John McCain has found a new talking point: the growing division within the Republican Party over the nation’s military forays abroad. He referred again to the split up in a panel on Afghanistan yesterday in Washington at the Institute for the Study of War, just a week after telling ABC’s Christiane Amanpour that “there’s always been an isolationist strain in the Republican Party, that Pat Buchanan wing.”
But yesterday he introduced a few new terms. Now the tension within the party is between “the Eisenhower Republicans and the Taft Republicans, the internationalists and the isolationists.” Forget that Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address is a document quoted frequently by some in the so-called isolationist wing of the party.
McCain further expressed worry about the nation’s declining appetite for the internationalists’ grand crusades for democracy. “I am very concerned about our long-term ability, and willingness, to fund” war efforts abroad, he said.
McCain was joined on the panel by Senator Joseph Lieberman and retired Army General Jack Keane. Lieberman is known for defending his interventionist positions in a nasty Democratic primary battle in 2006, while Keane was a chief architect of the surge strategy in Iraq.
The trio were put in a tough position when a retired soldier in the audience—a former Green Beret who fought in Afghanistan—asked “What is good enough?” to call the mission in Afghanistan a success. McCain defined winning in broad terms, saying that America can finally leave when national security threats are gone, and when there is some kind of stability in the region.
General Keane seemed to acknowledge the hazy nature of Senator McCain’s response, saying, “These are ambiguous types of wars that we’re fighting” and “protracted, unconventional wars test the mettle of democracies.”
Yet the General, to his credit, tried to be more concrete: “What’s good enough is an Afghanistan security force that can cope with the violence there.”
But Lieberman’s response was the most radical of the three. “We hesitate to use words like victory and defeat anymore,” he said. He also claimed that Americans were focusing too much on Al-Qaeda. “We’re fighting an ideology,” he insisted.
Meanwhile, McCain gave a new partisan name to the current approach in Afghanistan, calling it the “Obama-Biden strategy.” He claimed the Administration’s plan will make it “extremely difficult to carry out a successful counter-insurgency strategy” in Afghanistan.
But the Senator forgets that most Americans don’t want a counter-insurgency strategy at all. They just want out.