October 11th, 2009
09:00 AM ET
13 years ago

In war, McCain warns against 'an error of historic proportions'

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said any added military deployment in Afghanistan less than the 40,000 troops reportedly requested by the top U.S. commander in that war-torn land “would be an error of historic proportions.”

When asked by CNN Chief National Correspondent John King whether he thought the war in Afghanistan could be won with less than the troops said to be requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, McCain replied frankly in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

“I do not,” said McCain, who was defeated by President Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

“And I think the great danger now is a half-measure, sort of a - you know, try[ing] to please all ends of the political spectrum,” McCain also told King. “And, again, I have great sympathy for the president, making the toughest decisions that presidents have to make, but I think he needs to use deliberate speed.”

“I think to disregard the requirements that has been laid out and agreed to” by Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen “would be an error of historic proportions,” McCain said when asked whether 10,000 or 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan would suffice.

In making the case for a surge strategy like the one he fiercely advocated in Iraq when President Bush was in office, McCain urged President Obama “to act with deliberate speed” in pondering his next steps in Afghanistan.

“Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal and General Petraeus have said the situation is deteriorating. Just over the last several days, as you know, week or so, we've lost 10 more brave young Americans. And the longer we delay the decision, the longer it will be before we provide them with what the needed resources are,” McCain says in the interview.

And pointing to the successful surge in Iraq that involved a broad, troop-intensive counterinsurgency strategy, which Petraeus and McChrystal both played roles in, McCain suggested that rather than delay, the president should follow the strategic advice that the two generals have already set out.

“The strategy that was developed by General Petraeus in particular, but also with General McChrystal as his strong right arm, did succeed there [in Iraq],” McCain tells King. “Should we risk going against the advice and counsel of our best and strongest advisers, those we've given the responsibility - as you know, General McChrystal's predecessor was fired by the president because of the confidence that he had in him.

“So the question is, is do we take a risk and go to a [narrower, counterterrorism] strategy basically that failed before [in Iraq] versus one [based on counterinsurgency] that succeeded? And, again, this is a very tough decision, but I do again argue for some deliberate speed, because our allies in the region are beginning to get the impression that perhaps we are wavering.”

The president and his top military, national security, and foreign policy advisers are in the midst of an intensive strategic review of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. McChrystal is advocating a counterinsurgency strategy similar to the surge in Iraq which McCain championed while Vice President Joe Biden is advocating a counterterrorism strategy focused more on using drones and special forces to rid Afghanistan of al Qaeda militants on the border with Pakistan.

Last week, a remote U.S. outpost in Afghanistan was attacked by insurgents leading to the deaths of eight Americans during the single incident. The fierce firefight has become part of the ongoing debate about how many U.S. troops are necessary to accomplish the United States' goals in the country.

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soundoff (231 Responses)
  1. Bob of Lompoc

    This is the guy who said on National TV he was safe walking the streets of major Iraq cities. Then the video of those "safe walks" showed he had heavily armed military escorts front and back and helicopter air cover. McCain continues to pretend he is a "Military Expert". He is an wanna be, who uses his military service as a false front for "Military Expert" status.

    October 11, 2009 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  2. phoenix86

    Obama appears incapable of learning. He is only "show" and is being propped up by a media that no longer reports or investigates; and an international community that welcomes Americas demise.

    What a sad joke Obama is.

    October 11, 2009 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  3. Idiot_Boehner

    We have been fighting a "error of historic proportions" in Bush's War against Iraq. The situation in Afghanistan has been continually deteriorating since the former president declared 'victory' and lost focus on those responsible for 9-11. As a self proclaimed military genius, McCain should know that it was more than the surge, but involving tribal factions to be a part of the war that led to the alleged success.

    I would hope that Obama take the time to get it right in Afghanistan.

    October 11, 2009 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  4. Idiot_Boehner

    What a sad joke McCain still is. He is no military expert.

    October 11, 2009 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  5. james

    I understand the difficult decisions the President and his staff must make, that is the job he signed up for. However, its a monster to do what's popular in the American people eye. When the Senior Military Advisors ask the President for what they need he must with complete conviction act as quickly as possible. Understand that 40,000 comes with logistical and any other assets they may need as well. I don't feel that drones will accomplish the mission and the SOF guys are being overused. You need some conventional troops in there to balance the operation(s). Counterinsurgency is the fight so you need boots on the ground to accomplish these tasks. Insurgents are enforcing their will on the Afghan people and we are not doing much to counter their operations. We have to give the General's what they need, after all we can expect the Top Officials to make Chicken sandwiches out of Chicken @#&!

    October 11, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  6. Idiot_Boehner

    McCain has one idea for all wars, 'surge.' Afghanistan is a little different, and I am confident Obama will get it right.

    October 11, 2009 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  7. A Vietnam veteran

    John McCain has the nerve to talk about the corruption in the Afghan government, while ignoring our own governments corruption.

    October 11, 2009 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  8. GI Joe

    We avoided an error of historic proportion John, we voted AGAINST the war-monger and his hate-monger running mate.

    He's demented. He needs to go. WAR WAR WAR WAR

    October 11, 2009 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  9. Tom in Illinois

    Victory is in sight. 40,000 gays will probably enlist now that Obama is opening up the military.

    October 11, 2009 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  10. darryn

    You cannot win with radical islam its willing to pure acid on girls, kill it self, no surge wil do only keep good INTEL and communication open.

    October 11, 2009 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  11. Joanne

    What a pathetic man McCain is. Thank God he wasn't elected. Please, just shut up and go away. I don't care what you think.

    October 11, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  12. Randy, San Francisco

    The error of historic proportions was made when Bush started the war in Iraq, diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan. McCain was a major supporter of the Iraq War, or has he forgotten?

    October 11, 2009 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  13. Kris

    This isn't Bush's war, it is Clintons war...do your research.

    October 11, 2009 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  14. Marauder

    There is nothing the GOP can do to fix a problem that doesn't take bombs and killing. McCain, the wars were a mistake started by your party. It will take a Democrat to put a stop to the killing of our young being wasted on people that just don't care and hate us.

    October 11, 2009 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  15. Grand Old Potentates

    An error of historic proportion would have occurred if we had elected this blo-hard and the Alaskan Milf into national office.

    October 11, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  16. James

    After introducing Palin as your V.P. candidate you lose any credibility.

    October 11, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  17. Obama/Biden

    As of right now John McCain is a senator that is opposing everything president Obama propose. He need to help solve the puzzle the country is facing or quiet for ever. Oh John McCain is tryig to avenge for himself and Sarah Palin that is why he is opposing everything. McCain only care about power. He is thinking about a 2012 run again.
    How many America do we have right? One or two? If we only have one America we only need one health care bill not two or three and some people need to compromise for the sake of the people. Washinton is divided by politic. The president cannot pass the health care bill himself. Congress need to give him bill to sign into law. He is not a dictator. Only a dictator would draft his own bill and sign it into law. Congress is to blame on all the backlashes president Obama is facing. Specially the Republican congress.
    I am very happy to see that the world is watching my president and at least think that you are deserved to be honored than a lot of Americans do. Many Americans to be specific, I would say the racism one who do not like blacks and Hispanics think that you are un-American and do not deserve to be president of the United states of America. Some said that your birth certificate was fake and that your presidency is illegal. Some said that you could not be the president of the US and they even said that you could be the president of Ethiopia and not America. Thus far, God proved them all wrong and shut them up and let them know that he is in control of this world. I want to warn those people who do not like people who are different from them in skin color to fear God because we are all God creation. It does not matter who you are African or Caucasian. Please do not fear what no man can do you president Obama because I know God elected you president of the US; the people vote you in but they did not do it. Not in a racist country lot ours that Barack Obama could've become president without God help. So therefore, God will protect you and help you succeed.
    I know that people are trying to get you not to be a success just to criticize you as an African American. I know that they are expecting too much of you and they never expected that much from previous president. I wonder why. Is it because they are white like they are?
    God want me to tell you to approve the 40,000 thousand soldiers for the Afghanistan war because it is the right thing to do. You do not want to have not enough soldiers there because if the casualties increases because of not enough soldiers on the ground their, the American people will really get upset of you. I know that Republicans do not want you to succeed and for that reason they will oppose almost any major things you are trying to do. For these Republicans, it is not about the country or the people of America; it is to them about trying to make you look bad to the people to see if they can defeat you next election. These Republicans only care about money and power but, not the people who vote them in power. Do not worry because we the people realize what is going on and will do the right thing for the country. I want you and your administration not to worry too much about bipartisan work because Republicans are on a mission to defeat you and they do not care about the people. Some people think President Obama has a magical solution to all the problems the country is facing that took his predecessor many years to mess them up like they are. Only God has the magical solution overnight to everything; not you president Obama. The people need to give you time to work because you are only eight months into power. Always welcome them on the table but, they will never want to get involve. Mr. President please keep a positive attitude and keep on the good fight and do not let that medal peace of honor make you take the wrong decisions for Afghanistan. Remember not to worry because everything you do Republicans and those who want to see you hurt will never be happy with you. God raised you king like he rose David king over Israel. God told me to tell you more troops are needed for Afghanistan and Iraq need to come to a closure when the time is right to do so.

    October 11, 2009 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  18. db

    Thank God Obama saved the world from McCain-Palin. No wonder he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    October 11, 2009 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  19. Ren from Baltimore

    Senator McCain, did you learn nothing from the election, from the world's reaction to your party's control of the US government, from the blindness that comes from a one-solution mindset?

    The mistake of historic proportions has already been committed, and repeated for eight years now. "Surge" is a relative term, and as you know only one of any number of options. Everyone involved in the ongoing discourse reports their appreciation of Obama's listening and communications skills during this true crisis.

    We don't need any more hotheads in the mix!!

    October 11, 2009 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  20. Donkey Party

    Mr. McCain, your selection of Sarah Palin as your VP running mate was an error of historic proportions, just as your presidency would've been had you won the election. Don't lecture the President of the USA from your Hover-round.

    October 11, 2009 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  21. Brian

    For a man who has made an error of historic proportion–having asked Sarah Palin to be his Vice Presidential running mate–should anyone really listen to him? McCain has exhibited his inability to fully grasp issues and for this reason Obama was elected.

    October 11, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  22. Dave from Ohio

    It doesn't matter. The war in Afghanistan can never actually be won. There are no guidelines set for what will win this war, and without knowing the predefined clear cut terms for victory,

    The insurgents will continue to do as they please with or without the military there, and soon as the US troops leave, it will become a lawless state and a safe ground for terrorism, much like Iraq is going to become as soon as the US leaves.

    Without a ruthless dictator like Sadam in control any more, Iran will probably invade it soon as the US leaves and then just destroy the entire middle easy

    October 11, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  23. Give it to 'em Rush

    Let's just remember that our brave men and women over there need help, and this help involves added troops. Don't make some wise comment about corruption when the fact of the matter is that the leaders of this operation are in a position to demand the type of resources to stage successful operations in a war torn country. If Obama wants to make sure things go smoother and more men and women come home safe, odds are there will have to be additions to the occupation. That is the truth.

    October 11, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  24. Common sense

    Obama either needs to pull everyone out, or support those there. McCain, in this instance, is very correct. By trying to sit on the fence, Obama unncessarily endangers our fathers/sons/brothers/mothers/sisters/daughters who don't have the necessary backup to keep them safe.

    War is ugly. There are people who will kill us if given the opportunity, and will only respond to a show of force. If we have the necessary numbers to achieve the objective, we'll have less casualties than if we have overworked, sleep-deprived troops pulling double shifts and spread too thin to help one another.

    October 11, 2009 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  25. Mark

    Lots of pilots in the Vietnam war WERE NOT shot down. McCain is an Idiot

    October 11, 2009 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
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