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Fighting for Victory in Iraq

By Brian | July 24, 2008 | Share on Facebook

They told me that when the election came around, the central issue would be achieving victory in Iraq . . . and they were right!  Of course, I assumed they meant victory for America versus victory for Al Qaeda.  Turns out, the debate is really about whether the victory belongs to John McCain or Barack Obama.

Here’s the context:  John McCain has been a staunch supporter of the President’s Iraqi strategy for some time now, particularly on the “surge” of 30,000 troops and on drawing down our forces based on “conditions on the ground,” rather than a pre-determined timetable.  Barack Obama, on the other hand, famously predicted that a surge would not reduce violence in Iraq but would “do the reverse.”  Obama has also repeatedly stated that as President, he would withdraw our troops at a rate of 1-2 brigades a month, until the last of our combat troops are home after approximately 16 months.

Now, Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has publicly stated that due to improved conditions in the country, the upcoming end of the U.N. charter that allows U.S. troops to be in Iraq marks a good time to start discussing a rational draw down of American troops.  He “aspirational timeline” is a full withdrawal of all combat troops by the end of 2010.

The good news is, it looks like the Iraqi war finally has an end in sight.  The political debate, then, turns to who was right and who was wrong.  McCain claims that Maliki’s statements reflect what he’s been saying all along – improvements in the situation on the ground have created a scenario in which troop draw downs can begin.  Obama claims that Maliki agrees with his timetable (the end of 2010 would be roughly 23 months after Obama takes office which, one presumes, is close enough to 16 months to claim victory).

This gray area causes the kind of political spin that makes me so dizzy, I want to log off, tune out, and vote for Mickey Mouse in November.  On the one hand, you have John McCain doing press interviews, in which he answers every question with “Obama was wrong on the surge.”  And when I say every question, I mean every question – even questions about the economy.  The “Straight Talk Express” has seemingly turned into the “Talking Points Local.”

On the other hand, you have Barack Obama quietly modifying the Iraq page on his website to remove criticisms of the surge, and claiming that knowing what he knows now, he still would not have supported the surge, because the political victory was more important than the 80% reduction in violence we’ve experienced in the last year.  Here’s the money quote from that video:

Q: If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?

A: No, because keep in mind, that . . . hypotheticals are very difficult, hindsight is 20/20, but I think that what I’m absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with.

Does this strike anyone else as eerily similar to Bush’s statements early in the war, that knowing what he knows now about the lack of WMD’s in Iraq, he still would have invaded?  Why are politicians so afraid to admit that things didn’t turn out as they expected them to?  Would it be so terrible to say you’d have done things differently if you had perfect foresight on the consequences?  Are we looking for someone who’s really good at predicting the future, or someone who makes the best decisions based on the information he has available at the time?  Or, to put it more pointedly, since the societal zeitgeist is that George W. Bush lied to us about WMD’s to go to war, can we now say that Barack Obama lied to us about the surge in an attempt to get more troops killed?  I didn’t think so…

And it gets even worse:  Obama now claims that Afghanistan is the “central front in the war on terror,” even though he voted against funding for troops in Afgahnistan as recently as May of 2007.  And two week ago, McCain said the issue in Afghanistan was trouble along the Afghan/Pakistani border, which should be dealt with “across a broad variety of areas,” none of which included an increase in American troops.  Then last week, as Obama was preparing to visit Afghanistan, McCain said, “Our commanders on the ground 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.”

Talking points, of course, are not new to political campaigns.  What is new (or at least newer) is the transparency Americans now have when a candidate says what he wants (only) a particular audience to hear.  Thus far, I’ve perceived Obama to be the more thoughtful, fact-based candidate.  But ever since the primaries ended, he has mirrored McCain in his willingness to substitute “message” for “content.”  I can only hope that changes for both candidates in the near future, lest we all wind up electing the guy with the best speech writers, rather than the best candidate.

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