A familiar refrain from John McCain’s speech today to the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars:
Though victory in Iraq is finally in sight, a great deal still depends on the decisions and good judgment of the next president. The hard-won gains of our troops hang in the balance.[...]
[Senator Obama] opposed the surge and confidently predicted that it would fail. Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge. Not content to merely predict failure in Iraq, my opponent tried to legislate failure. This was back when supporting America’s efforts in Iraq entailed serious political risk. It was a clarifying moment. It was a moment when political self-interest and the national interest parted ways. For my part, with so much in the balance, it was an easy call.
Since McCain is basically building his whole run for the presidency around his support for the surge, it’s important to get some facts on the table about this. First, the real clarifying moment was back before the war, in 2001, 2002 and 2003 when John McCain was among those whipping up American paranoia and pushing questionable intelligence about Iraq. Back then, making the right call and opposing the war entailed serious political risk.
Second, in regard to recent victories against Al Qaeda in Iraq, I’ll refer to something John McCain said back in December 2004:
The good news is we went into Fallujah and we dug then out of there… The bad news is we allowed Fallujah to become a sanctuary to start with.
The good news is we have Al Qaeda on the ropes in Iraq. The bad news is we allowed Iraq to become a sanctuary (and recruiting poster and training ground and sectarian killing field) to start with, by invading Iraq.
Third, even as McCain constantly tries to cover himself in glory for the surge, to this day he has yet to demonstrate that he actually grasps the various factors that led to the decline in violence in Iraq. McCain has tried very hard to elide the difference between his calls for “more troops” and the actual counterinsurgency strategy that was implemented by General Petraeus. According to Lt. Colonel John Nagl, who has written extensively on the practice of counterinsurgency and Iraq, this new strategy “was far more important than the relatively small increase in the number of troops that the ‘surge’ label overemphasizes.”
Fourth, as to the question of “victory” in Iraq, let’s consider where we are, more than five years after John McCain told us the war would be “fairly easy“:
- A heavily theocratic Iraq, one whose government is dominated by Shia religious parties under the auspices of Iraq’s clerical establishment. Iraq joins three other states with constitutions that provide for sharia (Islamic law) experts who are not required to have civil law education on their Supreme Courts: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
- An Iraq closely aligned with Iran (a major U.S. adversary) — as demonstrated by the growing economic and political ties between the two countries.
- An Iraq whose leadership voiced support for Hezbollah during its 2006 war with Israel.
- An Iraq where at least one in six Iraqis remain displaced from their homes because of the violence and sectarian cleansing.
And all of this for only more than four thousand American dead, more than thirty thousand wounded, tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis, $12 billion a month in U.S. taxpayer money, and an overall cost to the U.S. economy of $3 trillion!
Finally, in addition to the staggering costs in terms of blood and treasure, as Clive Crook writes today’s Financial Times, American power has been constrained and eroded “in every way by its experience in Iraq…a failure not much mitigated by recent progress there”:
Aside from underlining the extent to which Iraq has weakened the US, spiritually and materially, the invasion of Georgia drove home something else as well: the fact that there is still no substitute for American leadership…Exercising such leadership means getting over Iraq.
Like so many other serious national security “experts” in Washington, DC, John McCain’s reputation and judgment are inextricably connected to the decision to go to war in Iraq, a war we now know was launched under false pretenses, based on a serious misreading of the region and of how best to serve American interests there.
In order for McCain to maintain his claim to good judgment, it’s imperative that he ignore all of the war’s numerous negative consequences, that he act as if his support for the surge vindicates his support for one of the costliest foreign policy disasters in American history, and that he present the avoidance of even greater disaster as “victory.”