McCain: All President Obama has done is ‘announce withdrawals’

“They know we’re leaving,” McCain told MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" on Monday in response to a question about the recent spate of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan. “All we tell them is that we’re withdrawing and we’re leaving and they are making the appropriate adjustment. All this president has done is announce withdrawals; he’s overridden his military advisers.”


Republicans have also hit the administration for its plans to withdraw U.S. forces from the country and hand over security operations to local Afghans in 2014, charging that the timetable has emboldened the Taliban to wait out the American exit. 

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Concerns over the readiness of Afghan troops have grown after a sharp rise in the number of insider “blue on green” attacks by local forces targeting American and coalition service members.

Over the weekend, a U.S. soldier was the victim of sabotage by his Afghan training partner, pushing the number of U.S. casualties to 2,000 in the 11-year war.

GOP lawmakers have also charged Obama with failing to listen to the advice of military commanders. In 2009, Obama authorized 30,000 additional troops being sent to Afghanistan as part of a surge to combat militants, although his top general had requested 40,000 troops.

McCain’s criticisms are part of a broader strategy by GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign to seize on the recent unrest in the Middle East to hammer Obama over his foreign policy, a strength for the president. Obama consistently polls higher than his Republican challenger on the issue.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday, Romney said Obama’s policies have “heightened the prospect of conflict and instability” in the Middle East.

He pointed to the Syrian government’s violent response to its citizen protesters, the newly installed Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, protests around U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East and North Africa and Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

On Monday, McCain echoed these sentiments nearly point by point, saying the president was late to respond to the civil war in Syria, that al Qaeda “has made a comeback” across the region, and leveled his harshest critique at the administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11 when the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was attacked. The Obama administration had initially claimed the violence was spawned by a crude, Web-based video critical of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad that originated in the United States.

More recently, the administration has said it was a more organized episode, with a national intelligence spokesman issuing an unusual statement Friday calling the assault "a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists." 

That statement came after criticism from top GOP lawmakers who said they were “disturbed” by the administration’s initial narrative of the attack and called for more information from the White House.

“This situation in Libya … mortars, heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, and it’s a quote 'spontaneous demonstration'?” McCain said. “And five days later the U.N. ambassador goes on national television and all of the shows and tells people that this is the result of a spontaneous demonstration?”

On Sunday, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" program, McCain called the president "inept" and "ignorant" in his handling of the episode.

“It is because he consistently overrode the experience of his military leaders, with no military experience himself, obviously,” McCain continued on Monday. “The White House line is — you’ve heard the president say it — 'Osama bin Laden is dead, al Qaeda is gone. Everything is fine in the Middle East.' This series of events obviously contradicts that slogan.”

Mike Lillis contributed.