In Louisville, McCain urges president to decide on Afghanistan

LOUISVILLE — The White House must decide swiftly on a strategy in Afghanistan to allay "uneasy" allies and soldiers, U.S. Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said Wednesday after a Veterans Day speech at the University of Louisville.

His comments came as President Barack Obama huddled with top aides and military advisers to discuss four options to ramp up the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Since March, Obama has been mulling the recommendation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, for 40,000 troops to join 68,000 U.S. soldiers already fighting there.

McCain said he didn't know whether 40,000 was the right number, but he warned of disaster if Obama doesn't commit all the necessary resources, of which troops are just a part.

"The worst thing we can do is have half measures which send our men and women into harm's way but are not sufficient resources and sufficient numbers in order to get the job done," McCain said. "I fear that more than a complete pullout."

McCain was in Kentucky to attend the dedication ceremony of the archived papers that U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, have given to U of L.

On Tuesday, McCain and other Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee sent Obama a letter urging him to decide how to proceed in Afghanistan, where insurgent attacks and Taliban activity have increased in recent months.

McCain, a decorated former Navy pilot and prisoner of war in North Vietnam, gave an 11-minute address about Veterans Day before fielding six written questions from the audience. In his answers, McCain described last week's shooting at Fort Hood as "an act of terror."

Twelve soldiers and one civilian were killed in a shooting rampage at the Texas base, and the suspect, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was shot and wounded. McCain called it "especially galling" that Hasan allegedly ambushed his fellow soldiers after volunteering to join the Army, which educated and trained him.

"This may sound a little harsh, but I think we ought to make sure that political correctness never impedes national security," McCain said, eliciting applause from the 2,000 people who attended the speech. "There were signs this individual had some very disturbing behavior patterns that should have been alerted to the proper authorities."

Speaking to reporters later, McCain and McConnell also criticized Democrats for not being more transparent with their negotiations over the health care overhaul bill, which the U.S. House sent to the Senate over the weekend.

"Almost all of my members, if not all of them, believe what we need to do is go step by step to fix what is already the finest health care in the world — not scrap the whole system," McConnell said.

McCain and McConnell said they're concerned about the cost of such a bill, which could compound the nation's debt problems considering its $1.3 trillion deficit this year.

In response to another question from the audience, McCain defended his Republican colleague, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, whose parliamentary move has stalled a bill that would expand veterans' health benefits.

McCain said the bill is a worthy effort, but he agrees with Coburn's argument that any new program that costs money should come with a corresponding spending cut.

McCain said Congress, led by the Democrats, is committing "generational theft" by approving so much debt.