At a forum sponsored by the George Washington University to be broadcast tomorrow on CNN’s new Christiane Amanpour program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a strong endorsement of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, despite the media-fanned controversy over his London comments.
“Stan McChrystal is exactly the right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now,” said Gates, who earlier today gently indicated that McChrystal, like other Obama advisers, should advise Obama “candidly but privately.” Gates referred to McChrystal as “my choice” for command in Afghanistan, and said that whatever decision Obama makes on Afghanistan strategy, McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible.
As Gates reiterated the importance of private advice — and, accordingly, wouldn’t address his advice to Obama — Clinton said that Obama has put together “one of the most open, most thorough [review processes] I’ve read about.” Like Gates, she defended Obama against charges that he’s irresolute on Afghanistan, saying a process of revisiting “every assumption” was what “a very decisive and intelligent commander-in-chief would do.”
The only substantive aspect of the review revealed so far at the secretaries’ joint appearance: the goal of eradicating al-Qaeda and rolling back its safe havens hasn’t changed or drifted as the Obama war cabinet debates the war.
“The thing to remember about Afghanistan is that that country and particularly the Afghan-Pakistan border is the modern epicenter of jihad,” Gates said. “They now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower which more than anything would empower their message and … improve their ability to plan operations.” But he says he doesn’t “know whether al-Qaeda would move its headquarters” back into Afghanistan, but if the Taliban takes control of parts of Afghanistan, it would provide “added space” or strategic depth for al-Qaeda.
“I can’t improve on Gen. McChrystal’s assessment that the situation in Afghanistan is serious and deteriorating,” Gates added. “You have to start where you are, not where you wish you were,” he said, echoing one of
Gates’ McChrystal’s remarks in London, conceding that “the Taliban have the momentum, it seems.”
Update: Sorry on that last bit, I wrote too fast.