The Surge and General: Sarah Palin had the wrong name, right idea

The general that she referred to in this evening’s debate should have been McKiernan, not “McClellan”.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden characterized the general as saying:

The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge — the surge principles used in Iraq will not — well, let me say this again now — our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.

It is certainly true that various newspapers such as the Washington Post have characterized General McKiernan’s comments this way.

But the General was talking about the end of the process, not the beginning. He is stating that he needs more troops — i.e. the same thing as was called the “surge” in Iraq — but he thinks they won’t be able to get out as quickly. He describes this as being more of a sustained effort. Here he is from October 1st:

GEN. MCKIERNAN: What I had done was validate a requirement for three additional brigade — ground brigade combat teams that my predecessor had made. That is three ground brigade combat teams, and then there’s a series of enablers that go with them, things like helicopters, increased intelligence assets, logistics, transportation and so on.

Since I got there four months ago, we found we were in a heavier fight, a larger fight in the east than we had anticipated, so we asked for some immediate forces for Regional Command East where the 101st Air Assault Division is. And that’s the brigade that was just approved for deployment to Afghanistan in the January time frame, the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.

So if you want total those up, you could say it’s four brigade combat teams with enablers.

Q And does that include the request for 3,500 trainers or is the trainer request on top of that?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: The trainer request is being reviewed right now, because what we’re looking to in the future there is having units come to Afghanistan that are trained to conduct counterinsurgency operations, but are — also have been trained to work with the Afghan army and the Afghan police. So that might change the requirement for what are called the training teams or the police mentoring teams in the future.

Interestingly, Senator Biden, after saying that “a surge won’t work” went on to list what WOULD work — and listed the ingredients of the surge:

BIDEN: He said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan.

This is the surge.

The newspapers are interpreting their own opinions in saying that “the surge won’t work” — but they do not quote General McKiernan saying this. Where the difference lies is the duration. General McKiernan does not want the expectation that the additional troops can win quickly as is happening in Iraq. He doesn’t like the word “surge” for that reason.

It’s important to look at the general’s transcript itself, not just reporters’ (or Senator Biden’s) worldview interpetations of what he said. He has three points of difference between Iraq and Afghanistan:
– The Afghanistan military effort might be four or five years, Iraq much less. So, to the extent that the term “surge” implies “short-term”, he doesn’t like using the word. I agree.
– The Afghans tribal system is more complex than that of Iraq, and requires a more delicate handling. Still, he expects that the “Awakening” style movements resulting from the surge in Iraq will work.
– The Afghans have been traumatized by three decades of war already, which means more infrastructure work is needed.

What would the Sarah Palin’s surge consist of? More troops and equipment. What did General McKiernan say he needed? More troops and equipment. And even Joe Biden agreed with this.

So why Joe Biden (or the Washington Post, for that matter) is claiming “the surge won’t work” is odd. It would be fairer to say “the surge won’t be as quick” or, as General McKiernan put it, we need a “sustained effort”.

I’d agree, certainly. But of the two candidates tonight, Senator Biden’s comments on General McKiernan are misleading — and Governor Palin’s just misnaming. While the latter is unfortunate, the former is disingenuous.

===|==============/ Level Head

The VP Debate: Senator Biden on Iraq, October 10 2002

The most intriguing part was Senator Biden’s insistence that he ONLY supported the Iraq resolution to threaten, not to actually attack.

BIDEN: With regard to Iraq, I indicated it would be a mistake to — I gave the president the power. I voted for the power because he said he needed it not to go to war but to keep the United States, the UN in line, to keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.

But here is what he said in 2002 about that resolution, and his characterization of it as “an enforcement strike”:

If we knew that al-Qaida had particular weapons, knowing, as we did, what their stated objective was, and with the intelligence we had, we would be fully within our rights–not under any doctrine of preemption–because of the existence of a clear, present, and imminent danger to move against al-Qaida.

Conversely, with Hitler in the 1930s, the rationale for moving against Hitler wasn’t a doctrine of preemption because we knew he was a bad guy. It was because his country signed the Treaty of Versailles. He was violating the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles did not have an end date on it. It didn’t say you cannot have forces for the first 2 or 3 years, or you cannot do the following things. We were fully within our rights as a world community to go after Hitler in 1934, 1935, 1936, or 1937. It was not based on the doctrine of preemption but a doctrine of enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles, and in a very limited time.

What we have here, I argue, as the rationale for going after Saddam, is that he signed a cease-fire agreement. The condition for his continuing in power was the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction, and the permission to have inspectors in to make sure he had eliminated them. He expelled those inspectors. So he violated the cease-fire; ergo, we have authority–not under a doctrine of preemption. This will not be a preemptive strike, if we go with the rest of the world. It will be an enforcement strike.

Here are the records of the conversation THAT day.

They reflect a very different Joe Biden from the man this evening claiming that he was against attacking Iraq.

===|==============/ Level Head