U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered qualified praise Sunday for President Barack Obama's decision to reverse the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Obama's decision, a change from his goal of ending the country's longest ongoing military conflict before he leaves office, was well received by military leaders in the region, the Kentucky Republican told the Herald-Leader.
"I will give the president credit for finally getting to the right place on Afghanistan," McConnell said, adding that Obama got there only after "three agonizing years" of trying to end U.S. involvement.
McConnell, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and other lawmakers were in Afghanistan meeting with soldiers, and military and Afghan officials the day Obama made the announcement. The senator said that "in Afghanistan, they think they've got it won, and everybody's in favor of what the president announced Friday."
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McConnell said what he saw led him to continue his criticism of Obama's foreign policy.
"I think the best way to sum it up is that we've got problems everywhere," McConnell said. "There wasn't a single place that we went that was happy with American leadership."
The senator said he thought leaving residual forces in Afghanistan was the only way to avoid a fate there like the "meltdown" happening in Iraq.
McConnell argued that "the single biggest mistake the president made was not leaving a residual force behind in Iraq."
When the Herald-Leader pointed out that the Bush administration agreed to the status of forces agreement that led to the pullout from Iraq, McConnell said "there's a lot of finger-pointing about that."
"What everybody agrees on — outside of the White House — regardless of the finger-pointing, it was a mistake," he said.
When asked if he favored an open-ended troop presence in Afghanistan, McCon nell pointed to other countries where U.S. troops have remained following conflict, calling the decision to retain bases in those countries a "proven tactic."
"How about we're still in Germany, we're still in Korea, we're still in Japan. It worked out pretty well," McConnell said. "It doesn't mean that they're in an ongoing military engagement."
He said the security situation in Iraq was "not good, and "as a result of our departure, Iraq's security force is not much of a force."
But McConnell said he was not advocating a return to Iraq, and restoring security to the country would be the responsibility of Iraqis.
"We're not going to refight the Iraq war," he said. "These guys are going to have to get better in order to reclaim the country. I hope they can."
McConnell said U.S. and Afghan leaders have seen what happened in Iraq, and they were happy Obama as not proceeding with his plans to complete the withdrawal.
"They all want us to stay," McConnell said. "They don't want to throw away the gains that have been made."