September 20th, 2009
02:35 PM ET
13 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. Richard in California

    There's a surprise. Senator McCain not realizing that not all countries in the Middle East are the same. Not the same geography, not the same populations and not the same religious/ethnic/political tensions. And the same military strategies that might have been effective in Iraq are not going to be effective in Afghanistan.

    Senator McCain, your patriotism, heroism and loyalty you showed are unquestionably among the finest of any American in the entire history of the United States. However, please do not mistake your service to the country's military for knowledge of military tactics or strategy. You (and the rest of the isolationist war-mongering neo-cons) were wrong about Iraq, and are wrong about Afghanistan.

    September 20, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  2. Ronald Schwartz

    It wll be to late if we have to train there army, Wake up.

    September 20, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  3. cl

    WOW! a Democrat standing up to a Republican that's shocking.

    September 20, 2009 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  4. Maximus

    Oh yea! they had success in Iraq, And the Iraqi people showed them gratitude with an unwrapped gift from the bottom of their feet; two shoes tossed in the air at 80mph to the president 's face, as a message to tell them to keep out of other people's private affaire.That's the success they had.

    September 20, 2009 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  5. Susan

    So now we're supposed to base our foreign policy on McCain's ideas? Sorry, John, you and your new go-to-war mentality lost. We cannot ever send enough troops to combat all the groups you want to take out in Afghanistan. Nor do we have the financial resources. We are not the world's police force. We are not going to force people into democracy when they don't want it! Our best course of action is to help make a nation self-sustaining, and if you still don't see that, Republicans will not win another election for a long time.

    September 20, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  6. Get a Life !!

    Yep, good ol' McCain..he knows how to win wars..just send in more U.S. troops instead of insisting that the country in question take the responsibility of standing up to the terrorists and defend their own country. How long have we been in Iraq? And they still don't have the guts to stand up and defend themselves...

    September 20, 2009 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  7. Roger in CA

    As much as I hate to say it, I have to side with McCain on this one. Afghanistan is a conflict in which we must prevail. In contrast to Iraq, we were actually right to enter Afghanistan when we did to oust the Taliban, but the idiots in the Bush Administration effectively pulled out before the country was truly stabilized, distracted by the unnecessary war in Iraq.

    Afghanistan is where the urgent action is. The Taliban, if allowed to return to power, would certainly provide a bigger, safer refuge for Al Queda and its ilk, not to mention re-institute some of the most repressive and cruel strictures on the people.

    September 20, 2009 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  8. Ancient Texan

    Levin is still living in the Viet Nam era and was out of sync with reality then. The surge worked in Iraq even if he doesn't believe it. McCain, I trust.

    September 20, 2009 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  9. howie

    what should we do Levin, throw down our guns and run. We americans do not run. We must complete our task then leave and not a minute earlier. I wonder what would have happened if George Washington, Patton, Ike and others threw down their guns and ran. Levin I wonder where you are coming from, glad that you do not represent me.

    September 20, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  10. JonDie

    John McCain is a senile, old fool who lost what little mental abilities he had a long time agon.

    September 20, 2009 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  11. KLJ

    Where was McCain on Afghanstan when we were fighting a war in Iraq that never should have been fought? Where was Levin?

    September 20, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  12. MatthewDetroit

    YOU should talk to your President LEVIN.
    He is the guy in charge and the one that is running Afghanistan.
    Dont blame McCain; he only gets one vote just like you.
    Your Boy Barack is the one who made Afghanistan his Signature war.
    He was the same idiot that said the surge in Iraq would not work.
    He was wrong on that also.

    You guys have the votes... stop whining and blaming anyone else...
    You Dems and your President are the issue now.

    September 20, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  13. Tony In Largo, Fl

    I couldn't agree more with Senator Levin. Every move we make in Afghanistan should be designed with pull-out in mind.

    September 20, 2009 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  14. jules sand-perkins

    The generals could explain their views and needs to congress. Why on earth should they not, if congress requests it?
    Somehow Obama's answer about strategy puts one off.
    In the area of defense, I'd rather have McCain in charge. I don't like having to worry about being safe.

    Of course, health care is more important to Obama right now than anything else. His legacy depends on it.

    September 20, 2009 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  15. Keith in Austin

    I agree with Levin!

    September 20, 2009 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
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