McCain calls for substantial, sustained surge

John McCain
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a potential candidate for president in 2008, has come out early, and strongly in favor of sending more U.S. troops into Iraq - an idea many see as counter to the opinion of the 2006 midterm electorate.Gerald Herbert / AP file
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The 2006 election has not changed Sen. John McCain’s support for victory in Iraq one iota.

While some Democrats have interpreted their party’s triumphs in last November’s balloting as a call by voters to end the U.S. deployment in Iraq, McCain, a leading contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, made it clear Friday he doesn’t see it that way.

McCain seems to be launching his 2008 campaign by taking the role of foremost advocate of sending significantly more troops for long-term deployment to Iraq.

“There are two keys to any surge of U.S. troops: to be of value, it must substantial and it must be sustained,” he declared in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank that is home to some of the most hawkish strategists on Iraq.

Just to make sure everyone in the overflow audience got the point, McCain repeated that phrase: “it must substantial and it must be sustained.”

Democratic support, of sorts
McCain “is taking a position that is not based on putting his finger in the air and gauging the direction of the political winds,” said his ally, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut who just won re-election. “He is doing what he sincerely believes is best for the national security and safety of our country…. John’s taking a gutsy position”

Lieberman added, pointedly, “I just finished an election campaign. If rumors are correct, he may be starting one. And he’s not taking the easy way out here.”

The pro-surge stance of McCain and Lieberman is sharply at odds with the letter sent to President Bush Friday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who said an increase in U.S. forces "will only endanger more Americans" and would lead to "no strategic gain.”

Time and duration concernsBush is expected to announce next week his plans for a new strategy in Iraq, one that will reportedly entail a “surge” of additional American soldiers and Marines.

In their comments at AEI both McCain and Lieberman seemed to be concerned that Bush might shy away from a big increase in U.S. forces in Iraq.

McCain said, “The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of US forces. We’ve tried small surges in the past and they’ve been ineffective.”

While McCain’s stance may not be a liability in the Republican presidential primaries, it may cause him problems in the general election, if he wins the GOP nomination.

Exit polls from last November’s election showed voters in key states such as Missouri almost exactly split among four options: withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq, withdrawing some U.S. troops, maintaining the same number as now there, and sending more troops.

But McCain cited Lieberman’s decisive victory over anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont as proof that the electorate was not clamoring for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

“Of course I disagree” with the notion that last November’s election was a mandate to end the Iraq deployment, McCain said heatedly in comments to reporters. Gesturing to Lieberman at his side, McCain said, “There’s no way this guy could have been re-elected if it was as simple as that. Americans are frustrated and angry and that frustration and anger is justified. But when you ask most Americans should we get out right away, most of them say no.”

Surge specifics
McCain called for a minimum of six additional Army brigades -- roughly 25,000 soldiers -- to be sent to Iraq, especially translators, Special Forces and civil affairs officers.

He said the previous strategy of trying to train Iraqi troops and turn over security patrol duties to them hasn’t worked and that American troops were needed to impose and maintain order and to prevent ethnic cleansing.

He warned that his recommendation “will mean more casualties and extra hardships for our brave fighting men and women” and that “the violence may get worse before it gets better. We have to be prepared for this.”

But McCain said there would be “catastrophic consequences that would ensure from our failure in Iraq.”

McCain criticized those who think that the United States can withdraw and resume normal life without fear of attack on the United States itself.

Vietnam differences
“If we fail in Iraq, there’s somehow the belief, that I don’t quite comprehend, that we just come home and then it’s over” – in the same way U.S. troops came home from Vietnam in the mid-1970s.

The difference, McCain argued, was that “the Vietnamese didn’t want to follow us” to attack the United States itself.

He said writings by Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar indicate that “they want to follow us home, that the next target is Saudi Arabia and the next target is the United States.”

McCain said congressional hearings on the conduct of the war would be “valuable,” but said congressional critics of the war had an obligation to “tell us what their strategy is if we leave and what is their plan B.”

From their camaraderie at Friday’s AEI event, McCain seemed to have at least one vote for 2008: Lieberman.