to those who are there.

VAN SUSTEREN: Because there's a higher risk.

GRAHAM: Those who are there cannot do their job and change the momentum and take back territory from the Taliban without help.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the thing that -- I guess when you tell me that, you know, if, indeed, we need more troops there, is that...

GRAHAM: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... is that we better do it sooner, rather than later.


VAN SUSTEREN: And if the discussion began in February, we're already sort of six months behind it...

GRAHAM: Yes. Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and putting a lot of people at risk.

GRAHAM: Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean -- I mean, you know, we need to move on it.


VAN SUSTEREN: We either need to get in or we need to fight harder with more troops.

GRAHAM: Half-measures are the worst things you could possibly do. The question for the country is eight years after 9/11, I can't believe we're having a discussion about whether or not we want to make sure the Taliban do not come back in charge of Afghanistan. Can you imagine?

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened? Why are -- why are we having that -- I mean, like, why -- why didn't we have greater success...

GRAHAM: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... at this point?

GRAHAM: ... here's what happened. We had to send a lot of troops to Iraq. To lose in Iraq would have made it impossible to win in Afghanistan, so we did divert resources. But the Karzai government has failed to deliver governance. The Taliban is filling in a vacuum. They've regained traction, but the Afghan people don't want them back. That's our ace in the hole.

But if you don't have enough security, you can't have economic growth or political compromise. So for whatever reason, it's a fact that the Taliban are occupying about a third of the country in different -- at different levels. And with additional troops, we can beat them. Then we'll have to come up with a strategy to govern better so they don't come back. But this idea of fighting from a distance is silly to me.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what is the president -- do you know what the president is saying about it? Is he going to do as General McChrystal asks, or does he have a different plan?

GRAHAM: I don't know, Greta, but I can tell you what the president said in March, announcing a new strategy that we will be sending more troops into Afghanistan is what we did in Iraq, a counterinsurgency strategy that's designed to protect the people and the institutions of government from the insurgency. It's a mathematical formula.

VAN SUSTEREN: But did we do that in March? If he announced that in March, did he do that in March?

GRAHAM: No, but we set in motion -- we sent 21,000 troops early this year, but we need more. The counterinsurgency strategy is labor-intensive. Here's what worries me. In the last weekend -- last weekend -- he's talking about abandoning that strategy of our counterterrorism strategy, which means that you would fight outside of Afghanistan, very few American troops in Afghanistan. You'd try to control the Taliban from a distance. That will not...

VAN SUSTEREN: What -- I mean, what, like, with drones and...

GRAHAM: Yes. Exactly.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) do it from the air, but...

GRAHAM: And here's what's happens. The will see that as a withdrawal. The people in Afghanistan will see that as a withdrawal. The moderates will get killed. The Taliban will become stronger. You need to be with the population. You need to deal with the Afghan army and police force. The way we turned Iraq around is instead of training the Iraqis, we embedded with them. We actually went out in the field with them and helped them fight and trained them at the same time. That's what we need to do now. The key to getting out is a better security force for the Afghans, police and army, but to do that, you got to have more trainers -- not just more trainers, more combat power.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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