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.


soundoff (231 Responses)
  1. Rich in Az

    John's always late to the party. Has he ever been right on anything? No.

    October 11, 2009 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  2. RB


    When it comes to errors of historic proportions, McCain is an expert.

    October 11, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  3. eolufemi

    How much is it going to cost per year?

    How badly will our military be stretched thin?

    Do we have the resources to deal with vets when they come back?

    What's the exit strategy?

    I don't hear anybody asking any real questions. All I hear is we need to be the Taliban at all costs, which isn't realistic.

    Clearly some battles aren't worth winning. If this is going to add to the deficit, it shouldn't be done. The same parameters we put on health care reform, which was intended to also save American lives, should be put on the military.

    October 11, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  4. Bill from CA

    Odd...during the election he said the surge was a huge success, and now we need another 40,000+ troops in Afghanistan? While I definitely agree that Obama needs to commit to more troops in Afghanistan, it should be noted – by Democrats & Republicans alike – that the reason we're in the situation we're in right now is because of the complete incompetence of the previous administration in handling both of the wars it started.

    October 11, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  5. Tom

    McCain = "An Error of Historic Proportions" in not authorizing another 40,000 troops.

    Does that mean that BUSH and the GOP committed an ERROR of EPIC PROPORTIONS by only authorizing 40,000 troops in Afghanistan in the first place?

    And then leaving those troops at that level for 7+ years while diverting needed resources and equipment to Iraq?

    October 11, 2009 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Spoken just like the man who sang , "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." in front of a whole bunch of people and a camera crew.

    I have said since the campaigning that this is an angry man who vows revenge for all of his suffering as a POW. He is angry and wants to fight everybody. He calls other countries, "our enemy." and would likely have had us in another World War if he were elected.

    Pres. Obama knows the entire chess board, he has to decide. Its the General's job to make suggestions and carry out the orders of the Commander in Chief. Its the Commander in Chief's job to make the orders. Then the General does what is asked of by his CIC to the best of his ability.

    McCain would have us never getting out of Iraq, never getting out of Afghanistan, and never getting out of Iran.

    October 11, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
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