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. Doc in Virginia

    When McCain speaks all I hear is the yelping of canine intercourse...old tothless dog. he complains about Obama's celebrity yet I see no other congessmen or senators who live on Letterman, Jay Leno, MTP or any other news program. He is a fixture on GOP water carrier John King's show on CNN and now must be Palin-apologizer in charge as he exposed the country to this vitriolic semi-fascist. McCain's relevance has passed. When he made a difference in the 2000 race against Bush he punked out after South Carolina. he is just a cranky old dog who will probably be beaten by neo-con and retread JD Hayworth in the AZ primaries.
    He needs to stop injecting himself into the White House problems as if he is some sage on a hilltop. He isn't.

    October 11, 2009 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  2. WIll 18E

    Of course, for McCain received $704,000 in campaign contributions from military contracters in 2009. He knows what side his bread is buttered on.
    And he was one of 30 Republican that voted no on a bill that would allow woman military contracters who have been raped, to see their cases in a U.S. criminal court. And while be pounds his chest, 40k troops will not be ready for deployment until next march, according to the Pentagon.
    Yet he will hit Obama with "lies" to give the American people the purposely false impression, the troops were ready to be beployed yesterday, and it's Obama dragging his feet.

    October 11, 2009 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  3. Jay T.

    Come on, McCain. Get over yourself. You've never been much of an advocate for our soldiers. Check how he's voted. He knows these kind of generalized statements creates the impression he knows what he's talking about and gets him elected in the Retirement State.

    October 11, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  4. Jen

    The only reason why he's saying 40k troops to Afghanistan is to make Obama look bad if he doesn't. Obama probably feels encouraged to do less military wise after the Nobel Prize, so McCain is just trying to make Obama look bad.

    Honestly, last time, one year into all of this, did anyone ever ask Al Gore these things? Did anyone even care about Al Gore? The news media needs to relax sometimes.

    October 11, 2009 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  5. meloverepudlicans

    me think macaine milatary genieus. him genieus on almost everthing. him pick hottie sara palling. she on my locker in undies! an macain also good at fly plane even tho he crash an be torcher by cheney. obamy only carre about silly helth care. him no like war to go on forever that bush make because bush have large testicle an am tuff cowboy. obama no have giant puffy testicle him bad president. need new president who have big giant puffy privates for keep us safe by bomb everyybody to stone age an no soshulist stuff like health care and trash pick up an roads an stuff paid by tax. palling take away tax she no have puffy testical tho.

    October 11, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  6. Brad

    @wow, phoenix86

    Your supporting arguments are where? It's okay to have opposing viewpoints, but at least support your view... "WAKE UP" is not an argument and does nothing to support your opinion along with statements like "international community that welcomes Americas demise".

    Please give informed opinions with supporting arguments or say nothing.

    October 11, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  7. Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, North Carolina

    General McChrystal is a professional soldier–if he and his staff say they need 40 thousand more troops to accomplish the mission he's been given, Obama, with no military experience at all, has no business disputing that number.

    Obama has exactly three rational choices:

    1. Authorise the additional manpower.

    2. Redefine General McChrystal's mission and limit its objectives to whatever manpower the President is willing to commit.

    3. Withdraw from Afghanistan completely.

    Of course, Obama isn't known for making rational choices.

    Political micromanagement of the Vietnam War was one of the major factors in our losing it. It's certainly up to the politicians to decide whether or not to fight a war, and define what the overall objective of the war will be, but once those decisions have been made it is, or ought to be, entirely up to the military senior officers how to achieve the objective. Anything else is "an error of historic proportions."

    (BY the way, Senator McCain's father was Admiral Jack McCain, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command during Vietnam. While Senator McCain's personal strategic military experience is limited, it takes no great stretch of imagination to assume that dinner-table conversation in the McCain household encompassed more than football.)

    October 11, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  8. King Kong

    Someone, get this oaf to shut the hell up. He's SUCH an EMBARASSMENT to this COUNTRY!

    October 11, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  9. wow

    obama was in senate since 2006 and signed off on a lot ... BUSH was a terrible president from the right . OBAMA is a terrible president from the left..they are breakin the country into TWO . you are fallin into it!! come together .. unite... RESEARCH : EZEKIEL EMANUELS .. RAHM EMANUEL .. TIMOTHY GNIETHER .. RUINING OUR COUNTRY!!! FRIENDS WITH BUSH (((((ALL IN BILDEBERG)) SIR.... YOUR WRONG!!

    October 11, 2009 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  10. mike

    I like the peace through strength motto...I mean it worked out so well for the romans. err wait. well how bout the british.....uhhh oh ya...the whole america thing....well there must be someone in 4000 years of recored history that it worked out for....right??


    October 11, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  11. Primo

    Politicians should be required to take cultural anthropology classes. Who are we to think that American muscle can change the ideals and beliefs of a culture; such as religion. Essentially, what we are doing is not winning a war, but assuring a war will continue indefinitely; steadly draining tax dollars, while building more American resent.

    Here's a word to lookup:


    October 11, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  12. Akujuobi, L.

    Whenever I come close to accepting the fact that the problems Republicans and the extremists on the "right" have with the President is based on policy disagreements, their comments clearly prove me wrong...these are a bunch of President Obama haters. I don't care what Obama does, these idiots will find something wrong with it. Non of these people have accepted his presidency. They have gone from the need to review his citizenship, his socialist ideology, and now, his ascendency to the "annointed one." I am especially disheartened by the publicity hateful cheerleaders such as Glen Beck Rush, Savage, and Hannity seem to receive from certain elements in this country. Oh, add Newt Gingrich to that crowd because his past intellectually sound reasoning has been replaced by empty and cheap comments aimed at winning the support of the far-right idiots. Anytime any American cheers that America lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympic games because the dislike the President, something has gone terribly wrong. Glen, Rush, Hannity, Savage, and your stupid and equally uneducated followers need to accept one simple fact...Barrack Hussein Obama is your President for the next four years and possibly, eight. You may need to spend some of the money you made out of hate on serious therapy especially now that the world has seen what most Americans saw and affirmed on November 4, 2008. Worst than the aforementioned people is the RNC empty talking head, Steele. Steele needs to first understand one simple fact, the people he his following hate him more than they hate the President. Michael Steele needs to do his homework and figure out why they may never accept him and the President.

    October 11, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  13. kenincarolina

    Wasn't it the military who kept asking for more and more troops in Viet Nam? To use a trite old saying, when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    The military is a fine hammer, made up of intellegent and courageous people. By definition, their job is to hammer the opponents. But there is a good reason they are under civilian control.

    October 11, 2009 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  14. Partison Politics is dividing our country

    The endless partison bickering is dividing our country as never before!

    You only have to read these posts to discover that most are uninformed, repeats of each party's talking points full of half truths and designed only to wall the country into 2 seperate camps.

    You people sound like pathetic ignorant children as you rant and rant about each other.

    How can you not see that this shouldn't be about knocking each other down all the time – being manipulated into cheerleading one side vs another?

    Our enemies in the world are not so dumb. Divide and conquer will knock the USA out of world dominance.

    October 11, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  15. Rick

    CNN, raise the bar. Your writing works to politicize this issue, like you do so many others.

    Instead of...

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

    Take the professional and unpolitical approach of...

    "I do not." said McCain, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    Your writing is shameful, even more, it's a disservice to the American people and especially to our men and women serving in our armed forces.

    October 11, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  16. Aunt Bea and Opie

    Just because they are Generals doesnt mean they know what they are doing,Vietnam had a lot of useless Generals.

    October 11, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  17. Ken

    I've never been in the military, don't pretend to be. But if some politicians would stop micromanaging and hamstringing our brave men and women in uniform and just let them do their job, maybe things would turn out a whole lot differently.

    October 11, 2009 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  18. Banderman

    Reading comments posted here make me very afraid for my country. Many of these individuals have been duped by a silver tongued dude that 'talks the talk' but does not 'walk the walk' and has as much understanding of military matters as Waldo or Mr. Potato Head. Go ahead and criticize McCain and demonize his honorable service in Vietnam; this just further makes my argument regarding the ignorant, misinformed miscreants that have no grasp of reality on the ground, American history, or what it takes to defend a Nation from enemies; both foreign and domestic. McCain may not have been the best choice for President, but this does not change the reality of world events. Most that post here have probably never been in a war zone; consequently most only criticize based on 'popular notions' of their peer group. According to them, it's better to be wrong in a group than right as an individual. Group think is ruining this Nation. Remaining in a political stupor is downright dangerous to the rest of us.

    October 11, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  19. Christian

    McCain is simply doing his job as a Senator and giving his opinion based on his years of experience as a Senator, not as a military tactician. Funny how the Anti-GOP, McCain people are giving him hell for not being an expert and how Obama will make the right decision.

    Last time I checked Obama had less than one term of exp in the Senate and never served a day in uniform. But all of a sudden he is the expert and has the experience to lead us out of this mess.

    John McCain did not ask for 40,000 troops he simply said we need to support the General who asked for that number. And do not forget that the General who asked for the 40,000 was hand picked by Obama and now he is second guessing his own choice. If you are not going to support your own man, and his judgment then why put in him charge in the first place.

    Gen McCrystal is on the ground there because has 30 years of experience and knows what the hell he is doing.

    And btw sitting in a POW for 5 years is not unfortunate, it is absolutely heroic. How many of you could sit 5 minutes in the conditions those men endured for multiple years? If you have never served you have no business making those kind of judgments on those of us who have.

    October 11, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  20. Dan the Man

    I would rather have McCain in my Fox Hole than Obama...

    October 11, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  21. jolhnd

    WAKE up america

    The country is in crisis, and all the government can do is try to find out why the crisis is not their fault..

    They Blame bush, blame this or that..

    while no one has the GUTS to make a dicision..

    Obama Notin a tough place.. he need to make the right cll wheather or not itsgood for his image at that time. as long as it is right...

    but Obama is an idiot.. he won't he is all about himself..

    October 11, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  22. michael of arizona

    Its amazing how those making decisions forget the past. How long was Russia there before they packed up and left? We should leave the region, pull out all our troops and spend that money on medical reform and education.

    October 11, 2009 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  23. Jeff

    "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." Hmmm. McChrystal spent a great deal of time in Iraq-Afghanistan and knew the problems long before he wrote his assessment. In fact, he was well aware of the situation in Afghanistan long before Obama took office. He's military, that he's an 'expert' has yet to be proven.

    October 11, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  24. P Alfonso

    McCain as a supporter of the Industrial Military Complex will keep on draining the blood of the American youth and the wealth of our citizens.
    We must recognize that we are virtually a bankrupted nation and can no longer throw our weight around the world. We need to bring back home our two million soldiers that we have scattered all over the world. Let’s bring them back to help us liberate our nation from those who are aiming to destroy our Constitution, traditions and values. Let us use the money wasted overseas by the Military Industrial Complex to rebuild our manufacturing that has been shipped overseas. John McCain is a good example of politicians on both parties that have betrayed the dreams of our founding fathers.

    October 11, 2009 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  25. Wileysee

    Sun Tzu's "Art of War" has been, if not the definitive book on winning a war then certainly in the top three. Every military officer and most people in power including many in Congress have both read and utilized the ideas Sun Tzu put forth. One of the main ideas presented by Sun Tzu is that the general in the field is supported and it is the general's duty to carry out the mission. Therefore, after McChrystal was appointed by the Senate in June, 2009, he should be supported. If he is not to be believed then find someone else to head the campaign. If Congress and/or the President has set policy and goals and if those goals include winning the war; then they must support the man they put in charge of the strategy necessary to win. If they do not support their own man then the war is lost. This is not a McCain thing or an Obama thing. This is about support of our own people. If you don't want to support them then get them out of there.

    October 11, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
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