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Required Reading

3:52 PM, Jul 15, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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1) From the Politico, "Talking About AfPak" by John McCain.

Fair is fair - I've criticized the McCain campaign when it has stumbled. It is thus only right that I give McCain and his team credit when they get one right. McCain gave a speech today on Afghanistan that displayed a superior understanding of our military needs in Afghanistan. "Superior to whom?" you say. Why a certain longtime community organizer who we'll be discussing in a bit, that's who.

Said McCain:

That strategy will have several components. Our commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say that they need at least three additional brigades. Thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available, and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them. But sending more forces, by itself, is not enough to prevail. In the 18 months that Senator Obama has been campaigning for the presidency, the number of NATO forces in Afghanistan has already almost doubled -- from 33,000 in January 2007 to about 53,000 today. Yet security has still deteriorated. What we need in Afghanistan is exactly what Gen. Petraeus brought to Iraq: a nationwide civil-military campaign plan that is focused on providing security for the population. Today no such integrated plan exists. When I am commander-in-chief, it will.

There are, of course, many differences between Afghanistan and Iraq, which any plan must account for. But, as in Iraq, the center of gravity is the security of the population. The good news is that our soldiers have begun to apply the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan -- especially in eastern Afghanistan, where U.S. forces are concentrated. These efforts, however, are too piecemeal; the work of innovative local commanders, rather than a strategy for the entire country. In particular, the U.S. needs to reengage deeper in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban heartland.

One of the reasons there is no comprehensive campaign plan for Afghanistan is because we have violated one of the cardinal rules of any military operation: unity of command. Today there are no less than three different American military combatant commands operating in Afghanistan, as well as NATO, some of whose members have national restrictions on where their troops can go and what they can do. This is no way to run a war. The top commander in Afghanistan needs to be just that: the supreme commander of all coalition forces. As commander-in-chief, I will work with our allies to ensure unity of command.

2) From BarackObama.com, "A New Strategy for a New World" by Barack Obama

At the risk of letting my scrupulously maintained neutrality slip, I must admit even the title puts my teeth on edge. Is it too much to ask for the Obama campaign to avoid grandiose pretension in its speeches' titles? And what you ask is the lynchpin of Obama's "new strategy for a new world?" Of course its Barack Obama's superior intellect!

As President, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy - one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin. I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

One gets the sense that Obama truly thinks his call for a "tough, smart and principled security strategy" really represents a new paradigm. I will allow this much - it certainly sounds preferable to a wimpy, foolish and unprincipled strategy.

You know what else grates? The alliterations of "Kandahar and Karachi" and "Beijing and Berlin." It's impossible not to get the sense that Obama cares a lot more about how his words sound than what (if anything) they mean. Don't get me wrong - obviously we do have interests in Kandahar, Karachi, Beijing and Berlin. But that's precisely the point. Obama's assertion here is off the charts in terms of its banality. And yet by imbuing it with a lovely albeit increasingly tired cadence, Obama seems to think he's saying something of import.