This week on Fox News, host Greta Van Susteren challenged Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) argument that Iraq should serve as a model for how the U.S. should stabilize Afghanistan. “But in Iraq, they at least had some form of government, you know, that was not so remotely dissimilar from our own,” Van Susteren asserted. “Afghanistan is a tribal area, where they have different tribes and different families. It’s a different — can we do that?” But McCain wouldn’t back down, suggesting that Afghanistan might be easier to pacify because violence was worse in Iraq at the height of the war there than it currently is in Afghanistan.
Last night talking with Newt Gingrich, Van Susteren scolded herself for disagreeing with McCain:
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator McCain said that I was wrong. And far be it for me to disagree with military policy and strategy with someone like Senator McCain, so I backed off. But they seem to have very different histories to me. […]
Well, with Senator McCain’s distinguished military career and history, you know, the other option, too, is that my question was inartfully posed and that I didn’t make myself clear because I — you know, I don’t — I would never make the mistake of debating military policy and strategy with Senator McCain.
Van Susteren shouldn’t be so hard on herself. Although McCain appears to view an Iraq-like “surge” as a solution to every military problem, it is not entirely analogous to the current situation in Afghanistan. Indeed, as one administration official said when the White House was debating its new strategy, “We spent a lot of time discussing the fact that the only thing Iraq and Afghanistan have in common is a lot of sand.” And as the New York Times noted:
The Iraq surge worked in large part because there was powerful support in Anbar Province from the so-called Awakening. […] But a series of intelligence reports supplied to Mr. Obama since September found no evidence in Afghanistan of anything on the scale of the Iraqi Awakening movement. What’s more, in Afghanistan the extremists, the Taliban, are natives.
Military commanders, experts, and even other conservatives have noted the “considerable” differences between pre-surge Iraq and Afghanistan today. Even Gingrich told Van Susteren last night, “Afghanistan must be probably 20 times more complex than Iraq.” “Using the Iraq strategy, may be one that may not be exactly applicable,” Charles Krauthammer said yesterday.
Given how wrong McCain has been on matters of foreign policy and national security in recent years, Van Susteren should have more faith in her ability to challenge him — and any other other lawmaker — on his views.