The McCain Op-Ed
The New York Times Wouldn’t Publish
By Sen. John McCain
FOXNews. July 21, 2008. In January 2007, when General David Petraeus
took command in Iraq, he called the situation “hard” but not “hopeless.”
Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80 percent to the
lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling
from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but
considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.
Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops
and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at
a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama
was an equally vocal opponent. “I am not persuaded that 20,000
additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence
there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the
Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have
performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still
denies that any political progress has resulted.
Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently
certified that, as one news article put it, “Iraq has met all but three
of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security,
political and economic progress.” Even more heartening has been progress
that’s not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of
them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as
Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime
Minister Nouri al Maliki’s new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite
extremists in Basra and Sadr City — actions that have done much to
dispel suspicions of sectarianism.
The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination
to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his
rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered
his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that
country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal
to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to
withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his
advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks
Iraqis no longer need our assistance.
To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if
Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has
said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S.
troops at some unspecified point in the future.
Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military’s readiness. The
Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but
this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be
ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air
Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate
without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct
planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other
complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.
No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A
partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five
“surge” brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security
situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence
on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a
failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of
our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.
But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic
assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable
crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my
disagreement with Senator Obama.
Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the
ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his
“plan for Iraq.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to hear what
they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have
heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond,
commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving
based on a timetable would be “very dangerous.”
The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage
a comeback, as they have in the past when we’ve had too few troops in
Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I
find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush
administration by waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner prematurely.
I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war — only of
ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for
the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not
allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a
proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in
Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining