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Sunday, January 21, 2007

McCain Going Down with the Ship

Arizona Senator John McCain appeared on Meet the Press Sunday 1/21 (see #1 for video) and confirmed he will be running for President in 2008. Of course, he also rendered his presidential bid moot by virtually tying himself to the mast of the bad ship "U.S.S Iraq War" and the arrogance and denial that produced it. The interview led with commentary and questions about the value of adding troops to Iraq, the risk of jeopardizing other efforts in Afghanistan to salvage the Iraq effort, and the real willingness of the Bush administration to actually LISTEN to its military leadership. The circular logic and incoherence of McCain's defense of the current "surge" strategy at this point should sound disturbingly familiar.

First, Russert read the following excerpt from a story in The Economist:

Unless their mission is very well-defined, 20,000 troops are probably too few to make a significant difference - and may be too few under any circumstances. Adding around 20,000 to the 132,000 currently there will increase U.S. capabilities, but not enough to stabilize the country.

McCain was then asked to comment. Here's his response, verbatim:

I am concerned about it, whether it is sufficient numbers or not. I would have liked to have seen more. I looked General Petraeus in the eye and said 'is that sufficient for you to do the job?'. He assured me that he thought it was and that he had been told if he needed more he would receive them. I have great confidence in General Patraeus. I think he is one of the finest generals that our military has ever produced and he has a proven record on that -- he wrote the new army counter-insurgency manual, but do I believe that if it had been up to me, would there have been more? Yes, but one of the keys to this is get them over there quickly rather than feed them in piecemeal as some in the Pentagon would like to do today.

Russert then read some comments from a Baltimore Sun article (see #2) about an infantry battalion in Afghanistan currently protecting an area between Kabul and Kandahar that is slated to be redeployed to Iraq within weeks at a time when the Taliban is making significant progress re-establishing itself as a threat in the country. McCain replied he was unaware of the plan but he was aware of the growing threat in Afghanistan. His comment ended with this:

We have a military of 1.4 million. It seems to me we could come up with 20,000 troops without the great difficulty that apparently the Pentagon apparently feels it is. I would prefer not to take troops out of Afghanistan. I think that the new policy of expanding the Marine Corps and the Army is vital because we are going to have difficulties throughout the world and we're going to have increasing difficulties in Afghanistan which is being exacerbated by the deteriorating relations between President Karzai of Afghanistan and President Musharraf of Pakistan..

Finally, Russert read this comment from General George Casey from January 2, 2007:

The longer we in the U.S forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to make the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, which are at base their problems.

Russert asked McCain why Bush continues to ignore his generals who have resisted adding more troops. McCain replied:

Because it was clearly a failed policy from the beginning. Many of us knew it was a failed strategy. It was based upon the mistaken belief that the Iraqi army and police would be able to take over the responsibilities far more quickly than they were able to and after the bombing of the Shi'a mosque, the crisis accelerated and we saw and are seeing a steady deterioration of the situation and if we continue as we are, we will see a complete breakdown of the situation in Iraq. .. It was a failed policy, it was pursued too long, we now have a new strategy headed by one of the finest military people we have, and I believe we can succeed but I believe that there is no doubt in retrospect and at the time that the policy that was pursued wasn't going to work.

Russert then stated that Casey is up for consideration as chief of staff of the Army and asked McCain if he supported awarding that position to Casey. McCain stated he is leaning against the nomination because of concerns he has about the message Casey's "failed leadership" would send to the rest of the US military.

Go back and read McCain's previous comments. Which leadership produced the current debacle in Iraq?

* Numerous generals resisted downsized troop plans during the war planning
* They were IGNORED by Bush and Rumsfeld during the planning
* Numerous generals asked for more troops within months of the start of the war
* They were IGNORED, removed or retired by Rumsfeld and Bush, allowing an insurgency to take root

We're now at a point where our early efforts to fight the war on a shoestring to prove Rumsfeld's fantasies about "transformation" have utterly sabotaged our ability to stabilize the country. We're at a point now where many (most?) in the military and certainly the vast majority of Americans (65% according to the most recent WSJ/NBC poll) believe adding troops amidst a civil war will at best produce no improvement while risking more American lives. At this point, the Bush Administration

* has been told by the Iraqi government it desires no more American troops
* has been told by our own military leaders that Iraq does not want them
* has rotated out the top two commanders who disagree with the new strategy
* is continuing to publicly undermine the Iraqi government via public comments
* is jeopardizing Afghanistan by borrowing troops from key areas of that effort

So Senator McCain, exactly how is ANY of this decision making process different than the one that produced this disaster in the first place? Bush is ignoring his generals by adopting this strategy in the first place so if it fails and Patraeus requests more troops, how do you know Bush will grant him the forces requested? How can we assure additional troops will be used productively by a government which resisted them in the first place? Why would we want to put more American forces inside Iraq to prop up a government while we undermine the credibility of that government by questioning its President and Parliament? How do you expect the Iraqi military to assume the primary leadership role over security without putting American forces under partial Iraqi control?

Probably the most telling aspect of McCain's appearance wasn't the substance but the tone. With the exception of one self-deprecating wisecrack about a photo of him in sunglasses in a MoveOn.org ad being run against him, most of his responses were delivered in an odd, soft monotone with a relatively slow, measured meter. Not the kind of voice that politicians try to use to demonstrate clarity and gravitas about serious issues. More like the kind of voice you'd hear from a suspect weary of restating his alibi dozens of times after seeing the mountain of evidence against him. Far from the kind of confident presence a would-be candidate for President would like to project.

Then again, it won't matter a bit. Senator McCain, you don't have a chance at the White House, nor do you deserve one.

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#1) http://video.msn.com/v/us/msnbc.htm?f=00&t=s53&g=e10461f7-89e1-415c-aa58-80d1b6f8066e&p=hotvideo_m_edpicks

#2) http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.afghanistan07jan07,0,3288686.story?page=1&coll=bal-attack-headlines