October 26th, 2009
05:47 PM ET
9 years ago

Kerry treads middle ground on Afghanistan

Sen. Kerry spoke about Afghanistan at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington Monday.

Sen. Kerry spoke about Afghanistan at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington Monday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned Monday against a narrowing of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, but also suggested a plan by the commanding U.S. general in the country is overly ambitious.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that a major U.S. troop pullout could trigger a civil war could between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

It could also destabilize neighboring Pakistan, he added.

Kerry's warning came in the midst of a comprehensive Obama administration review of U.S. strategy in the two countries.

Kerry rejected the idea of a small-scale counter-terror campaign advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, saying it was no substitute for the wider ongoing military campaign.

But he also would not endorse a major troop increase as proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Kerry said McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional troops "reaches too far, too fast."

Kerry just returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he played a key role in persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election after Karzai's recent election victory was found to be the result of widespread voter fraud.

By making the case for a middle-ground option - a limited counterinsurgency strategy with the potential for deploying more troops over time - Kerry treaded a fine line between fellow Democrats who oppose a greater stake in the region and Republicans who caution the Obama administration risks losing the war.

Republicans have also argued President Barack Obama will put soldiers at risk by rejecting McChrystal's request.

Kerry gave cover to Obama as the president considers a greater troop commitment to the eight-year war there.

Specifically, Kerry said three conditions must be met before Obama decides to deploy more troops to the region.

First, the United States needs assurances that there are enough reliable Afghan forces to partner with U.S. troops and eventually assume responsibility for security.

Second, there needs to be an increase in support from the country's local and tribal leaders.

Third, there should be a civilian surge to match the military increase.

"Under the right circumstances, if we can be confident that military efforts can be sustained and built upon, then I would support the president should he decide to send some additional troops to regain the initiative," Kerry said.

"Absent an urgent strategic imperative, we need a valid assessment by the president and other appropriate civilian authorities - not just the military - that those three conditions will be met before we consider sending more soldiers and Marines to clear new areas."

Kerry's current assessment of the Afghan government's ability to partner with American officials was grim. He said, among other things, that the United States does not have the "critical guarantees of governance and development

"Deploying additional troops won't result in sustainable gains if the Afghan security, civilian and governance capacity isn't
there," he said.

"And right now, as our generals will tell you, in many places, too many places, it isn't."

Success for the U.S. military effort, Kerry argued, will come when can Americans can "empower and transfer responsibility to Afghans as rapidly as possible and achieve a sufficient level of stability to ensure that we can leave behind an Afghanistan that is not controlled by al Qaeda or the Taliban."

Achieving U.S. goals "does not require us to build a flawless democracy, defeat the Taliban in every corner of the country, or create a modern economy," he argued.

Kerry said increased development efforts could also help with counterinsurgency operations by winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, a strategy advocated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The State Department said Monday it is on track to meet the goal of tripling its civilian staff in Afghanistan, from 320 in January to 974 by early 2010. Kerry echoed comments made in the past by Clinton, saying it was important for civilian workers to be protected with the proper number of troops.

He also emphasized the importance of intensifying support and improving cooperation with neighboring Pakistan.

"Given the balance of our strategic interests, it should give serious pause to military and civilian strategists alike that the current balance of our expenditure between Afghanistan, where there is virtually no Al Qaeda, and Pakistan, where there is, tallies 30-to-one," he said.

Blasting the Bush administration for its "gross mishandling" of the war in Afghanistan, Kerry said the Obama administration was left with "no great options for its handling today."

Still, he continued, "it was not a mistake to go in" after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We now have to choose a smart way forward so that no one is ever compelled to ask whether we've made a mistake in staying," he said.

Filed under: Afghanistan • John Kerry
soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. Bluebonnet

    Oh like that long-faced idiot would know what to do!

    October 26, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  2. Buckeye

    There is no middle ground on Afghanistan, just like there is no military victory possible there, or in Iraq. Bring all the US troops and funds home. Now. We need both here at home.

    October 26, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  3. LacrosseMom

    Sen. Kerry as much as I respect you for your service to our Nation, in ANOTHER SENSELESS war, Vietnam! You of all people know that we CAN NOT WIN in Afghanistan!

    Anyone who know one iota about the history & people of Afghanistan is aware that this county has been fighting itself and other invaders for centuries!

    Afghanistan fought the British for ..... 80 YEARS! The Soviets for .... 10! And now the U.S.......... for EIGHT!


    The ONLY way to STOP terrorists, is to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim people. Only then, will we be able to convince them that the terrorists are lying, and that they can trust us! Its hard for Afghans to trust the U.S. when our Drones are killing them!

    ALL those who want the war to continue, need to enlist, YOU go fight.


    October 26, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  4. Enough

    So just what does Kerry endorse? Does he suggest we just keep on doing nothing since Obama has no strategy for Afghanistan?

    October 26, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  5. LacrosseDad

    fastest wounded soldier out of Viet Nam with three bandages to prove it...COWARD

    October 26, 2009 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  6. Mike in MN

    Kerry says more troops won't help if Afghanistan is not more stable. That is exactly why more troops are needed. Without more troops Afghanistan will never become more stable, it will continue to get worse. The war will be lost and the Taliban will take over again and will once again allow the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 to set up camps and plot attacks against the US.

    October 26, 2009 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  7. D.

    Is he against troop increase just after he was for it, or now he is for and against it simultaneously !??? Is it deja vu all over again !?!?!????

    What a political politician he has been after he was a soldier and probably as a soldier too before he became anti-soldiers politician!
    This guy's "before and after" is so confusing.....

    October 26, 2009 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  8. Wise Latina

    wafflewafflewaffle Even when these idiot politicians can't see a flag to know which way to think, they still must get in front of a camera even if to say nothing at all.

    Calling him a windbag is an insult to all self-respecting windbags!

    October 26, 2009 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  9. Emmanuel Goldstein

    Kerry treads middle ground? Nice to see he is visiting new places.

    October 26, 2009 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  10. New Yorker

    So does this mean Kerry is the new "Military Czar"? This administration is a joke. I hope people wake up to the reality of it before 2012.

    October 26, 2009 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  11. c

    Kerry the coward is baccccck.

    October 26, 2009 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  12. Four and The Door

    Blasting the Bush administration for its "gross mishandling" of the war in Afghanistan, Kerry said the Obama administration was left with "no great options for its handling today."
    But candidate Obama had all of the answers for Afghanistan. Isn't that what he said?

    Do you think John McCain would be pointing fingers or making decisions? I'll go with decisions. He is more prepared to do that.

    October 26, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  13. Fitz in Texas

    If I were the President I would listen to General McChrystal and give our troops what they need..... not some wealthy Senator like Kerry.

    October 26, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  14. Chanel

    I'm gonna say this, it is simply ignorant for anyone to judge the Administration on their desicions to thouroughly evaluate strategy before sending more troops to Afghanistan. Remember 2003? Remember what happened when we had an administration that was not careful and deliberate with war? Remember what happens when you throw a bunch of troops into a country without an exit strategy? Remember (imaginary) weapons of mass destruction? Remember Iraq??? I'm not saying we should leave Afghanistan all together, but America voted for Obama because he IS careful. Oh how quickly some of you forget... ...

    October 26, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  15. Angi's Mom

    What double-talk! Bring our troops home now.

    October 26, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  16. db

    Surprise, surprise, surprise.

    October 26, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  17. Ridgeway

    Old "Swifty" chimes in eh? He should just have his face posted all over Afgahnistan. That would scare those grub eaters out of the country.

    October 26, 2009 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  18. danthesensibleman

    What Obama needs to do is start campaigning internationally for the cause in afghanistan for gloabal security and stability not to mention the humanitarian/nation building side, and start getting support in the form of troops, money, and infastructure

    October 26, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  19. RI Moderate

    So he's for it.

    No, he's against it.

    No, he's for it.

    Ahhh – he was against it before he was for it!!!

    October 26, 2009 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  20. Meka

    Kerry's absolutely correct. Had WE not dropped the Ball, the World would have been in a 'Better Place'.

    Do to Cheney and Company . . . lining their Pocket's!

    October 26, 2009 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  21. New Age Independent

    Kerry taking the middle ground, unable to take a position... Can anyone be surprised? The Democrat strategy has always been see which way the prevailing political winds are before making a move.

    It would be a nice change to see this administration making a decision because it's the "right thing to do", instead of "how will it look politically".

    Yeah, it'll never happen.

    October 26, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  22. marion/alabama

    Kerry is a committee chairman,he does not make foreign policy,where is the secretary of state??? Coward Kerry,who would listen to this fake? Obama just wanted someone to waffel with so he selected Lap dog Kerry,he knew the coward would come back with his tail between his legs.

    October 26, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  23. Indy

    this is making me physically sick, you guys know this is John Kerry Senator John Kerry! he isnt just babbling about this issue, you guys know that right! this administration is calling on him for help he is in a very important position making important decisions talking to important people! senator John Kerry! this is so insane I don't even know what to say! this is who we have now dealing with issues of national security! this guy couldn't even handle the Big Dig and that was just a construction project!

    October 26, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  24. Frank P

    Mr. Flip Flop is back again! Ooooops actually that was his comrade not him, but I guess one flip flop as is good as the other flip flop! This guy is a joke!!!!! His message could not have been less clear than this; perhaps he is confused or senile? What ever it is, he should simply go away and let those that know something about warfare make such recommendations. Well, I guess when we have a President that can not make a decision as commander in chief (or is he commander in chef?) then likes of Kerry can talk and be heard!

    October 26, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  25. cuchiq12b

    Yep, this guy is a coward.

    October 26, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
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