October 11th, 2009
09:00 AM ET
12 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. Bill Sampson

    And McCain knows about errors of historic proportions (Sarah Palin).

    October 11, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  2. Chandra Sekhar

    Now is the time to get out of Afghanistan. Close the embassy in Pakistan & Kabul. Chances of cavemen coming over here is remote to none.

    October 11, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  3. LacrosseMom

    SENATOR MCCAIN IF YOU WANT THE WAR TO CONTINUE, THEN YOU AND THE REST OF THE GOP SHOULD PUT ON UNIFORMS AND GO FIGHT THE SENSELESS WAR IN AFGHANISTAN!
    (excuse the yelling, I am angry!)

    We, Americans, are apathetic, we stand by in silence watching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue after EIGHT YEARS.

    The cost, year to date of the war in Iraq IS........ $3 TRILLION! A war we did not have to fight. Iraq was/is about its OIL.

    The cost of Afghanistan, year to date is $864 BILLION, Bush sent in our Troops to fight....... Al-Qaeda....... now we are fighting the Taliban!

    ADD up the costs of the wars! We COULD INSURE EVERY MAN,WOMAN AND CHILD FOR THE PRICE OF THE WARS!

    OUR PRIORITIES ARE SCREWED UP! (again excuse the yelling)

    October 11, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  4. ihate television

    I think John McCain is a great fellow who is trying to do the best for his country. Jesus said, "Those who live by the sword, die by the sword." The freedom God gives is free. Maybe John should realize there is actually a reason the American People did not vote him into the White House. In my opinion, he could further serve his country by leaving the Senate and getting a solid job selling shoes, as Mr. Bundy did.

    October 11, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  5. ICARE

    Only the Afghan people can save themselves. Our job is to support them in their fights...... if we have to breast-feed them for 10 years so they can enjoy freedom and fight for it... so be it...

    Afghan need to fight for their country.

    October 11, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  6. steven harnack

    I fail to see how flying an airplane into the ground makes McCain a military expert. Further he is either being ignorant or dishonest to claim that the surge saved Iraq. The increase in troops happened to coincide with a truce by the Mahdi army, the buying of the tribes in Anbar and Iraqi's disgust with civil war so I, for one am sick of his crowing about how "his surge" saved Iraq.

    October 11, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  7. Gerry In Toronto

    McCain crashed 5 fighter jets, doesn't even know where Afghanistan is and wants to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. He couldn't even count the number of homes he owns, never mind knowing what 40,000 is.

    A senile old man with a druggie wife and demented daughter out of control. Go home McCain-to any one of the 12 you own.

    October 11, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  8. newz4i

    President Obama's ... our nation's victory was an end of an "error," an error Senator McCain supported. He refuses to accept that mistake.

    October 11, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  9. ICARE

    Now is not the time to get out of Aghan. I think it's the time to ask the Afghan people what they want and tailor to it. If they love the Talibans, we will leave. If they dont, they need to work with us to create a free society.

    October 11, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  10. Jeff of Peoria

    :Chandra Sekhar October 11th, 2009 10:41 am ET

    Now is the time to get out of Afghanistan. Close the embassy in Pakistan & Kabul. Chances of cavemen coming over here is remote to none.:

    Above is the first comment on this page. Does 9/11 ring a bell???

    October 11, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  11. Bigskyman

    Wow you have to be in the military to know what to do. how sad, it seems that no civilian could serve as president under this idea, if Obama said anything remote to that he would be demonized as trying to be a military dictator. I wish the right would listen to alternatives but it seems they can only hear themselves scream. it is a sad day for all of us. we send our young people to harms way and get upset if we try to find a different way.

    October 11, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  12. Blue

    On your comments about the war, this is the reson that we now have a President Obama. We have to take a different position on these wars.

    October 11, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  13. Ken in NC

    There ya go John. Put in 40,000 more troops, send in the aircraft carriers. BOMB, BOMB, BOMB,....BOMB, BOMB Afghanistan back to the 14 century. That's your problem. You are so set on war that you fail to realize Afghanistan is already in the 14th century. It is the 3rd poorest nation on the face of the earth and you want to bomb them back to the Stone Age. If you could find a way to do it I think you would position the 7th Fleet within 50 miles of Kabul for power purposes regardless to the fact that Afghanistan is a land locked country. Yes I think you would find a way to do it. You also failed to realize they, the people of Afghanistan, are so used to having invaders on their soil that it doesn't bother them to fight and kill to keep the little or nothing they have because they know that in time we will be gone and another country will replace us trying to take them over and they will do it all over again. This is their life. This is all they know. John McCain, we cannot go all around the world making it into what we think the world should be. That is part of why we were so hated in the last 8 years. We did the “George Bush Walk” around the world with this attitude that it is our way or the highway. Well the world spoke and it said "HIGHWAY". Now we are being given a second chance thanks to the Democratic process we have in place. Let's get it right this time. If a nation someplace in the world wants to become a democratic country, let them do it like we did it. Let them fight their own Revolutionary War. Senator McCain, we are not the owners of the world nor are we "Big Brothers" to every little country around the world. Sooner or later you will have to realize this.

    October 11, 2009 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  14. Anonymous

    One would think that John McCain should go to his retirement home and live out the remainder of his life in peace. His thinking is historic to the Vietnam era and there are simply too many American Military Graves to continue his misguided beliefs.

    October 11, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  15. robert williams

    We should get out of afganistan now. No more American blood and treasure. The only question to resolve is how long it will take, where sooner rather than later should be the governing idea. Both the British and the Russians were mired for years in that folly and failed. I say leave that country to sort out its own problems. Of course if they threaten us in any way, we have the means to send them back to the Stone Age–where they're currently living.

    October 11, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  16. hankers

    The Generals may know what is happening on the ground and can offer a military solution, but the lasting solution is more complex and broader. This is why a military request cannot be made in isolation. Never go to a surgeon for a stomach ache!

    October 11, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  17. NickA of Idaho

    I f we are going to continue to attempt mediation between tribal factions, religous fanatics, and Al Quadi in Afganistan with Special Forces and conventional ground forces, we should be prepared to use all the modern warfare techniques at our command. The young men in that forward camp should have been backed with massive air cavalry support on standby to land Rangers on the ridgelines, blocking the insurgent escape routes and rocket and napalm drops from Attack helicopters to provide close support. Shock and Awe tactics should be available on short notice. Attacks by a few hundred insurgents should be met by counter attacks by thousands. We should not place young men in position to help the indigenous population with irrigation and farming techniques without adequate fast reaction combat forces to provide protection and retaliation if their efforts are abused. Add more troops, but add hardened combat ready
    soldiers equipped with the most effective equipment available. Either that or admit that Afganistan is not ready for the benefits of civilisation and get the hell out.

    October 11, 2009 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  18. Ron from Florida

    Give them what they need or get the hell out. This half assed approach is going to get more people hurt.

    -Ron

    October 11, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  19. CliffDogg

    $4 trillion dollars thrown down the black holes that are Iraq and Afghanistan, and the US has nothing to show for it, except more enemies, more terrorism and less security. Stop the insanity and do something different to achieve different results.

    October 11, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  20. Mom

    First, it is not the five years in POW camp that gives McCain his knowledge, but all the military training he received prior. Second, McCain did say that he understands that Obama has a great responsibility on his shoulders and was very respectful of that. Plus, all McCain asked for was that Obama make a decision now instead of later and to actually listen to those who do know what they are doing. America really cannot afford more spending, but we also cannot afford to lose this war. I think what McCain was trying to say is, if this is done halfway, then we will loose more Americans and waste money. If we are going to do anything, it needs to be done ALL THE WAY. Obama is a smart man, McCain is a smart man. I am so tired of hearing everyone bash everyone. I think we are all Americans doing what we think is best. We need to get back to thinking that way. WE are ALL Americans and WE need to work together. If someone with knowledge speaks up, we need to listen and heed what they say, instead of instantly trying to come up with ways to contradict them.

    As for the spending the government as a whole needs to cut back, not just cut back the military expense, which should be the last thing we cut back on. How about not remodling the White House when there is not enough money (not trying to pick on Mrs. Obama, but this is a hard time and maybe she should have said she would hold off on remodling even though it is something that all First Ladies do), or the Cash for Clunkers that cost Americans money instead of saving (do the math, I don't think the government did). There is so much unneeded spending in the government (not just from Obama but all Presidential terms). What needs to happen is that Americans need to stand up and demand that OUR money be spent properly. We need to start holding our Elected Officials accountable to the improper use of OUR money. Note I keep stating OUR money, because this is supposed to be a government BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE and it is our Tax money that they are using. The money that WE worked to earn. Let's just all start saying that WE are not going to stand for SPENDING more than we HAVE and spending on things that are not neccessary.

    October 11, 2009 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  21. db

    Don't you like how all the people compare every military action to Vietnam. Last time I reviewed history it was the politicians limiting the military in that era that lead to the failure....

    Obama, do send troops to Afghanistan and then limit them. Let them do their job. For all you who have never been in the military, stop blaming the military for the policies that are being mandated to them by the CIVILIAN leaders here in the states. McCain thanks for your service and experience to our country.

    Send the troops needed or pull them out. God bless all the troops and their families.

    October 11, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  22. mk

    John mcCain is a has been with poor judgement, why should anyone listen to him? The "error of historic portations" was and still is IRAQ. We were duped into that war by Bush and Cheney to fight their vendeta, plain and simple. Shame on all of them.

    October 11, 2009 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  23. s hawn srom texas

    its a sad day when you have all these peop[le slamming our goverment when you dont know anything about what actually goes on,yes i care for the troops and there will be losses but it is there job ,let it be let the people who know make the call,and then back them ,and that person is not olbama to many times we have to many chiefs and not enough indians

    October 11, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  24. Clay

    This Son of Cain is a walking error or historic proportions who would have left our country to the likes of Sarah Palin in its time of crisis. If Al-Queda wanted to destroy America, could they possibly have asked for anything more?

    October 11, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  25. Justin

    We either need to follow suit and do another (big) troop surge like in Iraq, or we need to bail ourselves out of the situation now. Of course, this would greatly embolden terrorists around the world and especially the Taliban. If the US withdraws that will be two Superpowers the Taliban have defeated in the past 20-30 years. Clearly, something has to change; what we're doing now is simply not effective.

    October 11, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
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