Sen. John McCain largely applauded the Obama administration's approach to Afghanistan on Tuesday. But he said that if he had been elected, he would have done a variety of things differently and, in the process, he claimed that the president had set himself up for charges of "Lyndon Johnson" incrementalism by not devoting the troop levels to that war that will ultimately be necessary.
"I would have... went ahead and announced the overall addition of troops," said McCain. Rather than be accused of a Lyndon Johnson style of incrementalism, because it is very clear what General McKiernan asked for even though it may not be right away, I probably would have announced that we intend to do that."
In a discussion before the new neoconservative outlet, The Foreign Policy Initiative, and with several members of his 2008 campaign on hand, the Arizona Republican offered more sympathy than criticism for the president's Afghan policy proposal. But it wasn't all formalities and niceties. In addition to warning about an incremental increase in force levels -- the reference to Vietnam not lost on the crowd -- McCain also suggested that Obama did not lay the proper framework for selling the war domestically.
"I support this plan," said McCain. "I probably would have done a few things differently. One, and most importantly, is to emphasize, and the president did, but I think you really have to emphasize how difficult this will be. As with the surge there will be an increase in conflict and therefore an increase in casualties as we move south in Afghanistan and try to reassert control in some regions."
As for tactical insights, the Arizona Republican insisted that the war in Iraq would be harder than that in that in Afghanistan. "It is not as tough as Iraq, my friends, and don't let anybody tell you that it is," he said. "When we started the surge in Iraq it was virtually in the state of collapse." But he also warned, rather ominously that, "there may not be an Anbar awakening" in Afghanistan, a reference to the clerics who aided the U.S. surge in forces by simultaneously rising up against insurgents and terrorist violence in Iraq.
Finally, on the domestic political front, McCain proclaimed that the real threat to Obama would not come from the GOP but rather skittish Democrats who could quickly tire of the war should violence levels rise.
"I think it is more problematic among Democratic leadership," McCain said of the potential for waning support. "We all know that the Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] comes from a very liberal district and we all now that Harry Reid has been very nervous about troop levels in Iraq... I guess what I worry about is that most Americans have not been sufficiently alerted to the [issues we are] going to face there."