Clinton, Gates Say Troop Surge Not for Public Debate

Gates said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was the "epicenter of jihad."

ByABC News
October 6, 2009, 7:54 AM

Oct. 6, 2009— -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spend most of their time together in the White House's situation room, a windowless domain where they privately discuss top secret issues such as whether the United States needs a troop surge in Afghanistan, they said Monday.

"Private" is exactly how the top cabinet members want that discussion to remain but, instead, has become a matter of public debate in recent weeks.

"When we did the surge in Iraq, there was no public discussion during that surge by people involved in that debate," Gates said during a taping of CNN's "Amanpour" show, scheduled to air today at 3:00 p.m. ET on CNN and public radio stations. "The president made his decisions ... [we] then went to the Hill to testify. And Gen. [David] Petraeus then followed. That is exactly what is going to happen in this instance."

The sit-down was moderated by CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, who asked the secretaries whether they thought Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, was "muzzled" from speaking publically about his assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

"It would put, I believe, Gen. McChrystal in an impossible spot to go up in a hyper-partisan environment to the Hill before the president made his decisions, and put the general on the spot," Gates said. "I just think that's wrong."

The White House has scheduled meetings this week to discuss the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy that will include Clinton and Gates this week. The meetings come at a time of enormous political pressure to decide whether to change U.S. strategy and raise troop levels after more deadly attacks. Gates said it will be one of the most important decisions of Obama's presidency.

"The reality is because of our inability and the inability, frankly, of our allies to put enough troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban do have a moment now it seems," Gates said.