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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 ...

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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.

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.

Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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