ALBUQUERQUE -- Arguing that the status quo in Afghanistan "is not acceptable," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested today the U.S. can win the battle against the Taliban by "applying the tried and true principles of counterinsurgency used in the surge" in Iraq. In a prepared speech peppered with attacks against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), McCain suggested Obama had been proven wrong in Iraq and lacked the judgment to oversee military forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars," McCain told the audience at a town hall in Albuquerque. "And if I'm elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory, I know how to do that."
McCain outlined a plan that includes sending at least three additional brigades; establishing a "unity of command" that will oversee U.S. as well as NATO forces; appointing a "Afghanistan czar" to report directly to the president on the progress of the war; and a boost in non-military assistance.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee openly mocked Obama for his inexperience in the region, saying the Democrat had made up his mind about the war without surveying how U.S. troops were faring there."Senator Obama is departing soon on a trip abroad that will include a fact-finding mission to Iraq and Afghanistan. And I note that he is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time," McCain said. "In my experience, and I've traveled around the world, usually at your expense, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: first you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy."
McCain read two different quotes from Obama providing contrasting view of Iraq. In January 2007 the Illinois senator said of the surge, "We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war.... I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground." A year later Obama said he said that he had "no doubt" with the increase in troops "we would see a reduction in violence" in Iraq.
"My friends, flip-0floppers all over the world are enraged," McCain said, as the friendly Republican audience laughed. "It gives new meaning, it gives new meaning."
In addition to detailing how he would wage the fight on the ground in Afghanistan, the Arizona senator said he would work to rout out insurgents in Pakistan and convince Afghanistan's neighbors the country should shift "from a theater for regional rivalries into a commons for regional cooperation." Modeling his approach on Iraq, McCain said when it came to terrorists enjoying sanctuary in Pakistan, "This must end."
"We must strengthen local tribes in the border areas who are willing to fight the foreign terrorists there -- the strategy used successfully in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq," he said. "We must convince Pakistanis that this is their war as much as it is ours. And we must empower the new civilian government of Pakistan to defeat radicalism with greater support for development, health, and education."
Taking a further swipe at Obama, McCain argued that his opponent's willingness to consider a military strike against Pakistan has undermined counterinsurgency efforts there.
"In trying to sound tough, he has made it harder for the people whose support we most need to provide it," he said. "I will not bluster, and I will not make idle threats. But understand this: when I am commander in chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run, and nowhere they can hide." The audience cheered.
McCain took pains to point out that when it came to Iraq, both he and Obama "agreed the Bush administration had pursued a failed strategy there and that we had to change course," but only he backed the surge in troops there. "Today we know Senator Obama was wrong," McCain said. "The surge has succeeded."
Buoyed by surveys like this week's Washington Post-ABC News poll, which shows Americans give him higher marks as a commander in chief than Obama, McCain argued he has already shown he is better prepared to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq. "In wartime, judgment and experience matter," McCain said. "In a time of war, the commander in chief doesn't get a learning curve. If I have that privilege, I will bring to the job many years of military and political experience; experience that gave me the judgment necessary to make the right call in Iraq a year and half ago."
© 2008 The Washington Post