McConnell: 'I Want to Compliment the President on Iraq and Afghanistan'

ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports: Here's some rare -- and perhaps unwelcome -- praise for President Obama from the nation's most powerful Republican. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is lauding the president for having the "courage" to continue the Bush Administration's policies on Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I want to compliment the president on how he has handled both Iraq and Afghanistan," Sen. McConnell told reporters on Friday. 

"We had a briefing the day before his Iraq announcement and I felt I was still sitting around with the previous administration," McConnell said, describing a briefing President Obama and his national security team gave Congressional leaders two weeks ago. "The president was basically, from my point of view, it struck me, announcing a continuation of the policy in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The plan President Obama announced was to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010, but to leave a force of 35,000 to 50,000 support troops and trainers to assist the Iraq military.  The Obama administration has also announced plans to move an additional 12,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Both moves have made some of the president's core supporters uneasy, but not Sen. McConnell.

"I want to congratulate him for having the courage given where he started out on that issue to adjust his sails and to pursue a policy in both places essentially set in place by the previous administration," McConnell said, speaking a breakfast meeting with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

In stark contrast, McConnell was highly critical of the president's domestic agenda.

"It's pretty clear he wants to use the fact that we are all frightened to death about the economy to achieve a whole lot of other things that may or may not have any relation whatsoever to how we got into this particular dilemma," McConnell said. 

"It's the president's choice whether he wants to govern from the middle or govern on the left," McConnell said. "And I think he's made the call here in the first two months that he wants to take us pretty far to the left. It's his choice. If he will meet us in the middle, he will find an extraordinary level of cooperation. But my members and myself are not going to be signing on to the kind of proposals you've been seeing." 

Asked what he thinks Obama's greatest mistake so far has been, McConnell cited the promise the president made to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. 

McConnell also offered words of support for Michael Steele, the embattled chairman of the Republican National Committee. 

"I think it is safe to say Michael Steele has gotten off to kind of a rough start," McConnell said.  "But we think he'll hit is stride soon."

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