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. Censorship in Practice form at CNN--S Callahan NYS

    God deteremed that the nation's response to his warnings, and disciplinary actions would decide it's destiny. see Ezekiel 22:30

    October 11, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  2. J W Simms

    Please listen to me, I am sure if we just ( Surrender with Honor ) as in Vietnam, the Taliban and al qaeda will let us come home. AAAAAHAHAHAHA!! J. W. Simms

    October 11, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  3. 18D18B

    Let's not forget how we got BACK to Afghanistan. Terrorist training camps that were in place for years before Bush, which led to THOUSANDS of American deaths around the world. TWO attemps on the WTC's, the USS Cole, Kobar towers, Somalia...it goes WAY back. Everyone rants about how the Afghani's defeated the Russians. Do any of you understand that without American help (CIA and STINGER missle systems) the Russians would have CREAMED them, which is pretty much what they were doing before we stepped up. As a former Special Operations soldier who spent a lot of time in the Middle East before any of you could interrupt your busy lives to think about as long as you had gasoline, I can tell you that "Hearts and minds" bs is wasted on these people. Direct action is the key, with as many troops as possible.Destroy their poppy fields and marijuana fields which they use to finance their terrorist networks. SEAL THE BORDERS. Make them understand ONCE AND FOR ALL that if they support terrorism the will pay the price. That of course, goes for Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and all of the others. But no American administration is going to do that, not Republican, Democrat, or anyone else. Too distasteful. (Ask Harry Truman what decisive action gets you). We won't "win" in Afghanistan because we don't have the will to fight and do what it takes to win. Everyone talks about Viet Nam...we lost Viet Nam for the exact same reason....As a nation, we were not committed. There may have been many valid reasons NOT to be committed, but we were not, and 55,000 men and women lost their lives, in the end, for nothing. We are doing the same thing again, if we continue like this. Fight it or get out....

    October 11, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  4. The Thinker

    Before the election, Mr. McCain promised us that he knew how to catch Osama Bin Laden, and that he would if he were elected. Wouldn't it be patriotic for him to resign from office and fulfill that promise? If he could capture Bin Laden, he would be a shoe-in in 2012. Don't hold your breath.

    It amazes me that a man who has been so wrong about so much for so long still has a public forum to spew his 'wisdom' from. He lost the election for a reason, but the media still hasn't figured out what was obvious to the voters.

    This is nothing more than a simple case of 'old man shakes fist at young whippersnapper'. Nothing to see here, move along.

    October 11, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  5. LisaB

    Many, if not most, of you Obama bashers (who I would guess are primarily just a bunch of young angry displaced white men) forget one simple thing: Obama, having won the election, is the Commander in Chief and would be wrong to cede his role to the military commanders. They are qualified to make MILITARY recommendations, but they are not the only source or even the best source of expertise on long-term international relations or foreign or domestic policy. It is the President's job and responsibility to gather the expertise he needs to make a sound and conscientious decision (which you may have forgotten after watching eight years of the Bush Administration). Hence the term "Chief Executive." There are also overall national financial issues to consider, which is not the purview of the military leaders. Get out from behind your computer, grow up and rent some humility. I wish all of you would get as angry with the Chief Executives of the corporations who flushed our economy down the toilet. Gee, what's the main difference between Obama and most of those dipsticks? Could that explain the disproportionate vitriol?

    October 11, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  6. Lynne

    America avoided an "error of histroic proportions" by not electing McCain who is too ready to seek war and military power as the answer to every world problem.

    The press is, once again, drumming up controversy by basing their so called "reporting" on only part of the General's analysis as is McCain. he recommended a whole series of possibilities that only the Obama administration has seen.

    October 11, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  7. Joan

    Of course John ("Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran") McCain wants more troops in Afghanistan. He is in favour of war but my question is why didn't the Republicans do all of this 7 1/2 years ago when they had the chance? Why did they forget about this war and focus on Iraq which had nothing to do with 911 and had no weapons of mass destruction? Do you think it might be because Iraq has oil? Just saying. Because of the bungling of the last administration, this has now become an area war not just one country. They have to look at the Afghan election, the dynamics of Pakistan and Iran, the stability of Iraq, how and where Al Queda has spread over the last eight years and how able Afghanistan is to stand on its own. This is far more than sending more troops. That is just one very important element but certainly not the only one. The journalists and pundits who think they know it all have no idea about the dynamics behind the scenes that have to be dealt with.

    October 11, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  8. Steve

    Our troops don't feel sorry for themselves and they don't want our sympathy, nor do they want to be rescued. They don't question whether they should be there. Ask our troops and you will get a resounding response. Our troops want to be there, and they want to complete their mission. It really doesn't matter what Obama says, or what anybody else has to say and want. What matters is what our troops want- victory- and not another 911. Send in the troops, not the flowers.

    October 11, 2009 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  9. CNN is this thing on?

    The error of historic proportion John is....

    Continuing to follow this "Cop on every Corner" ruse you call a surge.

    The first surge in Iraq is already ebbing because its outrageously expensive........read the headlines guy!

    Listen John ....skip the surge "lets continue the Neo-con Republican ,ethodology that "war is Good for the econmy BS" and just get settlers going!

    Yup...I said it....lets just start moving American Suburbia closed gated communities out there .....get a Mcdonalds on every gully. AND REALY REALLY TAKE THIS HEARTS AND MINDS THEORY SERIOUSLY....

    or we can just do the right thing......finally we can just do the right thing

    October 11, 2009 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  10. Ken in Gainesville

    This from a man who chose Sarah Palin as a Vice-Presidential running mate?

    October 11, 2009 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  11. Dave G

    General McChrystal's report was very clear – additional troops without a clear plan would not help. So this is exactly what Obama is doing, developing a very clear plan of action, and he's including McChrystal in the planning. So what's not to like? Why are Republicans bashing Obama when he's doing exactly what McChrystal asked?

    October 11, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  12. mdbaby=1962

    9/11, lets ask ourselves, what is suitable in terms of retribution, how long and to what extents as citizens do we respond. What do we need to do to respond to terrorism and to terrorizers, considering what happened on 9/11? Why have we really had no input to what response should have been or is to be implemented? I have to ask, what is afghanistan?....Now, we are really going after the right guys?! (why is it that it just takes us almost a decade to fully complete the haymaker of a punch we are taking.) so, the "epic mistake" is in the level of trust we have shown in our leaders to figure out the dynamics of things... lets get mad at ourselves and allow our leaders and politicians try to assuage us, make us feel better....by doing something that shows they actually thought out the problem instead of being just reactionary....even if they have to examine that they have been on the wrong path so far.. We desparately need a dynamic approach not a "same old thing". Who knows maybe we would even garner some support from other parts of the "west". They think we are dolts because we aren't showing much think in our game, and radical muslim probably feels vindicated that we can't find our way out of the paper bag. Get out of the bag that is Afghanistan.

    October 11, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. B

    Why would we expect a hammer to want anything but nails ? McCain is a War mongering person who was born and raised with that mindset only..
    He is incapable of viewing any situation otherwise.

    Thank God he is not in the drivers seat right now !!!

    October 11, 2009 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  14. Mike O'Brien

    On this one, I do 'agree' with Senator John McCain of Arizona. We should fight for the fallen american's that have died with bravery and honor in Afghanistan and Iraq or for that matter, any other conflict or war that we have been in. Lets show the world that 'we' don't quit, when the going gets tough. Mike in Montana

    October 11, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  15. ran

    War war war that is all Mccain has to offer on any issues.

    October 11, 2009 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  16. Moosehead3333

    I think John McCain is right that we need more troops in Afghanistan. I also think that sending an additional 40,000 troops sooner rather than later without a well thought out plan would be misguided. So we send 40,000 troops and six months later the generals come back say we need another 40,000 troops. And there is the rub.

    I appreciate President Obama taking the needed time to assess the situation and converse with many to come up with a better plan than just sending more troops into Afghanistan. Sending more troops into Afghanistan will not win the war, it may buy time and definitely save American lives, but with a price tag of $250K per troop per year, one would think with that kind of money, we could come up with something different in addition to more boots on the ground.

    We Americans have got to come to grips with realization: Is Afghanistan a winnable war. Looking at the British and Russian past war experience in Afghanistan, I am beginning to think the war in Afghanistan is not winnable. We must go back in time and remember how we got into Afghanistan in the first place. As I recall it was to go after bin laden and drive the al queda out: well we were very successful on that. The nation building in Afghanistan was not part of the original plan. And we should start thinking of ways to pull out of Afghanistan with honor. Maybe we ask Pakistan to send 40,000 troops into Afghanistan. Just a thought. Pakistan is fighting the taliban in their own country, right. Fighting terror was our original plan as I recall and we should rethink what we are doing in Afghanistan.

    Just one republican retiree voicing his opinion

    October 11, 2009 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  17. Phyllis

    McCain, like many others who equate Iraq and Afghanistan as having the same military and social problems, is simply wrong.

    Iraq's problems are based upon tribal differences and competition and one of the tribes was willing to stand with the Americans and fight to get al Quaeda out of Iraq.

    Afghanistan's problems are more based upon an insurgent group who do really ugly things, but the people they attempt to control are not so disturbed by their presence as the American military brass.

    And, all of these people who want to send more troops are seeking to spent trillions more to mold Afghanistan to what they want it to be, and totally forget that the original congressional resolution was to "get those who killed several thousand Americans on our own turf on september 11" or as we know absolutely al Quaeda. Al Queda is no longer in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan and spread our over many middle eastern countries.

    McCain doesn't know what he's speaking of!

    October 11, 2009 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  18. W l Jones

    Tell some people we have been fighting a war in this country for over four hundred years and it still going on to day. Read the headline if they take the time if they can.....

    October 11, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  19. anthony

    We should send more troops only when it will help achieving success, however that is defined. If we need more troops to defeat Al Qaeda, then do it. If our goal is to defeat Taliban, we should ask ourselves whether that will help achieve the main goal for which we went into Afghanistan, and that is to defeat the people who attacked us on 9/11, namely Al Qaeda. Our interest is not nation building or bringing democracy to a nation that did not ask for it. Once there is security then we can help the Afghans rebuild their nation.

    October 11, 2009 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  20. Daron

    Imagine for a second if Mexico sent its military into Texas to go after drug cartel leaders that are threatening and destablizing the Mexican government. Texans would be shooting and blowing up anyone that isn't obviously Texan, cartel and mexican military alike. Then Mexico sends 40,000 more troops to fight the cartels, AND Texans. I guarantee you more Texans would join the fight. Why??? Because people don't like a fight going on in their back yard, where some of their own could get hurt.

    Now, change Texas to Afghanistan and Mexico to the US. That is what is going on over there right now. It is not as simple as 40,000 more bodies being thrown at the problem. We might need more troops but first we need a better plan.

    October 11, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  21. Emma

    John McCain is heavily invested in fighting wars. After his return from Vietnam, he opted to study at The War College of the military. He seems
    to develop his positions from the military as central to world power.

    October 11, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  22. dave

    It seems to me that the error of historic proportions was made by Bush 7 years ago when he decided to attack Iraq based on a bunch of lies to the American people..I think Al Queda was then based in Afghanistan not Iraq. Was it not Al Queda that attacked us. Bush went on his "War of Revenge" and let bin Laden get away and now McCain has the balls to blame it on Obama... what a hypocrite. Thank God Mr Obama is taking his time to get it right this time and not waste more precious lives and money like Bush did. We will never be able to call Iraq a victory even though some in the GOP will insist it is

    October 11, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  23. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    "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.' "

    You mean like invading Iraq because under false pretenses?

    October 11, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  24. Barbara - a Canadian Perspective

    I, as a Canadian, am thankful that President Obama is taking his him to analyse ALL possibilities in the way forward in Afghanistan. You know, American is NOT the only country to have shed blood in that country. Canadian soldiers (including my grandson) have been fighting that war since the beginning of this effort, we stayed when your former President left to engage another war (that Canada did not support), and have been there fighting ever since. We mourn our casualties just as deeply as you do yours. You only hear of ours, usually just as an aside "Nato dead". So... bless you President Obama... and may you may the right decision.

    October 11, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  25. D. Tree

    Ugh, not another armchair general.

    Let President Obama make the decision. He has indicated he wants to shift strategies in Afghanistan.

    NOT doing so may be the error of historic proportions.

    October 11, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
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