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October 07, 2008

John McCain's Petraeus Problem
Posted by Patrick Barry

John McCain once again repeated his claim that what is needed in Afghanistan is the "same strategy" that he supported in Iraq, contributing to what has become a documented pattern of viewing Afghanistan through the lens of Iraq.  Yet, both General Petraeus and General McKiernan, have been very clear that this simplistic plan will not work:

U.S. Commanders rebuff McCain’s vision for the war in Afghanistan.  Speaking in Washington yesterday General David McKiernan, head of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan and former head of ground forces in Iraq, rejected McCain’s plan for Afghanistan.  McKiernan argued that more troops “are urgently required to combat a worsening insurgency, but he stated emphatically that no Iraq-style ‘surge’ of forces will end the conflict there.”  While McCain has often said that he wants to apply the same surge strategy in Afghanistan as in Iraq, the commanding general clearly stated “Afghanistan is not Iraq.” General David Petraeus, now the head of CENTCOM and former commander in Iraq said, “People often ask, ‘What did you learn from Iraq that might be transferable to Afghanistan?’... The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture.” [Washington Post, 10/2/08. New York Times, 10/1/08]

Afghanistan’s strategic puzzle will not be solved by a surge in troops alone.  NATO-ISAF commander General David McKiernan outlined Afghanistan’s many challenges that cannot be addressed purely by an influx of troops: “A country that has very harsh geography. It’s very difficult to move around, getting back to our reliance on helicopters. It’s a country with very few natural resources, as opposed to the oil revenues that [Iraq] has. There’s very little money to be generated in terms of generated in Afghanistan. The literacy rate — you have a literate society in Iraq, you have a society that has a history of producing civil administrators, technocrats, middle class that are able to run the country in Iraq. You do not have that in Afghanistan…So there are a lot of challenges. What I don’t think is needed — the word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word ‘surge’…There needs to be a sustained commitment of a variety of military and non-military resources, I believe.”  Today’s piece in the New York Times, covering Afghanistan’s debilitating opium trade, which funds insurgents and produces instability, further demonstrates why a military solution alone will not be sufficient in Afghanistan.  [General David McKiernan, Washington Independent, 10/1/08.  NY Times, 10/02/08]

McCain has consistently ignored Afghanistan or viewed it through the prism of Iraq.  McCain has put Afghanistan on the back-burner for 6 years, with disastrous results.  Immediately following September 11th, McCain’s attention was fixed not on the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but Iraq, when he asked “What’s next?”  In 2003, McCain claimed that “nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America and nobody is running terrorist training camps to orchestrate attacks on the United States of America.”  His complacency worsened later that year, when he said before the Council on Foreign Relations that “in the long term, we may muddle through in Afghanistan.”  In the three major foreign policy speeches of his presidential campaign, he mentioned Afghanistan only seven times, and before July 15 his website contained no plan for Afghanistan. Today, he continues to view Afghanistan through the lens of Iraq, with no plan beyond indiscriminately applying Iraq tactics onto the Afghanistan theater. [John McCain, 10/3/01. John McCain, 4/10/03. John McCain, 11/5/03. John McCain, 3/26/08. John McCain, 4/15/08. John McCain, 6/02/08. John McCain.com, 7/15/08]

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