WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2009 -- Eight American troops were killed this weekend in the deadliest assault against U.S. troops in Afghanistan in more than a year, placing growing pressure on an administration deliberating its strategy there amidst waning public support.
After the president's top military commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, recommended in a classified report sending additional troops, and then spoke publicly against withdrawing troops last week in London, the White House downplayed the notion that there was any rift between the commander and the president.
"Ideally, it's better for military advice to come up through the chain of command," national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.
McChrystal wrote in his report that additional troops were needed within the next year, or the U.S. effort would "likely result in failure."
But Jones said today that the number of troops is just one of the many factors in the current strategy that are important to success in Afghanistan.
"The end is much more complex than just about adding X number of troops," Jones said on CNN. "The key in Afghanistan, as we said back in March, is to have a triad of things happen simultaneously. Security is obviously one reason, one important thing to take care of, but the other two are economic development and good governance in the rule of law and on that score, we have a lot more work to do and a Karzai government is going to have to pitch in and do much better than they have."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said McChrystal's military assessment was only one of many different the president has to consider.
"The president has to make a judgment based not only on the military assessment of his commander on the ground, also the inputs of his diplomats, his ambassadors. He has to look at the military, the security situation. We have NATO partners involved. We also have Pakistan next door, which is critically important to this equation, and the entire global effort to fight and defeat al-Qaeda. The president, as commander in chief, has to look at more than what is happening in a single theater," Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Jones said the president was "just now receiving" the number of requested additional troops, but it had not been discussed yet.
"Troops are a portion of the answer, but not the total answer," Jones said on CBS. "Our process is to examine the strategy, make sure we have that right."
Rice disputed the suggestion that the war was not already fully resourced.
"We are fully resourcing it," Rice said on NBC. "We have put in place 21,000 additional troops. They are still completing their deployment. We have increased the number of civilians and we have increased the financial resources to Afghanistan and Pakistan substantially."
The deliberations over strategy come as public support for the war has waned. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted Sept. 10-12, 51 percent of adults said the war in Afghanistan wasn't worth fighting, up from 41 percent in March.
Rice would not say whether the president was committed to not leaving Afghanistan until it was stable.
Asked three times whether the president was committed to staying in Afghanistan until it became stable, Rice repeated that the president was committed to doing what was essential and necessary to keep America safe.
"I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of this review," she said.
Jones said he thought the president would make a decision on what to do in Afghanistan in a "matter of weeks."
Recently, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused the administration of playing politics with the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan because of the rising Democratic opposition, an assertion that both Jones and Rice vehemently denied.
"I don't play politics, and I certainly don't play it with national security and neither does anyone else I know," Jones said on CNN. "The lives of our young men and women are on the line. The strategy does not belong to any political party and I can assure you that the president of the United States is not playing to any political base. And I take exception to that remark."
"This is a president who is going to do what is necessary, irrespective of politics, to protect the American people," Rice said.
As American patience for the war grows thin, the administration is asking for more time on another foreign policy challenge -- preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration is pursuing a dual track with Iran, consisting of multilateral and bilateral engagement on one track, but with the threat of sanctions the other.
Iran and the United States held their first bilateral meeting in more than 30 years in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, during P5+1 multilateral talks held to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program.
Critics warn Iran is trying to buy time by participating in the negotiations, until it has developed a nuclear weapon -- a prospect that could happen sooner than the United States expected, according to a New York Times report today that said Iran had acquired the necessary information to design a nuclear bomb.
The White House refrained from commenting on the report, but instead focused on the current negotiations with Iran.
"We now have an Iran that is willing to come to the table. We have two more meetings scheduled, one in which they will announce the -- they will allow the inspectors to visit the Qom site which has just been recently announced and the other one to discuss methodology by which we can ship flow and rich uranium out of the country," Jones said on CBS.
Rice said that Iran faced two deadlines it committed to on Oct. 1.
"They will meet Oct. 19 at the expert level to discuss the Tehran Research Reactor. That's an important step. [International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed] ElBaradei, the IAEA director, today confirmed that on Oct. 25 the Qom reactor will be open to IAEA inspections. The Iranians have also said that they will come back to the table within the month of October," Rice said.
"So we will look and see whether those steps are indeed fulfilled. If they are, that will indicate a degree of seriousness that we've not seen yet," she said. "If they're not fulfilled, then obviously we are in a two-track posture and we have the pressure track before us."
Rice also said international sanctions against Iran were a feasible consequence, should Iran not comply with those deadlines.
"It's true that Russia and China have historically resisted sanctions, but we have moved Russia and China in a very constructive direction just recently on North Korea, where we now have in place, with their unanimous support, the toughest Security Council sanctions on any country in the world," she said. "We are united in presenting this choice to Iran, and Iran now has the responsibility either to adhere to its obligations internationally or face that pressure."