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Lionel Beehner Headshot

Like Vagueness? Elect McCain Commander In Chief

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Yesterday was a bonanza of foreign policy speeches, denunciations, one-ups, flip-flops, macho chest-bumping, and anti-terrorist fist-bumps. The race to the White House, we were reminded, is really a race to be commander in chief, and our candidates have very different views on how they would conduct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (from now on, I urge journalists/columnists to order the wars as such). But one of our candidates is clearheaded on how to the win the war(s), while the other offers up, well, pretty much the same entree of muddleheaded policies we've seen over the past six years, only vaguer.

To get a sense of what I'm yapping about, read McCain's "strategy for victory" in Afghanistan. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it's the same one given to the plan President Bush laid out in November 2005, shortly before the worst bout of sectarian violence in Iraq. Ah, but McCain's plan in Afghanistan calls for a "comprehensive strategy." Oh, my bad (How come whenever anyone calls for a plan, they always call it a "comprehensive" or "multifaceted" strategy? Are there single-faceted strategies that lack comprehensiveness making the rounds in Washington? This is the kind of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that is the bane of op-ed pages and policy papers everywhere).

Let's hear what our commander in chief called for back in November 2005:

"Our comprehensive strategy will help Iraqis overcome remaining challenges, but defeating the multi-headed enemy in Iraq -- and ensuring that it cannot threaten Iraq's democratic gains once we leave -- requires persistent effort across many fronts."

Notice anything, well, vague about that statement? McCain, on the other hand, is a man of specifics, a "straight-talker." Today he called Bush's earlier war plan on Iraq a "failed strategy" yet strangely decided to crib the same name for his own strategy on Afghanistan. Let's read McCain's plan.

"[W]e need an integrated, nationwide civil-military campaign that is focused on providing security for the population."

He goes on to call for a "multi-front plan" to boost aid to the Afghan government, before complaining of the lack of unified command there. Keep reading to get the full effect:

"Last year, the administration took a step in the right direction and appointed a war czar. But the situation in Afghanistan demands a separate Czar based in the White House, reporting directly to the president and dedicated to the sole mission of ensuring we bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful end."

Why stop there, senator? Why not appoint a czar for Kandahar, a czar for Kabul, and maybe a czar for the road linking the two cities? Yet McCain is just getting started. He also wants a "special presidential envoy" to sort out the Afghan mess (Am I the only person who doesn't know the difference between a "czar" and an "envoy"?). Plus, what's comprehensive about appointing czars and envoys -- isn't that by definition a piecemeal band-aid-like solution? And czars tend not to work, not in 19th century Russia, not in contemporary Washington, whether fighting drug lords, Bolsheviks or bearded guys strapped with bombs. And didn't we send a presidential envoy to Darfur almost two years ago? Yeah, that did wonders to tamper the violence there.

It gets vaguer. McCain goes on to say he will "put special focus on Pakistan" and "strengthen local tribes in the border areas." Put special focus on Pakistan? First, I have no idea what that means -- like his call for an "integrated" "multi-front" plan, this is just gobbledygook for "stay the course but make tweaks around the margins." This kind of beauty-contestant vagueness should hitherto be banned from all foreign policy speeches. Also, didn't Musharraf already sign an agreement a few years back aimed at strengthening local tribes in the border areas--isn't that why we're in the mess we're in now?

Frankly, I have a hard time believing anything that McCain says about foreign policy. He writes in Foreign Affairs that he is against a troop buildup in Afghanistan. Now he says he's for more troops. Then he goes and slams Obama for giving foreign policy speeches ahead of his foreign trips, as if he's diagnosing the car without lifting up the hood first. "In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: first you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy," McCain said in Albuquerque. OK, fair enough. But McCain, if you've been on all these fact-finding missions, while your opponent hasn't been to Mesopotamia in 918 days (don't you love the war McCain's goons, especially Randy Scheunemann, bust out specifics?), why is your national security strategy so larded in vague nonsense? I'm sure the senator has an answer -- nay, a comprehensive answer -- to that question.