MCCAIN: Well, the previous strategy was failing, and I said that it was failing, and disagreed with our then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, as well as the president. Then we initiated a surge with General Petraeus in charge, and we succeeded.
I just came from Baghdad. I went downtown with my two colleagues to a bakery and to a store. The success there is remarkable. There are still problems, but the success in remarkable.
But we didn't say that we were leaving until we had succeeded. I'm all for dates for withdrawal, but that's after the strategy succeeds, not before. That's a dramatic difference.
And I can tell you for sure, our people in the region are not sure about whether we are going to be here after the middle of 2011, whether we have succeeded or not. And it's clear that this strategy has not gone as well as we had hoped, so that right away brings into question the middle of 2011.
TAPPER: General Petraeus was asked about this July 2011 deadline in his Senate confirmation hearings this week. Here's what he had to say.
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PETRAEUS: Let me be very clear, if I could, Senator. And not only did I say that I supported it, I said that I agreed with it. I saw this most importantly as the message of urgency to complement the message of enormous additional commitment.
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TAPPER: So General Petraeus said that he not only supports it, he agrees with it, that it's a message of urgency to the Afghan government. Is General Petraeus wrong?
MCCAIN: General Petraeus has repeatedly said that it also has to be condition-based. In other words, it's the president that leads. The president should state unequivocally that we will leave when we have succeeded. And to somehow put that burden on General Petraeus is not appropriate. He is the military leader.
But the fact is that, if you say that you are setting a date certain for leaving as his key advisers have, including, I think, one on your show that said that we were -- that it is a, quote, "firm date," his spokesperson said it's, quote, "etched in stone and he has the chisel," and other statements by his civilian advisers have undermined the belief that we will have a conditions-based withdrawal.
So I know enough about warfare. I know enough about what strategy and tactics are about. If you tell the enemy that you're leaving on a date certain, unequivocally, then that enemy will wait until you leave.
TAPPER: Well, let's talk about the civilian leadership that -- that you just mentioned. You seem to have been critical of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Special Representative Richard Holbrooke. Do you think Eikenberry should be replaced?
MCCAIN: I hope that -- that the ambassador and General Petraeus can work together. I think that assessment needs to be made. Obviously, the past relationships have not worked out as well as -- as they should have, but I think an assessment ought to be made as to all of those relationships, and we have to have the best team in place.
The ideal team, of course, was Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus in Iraq. Let's hope we can establish that same kind of relationship here in Afghanistan.
TAPPER: Almost a year ago, in August 2009, you were on this program and you and George Stephanopoulos had this exchange about the progress you said you were confident we would see in Afghanistan within 12 to 18 months.
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