Senator McCain Introduces Plan for Afghanistan to Pressure Trump

Senator John McCain speaks to media. Photo Credit: Reuters

U.S. Senator John McCain decided not to wait for the Trump administration to roll out its new policy for Afghanistan and unveiled his own proposal for resolving the crisis in the country.

Mr. McCain, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced an amendment on Thursday that details a strategy to achieve U.S. national security interests in Afghanistan.

“We’ve had no strategy at all as conditions on the ground have steadily worsened. The thousands of Americans putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan deserve better from their commander-in-chief,” he said in a release, taking a shot at the administration that was expected to present the new policy in mid-July.

The senator said he had developed the proposal in consultations with former military and intelligence officials. The ultimate goal of the plan is to ensure that Afghanistan never becomes a terrorist safe haven again.

“To accomplish this goal, we need an integrated civil-military approach to bolster U.S. counterterrorism efforts, strengthen the capability and capacity of the Afghan government and security forces, and intensify diplomatic efforts to facilitate a negotiated peace process in Afghanistan in cooperation with regional partners,” Mr. McCain said.

Michael Kugelman, the Asia Program Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told The Globe Post that Mr. McCain’s plan is the closest thing yet to an all-in strategy. It proposes U.S. troop increases, an enhanced training mission, more operational support to Afghan forces, as well as a commitment to engage the Afghan government and explore reconciliation prospects with the Taliban.

“The individual elements of his plan…are all things that have been done or considered before. The current Trump strategy review is in fact considering many of them. But this is the first time all these elements have been incorporated into a single plan. And that’s quite notable,” Mr. Kugelman said.

Over the past year, the number of security incidents in Afghanistan has increased, according to the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan quarterly report to the U.S. Congress. Deadly terrorist attacks have been occurring in northern Afghanistan and Kabul, the areas that were previously considered more stable.

Patrick James, Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told The Globe Post that the situation in Afghanistan has been drifting for some time under multiple U.S. administrations.

“One might describe it as ‘muddling through’ – a famous phrase from the analysis of public administration.  This resembles Vietnam in the sense that avoiding failure, rather than achieving any ultimate goal, seems to be the mission in place,” he said.

Mr. James noted that Senator McCain’s policy is more well-integrated and thought out, but it may be utterly ill-timed.

“Many on the Republican side in Congress, along with the president, are incensed at McCain’s (possibly) decisive role in blocking the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.  I would be surprised, therefore, if his idea can pass the Senate in particular,” he said, noting that there was high uncertainty whether the strategy would work.

In July, Mr. McCain joined two other Republican senators who voted against the so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare supported by President Donald J. Trump.

The new amendment on Afghanistan could be timed to create more problems for the president, who Senator McCain is eager to characterize as ineffective, Mr. James said.

“They are not, to put it mildly, the best of friends,” he noted.

Mr. Kugelman suggested that the roll out of the proposal was a political tactic to pressure Mr. Trump into moving more quickly on the plan for the region.

“Given how slowly the policy review has moved, and given the alarming situation on the ground in Afghanistan, I think that this is actually a very prudent move by McCain,” he said.

The Trump administration has been saying that it is very close to introducing the strategy for Afghanistan for several months now.

In a Senate hearing in June, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the administration wanted to implement a regional approach to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan. It was also looking into ways to boost the Afghan military capabilities.

“They are not fighting as well as they could if we gave them the kind of air support, more intel support that we could give them, and also if we brought more diplomatic and economic pressures on surrounding nations perhaps,” Mr. Mattis explained.

On Thursday, President Trump once again said the administration was getting close to announcing new troop levels for Afghanistan.

“We’re getting close. It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess and we’re going to make it a lot less messy,” he said.

According to media reports, Washington may send 3,000-5,000 more troops to the country that already hosts some 8,400 U.S. servicemen.