McCain, Obama find common ground in Afghanistan

They may have attacked each other during respective public appearances on Tuesday, but the two still agreed on a surprising number of things.

Published July 15, 2008 9:53PM (EDT)

Barack Obama and John McCain offer starkly different alternatives as the next commander in chief. That's how it usually works, anyway. On its face, today seemed no different -- each candidate delivered a foreign policy speech, and the headline on the New York Times' Web site is "Obama and McCain Duel Over Iraq."

Well, yes. There was some of that in the speeches. Obama said McCain was stupid to want to invade Iraq in the first place. McCain said Obama is naive for opposing the surge.

But the two agreed on a heck of a lot, starting with the idea that Afghanistan is going down the tubes and we better shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to do something about that. (Video of each speech is at the bottom of this post.)

McCain on Iraq: "The surge has succeeded. And because of its success, the next president will inherit a situation in Iraq in which America's enemies are on the run, and our soldiers are beginning to come home."

Obama on Iraq: "As I have said many times, our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence. General Petraeus has used new tactics to protect the Iraqi population ... Let me be clear: We must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that will bring them home in 16 months."

McCain on Afghanistan: "The status quo is not acceptable. Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated, and our enemies are on the offensive ... Our commanders in Afghanistan say that they need at least three additional brigades. Thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available, and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them."

Obama on Afghanistan: "In the 18 months since the surge began, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. June was our highest casualty month of the war. The Taliban has been on the offensive ... I will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan."

McCain on the Afghan army: "The Afghan army is already a great success story: a multiethnic, battle-tested fighting force. The problem is, it's too small ... We need to at least double the size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops."

Obama on the Afghan army: "I will focus on training Afghan security forces and supporting an Afghan judiciary, with more resources and incentives for American officers who perform these missions."

McCain on the Afghan drug trade: "Getting control of narcotics trafficking is central to our efforts in Afghanistan. Alternative crops must be made available to get to market and traffickers must be arrested and prosecuted by enhanced special courts."

Obama on the Afghan drug trade: "We'll invest in alternative livelihoods to poppy growing for Afghan farmers, just as we crack down on heroin trafficking."

The pair also sounded a bit like parrots when it came to increasing nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. It wasn't a lovefest, but it was remarkable that the two found so much to agree about.

By Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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2008 Elections Afghanistan Barack Obama Iraq War John Mccain R-ariz.