Thursday, October 09, 2008

Does Senator McCain ever listen to General Petraeus?

It has become a cornerstone of the McCain candidacy to continually drop the name of General David Petraeus in discussions of Senator McCain’s positions on various issues pertaining to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia in which the U.S. is engaged. The aging Arizona Senator has difficulty making arguments that are persuadable in the wisdom of his positions so he links his ideas to the reputation of Petraeus who, to date, has proven to be successful in his mission in Iraq.

The problem for McCain is Paetraeus doesn’t necessarily back him up on those positions. Here is Spencer Ackerman’s report of Petraeus’ recent speech before the Heritage Foundation:
… Petraeus discussed whether his strategy in Iraq — protecting the population while cleaving apart the insurgency through reconciliation efforts to crush the remaining hard-core enemies — could also work in Afghanistan. The question has particular salience as Petraeus takes over U.S. Central Command, which will put him at the helm of all U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, thereby giving him a large role in the Afghanistan war.

“Some of the concepts used in Iraq are transplantable [to Afghanistan] while others perhaps are not,” he said. “Every situation is unique.”

Petraeus pointed to efforts by Hamid Karzai’s government to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they are “willing to reconcile,” it would be “a positive step.”

In saying that, Petraeus implicitly allied with U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Last week, McKiernan rejected the idea of replicating the blend of counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “The word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word ’surge,’” McKiernan said, opting against recruiting Pashtun tribal fighters to supplement Afghan security forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “There are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan,” he added.

McCain, however, has argued that the Afghanistan war is ripe for a direct replication of Petraeus’ Iraq strategy of population-centric counterinsurgency. “Sen. Obama calls for more troops,” McCain said in the Sept. 26 debate, “but what he doesn’t understand, it’s got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq. It’s going to have to be employed in Afghanistan.”

McCain qualified that statement in Tuesday’s debate, but clung to it while discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Gen. Petraeus had a strategy,” McCain said, “the same strategy — very, very different, because of the conditions and the situation — but the same fundamental strategy that succeeded in Iraq. And that is to get the support of the people.”

Petraeus also came out unambiguously in his talk at Heritage for opening communications with America’s adversaries, a position McCain is attacking Obama for endorsing. Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

All that was the subject of one of the most contentious tussles between McCain and Obama in the first presidential debate, with Obama contending that his intent to negotiate with foreign adversaries without “precondition” did not mean that he would neglect diplomatic “preparation.”
McCain, apparently perceiving an opportunity for attack, Tuesday again used Obama’s comments to attack his judgment. “Sen. Obama, without precondition, wants to sit down and negotiate with them, without preconditions,” McCain said, referring to Iran.

Yet Petraeus emphasized throughout his lecture that reaching out to insurgent groups — some “with our blood on their hands,” he said — was necessary to the ultimate goal of turning them against irreconcilable enemies like Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Petraeus favorably cited the example of one of his British deputies, who in a previous assignment had to negotiate with Martin McGuiness of the Irish Republican Army, responsible for killing some of the British commander’s troops. The British officer, Petraeus said, occasionally wanted to “reach across the table” and choke his former adversary but understood that such negotiations were key to ending a war.

***
Unlike his three recent rounds of congressional testimony, Petraeus did not discuss withdrawal from Iraq. He did not issue warnings that withdrawal — which Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki support, while McCain instead calls for “victory” — would lead to a downward spiral of violence.

While the general warned that there were several “potential storm clouds” threatening to undermine progress, he said that Iraq was on a more stable footing since his last appearance on Capitol Hill in April. He never said terms like “victory” or “success” that McCain uses, and which the GOP nominee frequently chides Obama for avoiding.
You can read the entire article here.

1 comment:

Tom Sanchez Prunier said...

I would direct this comment to the blogger "The Write Side of My Brain":

This is the kind of relevent discourse I'd like to see. Something culled directly from CURRENT events, not something from 12 or 20 years ago.

John McCain is not on top of the issues because he is conflicted between the man he was before he drank the neocon Kool-Aid and the man he is now. He is a slightly more informed version of Sarah Palin, but incorrect for the country nonetheless.