THE HILL 05/21/08
By Michael Shank

That Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cavalierly quips about first-term presidential accomplishments is not only deeply disconcerting, but also morally irresponsible (article, “McCain vows unprecedented transparency,” May 15). Half-baked heroism has handily usurped the Straight Talk Express. The only unprecedented part of McCain’s presidential pitch is the level of delusion embedded in his benchmarking.

The senator projects that within four years the Iraq war will be won, the Taliban squashed, al Qaeda made homeless and troops sent home. To conjecture something so untenable is hardly the sign of an experienced, let alone responsible, leader.

McCain’s plans for Iraq and Afghanistan amount to more of the same. In Iraq, at this rate, Sunnis will be sufficiently stocked with American munitions and monies, while equipped with disdain for a centralized, and still exclusive, Shiite leadership. The walled neighborhoods in Baghdad only increase the divide. U.S. troops may be managing the violent conflict but doing little to prevent, transform or resolve the conflict. If McCain wants to quell the chaos, perhaps he should focus in his first term on the fact that 70 percent of Iraqis lack clean water, 80 percent are without effective sanitation, 90 percent of hospitals have no medical and surgical supplies, and nearly half are struggling in absolute poverty. One wonders what the McCain-endorsed surge is securing.

In Afghanistan, America’s misalignment is so monumental even Kabul is close to calling quits its Western alliance. From harsh drug-eradication methods that dump the disenfranchised farmer at the feet of the Taliban financier, to U.S. consultancy costs that reinvest millions back into Western, not Afghan, pockets, Kabul is up in arms. On narcotics, Afghanistan’s preferred approach is to focus on alternative livelihoods, institution-building (courts, judicial systems), trafficking and demand – not just supply. For a fruitful first-term finish, McCain must quickly account for Kabul’s concerns.

As long as McCain remains poised to carry President Bush’s torch into the violence-scorched earths of Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing new will emerge. It’ll merely be four years later, with us $400 billion poorer, with more of our forces fallen and a foe more formidable than before.

Michael Shank
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
George Mason University
Arlington, Va.