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McCain on Iraq

The Arizona senator hits Democrats for their desire to cut and run and explains why President Bush needs to do more in Iraq.

7:15 AM, Nov 6, 2003 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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"THE SIMPLE TRUTH," said Senator John McCain at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, "is that we do not have sufficient forces in Iraq to meet our objectives."

President Bush disagrees. His administration has given frequent assurances that there is no need for additional U.S. troops in Iraq. But Senator McCain, who visited Iraq in August, before the recent spike in attacks on U.S. forces, thinks that administration policy doesn't address the realities on the ground. "It's a mystery to me why [more troops] aren't forthcoming," he said.

McCain's critique of the president's Iraq policy has two parts. He believes more troops are necessary to defeat the Baathist insurgents and terrorists that are killing American soldiers on the average of 5 per week. "At least another full division" is necessary, he said, "to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign across the Sunni Triangle."

It's not only a question of how many troops, but of what kind. Said McCain, "We don't need more howitzers. We don't need more tanks. We need the Marines," special forces, intelligence officers, and other troops trained in counterinsurgency techniques.

The second part of McCain's critique is his concern that the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Ambassador Paul Bremer, hasn't treated Iraqis as a liberated people. "The CPA seems to think that all wisdom is made in America," he said. McCain's evidence for this is that the Iraqi Governing Council, the 24-member body of Iraqis charged with moving the country towards liberal democracy, is often at odds with, if not ignored entirely by, the CPA.

When the Turkish parliament voted to deploy 10,000 soldiers in Iraq, for example, the CPA announced the deployment to the Governing Council as if by fiat. But the Council objected, voting against deploying the Turks, which resulted in the CPA withdrawing its request for the additional peacekeepers. Now there is no Turkish presence in Iraq, but instead a Governing Council that looks upon its American overseers with increasingly suspicious eyes.

McCain's solution to all this? Step up "Iraqification" efforts--just not when it comes to security. (McCain thinks that Iraqi forces are no substitute for American troops.) Instead, he argued, the administration should accelerate the pace of political Iraqification. "We can leave it to Iraqis to decide what kind of tax code they should have," he said. "We are aggressively training Iraqis to perform security functions. We should be equally aggressive in training and advising political parties, transferring more authority to Iraqi leaders, and establishing a framework and time for a political transition."

McCain's speech, billed as an address on the "U.S. situation in Iraq and Afghanistan," actually made little mention of Afghanistan. It was another country--Vietnam--that figured much more prominently. McCain mentioned not once but thrice that "Iraq is not Vietnam."

But the specter of comparisons hovered over the event. McCain said that while the comparison between the two conflicts doesn't bear out, the president must act urgently if "we are to avoid a debate over who 'lost' Iraq, as we debated who lost Vietnam a generation ago."

The senator also took a few swipes at Democrats. In reference to Howard Dean's antiwar position, McCain said that "Partisan anger is not a substitute for moral clarity." And he criticized Democrats who voted for war with Iraq in October 2002 but voted against postwar reconstruction monies a year later.

However the crux of the speech was McCain's constructive criticism of the Bush administration. "To sustain the credibility necessary for victory over the long term," he said, "the administration needs to strive at all times to ensure that its assessment of the course of events in Iraq is candid."

That's not quite the case these days. McCain mentioned the president's response to the recent missile attack on the al Rashid hotel, where Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was staying at the time. "The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react," the president said after the attack.

If that's the case, McCain said, "God spare us more progress."

Matthew Continetti is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.