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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

McCain: MIA on Afghanistan

Number of times John McCain mentioned Afghanistan in his acceptance speech: 0

Number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan: 33,000

On Tuesday, Bush announced he would withdraw about 8000 troops from Iraq, which would bring troop levels there to about 137,000, roughly the same amount stationed in Iraq prior to the so-called surge. Meanwhile, Bush said a "quiet surge" is occurring in Afghanistan. A Marine battalion of 1000 soldiers that had been heading to Iraq will be sent to Afghanistan instead, and an Army combat brigade of 3500 will also be deployed to Afghanistan. Two years ago, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan was 21,000. So this all represents a significant buildup in Afghanistan. Still, the increase of troops Bush is ordering for Afghanistan falls far short of what U.S. commanders have asked for: 12,000 additional troops. This number of troops cannot be poured into Afghanistan due to the U.S. military's continuing obligations in Iraq.

Whatever is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan has become more of a challenge. The Taliban and its allies are resurgent. The drug trade is expanding. Al Qaeda remains at large in the mountainous tribal regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghans--including their leaders--are fed up with U.S. attacks that lead to civilian casualties. (A pattern has been repeated too many times in the past seven years: the U.S. mounts a bombing raid, people on the ground claim that many civilians were killed, the U.S. military maintains that the raid was precisely targeted and denies the charge of excessive collateral damage, evidence and eyewitness accounts emerge that persuasively challenge the U.S. military claims.)

Yet as Afghanistan becomes more dicey and a more daunting policy and military matter, McCain had nothing to say about it in the most important speech of his career. (By the way, did you know that McCain was a POW during the Vietnam war?) He did refer to Iran (one sentence) and Russia (four sentences), and he mentioned Iraq briefly. Nothing on China. Nothing on Israel. Where was the national security beef? McCain once again retold his POW story. But he had zippo to say about Americans serving in Afghanistan.

Imagine what Republicans and conservatives would have said if Obama had essentially blown off the Afghanistan war and other national security concerns in his acceptance speech. McCain seems more eager to push confrontation with Iran and Russia than to deal with a war already under way. How's that for change?

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