McCain, Graham, Lieberman: McCain Was Wrong About Afghanistan In 2003

Pretty much any foreign policy op-ed co-written by Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman could be titled some variation of “Only Decisive Force Can Prevail in [fill in the blank].” What’s interesting about today’s item is that, in calling for further escalation in Afghanistan, the senators specifically reject a previous contention made by Sen. McCain himself.

The senators write that they “recognize that a decision to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan will be politically difficult here at home.”

Some will say we can’t afford it. Others will warn the president of “quagmire” and urge him to send either no new forces, or fewer than Gen. McChrystal recommends — perhaps with the promise of “re-evaluating” further deployments later on.

It is precisely this middle path — which the previous administration pursued for too long in Iraq — that is a recipe for quagmire and collapse of political support for the war at home. Mr. Obama was right when he said last year that “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror . . . You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”

Asked about Afghanistan back in November 2003, McCain stressed that Iraq was the more important effort, but that he thought that we would be able to, yes, “muddle through”:

MCCAIN: I am concerned about it, but I’m not as concerned as I am about Iraq today — obviously, or I’d be talking about Afghanistan — but I believe that if Karzai can make the progress that he is making, that in the long term we may muddle through in Afghanistan.

Watch it:

When I asked McCain about this at the American Enterprise Institute last February, he disputed the premise of my question, claiming: “Well, obviously you are taking that statement out of context.”

None of the three hawkish senators, all of whom shilled relentlessly for the invasion of Iraq, have ever owned up to the now widely accepted fact that the diversion of troops and resources and attention away from Afghanistan toward Iraq was the critical factor in the resurrection of the Taliban insurgency. As a Western official working in Afghanistan said to the New York Times’ Dexter Filkins, “This is the tragedythe $70 billion that would have given you enough police and army to stabilize this place all went to Iraq.”

Noting the likelihood that the senators are simply laying the groundwork for future concern trolling, Spencer Ackerman writes “Expect a lot more of this to come from the right on Afghanistan. Rhetorical declarations of support coupled with reluctant, solemn, regretful denunciations if and when Obama doesn’t escalate exactly as they want.” Given McCain, Lieberman, and Graham’s disastrous past judgment on Afghanistan and Iraq, the president needs to be very careful about where he finds his national security allies.