3 jul. 2009

Afghanistan: A Conversation with Senator John McCain

Jacob Heilbrun offered a comment on Huffington Post "The Latest Neocon Attack on Obama":
As President Obama prepares to visit Russia, the new neocon organization called the Foreign Policy Initiative (the successor to the defunct Project for the New American Century) has issued a letter, which was also signed by several liberal hawks, imploring him to raise the issue of human rights. It also points to what it calls Russia's attack on Georgia as a sign of renewed imperialism, even though it was Georgia that attacked Russia. Simultaneously, former UN ambassador John Bolton declares in today 's Washington Post that the crackdown in Iran shows that Obama should stop trying to play kissyface with the mullahs. It's time to prepare for a military assault.
Not so fast.

Moderator: Dr. Robert Kagan
Board Member, The Foreign Policy Initiative and Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Kagan began by asking Senator McCain how, if he had been elected president, his plan for Afghanistan would have differed from that of the Obama Administration.

McCain stressed the need to emphasize how difficult the mission in Afghanistan will be. There will be an initial, significant increase in casualties as we deploy more forces there, he explained. But the situation in Afghanistan is not as dire as it was in Iraq prior to the “surge.”

Assuming that the Administration may be planning to eventually provide more forces beyond the recently announced 21,000, McCain said that he would have announced the full increase up front, so as to avoid the appearance of “Lyndon Johnson-style incrementalism.” He also would have proposed a substantial expansion in the size of the Afghan National Army.

McCain went on to suggest that a year from now, the United States will be facing even greater opposition from enemies in Afghanistan. Asked whether Republicans could be expected to continue supporting the mission, McCain indicated that they would and argued that the most criticism would likely come from the left, where some have already begun to complain about the number of forces being sent to the country.

Asked about the Bush Administration’s handling of the Afghan conflict, McCain pointed to shortfalls in the command structures established in Afghanistan, the failure to sufficiently grow the Afghan National Army, and the inability to encourage more effective participation from our allies. Failure to properly resource the conflict, McCain argued, stemmed from the fact that once we had become committed in Iraq, it became critical that we succeed there, as failure would have compromised our success in Afghanistan and our interests elsewhere. This is one argument for increasing the size of the American Army and Marine Corps, McCain explained.

With regard to our allies, McCain suggested that the goodwill and enthusiasm generated in Europe by Obama could perhaps be leveraged into additional support for the Afghan mission—though not in the form of more troops. Rather than asking for more forces we are unlikely to get, McCain said we should encourage our allies to take the lead in the Afghan Army training efforts.

Having raised the issue of inadequate U.S. Army and Marine Corps force sizes in the Bush years, McCain went on to discuss the necessary defense spending priorities of the years ahead. Citing the evolution in the application of military technology even over the course of the Iraq war, McCain suggested that we need to carefully tailor acquisition to the threat environment, rather than pursue technology for technology’s sake. He believes that procurement reform is an absolute priority.

On the topic of Pakistan, McCain argued that the challenges emanating from the country represent a strategic threat, which calls for a strategy addressing Pakistan qua Pakistan—not simply the border regions. He said that the notion that you cannot succeed in Afghanistan without solving the border problems is incorrect. But the proposed plan for conditioning aid to the Pakistani Army based on measurable success in pursuing insurgents is problematic, he explained. Moving forward, we will need to communicate to the people of Pakistan that it is in their interest to see the United States and its allies succeed in Afghanistan.

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