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. Tom

    Darn,,,, and all this time I THOUGHT Obama was elected President. I had no clue that Kerry actually won and was making the decisions

    October 26, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  2. susie

    Someone in this admistration has to make a decision! Either stay and send more troops or bring our troops home!

    October 26, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  3. Albo58

    Listen to the advice of the military General in the AOR or a failed politician that has less than 6 months in a war zone and one that proved his "courage" by protesting a war while there were still American troops engaged, thus giving comfort to the enemy? I think we should probably do the opposite whatever comes out of Kerry's treasonous mouth!

    October 26, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  4. Stu

    John Kerry...whichever way the wind blows. He is among the last who should ever open his mouth about military matters.

    October 26, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  5. wylie

    Ahhh Yes. The wondrous, "Do nothing and hope for a miracle option". You would think that a Viet Nam veteran would be keenly sensitive to politicians micro-managing and second-guessing the Generals.

    October 26, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  6. robertc

    Kerry is right that a pull out would destabilize the area and likely speed up another attack in the US. He sounds a little like LBJ to me. He has a plan that will lose in Afganistan. The only question is whether we fight and win there or fight here. Neither is a good choice, but the extremists aren't likely to give up because we say we like them.

    October 26, 2009 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  7. Don in Grand Rapids, Mi

    How can anyone trust Sen. Kerry after what he did upon returning from Viet Nam? The Sen is a buffoon 1st Class! Anybody notice that "Yellow" streak?

    October 26, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  8. Tim

    This guy is STILL a joke. The Administration either needs to give the Military commanders what they've used their training and expertise to determine what is needed and asked for or pack everyone up and come home.

    We should've learned from Vietnam that the only thing politics does is keep you from winning a military conflict.

    October 26, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  9. TooMuchTalk

    As a combat Vietnam veteran I can and will honestly say there is NO victory possible in Afghanistan. We have NO/ZERO partners there; the Afghan Army (whatever it is called) works 8-5p like a normal job! Also there is so much corruption that they have no chance of self governance ever. They are the drug capitol of the Middle East and are dedicated to money and nothing else!! It will always be ruled by the tribal chieftains plus the Taliban.
    For those who wish to continue the conflict there let’s make it fair for all – bring back the draft. Because those who talk the talk will NEVER walk the walk!!

    October 26, 2009 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  10. Willy Brown

    Another Hypocrite of the democrat party.

    October 26, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  11. A guy

    That war is a waste of time and money, Joe Biden has the correct answer, but no one wants to admit it.

    Spare me the right-wing saber rattling speech on this, we tried it your way and we've been pouring billions a month into a pile of sand 6000 miles away for how long now?

    GOT WMDs ?

    Yeah, I didn't think so.

    Guess what else completely evaporated with those WMDs+

    It's called Credibility, and guess what?

    You don't get it now just because a liberal president has been trying to clean up YOUR mess for 9 stinking months.

    October 26, 2009 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  12. Howie

    Here is one veteran who thinks this guy is a looser. He was a looser when he ran for the presidency and he is still a looser. Thank goodness he doesn't represent me, I simply could not take it.

    October 26, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  13. LacrossMomma

    If you don't support our troops that support the war, please feel free to stand in front of us.

    October 26, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  14. Ames Tiedeman, Austin, Texas

    Kerry is a complete moron. Our current national leadership is a total joke. America is in deep, deep, decline on all fronts: Economic, Cultural, Militarily. We are witness to the last days of Empire. I ask John Kerry, "Who is going to be the last American to die in Afghanistan?" But.... If you want to prosecute the war then the only way to win in Afghanistan is to go "all in" and sweep the country from East to West. Kerry is neither a military strategist or a wise man. Every single Taliban must be killed without regard for doing it nicely if you want to wage war against these savages. My personal view is we never should have sent in ground troops. When the Taliban refused to turn over Bin Laden we should have simply started an air campaign that would have reduced this filthy country of ruble to pebbles. The Russians spent 10 years being defeated and they were a thousand times more ruthless than we Americans. The British were drive out last century and Alexander the Great found utter hell in this mess called a country.

    October 26, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  15. A wised up Democrat who is now an Independant

    Who in the heck listens to the likes of Kerry. The only thing noteworth he has ever done is throw his good conduct medal into the river outside the capital while marching with the hippies. A soldier and Senator like him we don't need.

    October 26, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  16. Jack Lowe

    We can do it if we do it smart. Throwing our youth and money at the Taliban will only use us up and make them stronger. Regardless – we won't be making silk out of a sow's ear. The most we can hope for is a world committment to end terrorism and promote stability in the region.

    October 26, 2009 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  17. greg

    My gosh using one of our countries biggest cowards to do your dirty work Obama you make me sick you are a coward hiding behind the scenes. No wonder the rest of Europe thinks you are inexperienced -you waffle like crazy. I am embarrased by your weakness.

    October 26, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  18. NC Jeff

    Where's the President and Vice President on this? I voted for them and not Kerry! Looks to me like he's weasiling his way to up to some place where he wanted to be in the past but was resoundly told NO!.

    I have my doubts about this administrations ability to handle any crisis but letting this nut have anything to say or do with its decisions might just change me from a once democrat to Independent to Republican.

    October 26, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  19. Roark

    Obama was all puff and bluster on the campaign trail about pulling out of Iraq and focusing on Afghanistan, and now he is in fact delaying this decision for political reasons. He is delaying this major decision in effort to limit downside to the midterm elections. It's a simple as that. Anyone who argues otherwise is naive and uninformed.

    October 26, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  20. Eric in Denver

    Did anybody mention that Kerry served in Vietnam. This guy is as pathetic as the president. This is crazy that we are not listening to our leaders on the ground in Afghanistan. Barack is just trying to play to his base the daily kook people and the other USA bashers.

    October 26, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  21. larry grumet

    there is no middle ground. we had 500,000 GI's in vietnam, Kerry was one of them and so was I; It did not work. It cost our country 50,000 dead and hundreds of thousands wounded. we need to get out now.

    October 26, 2009 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  22. jparker

    Senator Kerry as usual is wrong. You do not create a stable civilian foundation without the influence of the US and NATO allies in Afghanistan. The stability created by the military has to come first. It worked in Iraq, and that is what General McChrystal is recommending with the additional troops in Afghanistan. We are sorry Mr. President that it busts your budget, and expectations of using the money on all of those liberal agenda items you and your Democratic Congress have been already been spending the money on. The money is needed for the additional troops in Afghanistan NOW, not tomorrow, or the next day. We cannot wait for you to go to another fundraiser before you do the work of the American people.

    October 26, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  23. Roark

    Kerry is simply spinning bs to try to justify Obama's continued delays in making a decision. A decision Obama continues to delay for purely political reasons, to limit downside to midterm elections. Wake up people. Focus groups do not win wars Mr. Obama.

    October 26, 2009 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  24. BedfordRick

    I'm amazed at the trashing that I see in these comments. I served in Vietnam and hated what Kerry stood for then, but I've softened my stance a little as I get older. Back then we were frustrated, thinking that the anti-war protests intimidated our leaders into ordering us to do as little as possible.

    For instance, the Navy Ships rule of engagement was that we could only fire on the enemy if we were first fired upon and even then we had to fire while retreating. That's no way to win a war and we didn't. We were embarrassed as a nation and we did no honor to those who gave their lives and good health to our country.

    I'm 65 now and eternally grateful that I never had to kill anyone in combat, for it was exciting and patriotic to kill others in defence of our way of life, and I would have been eager for combat back then.

    Age and I hope wisdom have tempered my thoughts today. We try to dehumanize the other side of any kind of conflict, so that we aren't killing husbands, wives, and children; we are killing the enemy before they can kill us.

    Today, I feel that most wars should never happen, but this one is different. The war against the Taliban and Al Quida must be won, because they will continue to destroy innocent people wherever they can. While I don't like war and can think of some that should have been avoided, I do believe that we need to stick together and win any war we are involved in. Don't let protestors, who forget why we are in this war to begin with, distract this country into another humiliating defeat at the hands of those who deserve to be stopped from carrying out their evil plans.

    If we loose this, there will surely be more 9/11 disasters. We have been more lucky I think than good at keeping the United States safe from such attacks over the past few years. Once we stop fighting them without rendering them harmless, none of us will be safe. They don't even care if other Innocent people are their friends; they kill everyone, indiscriminately and for no more reason than that they can.

    October 26, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  25. Brandon - Charlotte, NC

    And we accuse the republican't's of being the Party of No.

    No, I don't want to put men in Harm's way.

    No, I don't think we can bring them home and leave hte poppy farmers to their own devices.

    *shakes in boots*

    (I'm sure glad THIS guy didn't get elected, though in hindsight it would probably have been the lesser of two weavels. See what I did there?)

    October 26, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
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