Note: Forgive my absence (if you even noticed). Vacation beckoned.
The Obama campaign justifiably sees an advantage in the renewed interest in the NATO-led efforts to defeat the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan. Obama called for a more muscular effort in Afghanistan in a speech on Aug. 1, 2007. Read the speech here: http://www.barackobama.com/2007/08/01/the_war_we_need_to_win.php He advocated at least two more combat brigades for the Afghan theatre and said if the U.S. had actionable intelligence that could lead to the capture or killing of Usama bin Laden, the U.S. should attack -- even if the Pakistani government, led by Gen. Pervez Musharaf, objected.
John McCain yesterday endorsed a two-brigade beef-up of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan. But he had a hard time explaining where the troops would come from. The options, obviously, are limited: the U.S. and NATO. McCain is not prepared, as Obama is, to move troops from Iraq to Afghanistan almost immediately upon taking office. Increasing NATO committments is tricky, for a variety of political and miliatry reason -- especially if the U.S. is not seen as lifting a heavier load on the ground in Afghanistan.
That is the backdrop for a very aggressive argument from Dr. Susan Rice, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama's campaign, that McCain's new plan for Afghanistan is, in a word, inept.
This is Rice from this morning's conference call:
“After years of denying it was a problem, yesterday, John McCain woke up and discovered Afghanistan. His speech was surreal and demonstrated once again that he is out of touch and divorced from reality, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has no credible plan for either conflict and its resolution. He wants to stay indefinitely at high troops levels in Iraq, regardless of the situation, whether it's improving or deteriorating. At the same time, he says he wants to surge in Afghanistan without reducing our presence in Iraq, which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says is impossible. And he wants to balance our budget by 2013 in part, on the basis of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq, which he opposes. The whole thing is utterly illogical. He also can't decide whether he wants US troops, NATO troops, or both to fill the void in Afghanistan. He said all 3 at different times yesterday. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has been very clear: while NATO can and should do more, NATO alone can't fill the gap that exists and the US is going to have to do more if we're going to take the situation in Afghanistan as seriously as we ought to. For someone who likes to portray himself as someone who "knows how to win wars," John McCain ought to explain how he intends to do so without knowing where his troops are going to come from. But this is just part of a larger pattern. We saw yesterday the real difference in the national security priorities that Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain would pursue as president.”
Strong medicine from team Obama. Also a clear signal, if one were still necessary at this stage of the campaign, that it will cede nothing to McCain on national security and, in fact, pounce when the moment allows. McCain’s Afghanistan remarks were revised several times yesterday and aides readily admitted they moved up the Afghanistan speech to respond to Obama’s big speech on Iraq, Afghanistan and other national security priorities. The question of where additional combat troops for Afghanistan will come from is not minor. McCain’s fumbled response appeared to undercut his muscular declaration yesterday: “I know how to win wars.”