President Bush, during a news conference on Tuesday, compared current-day Afghanistan to the war in Iraq in the height of its insurgency. In the process, he bolstered an argument that -- of all people -- Sen. Barack Obama has stressed on the campaign trail.
"Afghanistan is a tough fight," Bush remarked during a press conference. "It's a tough fight because one, it is a state that has been just ravaged by previous wars and there wasn't a lot of central government outreach to the people. Secondly, there is a tough enemy and they are brutal and they will kill at the drop of a hat in order to affect behavior. It's a little bit reminiscent of what was taking place in Iraq a couple years ago where the enemy knows they can affect the mentality of the American people if they just continue to kill innocent folks. They have no regard for human life, and it really is important we succeed there as well as in Iraq. We do not want the enemy to have safe haven."
The President's foreign policy synopsis comes in the midst of a heated exchange on the very same topic between Obama and John McCain. Ironically, it seems to be an acknowledgment of one of Obama's chief concerns: mainly, that America's investments in Iraq have distracted the country from the fight in Afghanistan. The Illinois Democrat has, in fact, called for drawing down troops in the former country in order to put them on the front lines of the latter.
"In the 18 months since the surge began, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated," Obama said in a speech today in Washington D.C. "June was our highest casualty month of the war. The Taliban has been on the offensive, even launching a brazen attack on one of our bases. Al Qaeda has a growing sanctuary in Pakistan. That is a consequence of our current strategy."
Bush, in his press conference, continued to express confidence in America's capacity to wage war on two fronts. But the acknowledgment that Afghanistan has descended to the depths comparable to those of Iraq in the height of its insurgency is, nevertheless, a frame that fits Obama's foreign policy.
Certainly, it is something that the McCain campaign is aware of. On Tuesday, the Arizona Republican criticized Obama for his approach to the dual wars, saying (in prepared remarks):
"Senator Obama will tell you we can't win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan. It is by applying the tried and true principles of counter-insurgency used in the surge -- which Senator Obama opposed -- that we will win in Afghanistan. With the right strategy and the right forces, we can succeed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I know how to win wars. And if I'm elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory."
An aide to Obama flatly rejected the idea that the Iraq war was a necessary precondition for understanding how to achieve victory in Afghanistan.
In a response to the Huffington Post's Seth Colter Walls, Obama's traveling press secretary Linda Douglass replied: "We never would have needed to come up with a new strategy for victory if we hadn't taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan."
Update: A reader points out that Obama's campaign strategist, David Axelrod, argued the other day that Bush was coming around to Obama's position on Afghanistan. The Hill's blog "Briefing Room" has the write-up.