Posted by: Christian | March 25, 2008

McCain’s Afghanistan Plan

The previous two entries on Obama’s and Clinton’s Afghanistan policies were rather easy since those two have both recently put out their foreign policy platform in a single document. McCain’s platform is not packaged in such a convenient manner. So I will go first to his November/December Foreign Affairs article. As an additional source I will also look to McCain’s speech at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy.

McCain’s first mention of “what to do:”

The Taliban’s recent resurgence, however, threatens to lead Afghanistan to revert to its pre-9/11 role as a sanctuary for terrorists with global reach. Our recommitment to Afghanistan must include increasing NATO forces, suspending the debilitating restrictions on when and how those forces can fight, expanding the training and equipping of the Afghan National Army through a long-term partnership with NATO to make it more professional and multiethnic, and deploying significantly more foreign police trainers. It must also address the current political deficiencies in judicial reform, reconstruction, governance, and anticorruption efforts.

McCain’s solution to the lack of Pashto and Dari speaking abilities of the military, plus the torture/interrogation issue:

I will launch a crash program in civilian and military schools to prepare more experts in critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, and Pashto. Students at our service academies should be required to study abroad. I will enlarge the military’s Foreign Area Officer program and create a new specialty in strategic interrogation in order to produce more interrogators who can obtain critical knowledge from detainees by using advanced psychological techniques, rather than the kind of abusive tactics properly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

And now to McCain’s speech:

The future of our alliance [NATO] is now intimately bound with the outcome in Afghanistan, and our success or failure there will impact not only the security of each of our member states, but also the credibility and effectiveness of NATO itself.

It has been a long five and a half years since the crumbling of Taliban rule. In the United States, at least, Afghanistan has moved off the front pages of newspapers and magazines, replaced by the dire situation in Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and North Korea’s weapons tests. But Afghanistan is anything but yesterday’s news.

In fact, the stakes there have never been higher. The fighting in 2006 was fiercer than any time since Afghanistan’s liberation, with an increase in coalition casualties from the previous year, a doubling in the number of roadside bombs, and a fivefold rise in the number of suicide bombings. The poppy crop hit another all-time high, and Afghanistan is now the source of 90 percent of the world’s supply of raw materials for heroin. The Taliban is resurgent in several areas throughout the south and east of the country, and the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan have publicly feuded over who is to blame. Four months ago, General David Richards, the British commander who led NATO troops in Afghanistan, stated that if the lives of average Afghans do not visibly improve within six months, a majority could switch allegiance from the government to the Taliban. Time is short, my friends.

The technical details:

NATO members can help ensure that we keep the Taliban on their heels by at least matching the U.S. troop increase of 3,000 and by reconsidering national caveats.

The training and equipping of a professional, inter-ethnic Afghan National Army has gone well but not far enough. With only 30,000 men under arms – and with current projections for no more than 70,000 – it is too small today and may be too small tomorrow for a country of 31 million. We should aim to build a national army that can take on all the significant and enduring security challenges facing Afghanistan. Ultimately, a transition to increasing Afghan responsibility will allow our own forces to redeploy. In the meantime, NATO should welcome Afghanistan into the Partnership for Peace. Doing so would institutionalize our train and equip programs and enhance civil-military relations in a democratic framework.

And while we train the military, we must not do so at the expense of the police, which remain poorly paid and trained. There is a desperate and immediate need to employ more foreign police trainers in Afghanistan. Germany has the lead on police training, and Germans should be proud of their country’s involvement in Afghanistan. Yet today there are just 41 German instructors, and the number of German-trained police is well below the number trained by the U.S. I hope that Germany would significantly increase its leadership in this regard.

There is no more important non-military objective than developing respect for the rule of law. Prosecutors and judges in Afghanistan remain poorly paid, insufficiently skilled, and corrupt – and the corruption is intimately bound with the drug trade. To take just one graphic example, an Afghan prosecutor earns $65 per month – a tiny amount even in Afghanistan – while a UN interpreter makes some $500 per month. The temptation toward corruption and the lack of justice undermines faith in the Afghan government as a whole, and hands the Taliban an issue with which to gather support.


As an element of this effort, we should encourage the judiciary to crack down on drug cartels. The narcotics trade threatens to undermine every success achieved since 2001, and if it succeeds, we will fail. Ending the pernicious effect of drugs on Afghan society is no easy task, but it begins with projects that provide economically sustainable alternatives to poppy cultivation. In presenting such projects, however, it is necessary to realize that their success is intimately connected with the need for infrastructure, such as irrigation for crops and a road system that can bring goods to market. Britain, which has the lead on counternarcotics programs, can help marshal the international community to take a comprehensive approach to this pervasive threat that directly impacts our own societies.

Reconstruction and development are central to any successful counterinsurgency campaign, and yet the resources devoted to Afghanistan pale in comparison to the amounts we have expended in Iraq on a smaller population.

Towards the end of McCain’s speech:

We must also continue to press Pakistan to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries, especially in the tribal areas, and disrupt Taliban command and control structures. This means ensuring that its agreements are carried out: the Taliban immediately violated last September’s North Waziristan accord, and since then cross-border attacks have tripled.

The war in Afghanistan will not be quick, inexpensive, or easy. On the contrary, the situation there requires more resources, more time, and more commitment. We must prevail. I am confident that we will, and that it will be a signal success in the history of our alliance.

So that’s it. Now that I have the Afghanistan policies of all three candidates up, I will think about making a comparison of their very similar-sounding platforms.


  1. […] Ghosts of Alexander – The previous two entries on Obama’s and Clinton’s Afghanistan policies were rather easy since those two have both recently put out their foreign policy platform in a single document. McCain’s platform is not packaged in such a convenient manner. So I will go first to… […]

  2. […] Much like McCain’s curious inability to distinguish between Sunnis and Shiites 6.5 years into a cataclysmic battle as much about internal divisions within Islam as Islam’s relations with everyone else, this speaks to a much greater problem with the man who can’t talk domestic issues to save his life: even with the Armed services, the man is an empty suit. Unlike Clinton and Obama, he hasn’t yet come up with an idea, even a silly Obama-style one of unicorns and candy canes, of how to address the “Pashtun problem.” While the Democrats prominently feature plans of variously appalling quality for Afghanistan on their web pages, McCain cannot even be bothered to mention it apart from his vague rah-rah plans for Iraq—which doesn’t quite distinguish him from neophytes like Obama (and why does he note that we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan while not even offering a token “I want to win” about it?). When he does bother to mention the place in speeches, he makes obvious, galling errors. Any real look at his excuse for a strategy has to be gleaned from paragraphs here and there in speeches and articles. […]


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