During the Senate defense programs and policy amendment debate, in which Senators vote on amendments to the annual Defense Department budget, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke up against a bi-partisan amendment designed to expedite the troop drawdown from the U.S.-led Afghanistan war. The drawdown the president announced this year will still leave around 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year. But even maintaining that level of troops isn’t good enough for McCain.
The most curious thing about McCain’s argument, though, is that the anecdote he delivered in support of it didn’t bolster the case for, as he claimed to put it, maintaining U.S. troops through the “fighting season,” the warmer months when there tends to be more fighting. But rather, McCain made the case for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan for a very, very long time.
McCain relied on the usual conservative trope that Obama should have deferred to the generals on his withdrawal decision — despite the chain of command (which the generals themselves understand well) and McCain’s own selective reliance on the brass’ word. But he had a twist: He posited that the end of the war would come when the Taliban insurgency acquiesced to the terms of a peace deal. This, his story suggested, would never happen if the U.S. leaves.
Here’s McCain’s story about an unnamed former George W. Bush administration official:
A story was related to me just recently. Former member of the previous administration, high ranking, in a meeting with one of the highest ranking members of the government of Pakistan. He said, to this high-ranking government official, “What do you think the chances of peace with the Taliban are?” That individual just laughed and said, “Why should they make peace? You are leaving.” Those are fundamental facts.
Watch the video of McCain on the floor of the Senate here:
But McCain’s anecdote isn’t about staying through this “fighting season,” as he claims commanders on the ground advocated for, with the Obama administration setting the partial drawdown timeline for a few months earlier. Rather, McCain’s statement that the Taliban won’t make peace because the U.S. is leaving applies just as much to the middle of the “fighting season” as it does the end of the “fighting season.” Instead, McCain’s anecdote seems to call for a heavy, long-term military presence, perhaps an interminable one. After all, according to McCain’s story, no peace deal can be made to end the Afghanistan war if the U.S. leaves. Perhaps that’s why, over McCain’s objections, the amendment to expedite the Afghanistan withdrawal passed the Senate.
Indeed, like in Afghanistan, if McCain had his way in Iraq, American troops would be there for at least 97 more years, instead of coming home by the end of this month.