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McCain on Afghanistan at AEI

11:13 AM, Feb 25, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Senator McCain is just now delivering a speech at AEI on the war in Afghanistan. Some highlights:

"Success is possible in Afghanistan. Afghans reject the Taliban. Just 4 percent of Afghans wish them to rule the country, and they rate the Taliban as by far the most dangerous threat to their nation. Despite the deteriorating conditions, nearly 70 percent continue to say the U.S. invasion and overthrow of the Taliban were a good thing. What the people in Afghanistan want most is not the exit of foreigners, or of coalition troops, but rather the things that a properly configured and resourced strategy would deliver: security, some degree of development, and basic good governance.

"The problem in Afghanistan today is not innate xenophobia or hostility to the West. It is our own failed policies that are the problem. We have tried to win this war without enough troops, without sufficient economic aid, without effective coordination, and without a clear strategy. The ruinous consequences should come as no surprise. If we change our policies, the situation on the ground will change, too."...

"...Many Americans have begun to wonder whether it is truly possible to turn this war around. Public commentary increasingly focuses on past failures in Afghanistan by the Soviets and British, and warns that the country has earned the label "graveyard of empires." Some suggest it is time to scale back our ambitions in Afghanistan-to give up on nation-building and instead focus narrowly on our counterterrorism objectives, by simply mounting operations aimed at killing or capturing terrorist leaders and destroying their networks, while leaving the broader tasks of building fundamental security, governance, and development to someone else - or abandoning them altogether.

"I disagree. I am confident victory is possible in Afghanistan. I know Americans are weary of war. I'm weary of it. But we must win the war in Afghanistan."

Full text of the speech after the jump.More than three years ago, I spoke at AEI about the war in Iraq. At that time, conditions on the ground were going from bad to worse. Violence had accelerated out of control, al Qaeda had firmly entrenched itself in Anbar province, and Iranian-backed Shia militias had taken control of large swaths of Baghdad and southern Iraq. The Iraqi government and its security forces appeared hopelessly corrupt, sectarian, ineffective, and unable to break the cycle of reciprocal violence fueled by Sunni and Shiite extremists. The Bush administration continued to pursue a failed war strategy-despite mounting evidence of its catastrophic consequences.

More and more Americans, members of Congress and opinion leaders wondered whether the war in Iraq could ever be won, or whether it was already lost.

It seemed obvious to me that failure in Iraq would be a calamity, and to prevent it we would have to accept the urgent necessity of a new strategy - a strategy based on the fundamental principles of counterinsurgency, the imperative to secure the civilian population, and a significant increase in the number of American troops. Yet more than a year passed, as the deteriorating situation in Iraq approached the point of no return and a substantial majority of Americans turned firmly against the war, before President Bush at last shifted course, dismissed Secretary Rumsfeld, and adopted such a strategy.

Thanks to the courage and skill of our troops on the ground and the wisdom of leaders such as General David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and General Ray Odierno, the collapse of the American effort in Iraq was not just arrested but reversed. With the right strategy finally in place - and I should note the intellectual contributions to it by General Jack Keane, Fred and Kim Kagan, Andrew Krepinevich, and Gary Schmitt - and the resources on the ground necessary to implement it, we not only stepped back from the precipice of a strategic disaster of immense and long lasting consequences, but progressed toward obtaining our objectives in Iraq beyond the
most hopeful projections for the new strategy's success.

We now face a similar moment with respect to the war in Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan is nowhere near as dire as it was in Iraq just two years ago - to cite one example, civilian fatalities at their peak in Iraq were ten times higher than civilian deaths at their peak in Afghanistan last year. But the same truth that was apparent three years ago in Iraq is apparent today in Afghanistan: when you aren't winning in this kind of war, you are losing. And, in Afghanistan today, we are not winning. Let us not shy from the truth, but let us not be paralyzed by it either.