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New York Times Spares McCain Embarrassment By Spiking Op-Ed


First Posted: 07-21-08 02:28 PM   |   Updated: 07-29-08 05:12 AM

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As anyone who hasn't been living under a boulder knows by now, John McCain has always enjoyed an extra-special relationship with the press, who care for the Presidential nominee as one might nurture an orphaned lamb, doing him no end of solids. For example, even though Barack Obama has consistently led in the polls since clinching the Democratic nomination, we are told that this is Good For McCain, because according to something written on the Ancient and Illuminated Manuscript of Press Corps Conventional Wisdom, Obama should be leading by more, and his waste should smell like Springtime in Vermont. Also, when McCain visits Europe, it burnishes his Presidential pedigree, but if Obama does so, it makes him look un-American.

Now, however, the McCain camp is angry at their special friend, specifically the New York Times, because the paper of record spiked an op-ed column that McCain had prepared in response to a similar offering from Obama. McCain's surrogates are flush with outrage over this. But I've now read the piece, and it's pretty clear to me that the Times' decision, if anything, is in keeping with the press' traditional friendly relationship. The Times put bros before prose, and in so doing, spared McCain no end of embarrassment, because the op-ed is rivetingly dumb and laden with inaccuracies. None of which would have come to my attention if the candidate had done the smart thing and kept his mouth shut! But since he wants the attention, let's give it to him.

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation "hard" but not "hopeless." Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

An inauspicious beginning! Surely the last thing McCain, as an Iraq War advocate, needs to be doing right now is pointing out that four years ago, things were really horrible in Iraq, and after an Olympic season of Surge and sturm and drang, we've only managed to almost get the level of horror back to where it was when it was horrible.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there," he said on January 10, 2007. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

As all "Surge" proponents tend to do, McCain overlooks a situation that was unfolding in Baghdad contemporaneously with the "Surge," namely a massive campaign of sectarian cleansing that expelled people from their homes, hardened neighborhoods, and created a massive internal displacement problem. Violence dropped as a result of the factions getting what they wanted - the people they were killing out of their neighborhoods.

Also, isn't it time that McCain stopped getting credit for being an "early advocate" of the Surge that President Bush was going to implement anyway? I was an early advocate and a vocal supporter of all of the Washington Redskins Superbowl victories, but you don't see me asking for a ring!

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that "our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence." But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

I think that when Obama denies that any political progress has resulted, it's probably because no political progress has resulted. Indeed, the "Surge" was supposed to "create space" for the Iraqi government to reach a level of functionality. What's the impediment? Well, according to a majority of Iraqi legislators, that "space" has been occupied by the occupation. They said so in the letter they sent to Congress, attesting to this:

Likewise, we wish to inform you that the majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters.

I don't know...it seems like Obama might be aware of this!

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, "Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress." Even more heartening has been progress that's not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City--actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

Wow. That's a mouthful of nonsense to parse. It's not the U.S. Embassy in Iraq who's made such a claim, it's "Surge" architect and editorial-page-welfare recipient Fred Kagan who's contended that the Iraq has had benchmark success. This is a claim that CNN Reporter Michael Ware has already debunked. In truth, on benchmarks, it would be more accurate to say McCain has it precisely backwards.

Also, it's really unfortunate to see McCain citing the Sunnis here as a sign for the better, especially at a time when "the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement against the US and the Iraqi government has regrouped and reorganized, and is effectively lashing out again." And al-Maliki's "willingness" to "crack down" on uprisings in Barsa and Sadr City is mostly spirit. The flesh, on the other hand, has been weak. Al-Maliki's troops were proven unready for prime time, leaving U.S. forces to once again "take the lead" in ending the crisis.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama's determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his "plan for Iraq" in advance of his first "fact finding" trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

You'd think, of course, that had the military operation been a "success," that the rationale for withdrawal would be self-evident. At any rate, Obama's "plan for Iraq" pretty overtly stipulates that he wants to withdraw the troops from Iraq so that we might prevail over the terrorists who attacked us and who have benefited from Bush and McCain's policy of appeasement.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Uhm, actually? To suggest that Obama has "made it sound" like al-Maliki has said something he didn't say distorts the fact that al-Maliki has been clearly and consistently voicing his opinion that we need for a timetable for withdrawal. And after reports yesterday that he was walking those statements back, Maliki, as of this very morning, endorsed the Obama timetable.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

Funny thing. You go to war because you have to stop a terrorist mastermind's powerful military from unleashing their awesome arsenal of diabolical weapons of mass destruction, and you end up staying at war because the military you defeated is no longer good for anything but a few laughs. Nothing fails like success, I guess.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five "surge" brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

You see, when I read McCain saying things like, "A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five 'surge' brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind." I think: Yes, that is Barack Obama's plan.

But McCain's endorsement of the Obama Doctrine is bookended by two inane statements. In the first place, the United States favors a permanent U.S. presence. We are, at this moment, spending many a taxpayer dollar building "enduring" bases. One such base, located on the banks of the Tigris, will be as large as Vatican City. If McCain doesn't know this, then one can hardly take him for the spending hawk he claims to be.

Additionally, it's just seems to me that if McCain wants to insist on people not criticizing him for being dotty, he's simply going to have to stop saying things like he's going to "welcome home most of our troops from Iraq" one sentence after committing them to "beef[ing] up our presence" in Afghanistan.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Actually, it's also the crux of your disagreement with the sovereign government of Iraq, who back Obama's call for a timetable. And wouldn't you call the sovereign government of Iraq a "condition on the ground?" McCain once did!

From 2004:

Question: "What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?"


McCain: "Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."

Based on McCain's recent statements, one can only assume that McCain is now flip-flopping on the issue of Iraqi sovereignty.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his "plan for Iraq." Perhaps that's because he doesn't want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be "very dangerous."

Well, Obama's got the Iraqi leaders clamoring for a timetable now. And as far as our commanders on the ground go, they've made it clear that they serve at the pleasure of the President:

CLINTON: And finally, General, if there were a decision by the President, in your professional estimation, how long would a responsible withdrawal from Iraq take?


ODIERNO: Senator, it's a very difficult question, and the reason is, is because there are a number of assumptions and factors that I'd have to understand first...based on how do we want to leave the environmental issues in Iraq, what would be the final end-state...what is the effect on the ground, what is the security issue on the ground. So I don't think I can give you an answer now, but, certainly, at the time, if asked...and we do planning, we do a significant amount of planning to make sure that an appropriate answer was given, and we would lay out a timeline.

I think that if you aren't aware of what "Commander in Chief" means, you really can't claim to have crossed the "Commander in Chief threshold."

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we've had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the "Mission Accomplished" banner prematurely.

Of course, al Qaeda has staged a comeback precisely because we have too many troops in Iraq. And the surplus of American firepower has done nothing to prevent the expansion of Iranian influence in the region. This was made clear by one of the two Iraqi parliamentarians who traveled to the U.S. to offer testimony:

KHALAF al-ULAYYAN: And, unfortunately, now Iran is going into Iraq, and this is under the umbrella of the American occupation of Iraq.

Finally, McCain concludes:

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war--only of ending it. But if we don't win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

Naturally, I'd have to point out that McCain has, only recently, even suggested that his administration might get back to the task of winning the war on terror, having first announced a policy of avoiding that war for one hundred years. Only now has McCain put Afghanistan back in his foreign policy profile, and McCain has no idea where the troops are going to come from to support his "Surge Part Deux."

In short, there is just not one word of that op-ed that makes a lick of sense. Far from complaining, the McCain camp owes the Times a little gratitude.

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