With all due respect, I think Ross’s notion that “the only sure way for McCain to make the Iraq issue work for him is to make the debate about the recent past rather than the future, and to use the experience of the last two years – where (at least for the moment) he looks good, and Obama looks bad” is a little bit crazy. Once the past is allowed into the debate, the fact that McCain was a strident advocate for this costly fiasco and that — remarkably — he continues to think it was a good idea in retrospect will bury him.
The smart Iraq strategy for McCain is the one he was using before the current “Obama’s a flip-flopper” tactic came into vogue, namely one that’s less focused on lying about Obama and more focused on telling big lies rather than small ones. It’s absolutely vital for McCain to repeat, loudly and falsely, that there’s a very good chance of al-Qaeda taking over Iraq and using it as a base from which to attack the American homeland and that Obama believes he can appease al-Qaeda by giving them Iraq. He needs to say lots of stuff about how “unlike my opponent, I don’t think al-Qaeda will be satisfied with Iraq; unlike him I remember what happened the last time we allowed them to take over a country.”
The lie on which the war was initially sold, and the lie on which it retained its popularity, was that the war was directly necessary for U.S. national security in a very simple and straightforward sense. That required, yes, some whoppers but they were whoppers about the sort of thing (preventing a WMD terrorist attack on American soil) that would constitute a good reason for starting a war. All this “success of the surge” business is incredibly abstract and totally disconnect from anything real people care about — I can tell you which Americans have died because of the surge, but I have no idea which Americans are supposed to have benefited from it.