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. Analysis Paralysis

    Obama is wringing his hands when he need to be a decisive leader. If he can't defend our nation and our security, he has no right being Presidenr.

    October 11, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  2. jason

    Well, Republicans are suddenly so interested in this war that they ignored for 7 years. God forbid that we rethink our strategy before we commit tons of money and resources. Get it right, do it right. I'm confident we will commit the necessary troops and resources – what choice do we have? Obama just wants a clear strategy. If we're sending numbers just to send numbers, where will that lead?

    October 11, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  3. Dan Ohio

    Given that this came from the guy that couldn't tell us how many homes he has, selected Sarah Palin as his running mate and thought that we would be in Iraq for a hundred years, I'm not sure how seriously we can take him.

    I think that Arizona could do better.

    October 11, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  4. JP

    Note to the partisan posters on her: If you can't realize that some things are far more important than politics I feel sorry for you. Whether Iraq and Afghanistan are the right war or the wrong war – the generals are charged to "win" the war as quickly as possible to preserve American soldiers lives, period. GEN CcC did not start the war, he should be allowed to win it. GEN Petraeus "won" the war in Iraq in spite of the best efforts by the Dems and Bush to "not lose it" -there is a difference. Petraeus was backed by McCain and GEN(R) Keane, who pushed Bush to go all in and win the Iraq war. Now Obama is in th esame position being pushed by McCain to win in Afghanistan – we will see what kind of character Obama has – can he humble himself to take constructive criticism? Or is all about "winning" politically? Obama worries me, he never uses the word "win" in any connection with Iraq or Afghanistan – only with the election. The last war we didn't "win" was Viet Nam –

    October 11, 2009 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  5. boca mike

    Something is wrong with Obama. I think we was replaced, after the election, with a talking robot?

    October 11, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  6. Nick

    Hey, Phoenix:

    Companies take 3-6 months to decide on a product / marketing strategy.

    I would think that taking a few weeks to decide on a strategy for Afghanistan would be reasonable. These are not the kind of situations where wise men make decisions overnight.

    Following a strategy are the tactics (including personnel) that are needed to achieve the strategic goal.

    October 11, 2009 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  7. Greg

    And just where are they going to come up with 40-50,000 more boots on the ground? Full time army, marines etc. are on 2nd 3rd even 4th tours, stop loss is still going on, extending deployments of current units! It's Oct. and I feel a draft coming on !!!

    October 11, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  8. Brian

    Fast-draw McCain just like during the campaign. Obama should act with great speed, faster, faster!

    Nevermind that considering whether to send 40,000 more troops should be a deliberate, calculated and well planned decision. They're not going there to smell the roses, they're going in harm's way and like it or not Obama has to balance political realities with military needs.

    Imagine this scenario: Obama sends the 40,000 troops and the generals use a massive counter-insurgency program with more boots on the ground getting to know the locals better outside of their bases, tanks and humvees. Suddenly there is a huge spike in casualties which continues for several months, because sending more troops means more targets and the new strategy places more men and women's lives in harm's way.

    That is the scenario Obama must consider: he must consider whether Afghanistan can respond to a surge. And Iraq is far different than Afghanistan and even a different culture; the surge "worked" (disputable but let's say it did) because Petraeus *bribed* locals to cease attacks. This might not work in Afghanistan because Afghanis are not Iraqis. If they don't take the bribes all you're doing is adding 40,000 more targets.

    It is not an easy decision and should never be when it comes to putting lives on the line.

    October 11, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  9. frank@DaytonaBeach

    Most postings I agree with "obama incapable of leaning", "what a sad joke obama is", "our troops have faulty weapons". Obama needs to get rid of russian type "czars", listen to commanders or he single handedly will destroy the USA. Better yet impeach obama as a certified serial liar.

    October 11, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  10. James_MO

    War is an ugly business, and failure to act against Al Quida in Afghanistan brought this war to New York and Washington.

    As a Democrat, I can accept that we did not want this war but leaving a wounded and enraged Taliban to own Afghanistan is unacceptable. Obama has to listen to McChrystal and just get on with it.

    October 11, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  11. Informed Voter

    John McCain graduated in the bottom of his class from West Point. He has still not learned how to lead an army to military success (which is almost impossible to do in Afganistan). His "error of historic proportions" was unleashing the ill equiped, narrow minded, hate filled rhetoric that is named Sarah Palin, on this great country. Sorry, John, until you own up to that error, no one with a functioning brain can take your advise seriously.

    October 11, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  12. Mike

    I love how when it comes to health care the Republicans are all shouting in unison, "Wait a minute, let's just slow down here." But now that the topic is war, their raison d'être, they are again shouting but this time that there isn't a moment to lose.

    October 11, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  13. Rino from Austin

    This is hysterical. How can anybody with his track records talk about "history" and "error?" This is the guy who picked Sarah Palin as running mate. I am still laughing at his comments on Afghanistan. He is completely clueless. He should think of a new career as a comedian.

    October 11, 2009 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  14. David Brooks

    Only 40,000 troops? I would've guessed that we would need a lot more than that. Oh well, I guess the history lessons of Vietnam, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are not resonating.

    October 11, 2009 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  15. Cathy

    Are you serious? This is the guy who wanted to give us Sarah Palin for vice president? He thinks we should heed his warnings? PLEASE!!!!!! He needs to go away.

    October 11, 2009 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  16. billa007

    If military can solve all problems why don't we just get rid of our government as well and have military take over...

    Point being, 40000 additional troops can do much more, but only a political solution will be long lasting one in Afghanistan. A political solution may not be reached without military, but where is the emphasis of a political solution?

    October 11, 2009 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  17. Smak Runner 2K

    I think a lot of you are missing something here.

    It's not McCain asking for 40,000 more troops...it's McChrystal. McCain may or may not be a military expert – but General McChrystal is.

    Don't let your hate of all things on the right cloud your judgement.

    October 11, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  18. sandy

    Here we go again. The "expert" on everything. If he were, he would be the President today. Being a flyboy makes him an expert. No way.

    October 11, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  19. TexMan

    So President McCain thinks.... The man does love the stage just like his bud Ron.. The only way a surge will work in Afgahanistan is if they kill everybody currently living in Afgahanistan and then deploy 20000 American women and 20000 American men to repopulate the country for the next 10 years.

    October 11, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  20. Tim

    No, John, choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate was an error of historic proportions.

    What a sore loser.

    October 11, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  21. GEA

    1. I could support additional troops if there were a realistic possibility that it was for a reasonable duration, and would achieve lasting results. What reason do we have to believe that if we put in another 40 to 68,000 troops now, we won't face a situation in a year, or two, or five, or twenty, when to pull them out means that the bad guys will simply flow back in and re-establish a hostile locale.

    2. Further to point 1, it appears that McCain et al. are simply stating the obvious: if we are willing to insert and pay for enough troops to saturate a place and keep them there indefinitely, we can limit the use of that place as a base for terrorists. But we can't occupy the entire planet. If we saturate Afghanistan, what next when Pakistan totters? Do we conscript hundreds of thousands of troops, or millions, to do COIN in Pakistan?

    3.

    October 11, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  22. Bill

    But Afghanistan _is_ as safe as our local market !!! Victory !!!! Success !!!! Time to bring the troops home !!!!

    October 11, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  23. John

    If Mcain is the expert that he thinks he is,how come the strategy wasn't working for the past 8 years?Its strange now that the republicans have all the answers now that the democrats are in power.The same also applies to the healthcare debate,the republicans have all the answers now but not for the past 8 years.

    October 11, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  24. clifford in New York

    You stupid liberal fools! It is simple ideology...... "peace through strength" always has and always will work! Think (if you can) how to quell the neighborhood bully!!!

    October 11, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  25. Dave D

    And exactly what military experience do you gaggle of idiots have? Yeah, that's what I thought. A bunch of pansies, real Keyboard Kommandos. McCain's not perfect, but at least he's 100% for the guys over there who are doing a tough job. What have you limp-wristed punks done?

    October 11, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
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