Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that he would support a modest withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan but that Republican presidential candidates should stop promoting isolationist policies on the campaign trail.
“I wish that candidate [Mitt] Romney and all the others would sit down with General [David] Petraeus and understand how this counterinsurgency is working,” McCain said on ABC’s “This Week.”
McCain’s comments are in stark contrast to many of his Congressional colleagues who have strongly questioned the country’s involvement in Afghanistan and have pushed the president to draw down troop levels. President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision soon on troop levels.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that America cannot abandon Afghanistan again.
“We paid a very heavy price for it in the attacks of 9/11,” he said.
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declined on CNN’s “State of the Union” to discuss his recommendations for withdrawal in Afghanistan. Gates, who will retire before the end of the month, said that the president will have several options with different levels of risk.
“We can do anything the president tells us to do. The question is whether it is wise,” he said.
Gates was, however, fairly dismissive of calls by Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to pull out 15,000 troops.
“We’re all aware of what Sen. Levin has called for. The president, unlike Sen. Levin, has the responsibility,” Gates said.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers took a similar position to McCain. Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the Michigan Republican said that troop levels in Afghanistan shouldn’t be based on a political calculation.
“We need to make sure Afghanistan can defend itself when we leave. If we do anything short of that, I think we do a huge disservice,” Rogers said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, also on “Face the Nation,” endorsed a more significant drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.
“I think we should just focus on the first mission, protecting ourselves,” the New York Democrat said. “I think that can be done with significantly fewer troops.”
NBC’s “Meet the Press” showcased the same partisan split on the Afghan war.
Sen. Lindsey Graham rejected the statement made by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in last week’s GOP presidential debate that America can’t win Afghanistan’s war of independence.
“This is not a war of Afghan independence, from my point of view; this is the center of gravity against the war on terror [and] radical Islam. It is in our national security interest to make sure the Taliban never come back,” Graham said.
The South Carolina Republican added that he believes it will be possible to bring some troops home this summer, but “if we accelerate withdrawals right now because we are war weary, we are going to lose this war.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin disagreed. The Illinois Democrat said on “Meet the Press” that when he voted in favor of the Afghan war 10 years ago, “I didn’t vote for the longest war in American history. I didn’t vote for 100,000 troops 10 years later in Afghanistan.”
Durbin said Obama promised to bring U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, and he should make good on that promise.
“Bring these troops home and let the Afghans deal with the future of their country,” Durbin said. “The United States cannot literally go from one country after another around the world with all the instability and say that, ultimately, our men and women in uniform will put their lives on the line for the stability of every nation in transition.”