THE BLOG
07/23/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is McCain Flip-Flopping, Calling for Draft, or Just in Fantasy Land?

Welcome to the party, Senator McCain.

Five years ago, on the April 10, 2003 Hannity and Colmes, John McCain said, "Nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America and nobody is running terrorist training camps to orchestrate attacks on the United States of America." And, for the next five years, those "nobodies" made significant gains in Afghanistan, as McCain and President Bush focused on Iraq.

Today, apparently, Afghanistan is a threat and John McCain is just the man who knows how to "win wars," as he said in response to Senator Obama's speech on our global commitments. Actually, this is more like Senator McCain recognizing that Senator Obama, with his long-standing view that we needed to focus on Afghanistan, is about to look prescient about Afghanistan, and a lot tougher on the terrorists than John McCain. So, as Obama called for an increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan, McCain teased that this week, he"ll call for a "surge" there.

One problem: He can't do it.

Senator Obama's plan is eminently workable, as he will begin the redeployment of troops from Iraq and up the numbers in Afghanistan. Admiral Mike Mullen said as much, when he said that he, too, would like to send more troops to Afghanistan, but couldn't do so until we found a way to get troops home from Iraq.

Senator McCain, however, hits a pretty big snag.

If he's serious about an indefinite commitment to Iraq, with no timetable for when they come home, he doesn't have the troops to make any meaningful "surge" in Afghanistan. It's not as simple as saying he'll just take the surge brigades from Iraq and ship them directly to Afghanistan. Not if he also wants to boost the number of active duty troops on the homefront, as he has said he will do as President, and keep force levels up in Iraq as he has indicated he will do. Because troops need a certain time at home between deployments, there are only so many troops in our armed forces, and McCain just won't have what he needs to do what he says he'll do.

Unless....

He can get the troops he needs if he does a complete flip flop on Iraq and announces that he will back the Obama plan, bringing troops home from Iraq at a steady pace, which would allow rested troops to deploy to Afghanistan, soon to be joined by troops home from Iraq who had time to rest.

Or, he can get the troops he needs if he implements a draft. That would boost the number of troops training and available here on the homefront, allowing him to send more readied troops to Afghanistan, and keep up his commitment to Iraq.

I should also note here that McCain won't be able to count on NATO to meet and expand its commitment to Afghanistan, either, because his stance on Iraq is the same as President Bush's, and will be met with the same result. Namely, that various Presidents and Prime Ministers will find it politically impossible to send more troops to Afghanistan. So forget NATO providing the troops.

If he knows how to win wars, as he says, then Senator McCain also must know how to do simple math. If he is serious about doing what he says he's going to do in Afghanistan, then he should explain to the American people that it will mean he has abandoned his stubborn position on Iraq, or he will institute the draft.

And, if he won't give America some straight talk on that, maybe, for once, the media will dare to ask Senator McCain a tough question or two.

UPDATE: Geesh, that was fast. The Washington Post reports that Senator McCain already has backtracked:

In an interview with reporters aboard his campaign bus, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) modified his assertion today that the U.S. could send three additional brigades to Afghanistan by drawing on troops that were leaving Iraq.

The presumptive GOP nominee, who made his initial remarks in a speech before an Albuquerque audience, told reporters just minutes after the event that he might call on NATO to supply part of the additional troops he hopes to send to the region.

"We need to work that out, we need to have greater participation from our NATO allies, and we need a lot more help from our NATO allies," the senator said. "We need to -- I laid it out in my speech, we need to have strategy, not just an injection of troops. I think that's true of all counterinsurgencies."

As I wrote above, I don't know why Senator McCain believes that Europe would rush to boost their numbers in Afghanistan when the unpopularity of the Bush-McCain endless war in Iraq has only led them to have to remove their troops. That's not going to change. So it only took a few minutes for the McCain plan for Afghanistan to completely unravel.