President Obama's chief advisor denied that the lack of stability in Afghanistan's government, owing to the disputed election, would mean a delay in the president's decision over whether to send more U.S. troops there.
But White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" today, agreed with an assessment made by Sen. John Kerry that stability in Afghan is vital to the success of the United States' mission there.
"It's not a matter of delay; the review will continue," Rahm Emanuel said on CBS' "Face the Nation" today. "The review will continue the next week and the following week.
"What I think Senator Kerry was pointing to, which is absolutely correct - which is the essential part of the strategy or a key component or a leg on the stool - is an Afghan partner that is ready to take control of both the security situation in Afghanistan [and] the civilian side of that."
The possibility that a U.N.-backed panel's imminent report on the recount will mandate a runoff has increased pressure on Karzai to commit to accepting its findings. A power-sharing agreement between the political opponents has also been suggested, given the difficulties said to face staging a runoff election in the Afghan winter.
"What's most important about that process is that there's a credibility and legitimacy to the government at the end of that process," Emanuel said. "So which road will they choose? That's up to them. It must be legitimate and credible in the eyes of the Afghan people."
CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan
John Dickerson, host of CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged," asked if the White House was putting pressure on Karzai to take one of those two roads. "This isn't just about the afghan people; it's about our national security," he said.
Emanuel said the situation would be worse if Afghans thought that the course chosen by its leaders was chosen at the determination of the United States. "Then it would lose the legitimacy and the credibility to the Afghan people," he said.
Emanuel also noted that neighboring Pakistan has its own views about more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. "A decision about Afghanistan has ramifications to the region, which is why we have strategy that's comprehensive in its review," he said.
"The strategic review on whether to send more troops is only one piece of the puzzle," Emanuel said. "Important piece, but the puzzle is much more complicated than that. Because when you're creating, what the American forces would be expected to do is in General McChrystal's report, is create a space and an opportunity to the Afghans to fill. And the question is, do you have a credible partner that could then fill that space that we're asking the American troops to create?"
Emanuel said that what is clear after the meetings and review over the Afghan policy is, "this war for eight years was adrift. There really wasn't any build-up of the army, the police, or the civilian side of delivering services to the different parts of the region. We are starting literally from scratch on that key component."
Dickerson asked if Mr. Obama will make his decision on an Afghan strategy ("including all of those little many legs of the stool") before there is an answer about the makeup of the government in Kabul?
"The review will be ongoing," Emanuel said. "We're getting closer and closer to where the president wants to be, but the review will go on."
Most important, Emanuel added, is that there be a government there that is seen as legitimate to its people, "and has the credibility to be a partner in the effort to secure Afghanistan so it's not a haven for al Qaeda or other type of terrorists or international terrorist organizations."
On the matter of health care reform, Emanuel spoke against inaction, citing a recent report by the Business Roundtable that showed health premiums will rise: "If you do nothing, if you defend the status quo, you're guaranteed to see health care costs go up by 10%, the largest increase in over a decade."
[Actually the prospect is even more dire than Emanuel suggested: the Business Roundtable Report "Health Care Reform: The Perils of Inaction and the Promise of Effective Action" says that without reform employer-based health care costs will rise 166% by 2019.]
On the matter of a public option (which President Obama and the House have backed, and which is facing opposition in the Senate), Emanuel said the president does believe a public plan is important for competition, particularly in parts of the country where a single health care company dominates the market. "That's where the largest premium increases are," he said. "The public option brings that type of competition and the downward pressure on prices and cost."
But Emanuel also said that Mr. Obama doesn't see a public option as defining the entire process of health care reform.
He also disputed the suggestion that Mr. Obama has not pushed Congress enough to accept a public plan. "The president has been actively involved," he said. "You're at this historic moment where all committees report in the coming weeks, we're going to go to the floor - which has not happened in any previous health care debate. That has happened because of the efforts by Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid and also the efforts of the White House to continue to move that process forward. We're at this historic juncture because the White House literally for eight months has been working the process and offering guidance and counsel.
"Lastly, each of the bills, while different in major areas, are very similar, which also tells you why . . . we couldn't have gotten to this point if it wasn't for the efforts put in by all the parties."
On the issue of Wall Street executive bonuses, which as reported this week are once again generous despite the president's call last March for bankers to show restraint ("Excess is out of fashion," he said), Emanuel replied, "Well, you've seen what we've seen. What is very frustrating, John, is literally about nine months ago to a year ago when all Wall Street froze up - and with it the economy froze up - they came and the only people that could help them were the government, i.e., the taxpayers, to help bail them out.
"We did that, to stabilize the situation," he said. "What's worse is that they literally after they've gotten a sense of stability and came at the request of the taxpayers to bail them out, they are now literally lobbying against the very reforms that would prevent this very issue."
He said a bill being marked up in Congress this week is "essential" to protecting consumers. "The entire effort here is to do two things: Protect consumers from financial fraud and irregularities and from hidden costs and second is to make sure that the financial sector does not take on the reckless type of risk that literally takes the economy over a cliff."
But he acknowledged that there are some areas (like regulating compensation of private sector employees) where government is limited in what it can do. "The bonus is an issue because people are frustrated that Wall Street is back to behavior having just basically four months ago been in a different situation, and the only way they got out of it is through the good graces of the government and the taxpayers."
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