Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 8, 2008
WAR/POLITICS: McCain on Obama on Iraq: "I hope that he will reach a position."

John McCain on Obama's recent wobbling on Iraq and Obama's concession that he would go to Iraq after McCain called him out on not visiting or meeting with our commander there:

Well, I think you know that I opposed the failed strategy of the Bush administration. I argued for the strategy that is succeeding. I have been to Iraq 8 times. I know the situation on the ground. I predicted we would succeed and we are succeeding. And, we are winning. That victory is fragile, it can be reversed. Sen. Obama opposed the surge. He said it would fail. He still is saying that it would fail. Now, last Thursday or Friday, it seemed for a while there he was agreeing with the surge, then maybe he's not. So, I'm glad he's going to Iraq for the second time. He hasn't been there in 900 days. I'm glad, for the first time, he's going to sit down with General Petraeus -- for the first time, a sit-down briefing, if you can believe that. And, I hope that he will reach a position. I don't know what position, because he's been all over the map, calling for immediate withdrawals, back in the primaries to now saying you know -- so it's hard to know. I hope that he'll go over there and get the kind of information he needs that he hasn't requested in the past...But, have no doubt what my position was when I called for additional troops, it was a very unpopular thing to do and many people said my campaign was dead and I said I'd rather lose a campaign then lose a war. He said it would fail, it has succeeded. [The] American people should take notice of that. So, I'll see what he has to say when he gets back from his visit to Iraq. And, I'm sure he'll be impressed with a sit down with one of the greatest generals that America has ever produced, General David Petraeus.

Of course, Obama has now apparently decided that the perception that he's a flip-flopper with no principles is an even more devastating demonstration of weakness than the perception that he would sell out our allies and abandon the mission in Iraq to pander to the anti-war left - really, it's just a choice of who he surrenders to first - so his surrogates are now claiming that it's a lie that Obama ever wavered in his commitment to abandon Iraq. Oceania was never, we repeat never, at war in Iraq! But in political campaigns, as in war, the enemy gets a say in your game plan, and McCain is unlikely to let Obama simultaneously escape responsibility for being wrong about the surge and for belatedly trying to escape the consequences of being wrong.

As for McCain's own strategy, I agree with Ross and Patrick that the Iraq issue is a winner for McCain on multiple levels despite the war's overall unpopularity, given the contrasts it presents between McCain and Obama. The narrative of McCain's role in advocating for the surge is crucial to McCain's general-election story just as it was in the primaries, and dovetails perfectly with McCain's biography and contrast with Obama's plan to start withdrawing from Iraq at precisely the time of the surge.

Of course, as close observers of the situation in Iraq can tell you, the McCain narrative is somewhat oversimplified - many of the conditions that made the surge successful (e.g., Sunni cooperation, sufficient numbers of trained Iraqis with a government willing to use them) did not exist until Iraqis had been through the experience of living with the consequences of Sunni extremism and sectarian warfare in 2004-06, whereas some of the conditions for improving the situation were well underway before the surge came on line. And, of course, there are many other examples that could be cited of the gradual progress that was made in the 2004-06 period despite the setbacks. In other words, it's unfair to Bush and his civilian and military advisers to suggest that his strategy was a total failure that was singlehandedly rescued by McCain and Gen. Petraeus.

But while it would be nice indeed if the history of the 2003-07 period could be written accurately, McCain has to deal with the facts as the media and the general public believe them to be, not as they really are; he has to campaign in the real world, not conduct a history lesson dedicated to defending a Bush legacy that Bush himself could never be bothered to defend (or hire people competent to defend). Within that context, it makes all kinds of political sense to declare the Bush strategy a failure in toto and champion McCain's genuinely courageous and significant role in building political support for a doubling-down in Iraq. Even granting that the surge did not do it all by itself, it was a necessary condition for building on the opening that the "Anbar awakening" and other markers of progress had made possible, and it has proved the decisive difference in much the same way that the arrival of US troops proved the decisive difference in Europe in 1918. Thus, the McCain campaign narrative - McCain as the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - is built around a significant and consequential truth, while Obama's narrative is based entirely on denying the facts on the ground. I know which I prefer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:44 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-14 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

The Iraqi government is now insisting on timetables for American troop withdrawl as part of any long term security agreement with the United States. I'm curious how you cons, let alone McCain, will attempt to sell the American public further on an indefinite occupation given the Iraqis own position. Even Iraq is withering as an issue for McCain. His last hope is turning the public on to his energy ideas or benefitting somehow from another homeland terrorist attack. Dude's in trouble.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at July 8, 2008 1:11 PM

Seth: Well, I suppose McCain could simply declare victory in Iraq and pull out most of the troops, which if memory serves, was something he envisioned by the end of his first term. He benefits to a certain extent from peace in Iraq.

Of course, just because it helps McCain in some sense doesn't mean it detracts from Obama. Obama's whole message is that the Iraq war was a mistake from the beginning and irrelevant to the war on terror. It matters little to supporters of Obama that we have "won the war in Iraq" (and it's still too early to claim that yet), when they believe that we never should have fought the war in the first place.

All this talk about flip-flopping and all that is great political theater, but misses the big picture. Obama gave his commitment of withdrawing the troops in Iraq , and he will be held accountable to that if elected.

Posted by: MVH at July 8, 2008 3:18 PM

McCain is hardly a paragon of consistency w/r/t Iraq, among other issues. E.g., Bush tax cuts; Robertson/Falwell; climate change (he's not even sure what his position is on this issue).

2008: "Prime Minister Malki, is, has got his, he is a leader of a country,’’ Mr. McCain said, according to a pool report. “And I am confident that he will act, as the president and foreign minister have both told me in the last several days, that it will be directly related to the situation on the ground, just as they have always said. And since we are succeeding and then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about since he has told me that for the many meetings we have had.”

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 then 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."

McCain is toast. Start preparing yourself for democracy in America.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 9, 2008 10:39 AM

Iraq is a democracy, which means a single comment from Maliki is not automatically binding government policy. That said, if he concludes that his forces can handle the situation and takes a firm line on asking us to leave by a date certain, we leave, whether we think it's a good idea or not. I don't read McCain as saying anything contrary to that. Allies are certainly entitled to try to persuade each other of things, as we have seen in past debates over U.S. military presences in West Germany, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc.

Obama's position over the past year and a half has been proven wrong. Given the paucity of his experience in this arena, that should give people pause about his judgment.

Posted by: The Crank at July 9, 2008 10:55 AM

The surge is "working" depending upon your definition of "working." Conveniently, the Bush Administration has offered numerous definitions of the goals of the surge. Has the violence gone down? Yes. Is that the goal? We spent thousands of lives, billions of dollars and let bin Laden escape so that the internecine violence caused by our unnecessary invasion has declined? Really?

Nevertheless, it is a given that we bumbled into Iraq, screwed it up for the better part of the Bush presidency and now face the choice of what to do. Obama's recent statements make me MORE comfortable in his judgment; he is making decisions based on the facts before him.

Imagine that? Not continuing because you believe you have a god-given mandate or an ideological agenda, but actually considering the facts and making a reasoned judgment. That will be a healthy change.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 9, 2008 11:13 AM

The goal of the surge was basically the same as the post-invasion aims have been since mid-2003 (or at least since we crossed off the list any concern about a Ba'athist resurgence): an Iraqi government that has popular legitimacy and can defend its own territory, defeat of foreign jihadist influence, and Iraqi independence from Iran. We're much closer to those objectives than we were a year and a half ago. What we need now is, simply, leadership with the demonstrated willingness to see this through to the end, regardless of when that end comes.

As you may have noticed, Obama has been scurrying as fast as he can away from his brief flirtation with being open to consider the facts on the ground.

Posted by: The Crank at July 9, 2008 11:27 AM

"Iraq is a democracy, which means a single comment from Maliki is not automatically binding government policy. That said, if he concludes that his forces can handle the situation and takes a firm line on asking us to leave by a date certain, we leave, whether we think it's a good idea or not. I don't read McCain as saying anything contrary to that"

The first sentence is disingenuous considering that Crank (and cons in general) views our own president as the one who sets our foreign policy agenda period, end of story. Bush doesnt wait for Congress to act any more than Maliki waits for his equivalent to act. And the latter statement that "we leave" if Iraq demands it is absolutely contrary to McCain's (current) position, which is that explicit timetables somehow assist the "enemy" to the point of permitting anarchy, chaos, etc. McCain's response to Maliki's demand for timetables was to attack the very notion of timetables and reassert his desire to stay indefinitely. Emphatically not what Crank claims here.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at July 9, 2008 1:06 PM

I'd like to hear one of Obama's supporters tell me exactly what his position is and what he would have to say to lose your vote.

You guys chose a pig in a poke rather than a pig in a pantsuit.

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 9, 2008 1:11 PM

Crank, Obama has been entirely consistent in his position which is, spongeworthy, to end the US occupation if Iraq and to redeploy the troops to a location in which they are actually (and not in McCain's imagination) fighting the terrorists who attacked us. (Perhaps, if you read it enough, it will start to sink in -- Iraq had NOTHING to do with 9/11.)

As for the supposed flip-flops, the reduction in violaence allows greater flexibility in a timetable to withdraw. It is long past time for the Iraqi people to put their own house in order; whether that is one country, a republic with states, or separate countries.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 9, 2008 2:39 PM

Not quite, mcgrooder. Obama, on his website, said he would begin redeployment out of Iraq the day he took the oath and be out completely in 16 months. Now he is backpedaling on that schedule (I guess he doesn't need to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.) You dopes voted for the guy over Hillary because of that pledge.

Now answer the question: What position could he now take--and he's going to be pushed to answer this--that would lose your vote? Suppose he agrees to leave bases in Iraq indefintely. Suppose he decides to flip-flop back even farther to the left and pull the troops out--all of them--on Day One.

Could he still count on your vote in either scenario?

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 9, 2008 4:20 PM

Hey, sponge-baby, what would it take for you not to vote for McCain. In this election, not a theoretical one or the primary. McCain vs. Obama. What would McCain have to say to lose your vote (presumably in the the not voting category as opposed to switching)? For many people Obama could say the moon was made out of BBQed ribs and it wouldn't matter a hoot. After the pack of lies and incredibly bad decision making (agenda-following) that has been going on folks would just as soon vote for Porky the Pig as one of y'all's business-as-usual candidates. I'll vote for Obama simply because he is not McCain and not the insanity that is the GOP these days. That is literally all it takes to get LOTS of votes in this election.

Posted by: jim at July 9, 2008 7:27 PM

A partial list of McCain's stellar record of "consistency" follows:

* McCain supported the drilling moratorium; now he’s against it.

* McCain strongly opposes a windfall-tax on oil company profits. Three weeks earlier, he was perfectly comfortable with the idea.

* McCain thought Bush’s warrantless-wiretap program circumvented the law; now he believes the opposite.

* McCain defended “privatizing” Social Security. Now he says he’s against privatization (though he actually still supports it.)

Wait, I’m not done with the last two weeks yet….

* McCain wanted to change the Republican Party platform to protect abortion rights in cases of rape and incest. Now he doesn’t.

* McCain thought the estate tax was perfectly fair. Now he believes the opposite.

* He opposed indefinite detention of terrorist suspects. When the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion, he called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

* McCain said he would “not impose a litmus test on any nominee.” He used to promise the opposite.

And these come after these other reversals from April and May:

* McCain believes the telecoms should be forced to explain their role in the administration’s warrantless surveillance program as a condition for retroactive immunity. He used to believe the opposite.

* McCain supported storing spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain supported moving “towards normalization of relations” with Cuba. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain believed the U.S. should engage in diplomacy with Hamas. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain believed the U.S. should engage in diplomacy with Syria. Now he believes the opposite.

* He argued the NRA should not have a role in the Republican Party’s policy making. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain supported his own lobbying-reform legislation from 1997. Now he doesn’t.

* He wanted political support from radical televangelists like John Hagee and Rod Parsley. Now he doesn’t.

* McCain supported the Lieberman/Warner legislation to combat global warming. Now he doesn’t.

And these are the flip-flops I’ve noticed earlier:

* McCain pledged in February 2008 that he would not, under any circumstances, raise taxes. Specifically, McCain was asked if he is a “‘read my lips’ candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?” referring to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 pledge. “No new taxes,” McCain responded. Two weeks later, McCain said, “I’m not making a ‘read my lips’ statement, in that I will not raise taxes.”

* McCain is both for and against a “rogue state rollback” as a focus of his foreign policy vision.

* McCain says he considered and did not consider joining John Kerry’s Democratic ticket in 2004.

* In 1998, he championed raising cigarette taxes to fund programs to cut underage smoking, insisting that it would prevent illnesses and provide resources for public health programs. Now, McCain opposes a $0.61-per-pack tax increase, won’t commit to supporting a regulation bill he’s co-sponsoring, and has hired Philip Morris’ former lobbyist as his senior campaign adviser.

* McCain has changed his economic worldview on multiple occasions.

* McCain has changed his mind about a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq on multiple occasions.

* McCain is both for and against attacking Barack Obama over his former pastor at his former church.

* McCain believes Americans are both better and worse off than they were before Bush took office.

* McCain is both for and against earmarks for Arizona.

* McCain believes his endorsement from radical televangelist John Hagee was both a good and bad idea.

* McCain’s first mortgage plan was premised on the notion that homeowners facing foreclosure shouldn’t be “rewarded” for acting “irresponsibly.” His second mortgage plan took largely the opposite position.

* McCain vowed, if elected, to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Soon after, he decided he would no longer even try to reach that goal.

* In February 2008, McCain reversed course on prohibiting waterboarding.

* McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty’s behalf before a Senate committee. Now he opposes it.

* McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants’ kids who graduate from high school. Now he’s against it.

* On immigration policy in general, McCain announced in February 2008 that he would vote against his own legislation.

* In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving “feedback” on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he opposes his own measure.

* McCain said before the war in Iraq, “We will win this conflict. We will win it easily.” Four years later, McCain said he knew all along that the war in Iraq war was “probably going to be long and hard and tough.”

* McCain said he was the “greatest critic” of Rumsfeld’s failed Iraq policy. In December 2003, McCain praised the same strategy as “a mission accomplished.” In March 2004, he said, “I’m confident we’re on the right course.” In December 2005, he said, “Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.”

* McCain went from saying he would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade to saying the exact opposite.

* McCain went from saying gay marriage should be allowed, to saying gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed.

* McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as “an agent of intolerance” in 2002, but then decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans “deserved” the 9/11 attacks.

* McCain used to oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.

* On a related note, he said 2005 that he opposed the tax cuts because they were “too tilted to the wealthy.” By 2007, he denied ever having said this, and insisted he opposed the cuts because of increased government spending.

* In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending “dirty money” to help finance Bush’s presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.

* McCain supported a major campaign-finance reform measure that bore his name. In June 2007, he abandoned his own legislation.

* McCain opposed a holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., before he supported it.

* McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.

* McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he’s pro-ethanol.

* McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag.

* McCain decided in 2000 that he didn’t want anything to do with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, believing he “would taint the image of the ‘Straight Talk Express.’” Kissinger is now the Honorary Co-Chair for his presidential campaign in New York.

I've said it before, Barr gets my vote.

Posted by: robert at July 9, 2008 7:45 PM


Obama could lose my vote by adopting McCain's positions. At least the ones listed by robert as his current views.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 9, 2008 8:39 PM

"Now answer the question: What position could he now take--and he's going to be pushed to answer this--that would lose your vote? Suppose he agrees to leave bases in Iraq indefintely. Suppose he decides to flip-flop back even farther to the left and pull the troops out--all of them--on Day One.

Could he still count on your vote in either scenario?"

I haven't decided whether to vote for Obama, but I will answer this question, at least for myself. It would be very troubling to me if Obama would change his policy to staying in Iraq in the face of increased violence there. As far as Obama's credibility is concerned, that is really the acid test of his commitment to withdrawal.

Posted by: MVH at July 9, 2008 9:22 PM

Magrooder, Obama's latest stance on withdrawal doesn't differ from McCain's in any substantive measure. He could flip again--keep hope alive!

MVH, thanks for an honest answer and a defensible position. I don't agree with it, but it's not dishonest or stupid.

The only way I vote for McCain is if it's a close race in my state and there's even the slightest chance my vote might make a liberal cry. Otherwise, McCain can KMA.

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 10, 2008 10:05 AM

I think by temperament, intelligence and, yes Crank, character, Obama has the potential to be a great President. If next January, the facts are such that a longer troop commitment in Iraq is necessary (because, for example, Iran is going forward aggressively to build a nuclear arsenal and having troops in the immediate area contributes to our security), then I would support that.

The notion that a functioning democracy can be developed in present-day Iraq is a Bush-Cheney fantasy, so under no circumstances is that a sufficient reason to stay on indefinitely. Finally, there is no logistical way to pull out all the troops on day one, so that is a scenario not worthy of comment.

Posted by: Magrooder at July 10, 2008 11:37 AM

Iran and Afghanistan are definitely separate issues from Iraq. I don't have any problem with our military going after Osama or other al-Queda operatives in Afghanistan, or even Pakistan if need be. But I don't want us to get into "nation-building" in those countries. Find the terrorists, capture or kill them and get out.

Iran is a little trickier. If we really have to take out the leadership in that country, I'd rather have a broad-based coalition of countries, preferably with UN blessing, involved. Let other countries share the cost and burden of such an effort.

Posted by: MVH at July 10, 2008 2:23 PM
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