The Cable

Top GOP senators underwhelmed by Obama's AfPak metrics

Senior Republican senators were wholly unimpressed by the Afghanistan-Pakistan metrics that top Obama officials gave them this morning (and were obtained by The Cable). The defense-minded and influential lawmakers are calling for more details about the White House's thinking while they press their case for a sustained U.S. commitment there.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview with The Cable that the draft document of objectives and "metrics" was vague, contained several immeasurable aspirations, and left important questions unanswered.

"It's just not the level of detail that we had hoped for," said McCain. "We need more substance ... we're going to have to pressure them to give us some more."

For example, the document lists as one Afghanistan metric "support from allies." "It's like that old joke ‘How's your wife?" McCain quipped. "Compared to what?"

McCain is also concerned that there's daylight in the thinking between President Obama and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, because Obama is undecided on troops numbers and Mullen seems to be advocating for an increase.

"Nothing new," Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said about this morning's closed briefing in the Capitol with several senior administration officials, adding that he was more informed by yesterday's testimony by Mullen.

Graham said he has several outstanding questions for the Obama team about how they plan to deal with specific issues in Afghanistan, including the plan to balance formal justice and tribal justice, the game plan to provide security for judges, and the level of troops needed.

"They have objectives, but they don't have the concrete goals and measurements that I think politicians [in the U.S.] are going to want," said Graham. "I want to focus on corruption," he added, noting that details of how to deal with that are not in the document.

Fellow committee member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that metrics aren't really useful anyway and are more for congressmen to say they've gotten something and then they're largely ignored. Such was the case with the 2007 benchmarks for Iraq that were followed for a while but eventually set aside.

"As soon as metrics are passed you forget them, nobody ever goes back and counts them all up," he said, adding that the only real measures of progress are the effectiveness of the Taliban and al Qaeda, the strength of the Afghan central government, and whether there's peace in the wider South Asia region.

Sessions, like many senior GOP members, generally supports increased troops, if that's what the commanders on the ground want, but "it's a bitter pill to swallow," he said.

He called on the administration to provide Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, to testify directly to lawmakers in open session.

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The Cable

The Obama administration's draft metrics on "evaluating progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

The Obama administration delivered its metrics for the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan to senators in a closed briefing on Capitol Hill today, and The Cable has the document.

The three-page paper, which is marked DRAFT but is unclassified, lays out the Obama team's priorities and also represents its response to congressional calls for more details on how the administration intends to measure progress in the region.

The draft document focuses on three main objectives: disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan, working to stabilize Pakistan, and working to achieve a host of political and civic goals in Afghanistan. Each objective has a list of metrics beneath it, although many of these are more goals than concrete milestones that could be measured in any factual way.

The metrics span just about every conceivable issue, including progress towards Pakistan's civilian government and judicial system becoming stable, to support for human rights, to public perceptions of security, to volume and value of narcotics.

Top administration officials met in the basement of the new Capitol Visitor Center Wednesday morning to introduce the document to senators and discuss the way forward, in the wake of growing unease among senior Democrats about doubling down on the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and set upon the backdrop of waning public support for the war.

Senate Armed Service Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), gave The Cable a readout of the briefing.

Their message is that we'll have access to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's assessment today or tomorrow, he said, noting that it would be classified. But the metrics themselves are not classified.

Any request for new troops, which has still been decided, will be coming in the next one to two weeks, Levin guessed.

Levin also downplayed comments yesterday by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, who testified that more troops would probably be needed to properly resource the counter insurgency effort in Afghanistan.

The troop numbers are only one piece of a much larger set of policy adjustments, Levin said, including more trainers, more equipment, and more support for Afghan forces.

"The media has been focusing on [troop numbers] like it's the public option or something," said Levin. "It's going to be a much more comprehensive recommendation."

That recommendation will have to be vetted through the military chain of command and then make its way through the civilian leadership before the president makes the final decision, Levin added.

He lamented that the administration is not moving on parts of the request that everybody knows are coming and could be begun now, such as pressing NATO for more trainers and shifting equipment from Iraq.

"What's going on now?" asked Levin. "What I'm interested in is getting these known actions going. I'm not just going to sit around waiting for a decision by the president."

Briefing the senators was Michèle Flournoy, under secretary of defense for policy, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the NSC's war czar from the Bush administration, Richard Holbrooke advisor Paul Jones, Vice Adm. James Winnefeld from the Joint Staff, and South Asia analyst Peter Lavoy representing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The overarching goal of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa'ida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," the draft metrics document says.

But Fred Kagan, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has advised General McChrystal but was not speaking on his behalf, said in a talk last week that the Obama administration had made a mistake early on in putting too much rhetorical emphasis on al Qaeda. "The reason to be in Afghanistan is not to be fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan," he said. "This is a two-front war on both sides of the Durand Line."

Speaking in The Hague last Friday, General McChrystal told reporters, "I do not see indications of a large al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan now." But he added that al Qaeda commanders do retain their contacts with insurgents in the country.

This post has been updated.

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