Republican Sen. John McCain will not put a timetable on withdrawing troops from Iraq because that would "send the wrong signal to our enemies," says the Arizona senator's senior foreign policy adviser.
Randy Scheunemann tells NPR's Robert Siegel that McCain, as president, would keep troops in Iraq until al-Qaida is defeated and no longer able "to pose a strategic threat to the country."
"If we were to withdraw before the Iraqi security forces were able to handle their own security, there is little doubt that al-Qaida would be left free to reconstitute and begin to plan and conduct attacks and threaten its neighbors — as they had when they had a sanctuary in Afghanistan before Sept. 11," Scheunemann says.
The defeat of al-Qaida, Scheunemann says, would mean the group was no longer able to stockpile weapons, control land or organize. Scheunemann has also served as an adviser to former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
If the surge in troop levels in Iraq has been as successful as McCain says and has reduced the violence, why talk about reducing troops at all? Why not send in additional ones?
Scheunemann says the violence has gone down not just because there are more troops but because "we've fundamentally changed the strategy — from essentially engaging in search-and-destroy missions out of bases to engaging in an active counterinsurgency strategy, which gets much more intelligence from the Iraqi people."
McCain has been criticized for saying that he would keep troops in Iraq for 100 years — a statement that Scheunemann says the Democrats seized upon and that the public took out of context.
" 'One hundred years' was clearly referring to a post-war, post-conflict statement," he says. "If there is an agreement between sovereign governments, [McCain] said he would be open to it. But Sen. McCain has never advocated the case for long-term bases in Iraq for 100 years.
"He simply said that is one possibility that may be considered in a post-war scenario," he says.
Scheunemann offers this thumbnail summary of McCain's view of national security and foreign policy: America needs more allies, with whom it should work closely.