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. Bob

    We should leave Afghanistan. This area has bogged down great armies since the dawn of civilization. We can always bomb them to destroy any training camps, etc... that they try to rebuild, but you can't save a country that doesn't want to be saved. There is still a chance for Iraq, but Afghanistan will be a grave for America's military just like it has been for every army that's ever tried to conquer it.

    October 11, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  2. Lionel

    What could we do with 1 billion dollars a day this op needs to run?

    October 11, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  3. bill

    What else do you expect? He is a Republican, and that means money spent on the Afghanistan war is not wasted, nor are lost American lives worth anything, but we cannot "afford" healthcare reform for our own citizens.

    October 11, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  4. Matt M

    You idiots supporting Obama have no clue. You would much rather see more troops die you idiots. He has no clue and never will, look what Iran is doing again. I sit on my ass and get a nobel peace prize for nothing. Oh yeah, for letting our troops die. Maybe you people will wake up one day when we have another terrible day. He and Biden just do not get it.

    October 11, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  5. Anne

    Tom as you appear so anti gay maybe you should enlist and actually do something other than make such dispicable comments. But there again you are probably a republican so are brain washed into believing that only what you as a republican believes is right.

    October 11, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  6. clifford in New York

    Sentinel October 11th, 2009 10:03 am ET

    The "error of historic proportions" was the election of the Bush-Cheney administration!!!

    Ahh I don't know...................thats kinda lookin pretty good right now!

    October 11, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  7. clifford in New York

    It's amazing how many times Obama has lied to his followers and you fools just can't seem get enough of him!

    October 11, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  8. jim

    I wish McCain would pull his head out of his ass and look at the economic condition of this country. Oh yeah, that's not his strong suit. One wonders what his strong suit is. Sitting in a POW prison cell for five years makes you unfortunate, not heroic or knowledgeable.

    October 11, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  9. Irene Baldwin

    I think you give the people you hire what they need to do their jobs. If the general tells Obama he needs 40,000 troops, he should get 40,000. If the president doesn't trust what the general says, he should replace him. But on the general's end, he had better be right about it.. you don't get a second chance when human lives are at stake.

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

    stop bringing up republicans with healthcare. it was a democrat problem it didnt pass . now we know you have no idea whats going on if any of you on the list previously has. this president is Bush on roids . he is a terrible president and LIED to ALL you democrats . similar to how Bush lied to ALL the republicans .. all in all , you guys are JUST AS STUPID as the republicans and all of had a helpin hand in ruining this country .. thanks ..WAKE UP!!!!! IMPEACH OBAMA!!!

    October 11, 2009 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  11. MDH in MI

    Spending 5 years in POW camp does not make one an expert on military planning. John McCain is a fine senator with some personal issues. What is not being discussed in public is McChrystal gave the President several options of troop levels. One was 40,000, one was more and several less. John McCain is entitled to his opinion but I really do not think it is in the best interest of the nation that this be up to a national debate. The President needs his advisors and he needs some time. President Johnson taught us an important lesson in Vietnam, more troops without thought is a terrible mistake. We lost 55,000 brothers and sisters in a mistaken war. President Obama will make the right decision. He knows that Afghanistan was the right war to fight. Too bad it was planned very poorly in the beginning and then forgotten about for 7 years. If the Taliban is allowed back into power then al-Qaeda has it’s training camps again. This president understands these facts. I’m sure he will confirm his decision with Boss Limbaugh before he tells the nation.

    October 11, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  12. Marutza

    From the candidate who wanted to bomb Iran? from the maverick who selected Sara Palin? From the silent GOP who allows Beck to speak for him?

    October 11, 2009 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  13. Ron Smith

    May Allah give the Taliban and Al-Queda a breath of fresh air to clean their minds so they would stop fighting us so we can learn from prophet Muhammad the teahings of in the Quran.

    October 11, 2009 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  14. Fred54

    Our presence and activities in Afghanistan are a war crime, full stop,
    end of discussion. You don't "win" a war crime, you end it and prosecute those responsible for it. The UN charter prohibits aggressive war. When we signed the UN charter, per our constitution it became the law of the land. Neither the president OR the congress has the constitutional authority to wage this "war" unless we first withdraw from the UN as a member state, or if Afghanistan attacked us first. Apparently McCain has forgotten is oath of office where he swears to uphold and defend the constitution. We are beginning to realize as a nation that it is we who are on the wrong side of history here. We are beginning to see that it is the brave Afghan freedom fighters trying to expel a brutal and illegal foreign occupation who will be on the right side of history. We are beginning to understand why
    Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires. To paraphrase Pogo, "once again we have seen the enemy and once again he is us..."

    Would someone please forward the memo to McCain....

    October 11, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  15. Steve From NH

    "Bush-Cheney looking pretty good right now"
    That would be funny if it weren't so ignorant. They dug most of the holes we're in.

    October 11, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  16. PULEEEZZZ!! lets tell some truth

    IF YOU Want to protect american troops then dont sent them to be slaughtered in Afganistan. Why listen to a looser like McCain? He choose the joke of the century :Sarah P. Also, what proof is there that McCain was really tortured? Everyone believes like for sure. He was killing civilians from his airplane. Put this guy out to pature. Let the USA stand for peace instead of murder!!

    October 11, 2009 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  17. gabriel

    sir, we tried Bush's way, not once but twice. give obama some space please. we might get the policies on foreign policy right this time. you had your chance mr senator. and you know you were wrong. do you want the u.s. of a to succeed this time? or still be on the wrong side of history?

    October 11, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  18. Bob from SC

    Given the terrain of the country, and the "underground" nature of guerilla wars like this (remember the French Underground tied up the Germans for years using similar tactics, or the Vietcong in Vietnam during the 1960s who simply OUTLASTED the US), it is probably best to commit the requested troops "and then some".

    No one wants American soldiers to be placed at risk, but the sooner the situation is brought under some degree of tighter control, the sooner we can legitimately "get out".

    Whether there will be any "favorable" resolution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (meaning a stable, long lasting society/government) is anyone's guess. 50 yrs from now it may be a terrorist's haven or a model of personal freedom, only time will tell. It will almost certainly NOT be 100% of what ANYONE wants, but a mixture.... some good...some bad....basically what most of us see as the "real world' around us today.

    And let us not try to reduce the wars to "individuals" we either support or do not support. That approach is not only far too simplistic for the real situation "on the ground", but also shows a common ignorance that (unfortunately) is far too easy to accept and condone as an "easy out" for a combination of our fears & desires under the current set of circumstances.

    October 11, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  19. wow

    marzuta is dumb ... sarah pallin is good friends with henry kissinger.......who else is??????????? BARAK OBAMA!! WAKE UP FOOL!!! we wont let your dictator stay in the white house any longer you ignorant robots!

    October 11, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  20. Kristen

    I'm a way left liberal and I have to say, I'm way more worried about America than Afghanistan right now, not for the usual reasons (healthcare, etc) but because the tone of our national debate on both sides of the aisle, as exhibited right here in this discussion, is really frightening. I thought the left got way out of hand criticizing Bush and likewise the right now, but it's not just that– we can't seem to have a rational, reasoned debate! I mean, if this were as clear-cut as some people here seem to pretend (on both sides), it wouldn't be an issue! These are hard questions we are facting and instead of admitting that, we call each other idiots. What's up?? I see both sides of the debate here. Obama is in a really, really tough situation.

    October 11, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  21. Wanda Hawkins

    I'm concerned that it will actually be Taliban and AlGaeda that we train and give wepons and munitions to. How do we know truly?

    If the Afgan peoples do not want us occupying their country – why don't we work on making some agreements and get out – use the $'s we spend for war and put them into schols; food; clean water; etc.....?

    Is there a way to talk with Iran and other surrounding countries to work together to bring some peace to Afganistan and the region?

    There is no such thing as 'winning' either Iraq or Afganistan – we lost – even as our first sons and daughters were killed. We win by pulling out and letting them handle their own government without our interference.

    October 11, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  22. Todd A

    The bottom line is that there is absolutly nothing that President Obama can do that would cause more harm to this country than Bush did during his presidency. All the republicans claiming that he is worse than Bush aren't thinking very clearly or are just plain stupid. Everything that Obama is doing now, including all the spending, is a direct result of Bush's neglect of our country.

    If you see it any different you are wrong.

    October 11, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  23. Death Assurance Companies

    Two Johns without a clue,how fitting.

    October 11, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  24. dagwood

    I find it sad that people trust the current political leadership who has zero military experience, more than those who have fought and sacrificed for our country. Why Obama wants us to lose in the middle east I cannot fathom, but it seems like he is doing everything he can for this to occur. McCain has made mistakes, but I would argue most were pushed on him by his "advisors" during the campaign. The new Afghan plan is not just adding troops, people seem to be ignoring the strategy change. Listen to the generals, they know what they are doing.

    October 11, 2009 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  25. Nick K Wagenfeiler

    McCain foresaw the US being in 'Eyerack' for 100 years. Why should Afghanistan be any different? There are still US troops in Germany and Japan, 64 years after WWII ended.
    The Russian bear went home after years without conquering Afghanistan and the British did too, just to repeat history.

    October 11, 2009 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
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