September 20th, 2009
02:35 PM ET
5 years ago

Levin takes on McCain over Afghanistan strategy

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee responded Sunday to recent criticism from former White House hopeful Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, has lately suggested that the proper course for the United States to pursue in Afghanistan is to beef up the country’s own army and police forces before planning on sending in any additional American troops.

At a hearing of the Armed Services Committee last week, McCain took direct aim at Levin’s approach.

“Despite our successes in Iraq and the hard won understanding we have gained about what it takes to defeat an insurgency,” McCain said on Capitol Hill last Tuesday, “it seems we now, regrettably, must have the same debate again today with respect to Afghanistan. In all due respect, Sen. Levin, I’ve seen that movie before.”

“It’s a very different movie,” Levin said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, in response to McCain’s recent remarks.

Levin told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King that the U.S. is seeing some success in Iraq because the military succeeded in winning over insurgents who had been attacking American soldiers and destabilizing Iraqi society. “That’s what we need to also do in Afghanistan. That is a very big difference.”

As in Iraq, however, Levin noted that the U.S. military in Afghanistan is changing its strategy in dealing with the local population. “Instead of just trying to attack the insurgents, we were protecting the population. That new strategy is now in place in Afghanistan. So, this is a very different movie from Iraq. They’re two very different places.”

Levin also said Sunday that the Iraqi army does not enjoy the level of public confidence that the Afghan army has with the local population.

In an interview that also aired Sunday on State of the Union, President Obama said he was working with his military and national security advisers to develop his administration’s strategy for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.

"I think that what we have to do is get the right strategy, and then I think we've got to have some clear benchmarks, [a] matrix of progress," Obama told King about the war-torn country.

"I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question," Obama also said. "Because there is a natural inclination to say, if I get more, then I can do more. But right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?"

Also on State of the Union Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president generally had the support of Senate Republicans for what the Obama administration has been doing in Afghanistan. But McConnell expressed concern about an apparent delay in making available to Congress troop level recommendations from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

“We’d like to see Gen. McChrystal and Gen. [David] Petraeus come up to Congress like they did during the Iraq [war’s] surge and give us the information about what they’re recommending. We think the time for decision is now,” McConnell said, adding that if Obama ultimately decided on a change in strategy in Afghanistan or on adding additional troops, the White House would have the support of Senate Republicans.


Filed under: Afghanistan • Carl Levin • Iraq • John McCain • President Obama • State of the Union
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. We Won Get Over It

    Why do republicans always want to prolong wars? If it is possible to train the people of Afganstan and leave then do it.

    September 20, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  2. Republicans are the American Taliban

    What I want to know is what would Sarah Palin do?? What is her war time strategy??We already know that McCain is the Talibans representative in the Senate....

    September 20, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  3. A.P.

    At least based on this article, Levin's argument seems unpersuasive. The points he makes only seem to emphasise some of the similarities between the two wars, and I'm not sure how his point about the small afghan army being more trusted than Iraq's military translates to us not reinforcing our troops there. Perhaps there was more to his argument that isn't reported here?

    September 20, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  4. Jim

    Carl Levin, like many Senators and Congressmen, is a lawyer who has never served in the U.S. military. His appointment to the Armed Services committee was handled by other senators who are like him, lawyers and know-nothing politicians. His opinion about anything military is worth exactly zero.

    September 20, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  5. Simmy

    McCain thought Palin was the best choice for VP, over every other possible candidate..The pencil broke, that's all she wrote......

    September 20, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  6. Peggy

    Afghanistan is not Iraq! History teaches us that in Afghanistan, War is hell, to quote General Sherman. The British tried being friends with the Afghans in the 1800's and you see what it got them. I think our best bet is to try and develop the economy and restore the infrastructure. Too many places to hide but if the people see the changes and know that we are not staying maybe peace will come. It is a toss of the dice.

    September 20, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  7. On the other hand...

    You would think that after Obama ( and Hillary Clinton ) were so wrong about the effectiveness of increasing troop levels in Iraq that they would be humble enough to listen to the experts on this one.

    We have troops there now. The Generals are experts and paying 100% attention to what needs to be done every day there. Give them the support to do their jobs. That's the way to minimize the losses for our own military...not to second guess their requests.

    September 20, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  8. Keeth in California

    Under a Republican president, the Dems demanded generals before committees and the Republicans said they were micro-managing. Now it's the opposite. Funny. But not.

    September 20, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  9. Connie, Indiana

    Seems to me the war-mongers (republicans) are continually beating the same drum.

    September 20, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  10. g_fall

    I don't care much what Levin or McCain say...I want the military leaders in the field and the Joint Cheifs of Staff come up with a strategy to catch and kill Bin Ladin and win in Afghanistan (and Pakistan). I think that President Obama should listen to the military, not these senators. He's been doing okay so far.

    September 20, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  11. GI Joe

    McCain has been a war-mongering songbird all his adult life. All he knows how to do is crash planes and get his "POW" Perks. He wants war war war war war war war

    September 20, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  12. Soochy

    Some ACORN employees behaving badly doesn't mean that ACORN itself is a criminal enterprise . How about all of the good things ACORN does do ? Does that go away because some of their employees did bad ? Republicans are only against ACORN because it's largely pro-Democrat and pro working person. How about all of the Corporations who have comitted crimes as part of their corporate culture...that's ok, as long as they vote right wing huh ?

    September 20, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  13. William in San Jose

    McCain wants to crash yet another plane.

    September 20, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  14. katiec

    If McCain had been elected president we would probably have Bomb, bomb, bombed Iran and had three wars going, that is, if we even
    still existed.
    There really is not much success that can be claimed in Iraq, as
    it could explode overnight.

    September 20, 2009 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  15. ray

    i always thought that americans were smart people, i am so ...........wrong. here you have a bunch of obstructionist on the right will do anything to have power, if it means killing they will do it. why the hell macain and the rest of these people on the right in congress and around the country dont go and kill themselves?

    September 20, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  16. Steve (the real one)

    History tells us that NO ONE has ever tamed Afghanistan. From Alexander the Great to the Russians! Same terrain, same mentality., same culture today as back in the past! Can we do better? Not without more troops, more money, more American deaths! It may came as a great surprise to some of you but people ACTUALLY die in war! Both military and civilian! Both our people and theirs!

    September 20, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  17. John in Tampa

    It is indeed a different movie. For starrts, the people who murdered our friends and neighbors in NYC 8 years ago operated out of Afghanistan, where they received and still receive material aid and comfort. They will come back if we don't get them first. Preferably there. This is not one you can walk away from unless you are already brain-dead, because they still mean to kill your children if they can.

    That said, John McCain has the upper hand in the arguments on what to do next–action is better than no action.

    Before you assume things, I worked hard in the last election to defeat John McCain and elect Barak Obama. One reason was, I saw Senator McCain make too many mistakes in live interviews relating to military and/or strategic issues to ever imagine him Commander-in-Chief. But when you're right you're right, and in this he is.

    September 20, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  18. Moe, NY

    Hmmmm...let me guess...McCain wants to BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB BOMB Afghanistan.

    September 20, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    McCain is irrelevant!

    September 20, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  20. JonDie

    During the presidential campaign last year, John McCain couldn't even keep Iran and Iraq straight, referring to these two countries interchangeably as being the same country.

    John McCain has one goal: tear our country and our president down.

    September 20, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  21. Adalbert

    There is no need for us to loose any more life and other valuable recources in Afghanistan. The longer we stay there the more we will be resented by the Afghan people.

    September 20, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  22. Illinois 2

    It is more than obvious that the afgan army can not be trusted to do what has to be done to protect their own people or to work with a foriegn power to capture bin laden and get our troops out of the country....................

    September 20, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  23. gor

    macain spend on health care no more bigger war -yes-yes-yes

    September 20, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  24. joe m

    given the choice as to whom i would trust in knowing and understanding what to do in this situation, Levin does not even come close to McCain. Levin's understanding and approach is that of a politician, McCain's is that of a person who has had to go through the experience of war. Levin is trying to satisfy a political base, while McCain is viewing the sitaution for what it is, messy, cruel, and one that America cannot afford to get wrong again.

    September 20, 2009 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  25. joe m

    given the choice as to whom i would trust to know and understand what to do with this situation, Levin is not comparision to McCain. Levin is politician trying to satisfy political needs. McCain, while also a politician, comes to this situation with the insight of one who has dealt with war first hand. Levin understands and knows that if he can get his way, he will satisfy his political supporters. McCain understand and know that the situaiton is one that is messy, cruel, and one that America cannot afford to get wrong again.

    September 20, 2009 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
1 2