Following President Obama’s speech last night, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) predictably hit the airwaves. On CBS immediately after the speech, McCain praised the decision to add more troops but said that setting a timetable was wrong because the only timetable should be victory:
MCCAIN: I don’t agree with an arbitrary date for withdrawal. Success is what dictates dates for withdrawal. If we don’t have that success and we only set an arbitrary date it emboldens our enemies and dispirits our friends.
McCain also reportedly pressed this point yesterday with the President during a briefing on the strategy. The claim that any exit strategy should be based on “victory” has become a consistent talking point on the right. But the major problem with this is not just that conservatives have no idea what victory looks like, it’s that they have already declared victory numerous times. To underscore McCain’s lack of credibility look at his past declarations:
- “Could I add, it was in Afghanistan, as well, there were many people who predicted that Afghanistan would not be a success. So far, it’s a remarkable success.” [CNN, 3/2/05]
- “Afghanistan, we don’t read about anymore, because it’s succeeded.” [Charlie Rose Show, 10/31/05]
- “Nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America.” [Hannity & Colmes, 4/10/03]
- “The facts on the ground are we went to Afghanistan and we prevailed there.” [Wolf Blitzer Reports, 4/1/04]
Since the conditions on the ground clearly had no impact on McCain’s decision to proclaim “victory,” all the President really has to do to achieve victory in Afghanistan, based on McCain’s example, is to just arbitrarily say it.
Last night, Obama also made a veiled reference to McCain’s infamous statement that we could “muddle through” in Afghanistan. Obama explained that if he continued on the course left by the Bush administration, “this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there.” Setting a timetable to begin redeploying forces is critical to preventing any such muddling, since as Larry Korb explained, “You can make it flexible but you need to have goals.”