In Call For More Troops, McCain Places His Bet On Iraq

November 14th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: In Call For More Troops, McCain Places His Bet On Iraq

New York Times
November 14, 2006
By John M. Broder
WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — Senator John McCain is accustomed to staking out a lonely piece of ground, but on Iraq he is virtually an army of one. Nearly alone among major political figures in calling for an increase in American forces in Iraq, Mr. McCain is either taking a principled stand or a huge political gamble. Or both.
A majority of Americans now say they think invading Iraq was a mistake and would like to see the withdrawal of at least some of the nearly 150,000 troops there, polls say. Only one in seven Americans agrees with Mr. McCain that the United States should send more soldiers and marines. Even President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who assert that victory is the only acceptable outcome of the war, have not dared publicly to advocate additional deployments.
Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, has all but announced his intention to run for president, and his position on Iraq could be a major complication for him, particularly if violence there continues to grow and American casualties mount.
Mr. McCain contends that the war in Iraq is worth fighting and is worth winning. He has said consistently from the start of the conflict that the only way to prevail is to send enough soldiers to do the job. His current proposal is to send 20,000 additional troops in hopes of bringing Baghdad and the restive western provinces under control.
The alternative, he said, is humiliation for the United States and disaster for Iraq.
“We’re paying a price for the failure of our policy in the past,” Mr. McCain said Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC, “and the question, then, before the American people is, are we ready to quit? And I believe the consequences of failure are chaos in the region, which will spread.”
Mr. McCain said that the fate of the Iraqi venture would be decided in the next six months or so and that signaling the intention to depart, regardless of facts on the ground, only guaranteed defeat. But he also said he was willing to reach a different conclusion if the generals in charge of the American military operation or if the members of the commission led by James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, came up with a workable alternative.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of United States forces in Iraq, and top intelligence officials will go before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to face questioning about the war for the first time since last week’s election, which many viewed as a referendum on Iraq. The Baker study group is expected to report its preliminary findings and recommendations next month.
Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr. McCain had painted such a dire picture of the consequences of defeat that he almost had to advocate a more forceful effort to win. If Mr. McCain were to join the chorus of those agitating for a fast or slow withdrawal, he could alienate a large swath of voters he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Gelb added.
“He’s making the bet — and it’s not a crazy bet — that the country doesn’t want to lose,” he said. “The public realizes we can’t afford to win and probably can’t win, but it doesn’t want to lose. And the Republicans probably won’t nominate anyone who’s prepared to accept that now.”
Other analysts said Mr. McCain was risking his reputation as a realist and someone who knows when to fold a losing hand by sticking obstinately to his current position.
“He would just repeat the mistake of Vietnam,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, the liberal-leaning research group in Washington. “If McCain refuses to acknowledge that some wars can become simply unwinnable, he may be exposing a weakness in his thinking that ultimately deprives him of the presidency.”
Last week’s election robbed Mr. McCain of a prize he had sought for many years, the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee. If Republicans had retained control of the Senate, he was in line to assume the gavel and the ability to call witnesses and set the terms of the Iraq debate in the Senate, at least in part. But the defeat of Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, tipped the balance of power to Democrats, putting Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, an early opponent of the war, in position to assume the post in January.
Mr. McCain can still play his gadfly role from the minority, and some welcome his voice.
“God bless him, he’s about the only serious person in this whole debate,” said Joshua Muravchik, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative research organization in Washington. “Even a supporter of the war like myself would have to acknowledge that we’re in a mess, so the question is what to do about it. And McCain is saying we ought to do what we should have done in the first place, which was send enough troops to do the job. That seems counterintuitive because the whole momentum of emotions in the country at this point is to get out of there.”

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