Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the chief foreign policy voices of the GOP, said on Sunday that he now supports a drawdown of U.S. forces in certain parts of Afghanistan come July 2011.
The South Carolina Republican, who had just returned from a trip to that country, acknowledged that this was a shift in position. Previously, he had argued that President Obama's plan for a gradual drawdown to begin in July 2011 was both shortsighted and an invitation for insurgents and terrorists to flow back into the country. But on Sunday Graham said that the surge of U.S. forces in various parts of Afghanistan had created a stable enough security environment for the drawdown.
"After this trip I think we can transition next summer, some areas of Afghanistan to Afghan control," Graham said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I've seen progress I have not seen before, so I see a scenario if things continue to develop the way they are, certain areas of Afghanistan can be transitioned to Afghan control and we can remove some troops safely without undermining the overall war mission. But at the end of the day the president has to let the Afghan people, the regional players know, the America people know that we are not going to leave until we are successful but I do see a path forward next summer to transition certain areas of Afghanistan but we will need substantial troops well past July 2011 to get things right.
"It is due to progress I have seen on the ground. It has to continue, it will always be conditions based. But there are areas in Afghanistan... this additional military capacity is beginning to show some effects in certain parts of Afghanistan. We are on offense now, we have got the ball back. For years we have been playing defense. By next summer I think we can cross midfield and some of our troops can come home. But having said that there will be a substantial need for many troops there well after July 2011."
Graham's changed tune on U.S. military policy toward Afghanistan could have massive political ramifications for the debate ahead. The senator may differ with the rest of his party with respect to the closure of GITMO, but he remains a leading foreign policy voice within the Republican tent. In offering his support for the White House's approach -- administration officials have long been vague about the pace of the U.S. troop drawdown while simultaneously stressing that a drawdown will take place -- he gives the president the type of domestic political cover he needs to see his plan through.