December 2nd, 2009
09:30 AM ET
7 months ago

McCain challenges Obama


Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama's opponent in last year's election says he supports the president's buildup of troops in Afghanistan, but Senator John McCain believes laying out an exit strategy is a mistake.

"If you say there's a date certain for withdrawal, your friends and enemies who will be in the region make accommodations accordingly," McCain said.

During Tuesday night's prime time address laying out his Afghanistan troop buildup, President Obama said that a troop withdrawal could begin as early as July 2011.

McCain said Wednesday in an interview on CNN's American Morning that Obama "gave an excellent speech and I think the policy, although it's very extended period of deliberation which is now behind us, is a good one, and I'm confident the president will do exactly as he says."

But the Republican senator from Arizona criticized the president's comments regarding an exit strategy, adding that "it's contradictory to say you're going to have your withdrawal dictated by the situation on the ground, and at the same time say that there's going to about date certain for withdrawal."

McCain challenged the president hours before Obama addressed the nation on his new Afghanistan strategy. The president and members of his war council spent about an hour briefing senior members of Congress at a White House meeting that multiple sources described as businesslike and sobering. Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who attended the meeting, said Obama laid out his plans to escalate the military mission before several lawmakers asked questions.

Three GOP sources told CNN that Sen. John McCain used the meeting to directly challenge the president on his exit strategy. The sources said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell deferred to McCain, who questioned the concept of announcing now plans to begin withdrawing in July, 2011. These sources said the president responded to McCain by promising that the withdrawal would be based on conditions on the ground.

McCain also says he has problems with the administration's civilian strategy in Afghanistan.

"Another concern I have has to do with the civilian side of our counterinsurgency strategy," said McCain in his opening statement at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday morning on Afghanistan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among the witnesses at the hearing.

McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee, said "I am concerned that we and our allies do not have a unified plan to 'build' – to work with and support our Afghan partners, in Kabul and beyond, as they build their own nation, their own economy, and their own free institutions. I'm also concerned by reports of divisions in our embassy, and by major differences between our commander and our ambassador."

In his speech at West Point Tuesday night, Obama declared that the U.S. " will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security. This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over."

–CNN's Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.
Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn


Filed under: John McCain • President Obama
soundoff (174 Responses)
  1. gary davis Harbor Oregon proud american

    lets all be happy that this president is smart enough to make an exit strategy.. so John please go back to what ever it is you were doing .. ( taking a nap ) and leave the decisions to the president that we elected . not you or PALIN . should be heard from about important matters .. :)

    the speech was perfect . he covered everything we know to be right and in an american way of moving forward.. peace and safety to our president

    December 2, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  2. 4 Palin

    Senator Mccain is right on with his concerns of an exit date being announced. How can you win a war when you tell the enemy exactly what you are going to do? I saw a retired General on tv last night saying how our troops were going to surround one city in Afganastan and that is our plan. Do they think that no one else is listening to our plan. I would think to be successful in a battle, the element of surprise would have be much more effective.

    December 2, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  3. Dudley Stone

    Why on earth should we give any credibility to a man who was willing to have Sarah Palin one heartbeat away from the Presidency?
    He and his Republican associates have zero credibility on any issue
    and should remember who got us into this mess in the first place.
    The Republicans may rejoice at Obama's falling poll figures but they should realize that because he goes down does not mean that the poll figures of the "ecomic Royalists" to use FDR's phrase, will go up.

    December 2, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. Rosa Birmingham, AL

    I saw this on the news. McCain at one point said the only way to win a war is to crush the will of the enemy. This is why he is not president.

    December 2, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  5. Black Viper

    I thought he already did during the election season and lost.
    What does he wants to talk about again?
    McCain need to go and challenge Cheney and Bush

    December 2, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  6. WoW

    I hope you Liberals understand that Senator McCain is absolutely right. He is a military man.

    What he said – "If you say there's a date certain for withdrawal, your friends and enemies who will be in the region make accommodations accordingly," is 100% TRUE.

    I also did not like how we laid out exactly what regions of Afghanistan we are going to be attacking. This should be done secretly.

    I am behind our president 100% with his decision. As President Obama said last night, we must take it to the terrorists and kill or capture them.

    December 2, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  7. patNY

    McCain as PResident would've been Disaterous!

    McCain is clearly a warmonger for opposing an exit strategy!

    McCain clearly loves war since he's against exit strategies and for open ended committments.

    McCain is a war failure, not a war hero!

    McCain clearly suffers from PTSD from his days in Vietnam...thankgoodness he's not president, or else he'd already hit the button.

    December 2, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  8. Jeff W.

    How predictable, McCain once again disagrees with the president. It's so tiresome to hear McCain's endless criticism. No matter what Obama does McCain is the first in line to say it's wrong. When I think of McCain I always think, "That's the guy that unleashed the vapid Sarah Palin on us, why would I ever listen to his opinion about anything?"

    December 2, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  9. Peter

    mccain is a loser. thank god he isn't president. he is so eager to send others' off to die for nothing. All you conservatives so eager for war; hope to see you at the army recruitment center.

    December 2, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  10. PK California

    Of course he has a better idea. He knows everything, that's why he lost the election! Now, let the REAL president do his job as he and dozens of others who worked on this decision Give it a shot! This is not the time for every politician to add his criticism. This is the time, if we ever want to end this war, for ALL to get behind the president and his advisors. Sure, you all want your opinions published so that if things don't go too well you can pop up and say, "I told you so"! What ever happened to the UNITED States of America?????

    December 2, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  11. brian

    hey lowball Johnny! You are irrelevant. Maybe you haven't caught up to the fact that you have no national constituency, and will never contend on the national political stage. I didn't read this article, but I stopped by to comment. Just doing you a favor. Go back to your district and take care of a water project or something. Maybe U of AZ can give you an honorary degree. yawn

    December 2, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. John

    I agree with his concerns about Obama talking about an exit strategy when the additional troops were not even sent. It was just the wrong forum and time to talk about an exit strategy in Afghanistan.

    December 2, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  13. Allison30

    McCain is still disgruntled and "offended". He needs to get over himself already!

    December 2, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  14. MARK

    McCain needs to give up the ghost and quit looking like a poor loser like he is.

    December 2, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  15. Retired US Army Officer-Kansas

    While I respect Senator McCain's military service, I disagree with his views. The goal is to start turning security over to Afgan forces in 2011, if that works then we may be able to start withdrawal of combat forces. This concept is called establishing a goal, something that has been lacking under past plans. It does not signal a pull out date where the bad guys just sit back until 2011 and we are gone, but it does serve notice to the Afgan government that they have to build their security forces both military and police to accept an expanded role in the security of their nation and that they have until 2011 to have forces in place to start pulling their load.

    December 2, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  16. republicans hate america

    criticizing the commander in chief during a time of war is treasonous. this is true because rush limbaugh said so.

    December 2, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  17. Chris Kirkpatrick

    I respect John McCain and his support of Obama's troop buildup in Afganistan but take issue with his criticism of Obama's exit strategy. In wars past we have fought on, sacrificing lives for less than necessary means, with no clear objectives, and no clear plan in place for leaving. If The President had not proposed an exit strategy, others would have come down on him as being unprepared. While he has given the country a 3 year timeframe, we know that he is willing to stay longer if the situation on the ground dictates it, as we have seen in Iraq. We are committed. Our service men and women are headed out! It's time to stand behind them (maybe do some sacrificing of our own) and make sure that when they return they will be proud of us as well!!!

    December 2, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  18. Jeff in DC

    I don't think the timeline really hurts the military strategy. Even if the Taliban lay low until 2011, that's still a victory because it gives more time to focus on training up the Afghan forces. Besides that, Taliban still have to fight if they want to keep control of the remote/tribal regions, and 30,000 more troops is gonna make it a lot harder for them. Like all things, inaction leads to atrophy. The Taliban needs successes to maintain internal alliances, recruit new soldiers, and secure resources and supplies. Without military operations, the Taliban faces losing its primary raison d'etre. Plus, this isn't just a military war, it's a huge diplomatic effort to force the Afghan government to perform and root out corruption. You gotta blend military strategy with other goals, like accountability. Setting a timeline is a way of telling the Afghan govt to stop messing around and get with the program.

    December 2, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  19. Kraig Rasool

    Sometimes I think McCain thinks he's using a fork when he should have a spoon....on the one hand he tends to agree the strategy. However not the timeline, but then he agrees with some of what the
    general has said, but not Obama...Confusion runs rampant. Could it be somewhere in the back of his mind that he could have done better given the chance (if he had one the presidential election)...I think the
    stress of the country and the pullings from all corners of the world would have made him even more confused when it comes to making decisions about the war...and sometimes being that he is war veteran he feels that he can operate at a much higher level when it comes to
    war strategies.

    December 2, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  20. Blue

    John, you lost, get over it. President Obama is cleaning up the mess that you, Bush and Cheney started. I am so proud to have a really smart man in the Oval Office.

    December 2, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  21. CHANGE.COM

    Just shut up, McCain. The president is right in providign a timeline within which troops would beging to come home should the situation on the ground improve. And, it will. The President did not say he will withdraw all forces! he said we will begin to withdraw – begin to withdraw, Mccain. Just shut up and go back to one of your seven houses. God bless our troops!

    December 2, 2009 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  22. ttbala

    What does this old man knows, I can't even immagine the Arizonians electing this guy to the senate, he changes his stories according to which way the wind blowas, they don't want deficit but then they don't want to end the war, is he going to pay for this war from his wifes coffers, shut up McCain, we are not interested in your old fashioned ideas.

    December 2, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  23. Amir Goy

    McCain is obligated to make all the 'right' sort of noises, but he surely understands that the blather about any supposed, nebulous exit date... is just a handy sop his War Party partner Obama has to throw out there to all those deluded 'liberals' and so-called 'progressives' who still support him and swallow the war agenda.
    Who can really doubt that both 'leaders' are on the same page at the end of the day? And who can now possibly doubt the wisdom of awarding The Chosen One that 'Peace Prize'?

    December 2, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  24. linda

    What does McCain know about anything except fear-mongering?

    Isn't he the one who got himself caught in Vietnam where he
    spent 5 years as a POW?

    Like Bush, Cheney, Rice, et all – McCain: crawl back into the
    hole you came from.

    December 2, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
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