CNN sent correspondent John King to Iraq to offer the network's viewers some fifth-anniversary perspective on the developments of the Iraq War. Having just made a visit, King focused attention on presidential hopeful John McCain, who has based his candidacy almost entirely upon the success of the "Surge" and the positive outcomes it has yielded. Ultimately, King held that Iraq was the debate that McCain has to win to gain the presidency:
KING: The biggest obstacle for John McCain is if he loses the debate he's trying to frame, which is he wants to view the Iraq debate from here forward.
If this is a debate about why did George W. Bush go to war, why do the American people think the war is a disaster, how fast can you get the troops home, John McCain will lose that debate. And he knows it.
If he can make it about a debate that, look, Iraq is broken. There's no purpose served looking backwards and having a debate about how he got into the war, but let's look, McCain will argue, at the judgment and the experience and who is best to get out of Iraq and at what pace.
He needs to make it a debate about who do you trust to get out of Iraq and protect the United States' interests in doing so and convince the American people that, even if you oppose the war, even if you think George Bush made a fundamental, galactic mistake coming into Iraq, if the Democrats pull the troops out so fast, this country will collapse into even greater chaos.
All well and good, but debates are underpinned by facts. Facts that persist in the face of how Presidential candidates manipulate perceptions. Facts that are obtainable and judgeable by reporters. And King's segment was specifically introduced by host Anderson Cooper as one that would yield, first and foremost, facts: "John King is on the ground with Senator McCain. He's got a fact check for us."
This "fact check," however, was something that King failed to deliver, instead offering a series of ups and downs, positives and negatives, hopes and fears and almosts and maybes, none of which were sufficient enough to either make or rebut McCain's case.
On the one hand, we have a neighborhood that seems safe, but on the other hand, some say other neighborhoods are dangerous. "Markets are open" in one place, but the "security improvements are hardly universal." The neighborhood McCain patrolled with an armed escort in a prior visit "remains highly volatile, unsafe for an American to visit," but McCain is allowed to offer a weak retort: "All I can say is that, yet, there are other neighborhoods of Baghdad where kids are out playing soccer and people are in the street." Maybe because sectarian forces have cleansed that neighborhood of people they didn't like? Nobody asks, so nobody gets an answer. And if maybes and buts were candy and nuts maybe we could busy ourselves stuffing our faces and run out of time to hold John McCain responsible for substantiating his claims. And on we go. Same time next year?