December 01, 2009 CNN Sen. Lindsey Graham of course has "concerns" about having a withdrawal date from Afghanistan. WOLF BLITZER: Campbell, thanks v
December 2, 2009

December 01, 2009 CNN

Sen. Lindsey Graham of course has "concerns" about having a withdrawal date from Afghanistan.

WOLF BLITZER: Campbell, thanks very much.

Anderson Cooper it's going to be joining us in a few moments, as well.

But let's talk to Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a Republican from South Carolina. He spent a lot of time thinking about Afghanistan, the war in Iraq.

Senator Graham, thanks very much.

What did you think of the president's new strategy?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, there's some consensus and concerns. I think every American is disappointed that eight years into this thing, we need to send more troops. But that's reality. And I -- I support the president's decision to send 30,000 more troops. I hope it's enough. If General McChrystal says it's enough, that's good by me.

I hope the NATO troops that go in will be able to engage the enemy. Numbers matter, but you've got to be able to fight. So if we're sending more NATO troops in with rules of engagement that won't engage the enemy, we're probably defeating our purpose.

But I guess the one concern I have is that what does this mean about July 2011?

How -- how will the enemy perceive that?

How do the Afghan people perceive what we're going to do?

It's not realistic we can withdraw a lot of troops in 18 months, if your goal is to train the Afghan Army and police force to stand up and fight.

BLITZER: Is it your understanding that the withdrawal of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would start in July 2011 and would be complete by election day 2012?

Is that your understanding?

GRAHAM: I don't know. And that's a really good question. I've enjoyed the panel, by the way. This is a thinking, devious enemy. They're going to compute in their strategy what this means. They're going to try to figure out what population centers to attack. They understand we're going into an election cycle. But maybe tomorrow we'll know better.

But from listening to the president, I'm uncertain as to what that means we're going to do in 18 months.

BLITZER: But why is it OK to have an end game -- an exit strategy for Iraq right now -- all U.S. combat forces will be out by the end of next August, all U.S. forces will be out by the end of 2011. That's the strategy. That's the time line for Iraq.

Why is it OK to have a time line for Iraq, yet it's not OK to have a time line, as I hear you suggest, for Afghanistan?

GRAHAM: Well, what we did in Iraq, Wolf, is that we surged troops without any deadline or withdrawal date. And as things got better, we negotiated with the Iraqi government a security agreement that seems to make sense. We're withdrawing troops in Iraq based on conditions on the ground and an agreement we negotiated with a robust government. We did not put conditions on withdrawal the moment we sent the troops.

Some of these people are going to meet each other coming and going. Eighteen months is not a very long period of time. There's a fundamental difference of how we started the surge in Afghanistan versus Iraq.

And my question is, have we undercut our efforts before we start?

BLITZER: What about the overall strategy that the president spoke about, to basically defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future?

What do you think about that basic goal?

GRAHAM: Sound, very sound. The goal is to deny the Taliban a safe haven in Afghanistan, but also to put pressure on the other side of the border. I hope the Pakistan government and army will see this as a commitment by the United States to make sure that we hit them on both sides of the border.

But time and capacity have to go together. The goal of denying a safe haven to the Taliban and Al Qaeda is the right goal. Fighting on both sides of the border makes sense. You need more troops to be successful in Afghanistan. The one thing I'm concerned about is this idea we're going to begin to leave before we get there. I don't know how that's going to play.

BLITZER: Well, these are -- I think are goals that the president established. And, obviously, he can change his mind as he goes forward.


BLITZER: Let me read to you one line that really jumped out at me, because it reminded me, to a certain degree, of those mushroom cloud warnings that we heard on the eve of the war in Iraq.


BLITZER: And I'll read it to you and you tell me if you -- what you think. "And the stakes," he says, "are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan because we know that Al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons and we have every reason to believe that they would use them."

Is -- is that -- because that sounds so ominous, that Al Qaeda now is going after nuclear weapons, maybe in Pakistan.

Is he exaggerating here or do you agree with him that this is a realistic threat?

GRAHAM: I totally agree with the president that the -- the fate of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, hangs in the balance. And if the government is Pakistan is not very popular and is not very capable, but it is in our national security interests to make sure it doesn't fall to extremist groups.

The Afghan government is not very capable. It was very corrupt. But that's the hand we've been dealt after 9/11.

We've become allies with some people who are not very capable, who have problems. But they're better than the alternatives. So the president is not exaggerating the consequences of losing in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Having said that, if you believe what the president does -- and I -- I know he believes it -- why would you condition this thing before you start, because the outcome in Afghanistan is tied to Pakistan and the results could be catastrophic if we fail?

The price of success is enormous, also. So we should be all in.

BLITZER: A mixed report card from Senator Lindsey Graham to the president's speech tonight.

Senator Graham, thanks very much for coming in.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

Can you help us out?

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