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. mdbaby=1962

    the error is in not getting out of perpetual zones of war...Iraq was colonization, and big business not some altruistic aim, and let's remember the successes of vietnam, afghanistan? go ask ivan if he had a lot of output there...its a waste of money and of firepower...meanwhile the rest of the western world is working on advancing themselves in technology, humanistic and even the most important sector philosophical. what are we gaining philosophically by being in afghanistan.. taliban? what makes our government think that we have to fight a trillion dollar war for their benefit...Gentleman some of them are only slightly past the rock throwing stage...leave my tax dollars alone! quoting Sinatra, "I want to live till I die", these wars trying to knock out "terrorism" before it starts is paranoia and it isn't livin'. Popular saying out there..."Don't look around somebody may be gaining on you" means lets pick up the pace and get where we need to be...doesn't mean lets turn around and mow down everybody behind us and call it "american freedom". it is gangland freedom.

    October 11, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  2. Wileysee

    This comment may be slightly off topic, but not by much, if at all, based on the comments posted here.

    Many people talk about how vitriolic and hateful Republicans have been in their comments about President Obama, but just look at the comments posted by Democrats and liberals here. The Republicans have no corner on the "venomous word or name calling market". Neither side can hold a civil debate about the issues. It’s all "well oh ya, your mother wears combat boots" type of comments. Therefore, how can one believe either side? Or even get anything out of posts other than "I hate all Republicans or I hate all Democrats". What a joke? Well, I guess that's what sells newspapers.

    October 11, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  3. Mick from Las Vegas

    Would this be as large in proportion as invading Iraq?

    October 11, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  4. Delta Dog


    October 11, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  5. dave hoolihan

    obama is the neville chamberlan of our lifetime..he doesnt act like a u.s. president he acts more like the head of the united nations.does he forget we were attacked???yet nato doesnt come to our aid....they gave him the nobel peace prize to tie his hands...he also wants to do away with the patriot act that just saved us fron some bombings in n.y.i truly believe in 3 years he will be out of office.

    October 11, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  6. Robert Nikodem

    We should listen to him right? If anyone knows anything about errors of hystoric proportions, it sure is Mr. McCain.... How did the Palin thing work out for you buddy?
    Your jugedment stinks and this isn't any diferent, i have no problem with the president taking his time to make sure he is doing it the right way. Just more troops isn't going to do much, inteligent people usually think before they act and think thru every detail of their actions.

    October 11, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  7. drew

    I agree with Nick.

    You cannot continue a "Half Measure Effort" in this reagion.

    Russia learned that and we should have learned it in Viet Nam.

    Joe Biden didn't learn it I guess.

    I wonder why we are not distroying the "Poppy Fields" as well.

    This would go a long way in removing opium and heroin trafficing money. An important source of funding for the Taliban and Al Quida

    October 11, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  8. Sandra, Atlanta

    I really wish you would just shut up!

    October 11, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  9. j l hill

    there is one underlying reason, and the definitive one, that the war in Viet Nam was lost. Our government did not listen to the generals on the ground and in fact the war was waged by politicians. Politicians have a difficult time with military strategy. Afghanistan is not Viet Nam as of yet. I vote for the generals.

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

    Well first of all let's make this point. George W. Bush started this war, but it is President Obama's baby now. He adopted this baby. I don't know what will happen there, but I do know history, and history tells me that President Obama will most likely regret his support of this war.

    I think that President Obama has boxed himself in on this one. His stated opinion that this was the right war to fight, directly conflicts with much of his strongest supporters on the left wing of the Democrat Party. I know that if he withdraws either quickly or slowly, U.S. troops will continue to die, and the U.S. will appear weak and defeated in the eyes of the world. If he stays or sends more troops, still troops will continue to die, his promised budgetary savings from winding down the Iraq war will be another in his growing lists of unfulfilled or broken promises since any savings from the Iraq war will be spent in Afghanistan.

    Just my opinion, but I think the President was naive and showed his inexperience in embracing this war when really he did not have to in order to have won the Presidency. I believe it was his attempt to show that he was not a fervent Anti-war liberal, and now he is paying for his lack of true commitment to a war that he claimed is the right war to win.

    Signed an independent minority voter.

    October 11, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  11. erin

    How come every Republican's only argument is FEAR!?!?
    You better give us this 300 billion or we will be on the verge of a GLOBAL financial MELTDOWN! Oh, don't elect Obama, he's a MUSLIM, SOCIALIST, and PALS around with TERRORISTS!!! Don't vote for Healthcare reform...there will be DEATH PANELS, the government will choose your doctor! Send more troops before evaluating all options or it will be an ERROR OF HISTORIC PROPORTIONS!
    Only the DEVIL tries to motivate through FEAR, beware!
    Educate yourselves Americans, don't be slaves to the propaganda.

    October 11, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  12. Bill, Deep in the Heart of Texas

    The president has the advice of his generals who will direct the fighting. Are these so called experts he is now consulting, prepared to go direct the fighting on the ground, or are they just putting in their two cents?

    October 11, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  13. Thor the Danish American

    Dagwood.... you are funny. Remember WHICH PRESIDENT started the war In AFGHANISTAN, and then lost focus like a child with A.D.H.D. and then put the MAJORITY of resources unto IRAQ.... He who initiated Afghanistan (largely a justified war) got bored real quick and poured our nation's resources into a Middle East VIETNAM. How is this Obama's fault? He's trying to "THINK" about the best way to deal with the Afghan war before he "SHOOTS FIRST AND AIMS LATER". And to say that the current administration has no real military experience.... Where was Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and even George Bush (he was getting DWI's while keeping Texas "safe" from the North Vietnamese.) You've gotta be kidding!!

    October 11, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  14. gary davis Harbor Oregon

    wow and the mccain mouthy peice just keeps trying to show how much better he would be as president (idiot) he should be insuport of the president not against him .. the mccrystal idiot is acting like a three yearold that is being told NO! and he doesn't like it .. most presidents would have had his head on a platter . but Mr. Obama is atleast listening to his rambling.. so to both John's get off the palin wagon and move on to something news worthy...

    October 11, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  15. gary davis Harbor Oregon

    wow CNN gave a hole day for Mccain yak yak show ..bet john king and john mccain had a good time playing as adults both are stupid...

    October 11, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  16. Bruce

    It should be clear to everybody, that has any brains at all, that we must continue to support our troops, that are on the ground in Afghanistan. Our military leaders there, know what is best, and if they say more troops, then that is what we need to do. It makes me sick to read all of the pusillanimous comments, concerning John McCain and the war in Afghanistan. Either fight the war, the right way or get the hell out...one or the other. All of you people that have taken the time to condemn John McCain, have s#@t for brains. I am sure that Sen. McCain, knows far more, about the war, than any of you do....wake up!!!

    October 11, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  17. Mom

    Yoel Cohen – You won in 6 days while out numbered by five times - that is GREAT! I too believe that we can win, if everyone will let our commanders do their job. Clearly the otherside are allowed to do what is needed, even if it is not pretty. Unfortunatly, our commanders have the political parties, press and American civilians trying to tell them what they can and cannot do. Plus, Presidents who were never in a war on ground level trying to figure out how to win without getting messy. These people don't have the knowledge and need to let the commanders do what is needed. Yes, our President is our Commander In Chief, but he is more tied to his political party than his country. And that goes for ALL Modern Day Presidents (sorry, but it had to be said).

    October 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  18. Moe,Larry and Curly

    The best Generals retired as soon as Bush was reelected in 2004.

    October 11, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  19. John

    I support Obama taking the time to sort out our course in Afghanistan. He is not a fool like Bush.

    The Taliban has allowed Al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda is at war with the West. What better way to fight them then in their homeland? We can't let them rebuild and attack us again.

    The Saudi's are giving financial aid to radical muslins building schools in Pakistan that teach hatred of the West. We need to tell them that when the Iranians get their nukes, which is just a matter of time, don't ask us for protection.

    Can anyone tell me how Al Qaeda and the Taliban obtain the funds to fight a war in impoverished Afghanistan against such a formidable power as the US? Do you think it could be our petro dollars?

    October 11, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  20. Joe the carpenter Lex. Ky.

    I remember distinctly that one of President Obama's primary goals during his campaign was to fully focus on going after Al Quaeda (?) and that the 'real' war was in Afghanistan. I am sure he has been briefed by the best and latest intel. since becoming elected. I am (personally) more comfortable the fact that Pres. Obama is reviewing all info. (not privy to, virtually, anyone else, mind you) and coming to a decision, than people with only some info. and hysterically blurting out advice.

    October 11, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  21. Steve

    In the words of an Eagles song, "Get over it." This is not about Palin, Obama, McCain or any other issue of the past. This is about not letting the terrorists have a country to launch their attacks against America and Americans- Period. Let's not ignore the fact that while we and our government waste time debating this issue, our troops are being killed. We are in this mess right now because we pulled our troops in the recent past. Let us learn from that mistake and not repeat it. Send more support in the way of increased troop strength and better equipment now, or we will pay the price once again- 911.

    October 11, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  22. LisaB

    McCain - you lost for a reason. And by the way, Afghanistan is not Iraq and it never was.

    October 11, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  23. Jim W

    The reason we are in Afghanistan now is becuase we, as usual, couldn't keep our noses out of their business in the 80's. When Russia was in Afghanistan, the United States backed groups of fighters to drive out the Red Army by providing funding and supplies. Once they succeeded in sending the Russians packing, we left them to their own devices. Two decades later, one of the groups we supported (created) attacked this country. Now we have to fix the problem WE created.

    I'm not sure what the answer is to whether we should increase troops or get out. I can only say that for all those that are so sure we should continue a war that we haven't been able to win in 8 years, look up the number to your local recruiter. It's easy to push for a war from the comfort of your living room chair while others return for their fourth or fifth tours of combat.

    October 11, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  24. Axumite

    I don't know if ethiopian troops are in the coalation in afganistan but if they are not yet its high time they should be asked to be one. This is not conventional war it needs troops who are experienced in such terrains and also who understand gurilla type of warfare. From history ethiopians fought along side US in korean war. recently they routed the somali terrorists in just one week. with some technical help in terms of modern weapons am sure these guys would do a good job along side the brave US soldiers.

    October 11, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  25. NVa Native

    After so many years of repeating the Vietnam "bungle in the jungle" why does McCain think he can NOW say there is an urgency?!!
    Did the earlier deaths of our service members in Afganistan mean NOTHING to him and all the other politicians of NO!! How dare him now say there is a urgency just to make – what he percieves to be – political points.
    Shameful Mr. McCain and you hoard of NO.
    And to all the others (Fox, Beckler, insHannity, O'Really, Limpball, etc,) who are just now making it into an urgency for political purpose ..... cowards ...traitors!!

    October 11, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
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