Sen. John Kerry charged John McCain with possessing a thorough lack of knowledge about Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday, warning that the Arizona Republican's past misjudgments posed serious questions for his counter-terrorism policies going forward.
"When President Bush and Sen. McCain refuse to put Iraq into the broader struggle, their mistakes and misstatements only build on each other," said the 2004 Democratic nominee. "If you don't understand the surge and what happened, you can't make the right judgments about the future. Just a few months ago Sen. McCain said, and I'm quoting, 'Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.' That has been proven completely wrong. And now both men admit we need more troops. The point is both President Bush and Sen. McCain were wrong about Afghanistan because they were wrong about Iraq. They still are."
In his speech, delivered at the progressive Center for American Progress, Kerry outlined a broad new approach to counterinsurgency and combating terrorism, one where we "tailor our response to local conditions" and intellectual persuasions. He cited the turnaround of the Anbar province in Iraq as an illustrative example. In the process, he offered what amounted to a systematic critique and history lesson for the presumptive Republican nominee.
"Unfortunately, when it comes to events in Iraq... John McCain continues to misstate facts and mangle history," said Kerry. "I've known John McCain for a long time, for years. He is a fellow veteran and a friend... I just think that his recent judgments are dead wrong. What is interesting is that in his testimony to his superior judgment he himself recently declared that the surge, and I quote him, 'began before the Anbar awakening,' and he said further: 'that's just a matter of history.' When, in fact, history shows the exact opposite...
"The tensions between al Qaeda and the Sunni leaders in Anbar were already apparent two years before the surge.... The reason: al Qaeda's brutality, its disrespect for local customs, its insistence on marrying local woman over the objections of tribal leaders. In fact, when Colonel Sean McFarland and his ready-first brigade arrived in Ramadi in the June of 2006, al Qaeda was still fully in control. They immediately saw the need for a change in tactics. And on their own, they launched an extensive outreach campaign to win over the local population, starting with the local tribal leaders. That created a snowball effect. As Col. McFarland noted in 2006, "A growing concern that U.S. forces would leave Iraq made tribal leaders open to overtures.' That is not an unimportant transformation."
Kerry's remarks come roughly a week after McCain and Barack Obama waged a pitched political battle over which candidate has shown better judgment on Iraq. After being pilloried for misstating the timeline of the surge, McCain accused his opponent of being unwilling to acknowledge U.S. forces' success in Iraq. Kerry went out of his way on Thursday to praise American servicemen. But, he added, the historical lessons of Iraq suggest that military might is only one component of the fight against insurgency and terrorism.
"Let's be clear," Kerry said. "There is no question that our troops have preformed brilliantly. They have done everything that we asked of them and more... But the true history of the Awakening is important in drawing the right lessons of the surge. It was the Iraqis who made a political calculation that they did not like al Qaeda and wanted to work with us. And they made that calculation before the surge."