Posted by Brad @ 11:24 am on July 30th 2008

The Definitive McCain on Iraq Timeline

Greg Sargent of TPM Election Central, determined to put fact to rhetoric in terms of McCain’s much vaunted record of Iraq War criticism, creates a timeline of McCain’s statements on Iraq. You can view it here.

First thought: it’s pretty clear to me that the rubber-to-the-road here doesn’t meet Sargent’s agenda of trying to show that McCain has in fact been a generic warmongering Republican, or that his present characterization of his record on Iraq doesn’t match reality. I agree with Jim Henley at the Art of the Possible that any fair reading shows McCain was in fact an early and persistent critic of the Bush Administrationís handling of the war, though perhaps not as early as he would like to argue. His criticisms about the size of the attacking force didn’t kick in until hindsight; it’s unclear that he would indeed have done anything differently in the beginning. Though we can probably say he would have been far more flexible and likely to adjust course when it became apparent that the initial model was fatally flawed, it’s unclear to me that he had any better idea at the time or that, if his cabinet had been pushing the Rumsfeld model in the same way they did with Bush, that he would have been any less likely to chart the same course that Bush did. Second thought: his criticisms of the war are entirely limited to troop size, meaning it is only on that one point where he diverges. That’s a pretty damn major point, granted, but anybody who might try to use his criticism on that point as evidence that he is not a neoconservative and not totally inline with the Bush Doctrine of foreign policy—and indeed one of it’s biggest, most visible, and most tireless advocates—are overreaching. The best that can be said is he is a neoconservative more flexible in making tactical readjustments. I don’t mean that to be a straw man, but it is worth reiterating. McCain’s conception of Iraq is fundamentally identical to Cheney and Bush’s, right down to “they’ll greet us as liberators”, the keystone mistake in my view). He no more predicted the kind of problems that we would face in the post-invasion period than Rumsfeld did (and, incidentally, those predictions were widely of concern to the anti-war crowd and serious analysis, so it’s not like it hadn’t occurred to people). Indeed, McCain largely pish-poshed thinking along those lines, in the same way Bush and Cheney did. He was, I believe, as honestly surprised as anybody in the administration that Iraq turned out to be a tough slog (compared to, say, Obama, who used it as a principle concern of his in not supporting the war back in 2002).

But all that said, McCain can boast one primary distinction from the Bush administration: he was not as stupidly stubborn, and he was willing to change course very quickly, and correctly identified the most sensible and correct (and fundamental) change that needed to occur.

All of this leads me to this: if McCain continues on his course of pushing the withdraw emphasis, he may well neutralize the Iraqi issue for this undecided voter. Obama, to my mind, has shown the better judgment on Iraq—his initial misgivings were not as politically easy as some would suggest, not knee-jerk, and were thoughtful, ahead of the curve, and, ultimately, entirely accurate. His opposition to the surge looks bad for superficial reasons, but was entirely warranted and well predicated, and may well still be (“violence down” is not nearly the same thing as “we’re winning”, or even indicative of any real progress, and pro-war advocates are coming perilously close to massively overstating things in their crowing on the surge). And Obama’s promise of beginning the process of setting timetables for withdraw are, to me, unquestioningly the right way to go (whereas McCain’s strategy of letting us stay in Iraq indefinitely and not have any concrete goals and timelines or really anything that our presence is contingent on is, to me, a little bullheaded for the sake of keeping a political distinction). McCain’s conception of Iraq, how it works, what it means, is, to me, as neoconservative as anything, and it’s entirely unclear to me that a McCain administration would deal with the world any differently, fundamentally, than a Bush/Cheney continuation would (save, perhaps, that he would be more responsive to concerns within the military). All that said, I’m willing to more or less not hang Iraq on McCain, and I think his strengths on the issue on balance even out the critical distinction between Obama and he on Iraq (that one was right in the beginning and is right on where to go from here, but the other was stronger on the stuff in between). Presuming that McCain more or less abandons his “we need to stay forever” stuff and begins making signals that he’s willing to be responsive to American and Iraqi public opinion on the matter, and not demand that we stay until Iraq becomes a fully functioning non-violent pro-West liberal democracy (“probably currently stable” is about the best, I think, we can reasonably ask for), I’m more or less willing to take Iraq specifically off the table for me as a voting issue. Although that last point is a big if.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.