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EARLIER STORY:Gates says counsel to Obama should be candid, private

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is not abandoning Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is the right man for the job, and field generals should be allowed to privately counsel their commander in chief, said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday night in a rare joint appearance.

Two of the more influential members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet — in foreign policy, at least — sat for an hourlong conversation on the limits of American global power with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour inside a hall of cheering college students at the George Washington University in Washington.

Gates again defended the duration and privacy of Obama’s consultations with his war council of generals and advisors, adding a few new angles to what by now have become well-practiced storylines and talking points in the month since McChrystal, commander of the war in Afghanistan, handed in his dire assessment of the ground situation.

“We are not leaving Afghanistan,” Gates said he told Pakistani ambassador, Husain Haqqani, at a lunch last week, reassuring the nation where al-Qaida is believed headquartered that White House war strategy sessions do not mean the U.S. is contemplating abandoning that key ally.

While he and Clinton praised Pakistan’s military efforts against extremists on the Afghan border, the defense secretary openly questioned NATO troop commitments.

“We are where we are,” he said, with a NATO defense ministers’ meeting a little more than two weeks away. “And the reality is because of our inability — and the inability, frankly, of our allies to put enough troops into Afghanistan — the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems.”

Earlier Monday, Gates said the president should be afforded private counsel from his commanders, which Amanpour explored further. She asked Gates “about the nature of private advice,” saying that in 2003, many one-star and two-star generals were criticized for not publicly standing up to commanders contemplating what proper troop levels were required for the invasion of Iraq.

“Do you not think that that Gen. McChrystal must give his honest assessment to the public because of what happened when an honest assessment was not given?” she probed.

“This president has made clear he is prepared to spend whatever time is needed, in person, not only with the Joint Chiefs, or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but with General McChrystal, to make sure they have plenty of time to present their views directly to him. That is a commitment he has made to me directly and I intend to make sure that it is exercised,” said Gates.

Clinton added, “I agree completely with Bob. … I think that is the way to begin any kind of decisionmaking process. … It is unusual for all advice about military matters to be in public for a president.”

Gates also pushed back on those wanting McChrystal to appear before Congress immediately.

“I have told people on Capitol Hill, the minute the president makes his decisions we will get McChrystal back here as quickly as possible and on to the Hill,” he said. “But it would put ... General McChrystal in an impossible situation to go up in a hyper-partisan environment to the Hill before the president’s made his decision and put the general on the spot.”


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