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. Buck

    McCain is a douchebag imperialist just like Obama. Screw 'em both.

    October 11, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  2. John Paul

    Mr. McCain we are already in a big error of historic proportions.

    October 11, 2009 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  3. Thom2

    That's why the President has ADVISORS, and some of the military people are from the right and some are from the left........and BTW, the only idiots here are the people who call people that. Do we really have to go there, or are you just another hate monger from the right?

    October 11, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  4. Steve

    There is a real danger in pulling our troops. Terrorisism will have a country if we do not finish the job at hand. Everybody can debate all they want about bringing our troops home, and feeling sorry for our poor soldiers, but if you ask the actual troops, they will tell you they want to be there, and that they want to complete the mission at hand. I say we should let them complete their mission with full support, more troops, and better equipment. The alternative is too dangerous to even consider.

    October 11, 2009 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  5. Siara

    The complexity of the issue is magnified 100 times by the fact that the Bush administration made an error of historic proportions in Iraq and another error of historic proportions by loosening regulations on the banks and Wall Street.

    We are like a bicyclist approaching a dangerous curve while he's still off balance from his last dangerous curve. It bothers me that so many people have lost the sense that we're still recovering from a colossal mess. It's as if our our ability to perceive the present as an extension of the past has disappeared.

    October 11, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  6. Brigitte

    Yes, well, McCain was truly a bright man when he elected Pailn as his running mate..
    I mean, how DARE he speak about anything whilst he himself was such a complete fool in his own campaign?

    October 11, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  7. mike

    So many flaky Americans! The war in Afgahnistan was popular when they toppled the towers. Bush didn't commit enough troups then, and here we are 8 years later, still D*&k dancing there.

    So many liberals think that exiting the country will end the threat to America. If we give the Taliban the country, the terrorists will be attacking every nuke plant, shopping mall, and transport hub in no time. Get real. You libs make me puke. McCain is only doing what Dems won't; support our duly appointed military leaders in how to end a war.

    Generals seek not to fight for the sake of fighting. They fight for the safety of thier troops and to end the reason they fight. Give them 40,000 troops now and we shall see a way out of this war. Refuse, and this war will run until after Obama is out of office in 2012.

    October 11, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  8. chubby

    Nothing is more pathetic than nobama as a leader of this country except for his position on gays. Just imagine barney frank and that idiot perez in uniform. Would you want your life dependent on these types of people?

    October 11, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  9. donnabcool

    It is so depressing to read the comments that have been posted! As a child of the 60's and married to a retired military man (YES, he did his time in the jungle and is proud to have served) I cannot believe we have come to this turmoil again. We have honorable people in uniform serving this country and have experienced appointed leaders in charge of the multiple conflicts asking for help to get out in front of a bad situation. WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM THOSE WHO ARE MAKING THE SACRIFICE???? Do you even know yourself? ? If we are to survive as a nation we need to support those who are trying to save us. How quickly we forget.....911!!!

    October 11, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  10. erin

    "An error of historic proportions"...even as big of an error as selecting Palin as your VP?!?! Believe me, McCain is a man who definitely knows errors of historic proportions. Maybe he can talk to our troops and teach them how to start name-dropping if you get captured in war! When it comes to war, don't take advice from the guy who got captured...I'd be asking advice from the guy who got away!

    October 11, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  11. Too funny

    I'm all for pulling out of all these regions, but you Libs are going to have to give up one of your protected classes: illegal immigrants. Pull our troops back and start protecting our borders at home. You claim that what we're doing abroad is not working, fine. Illegal immigration isn't working at home. You want those that actually support the troops instead of paying lip service to it back down and change strategy, it's time for you to do the same.

    October 11, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. Ivette Calvaresi

    Are you serious (LacrosseMom) this man already fought for our country and knows about War. He's been captured and tortured, read your facts before you make any comments. I'd rather have him as a President then Obama, someone with experience. My husband is a Sgt. in the US Marine Corps and I don't trust Obama as being his Commander in Chief or my President.

    October 11, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  13. JE Seaman

    Isn't McCain the man who thought that Iraq was responsible for 9/11, had WMD's and circulated anthrax in the US? He thought that Afghanistan was fine on its own – kind of like the economy. An expert on Sarah Palin – okay – but not national security. His campaign platform didn't even mention Afghanistan.

    October 11, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  14. Jim

    If we're going to commit to Afganistan, we should institute a draft.

    October 11, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  15. unshrub

    If only McCain and other republicans would have been so concerned about our troops when Bush was president.

    October 11, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  16. Don in Grand Rapids, Mi

    All of you peace-niks are the reason the USA has lost its winning attitude. We didn't learn from the mistakes in ever war since WW2 cause the peace-niks in congress and the white house wouldn;'t let the military experts finish what the politico's started. It's a discrace to see the greatest military in the world controlled by idiots in DC! I say shoot the moon with rockets loaded with peace-niks!

    October 11, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  17. The Progressive

    You really need a sense of purpose in all you do. We went to Afghanistan for the purpose of getting to Al-Qaeda. Unfortunately we had to dismiss the Taliban in order to achieve that. We've pretty much dismantled Al-Qaeda in that region, although they're still hiding in Parts of Pakistan. There is not much we can do about that, until they resurface in some sort of orgaganized way. The Taliban has really never been our problem. So, why are we still there ? Nation building at a huge treasury and human cost ? We need to just get out. Tough decision for the president. I wouldn't want to be him, but we need to get out. 8 years is enough already.

    October 11, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  18. Audrey Fryer

    To all of you that advocate "a surge" in Afghanistan because it worked in Iraq – you are all stupid. You still have American service people being killed in Iraq (even though they are supposed to be allocated to their bases) and you have many Iraqis dying every day. All that you have managed to do in Iraq is kill innocent people, displace people, changed their government to your puppets and have managed to sign up a bunch of oil contracts.

    Why are you really in Afghanistan? If the General's story is right and there are only around 100 Al Queda in Afghanistan – why do you need more troops to take care of 100 people. This mission seems to be morphing with each day; first Osama Bin Laden; then Al-Queda; then the Taliban; then the War Lords; then women's rights; then protect the other puppet, Karzai; Come on – tell us the real truth why we are there.

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

    Oh My... you poor stupid stupid liberals. Let's follow your agenda. We'll pull out of every conflict, because we can't stomach the realities of life and can't comprehend that someone else might actualy want to hurt us. Then, we'll tax more heavily the few people left that actually contribute to our society. Then we'll create a government so large that the voting majority will either be a federal employee or an entitlement addict (same difference). Finally, when the world is so consumed with people that can and will kill us and we have no military, and all of our children are fat stupid do-less children that expect someone to take care of them and think a day's work is suing someone else, and the masses think that voting themselves into what's left of the Treasury is their 'right'... well then, that's the end of this great country. Sadly enough, we're well on our way to this demise.

    October 11, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  20. Greg

    Anyone here commenting have draft age kids?????? where are they going to get 40,000 troops ????????????????

    October 11, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  21. I, the Person

    This is such a difficult situation – I can't imagine what the generals, the troops, the President/his advisors are going through. We know that Pr. Obama does not want to be there, he knows that war is not the answer. But let's not forget he inherited this situation, he didn't create it, and now he has to try to figure out how best to resolve it. Clearly there is no good way to get out, only the best of numerous terrible scenarios. He has to decide what is the best of the bad.

    May God be with you in your horrendous decision-making predicament, Mr. President.

    October 11, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  22. Yoel Cohen

    I do not know if additional troops in Afghanistan will do the job but what I do know is that the war plans of the high commanders is very poor and the Taliban are out smarting them with out being educated in West Point. Every war is winnable, we need the right commanders. I have been fighting with an Army that was one third of the size of our 5 enemies armies and we won in 6 days, do not tell me we can not win in Afghanistan.

    October 11, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  23. Greg

    I think more than a few of you need a lesson in history:

    1) In vietnam, the military was constantly micromanaged by the president – to the point that he had to hand-pick or designate targets that were okay to go after. It was after he released control to the Air Force that the Linebacker II air attack took place and brought the north to the table that the truce was signed. IF the president had listened to his generals, that would have happened far earlier.

    2) The truce negotiated with the Madhi army in Iraq didn't just happen as a coincidence during the same time of the surge...they got the message – jump on board or we will do away with you – and it worked...they jumped on board.

    3) Obama needs to make some tough decisions and quickly. Unless he has some brilliant plan (I doubt it), then we are just sitting there taking pot-shots while we wait for direction. This same argument was made for the surge in Iraq – and the surge worked. Do something – don't just sit there and do nothing (which he seems to be very good at).

    October 11, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  24. Mom

    One more comment, look at WWI and WWII. We lost many Americans, and spent a lot of money yet at home we supported our soldiers. We stood up and said We Are Americans and We Will Win this fight no matter what it takes. We were not wimps, we knew we would loose men and we did. War is always a hardship. War is not nice, people will get injured and killed. It is just a fact. In war things that need to be done are not always nice or politically correct. That is why we don't need the press there airing all the Dirty Laundry. Our soldiers are trained to deal with the ugly, not our people at home. During a war we need to support, support and support those who are fighting. We need to support our President even if they make a mistake (we are all human) and we need to not let the Press point out every bad thing that goes on. If we do, which is what has happened, our Generals hands are tied behind their backs and they cannot do their jobs. BACK OFF and let them do their jobs. After we win, we can say...it wasn't pretty, but we did it. And yes, most of my family are military and we have lost members, but that is the job THEY picked. It was THEIR choice, not yours, so you can say you feel sorry and that is it. It ends there!

    October 11, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  25. rcr

    What are our soldiers doing anywhere in Afghanistan? As a country it collapsed decades ago. So maybe US soldiers and interests are there to nation build- a new country more hospitable to US interests. All well and good. The problem is massive funding enters Afghanistan for the sole purpose of undermining these efforts. These (U.S.) efforts are like trying to build a sand castle on the beach during the onset of high tide. It becomes a financial war with no end in sight. We spend billions and billions are funneled in to counter our efforts. So our soldiers are mere pawns (all kings horses all kings men if you prefer) attempting to hold the fabric of Afganistan society together long enough for our resources to re-assemble Afghanistan (humpty dumpty)back into a country again. How many decades is this going to take?

    Maybe our soldiers are there in the noble hunt for terrorists? All well and good. Who are these terrorists that attacked our soldiers in the valley? One of the 1st maxims of war (Sun Tzu) is know your enemy. Understand him. Who are they? Are they local villagers who just dropped a hoe and picked up some crusty rifle and plunked 9 US soldiers? No- by and large these "terrorists" are young Afghan men who have been trained in the basics of fighting in small camps throughout the region. Money for these camps does not come from opium crops as many would lead you to believe. It comes from sources outside of Afghanistan. Big money. Opium crops are not worth big money until they move farther down the drug chain. Poppies do provide substanial income to local farmers and warlords involved in their protection and distribution but its a pennies on the dollar thing. Do not believe for one second that poppies finance one tenth of the costs associated with anti-US activities in Afghanistan. Its financed every time you start your car up in the morning.

    Maybe our soldiers were doing the "status quo". Patrols, chicken wagon inspection, interrogation of small bands of suspicious men- and a hundered other busy body assignments- because there is no objective. The enemy has an objective however. Killing our soldiers is not the real priority. Its grinding the US and the west down economically through a war of attrition. This new method of warfare became crystal clear AFTER 9/11 when we did ridiculous things like spending trillions on invading Iraq. Playing cat and mouse in afganistan suits their objective perfectly- as the loss of 50 rifle wielding mice is completely inconsequential in terms of costs. Think of that the next time you cheer as we lost 9 and the enemy lost 50. Meanwhile we are contemplating increasing troop levels at the cost of tens of billions of dollars annually to the already delicate US economy. Horrayyyy! Think critically.

    Saudi Arabia. No politician touches this hot potato.

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