Even after eight years in which every conceivable calumny has been hurled at President Bush, his advisers and his supporters, there are apparently some things you are not supposed to say in American politics, and John McCain has gone and said one of them:
This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
Mainstream media liberals like Joe Klein and Obama flacks like John Aravosis headed for the fainting couches at the suggestion that Obama was willing to lose the war in Iraq in order to win this election. But the facts are the facts, and they show beyond any doubt that Obama chose to pursue defeat in Iraq instead of a strategy that is leading us to victory:
1. Obama's public statements from 2004 through 2006 recognized that withdrawal from Iraq would lead to defeat and disaster.
4. Obama's opposition to the surge and calls for an immediate commencement of withdrawal proved popular with his supporters in the Democratic primary and helped him win the nomination of his party.
5. John McCain, by contrast, supported the surge on the grounds that it would lead to victory.
6. It is now obvious, and so broadly conceded that Klein paints it as beyond dispute, that the surge has succeeded and will lead to victory in Iraq.
7. Had we followed Obama's strategy instead of McCain's, it is equally clear that we would have lost the war, as the Iraqis could not have done it without us.
While Aravosis calls McCain's statement "a brutal lie," he does not take issue with any of those facts. Meanwhile, Ann Althouse delivers a devastating rebuke to Klein for his insistence that it is out of bounds to present America with the facts of Obama's choice and the necessary consequences of that choice:
McCain said we had to win the war, he pushed for the surge, the surge worked, and now we will have that victory that he would not give up on. Obama said the war was hopeless, we'd have to accept loss, and the surge would only waste more lives.
That is a huge, huge difference. And that is what McCain was referring to. It could have been put even more sharply.
If Klein wants to get all outraged about something, he should get outraged retrospectively about how Obama and many Democrats were ready and even eager to embrace defeat. If Klein wants to worry about who is unsuited for the presidency, he ought to recognize that if Obama had been President two years ago, we would have suffered a humiliating defeat in Iraq that would have repercussions for decades.
While there are a lot of issues at stake in this election, this is McCain's starkest contrast. I explored Monday the hard questions about whether we have already won, as Michael Yon argues, or still have a long way to go, but in either event, it cannot be doubted that by any metric we are are winning and will win as long as we hang on to finish the job.
A counterinsurgency is won when the government's legitimacy is no longer threatened by the insurgents, the government is able to protect its own people and the people are participating in the government. In Iraq, all three conditions apply.
*US troop and Iraqi civilian fatality rates are at their lowest points since the war began in 2003.
*Today Iraq has legitimate elections, a constitution and a functioning parliament. It is considered more politically free than virtually any country in the Middle East, including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait.
*Gross Domestic Product has almost tripled, from $20.5B (US dollars) in 2002 to $60.9B in 2008.
*Oil production in each of the last three months (May-July 2008) has exceeded the peak pre-war estimated rate of 2.5 million barrels per day. Oil exports now bring in about $7 billion per month, and rising.
*Pre-war, only 4 to 8 hours of electricity were available per day nationwide, on average. In July 2008, electricity was available an average of almost 12 hours per day, an improvement of 50% to 200%.
*There are more than twice as many registered cars, more than 10 times as many telephone subscribers and more than 50 times as many internet subscribers.
*Under Saddam, Iraq had no commercial TV or radio stations and no independent newspapers or magazines. Zero. Today it has dozens of TV stations and hundreds of radio stations, newspapers and magazines.
*More children are in school, and more doctors, judges and security personnel have been trained and are being trained.
In addition to the above, the White House has reported that the Iraqi government achieved "satisfactory" progress on 15 of 18 political benchmarks as set by Congress and the President.
Hoven stresses the fact that the surge only became possible after the less visible elements of progress fell into place between 2003 and 2006 - it's worth reading his analysis at length, but just to hit a few points:
In May 2003, there were only about 8,000 Iraqi Security Forces. By the end of 2003 they had grown to 100,000. By January of 2007, when the surge was announced, there were 323,000 Iraqi forces. Today there are almost 500,000. And as those numbers grew, those forces were being trained by people like General Petraeus. They worked more and more with coalition troops. They took control over more areas of Iraq. They gained combat experience.
In short, you can't go from 8,000 rag-tag troops accustomed to the Baathist Army's corrupt chain-of-command to 500,000 soldiers willing and capable of working with the modern, professional US military overnight. It took years. In fact, I'd say it took about four years.
And what about the "attitudinal shift among certain elements of the Iraqi population?" You think holding three successful and honest elections (remember the purple fingers), a functioning parliament and an accepted constitution might have had something to do with it? Those things didn't happen overnight, or painlessly, either.
You can say the surge worked, but it only worked because of what came before it.
True as that is, the fact remains that the decision to institute the surge in early 2007 (not just the increase in troops but the more general overhaul of our counterinsurgency strategy and rules of engagement) was a critical moment, a moment when leadership called for recognizing that those conditions were in place and could be built upon. John McCain, having been deeply enmeshed in war-making policy for decades and in the Iraq war since the beginning, was able to see that; Obama wasn't, or was too busy reading Iowa polls to care. Indeed, as Hoven notes, the increase in U.S. troops was only barely enough to cover the decline in other allied forces in theater:
The surge was announced in January 2007. In 2006 the number of US troops in Iraq peaked at 144,000 in September and October. The US troop level peaked about one year later, at 171,000 in October 2007. That is a 19% increase.
However, some of those US troops were making up for a loss of non-US troops. Total coalition troops went from 162,000 in September 2006 to 182,668 in October 2007.
Obviously, if the U.S. had been following Obama's plan for a March 2008 withdrawal, those figures would have been dramatically different.
As ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq rapidly declined, as al Qaeda absorbed tremendous military blows, and as political accommodation and legislative achievements have emerged, Democrats, rather than welcoming the progress, grew agitated. They embraced with religious zeal the belief that the Iraq war was lost; they therefore viewed the success of the surge as a terribly inconvenient development, one they sought to deny to the point that they looked silly and out of touch. Worse, Democrats acted as if they had a vested interest in an American defeat.
Rarely has a political party been so uniformly wrong, in such an obvious way, on such an important matter. And when Americans cast their vote on November 4, they should carefully consider how Barack Obama and the entire Democratic party fought ferociously and relentlessly to undermine a policy that has worked extraordinarily well and may yet prove to be among the most successful military plans in modern times.
Of course, the left wants to argue that it's equally clear that the decision to go to war was a bad one. But even if you leave aside for a minute all the many arguments we have all been making these last six years, it's easy to envision the "but for" world in which we followed Obama's advice and bugged out of Iraq by March and the place went to hell; it's much dicier to try to explain how America and the region would be better off today if instead of an Iraqi democracy we had Saddam still running the place and engaging in the broad menu of tyranny, terror, aggression and other forms of misconduct that characterized his regime for decades. In fact, Obama almost never talks about what Iraq would be like today if we had listened to him in 2002 - if anything, his relative hawkishness on Afghanistan seems to be aimed largely at giving him something to say when he tries to imagine what else could have been done if not for the Iraq War. But even in Afghanistan, there remains the question of whether all the Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters who poured into Iraq the last several years because there were Americans to fight there would instead have joined the Afghan battle.
Whatever your view of the war's inception, we are now winning it decisively and doing so in spite of Obama and in defiance of his proposed March 2008 withdrawal date - and when Obama tries to gloss over his inexperience and his naivete by appeals to his "judgment to lead," he needs to be reminded at every turn that not only did he not have the judgment to lead us to victory in Iraq, he didn't even want to try, not when he could make more immediate political hay out of proclaiming defeat and seeking to consummate it.
If that can not be said in America about the man who wants us to vote him the Commander-in-Chief, then really, what is even left that we can talk about?