But He Knows The Military

by Joshua Foust on 4/17/2008 · 4 comments

The Air Force Times reports on a rather surprising gaffe from the foreign policy Commander-in-Chief-to-be:

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona may not have been paying the closest of attention last week during hearings on the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

Speaking Monday at the annual meeting of the Associated Press, McCain was asked whether he, if elected, would shift combat troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to intensify the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“I would not do that unless Gen. [David] Petraeus said that he felt that the situation called for that,” McCain said, referring to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Petraeus, however, made clear last week that he has nothing to do with the decision. Testifying last week before four congressional committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee on which McCain is the ranking Republican, Petraeus said the decision about whether troops could be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan was not his responsibility because his portfolio is limited to the multi-national force in Iraq.

Decisions about Afghanistan would be made by others, he said.

“I’ve been sort of focused on another task,” Petraeus said when pressed about whether more troops should be diverted to Afghanistan rather than Iraq.

McCain did not stay for the full Petraeus appearance before the armed services committee, so he might have missed that explanation.

I have another idea: how about, like President Bush, McCain has decided to punt any hard decisions to his future generals. While I dislike the politicized nature of General Petraeus, I also recognize that in a real way he was forced into that when President Bush made him the lynch pin of his Iraq gambit: everything would rely on “Davie” or whatever he was called in press conferences. And, unfortunately, should my fears be confirmed and Iraq slides off the precipice, it is Petraeus who will suffer the consequences for it now that politicians of the Right are ditching their responsibilities in the war they started.

At the hearings, Petraeus reiterated his stance that the larger strategic considerations of the GWOT are actually the President’s responsibility, and not his, as the military is controlled by civilians. As a politician who has based his entire career and now presidential bid on his foreign policy and military expertise, McCain really shouldn’t fumble such a topic. In fact, for him to say such a thing is deeply troubling: Petraeus is responsible for Iraq, not Afghanistan. An expert who spent his many years after Vietnam working with the military should know that. Petraeus hasn’t been read into the command-level briefings on Afghanistan, he doesn’t have the relationship with commanders within NATO and ISAF, and he doesn’t have the staff at ARCENT to know any more than we do what the situation is like in Afghanistan. How could Petraeus know that the needs of Afghanistan either do or do not outweigh the needs of Iraq?

As the man said: he’s been “sort of focused on another task.” That is, doing his job in Iraq.

Much like McCain’s curious inability to distinguish between Sunnis and Shiites 6.5 years into a cataclysmic battle as much about internal divisions within Islam as Islam’s relations with everyone else, this speaks to a much greater problem with the man who can’t talk domestic issues to save his life: even with the Armed services, the man is an empty suit. Unlike Clinton and Obama, he hasn’t yet come up with an idea, even a silly Obama-style one of unicorns and candy canes, of how to address the “Pashtun problem.” While the Democrats prominently feature plans of variously appalling quality for Afghanistan on their web pages, McCain cannot even be bothered to mention it apart from his vague rah-rah plans for Iraq—which doesn’t quite distinguish him from neophytes like Obama (and why does he note that we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan while not even offering a token “I want to win” about it?). When he does bother to mention the place in speeches, he makes obvious, galling errors. Any real look at his excuse for a strategy has to be gleaned from paragraphs here and there in speeches and articles.

So I guess it really is no wonder he’s punt his Afghanistan strategy to a theater one-star.

Argh. Does anyone else not feel like voting this year?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 4 comments }

jonathan p April 19, 2008 at 7:23 am

It’s impossible to vote in the United States with a clear conscience. The choices are horrible. I’d have about the same feelings voting for
Jude Law as I’ll have voting for any of the actual candidates.

Nathan April 19, 2008 at 10:14 am

Jude Law may have to become the Registan.net-endorsed candidate for president. There’s that whole ineligible-to-run thing, but…

Joshua Foust April 20, 2008 at 11:41 pm

I second that motion. Any objections?

alacazaba April 27, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Perhaps the reason why McCain passed this off to him is that Mr McCain had an inkling of the fact that Petreus was being promoted to head of CENTCOM and let it slip? I think you’re a bit quick, dear author, to make pronouncememnts on what actually is going on in DC, and perhaps even less observant of the obvious connections. The distinct relationship between the two is certain: Petreus is the architect of the ongoing Iraqi “surge” and McCain a longtime advocate of the same. How’s that old maxim go, “don’t watch the mouth, watch the feet”.

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