As Afghanistan boils, McCain keeps focus on Iraq
For voters, a resurgent Taliban may challenge McCain's view that Iraq is the center of the war on terror.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But with record US casualties in Afghanistan in June, a resurgent Taliban, and new reports of Al Qaeda regrouping in northwest Pakistan, Senator McCain is likely to face new questions about his judgment on the one issue – national security – where voters consistently give him higher marks than they do his Democratic rival.
McCain has resisted calls for more troops in Afghanistan and has rejected criticism that the Iraq war is detracting from efforts to secure Afghanistan. He labeled Barack Obama "naive" for saying he'd strike terrorist targets in Pakistan with or without the cooperation of President Pervez Musharraf.
And while McCain vowed more than a year ago to follow Osama bin Laden "to the gates of hell," he has offered few details about how his approach to Al Qaeda might differ from that of the Bush administration.
"I will not describe what I will do in order to get bin Laden, except to say that I'll get him," he said in Iowa last September.
Aides to the Arizona senator said Wednesday that he continued to view success in Iraq as the best chance for victory in the global war on terror.
"As on many things, Senator Obama is not listening to our commanders, and Senator McCain is," says Kori Schake, a senior policy adviser to McCain. "General David Petraeus believes Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Al Qaeda has even said it is."
But with spiking US casualties in Afghanistan and fresh reports of growing Al Qaeda activity in Pakistan and North Africa, that may be a hard sell to voters already deeply skeptical of the Iraq war.
Ms. Schake's comments came about two hours after Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said additional troops were needed in Afghanistan but that too many were tied down in Iraq to send more.
The Obama campaign last week seized on the news reports of a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda as evidence of McCain's policy shortcomings.
"Instead of questioning Barack Obama's consistent call for a new direction in Iraq and Afghanistan, John McCain should explain why he is offering nothing more than four more years of a failed foreign policy that has asked nothing of the Iraqi government, overstretched our military, failed to finish the job in Afghanistan, and failed to bring Osama bin Laden to justice for over six years," Tommy Vietor, an Obama campaign spokesman, said in a statement.
For McCain, the stakes for drawing contrasts with the Bush administration – in affairs both domestic and foreign – are high. A USA Today/Gallup Poll released last week found that 2 in 3 Americans are concerned that McCain would pursue policies "too similar" to President Bush.