Sen. Chambliss: Obama Right On Troop Buildup

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) has returned from a recent visit to Afghanistan. He tells Steve Inskeep that President Obama made the right decision on the troop buildup. But Chambliss says he disagrees with Obama when it comes to the 18-month timeline to begin drawing down forces.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia has been listening with us to Mara's report. He's on the line.

Senator, good morning.

Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): Good morning. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: And we should mention for people that you just returned from visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan. What do you think of the president's approach?

Sen. CHAMBLISS: Well, I felt the president made the right analysis of where we are with respect to the situation in Afghanistan now. I thought he made the right decision regarding the troop buildup. It's absolutely necessary if we're going to give our military leadership on the ground in Afghanistan the resources to carry out the challenge they've got. This is what it's going to take. I agree with him on the increase in training, the emphasis on agricultural assets to get their economy going, as well as a corruption issue and putting pressure on Pakistan.

Where we have a difference of opinion is on the 18-month timeline. But what I heard from the president is not that we're going to be out of there in 18 months or we're going to start pulling out in 18 months and complete the pullout. I understood him to say that we'll start bringing troops home in 18 months. So we've - from a training standpoint, our goal is to have the Afghan military and security police to the point to where we can turn the country over to them. Nobody in their right military mind believes that we can complete the training of up to 400,000 Afghans within that 18-month timeframe.

INSKEEP: But it sounds like you're saying that you feel it's really more flexible than that. The president actually is looking several years ahead.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: I listened very carefully to that part, because I felt like I knew he was going to have some sort of exit strategy statement. And that's the way I interpret it. General McChrystal will be in town next week for a testimony before the Armed Services Committee, and obviously, that's a question I'm going to be asking him. I'll ask the same question today to Secretary Gates, who will be testifying. So if I understand their statement correct, then I think, certainly, that number one, the president's moved in the right direction. Secondly, I think it's something that is workable, provided that 18 months is flexible.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the reason that the president did mention that 18-month timeline. He said, quote, "As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests." He's basically saying there is - even though this is a vital country to the United States, that there's only so much that the United States can spend. Do you believe that that's true? There is a limit where this becomes too costly a war.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: Well, what is the price of freedom? What is the price of insuring that bad guys are not going to have a safe haven in which to live and train for the purpose of killing and harming Americans? I think the answer to that, to me, is certainly that there is no amount of money that we cannot spend to ensure that our children and grandchildren are protected.

INSKEEP: Even if it's all borrowed.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: Well, you know, it's interesting. The president didn't have that concern when we were buying automobile companies or when we were buying up - putting Cash for Clunkers or putting a stimulus package in. There was no concern about that.

INSKEEP: He was also arguing - we could say, I mean, that the past president was not concerned about expenses when it came to Iraq, and this president says that's part of the reason the United States is in a little trouble here.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: Yeah. Well, and it's - while it's something that should be -shouldn't have to - it has to be considered, is it the final determination? And I would say that protecting the people of America is the number one concern, not the cost.

INSKEEP: Coming back to those questions, you said there will be testimony today. What is one question, one essential question - here in a few seconds -that you feel you need to know?

Sen. CHAMBLISS: Well, I think with respect to the timeline, obviously, I want to know exactly what he means by that. I also want some clarification on the issue of corruption in the Afghan government and what the benchmark really is when it comes to putting money in the hands of the Afghans. And I do understand it, that the money may not be going directly to Karzai anymore, that we may get to the provincial chiefs the funding, rather than getting it directly to Karzai for him to dole out. And I�

INSKEEP: And we're going to have to stop the discussion there. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, thanks very much.

Sen. CHAMBLISS: Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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