McCain: "Success is the real exit strategy"

Maverick’s never been a fan of timetables.

“The President has made the right decision to embrace a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan and to resource it properly. I think the 30,000 additional U.S. troops that will deploy as part of this mission, plus greater allied commitments, will enable us to reverse the momentum of the insurgency and create the conditions for success in Afghanistan. I support the President’s decision, and I think it deserves the support of all Americans, both Republicans and Democrats.

“What I do not support, and what concerns me greatly, is the President’s decision to set an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region – all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war. A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight.

“Success is the real exit strategy. When we have achieved our goals in Afghanistan, our troops should begin to return home with honor, but that withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines. In the days ahead, I will seek to address this and other questions I have about the President’s policy, including my continuing concern about the civilian aspect of our strategy.

As previously noted, The One did in fact reserve the conditions-on-the-ground loophole for himself tonight, although he and McCain have opposing visions of when that might come into play. For McCain, COTG is cause to stay when the going gets tough; for Obama, COTG is likely cause to stay when the going gets easy, i.e. if McChrystal repulses the Taliban and reduces the risk of casualties to U.S. troops, which in turn will reduce the heat on Obama from his lefty base. When was the last time you heard a liberal pound the table about withdrawal from Iraq? There’s a reason for that, my friends. Presumably The One figures that either things will improve, in which case no one will much care about holding him to his timetable, or things will deteriorate, in which case he’ll credit himself for giving it the ol’ college try and blame Bush (again) for diverting resources to Iraq and handing him an unwinnable war.

As it is, McChrystal’s got essentially one calendar year — from July 2010, when all new troops will (hopefully) be in theater, to July 2011, when withdrawal begins — to turn it around and train the Afghan army. Good luck, general. For your viewing pleasure, here’s Krauthammer taking a dim, McCain-esque view of the speech; compare and contrast with Bill Kristol, who’s in sync with me in thinking that, as feeble as it is, this one last chance is more than we ever expected to get from Obama. Exit quotation: “‘The interest is consistent.’ That’s the heart of the matter. It’s encouraging that Obama seems to understand this fact.” Click the image to watch.

Update: The AP gets to the heart of Obama’s mixed message.

Update: More support from the Standard, this time from Andrew Ferguson:

Obama’s critics to his right should remember the president’s critics to his left. The poor gentle souls must be gobsmacked. Obama is the first Democratic president in forty years to call for a significant deployment of American troops in the national security interest of his country. This is very big news. His predecessor, President Clinton, could give a stirring address dispatching bombers over Bosnia and be confident of the support of his fellow Democrats, because the show of power was purely humanitarian and had nothing to do with keeping us safe from our enemies. With great courage, Obama is trying something that hasn’t been tried within the living memory of most of the members of his party. He may even recall the era when liberal Democratic presidents — Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson — could lead a fight because it was in the interest of the country to fight.

This is a historical moment, and one we should be grateful for.