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GOP Wants To Support The Troops, Not Obama's Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Next, we have views on President Obama's Afghanistan strategy from the left and the right. In a moment, we'll hear a Democrat who's become a prominent voice against the war. We start with NPR's Don Gonyea, who's been listening to Republicans.

DON GONYEA: On most issues you can turn on the TV following a speech by President Obama and the Republican line is predictable: Policy bad; president wrong. But listen to the reaction last night after Mr. Obama spoke at West Point. This is Senator Lindsey Graham being interviewed on CNN.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): 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.

GONYEA: It's far from enthusiastic support, but it's also far from the level of criticism the White House is used to from Republicans on the Hill. Graham, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, made it clear he would've liked a larger U.S. troop commitment, more along the lines of the 40,000 new troops General Stanley McChrystal had asked for.

Senator GRAHAM: If you believe what the president does, and 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.

GONYEA: Even former top adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, had some positive words to say last night - relatively speaking anyway.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Former George W. Bush adviser): The core of tonight was good news, but it was badly delivered in a, you know, in a weak frame.

GONYEA: What Rove didn't like was the president's decision to set a timetable and point to July 2011 for the withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin. That's a deadline Mr. Obama set for the Afghan army and police forces to begin taking over the responsibility for security. Here's Rove on Fox News last night.

Mr. ROVE: That says to me - that sends a very bad signal to the enemy that, well, you can wait us out. And when he ended on that note that, boy, we've got to worry about our economy and about America and coming back and taking care of things here, look, we're not the only people watching and paying attention to that speech. That strikes a very isolationist note.

GONYEA: Rove's charge of isolationism may sound odd, considering the president's decision to increase the total U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to 100,000 by the middle of next year, but it was a common theme on the right. Republican Congressman Buck McKeon also thinks that to announce a date, certain, for beginning withdrawal is problematic.

Representative BUCK MCKEON (Republican, California): He said, Well, I'm going to put 30,000 troops in and then in a year and a half we'll start withdrawing them. I think that sends a wrong message. It undercuts what we're trying to do with the whole mission.

GONYEA: Now, the president does not say how fast withdrawal will occur once it starts or how long it will take. McKeon's reaction to that?

Representative MCKEON: He sounded pretty definite on the withdrawal and not so definite on what the conditions would be.

GONYEA: Then there's this from Mr. Obama's opponent in last fall's election, Senator John McCain. On Fox News last night, he said the policy took unnecessarily long to emerge.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): But the fact is that this policy is one that General McChrystal, Secretary Gates and General Petraeus believe will succeed. And that is a counterinsurgency strategy that's properly resourced. There's other areas that have to be done. But I support this policy.

GONYEA: Ultimately, the president's decision on troop levels tries to strike a middle ground. And because, at its most basic, it's a troop buildup in service of General McChrystal's preferred strategy, it puts Republicans in a difficult position. They want to be seen as supporting the mission and the troops, but they don't quite seem comfortable supporting the commander-in-chief.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.