Sasha Issenberg interviews John McCain’s top media advisor Mark Mckinnon in today’s Boston Globe. In what has become a remarkable act of insubordination, McKinnon has been telling the press for weeks now that he’ll probably leave the campaign once Barack Obama becomes the Democratic nominee because he just likes the Illinois Senator so gosh darn much. Indeed, McKinnon says he wrote a memo to the McCain campaign before he was hired last year stating as much.
As McCain’s comeback picked up speed, McKinnon cast jealous glances toward Obama, who was the beneficiary of two unconventional, online videos that McKinnon considers the best work of the campaign: an early bootleg spoof of Apple’s “1984″ ad lampooning Hillary Clinton as “Big Brother” and a music video released in January by singer will.i.am featuring celebrities saying excerpts from an Obama speech.
McKinnon becomes visibly giddy when discussing the video, calling it “cool” and “really powerful stuff.”
“I’m a music guy,” said McKinnon. “You combine music and politics, I’m halfway there.”
McKinnon says that while he would have happily worked for McCain in a general election match-up against Hillary Clinton, he just can’t bring himself to support the presumed Republican nominee against Barack Obama. “I flash-forwarded to how I would feel in that position, and I realized that I’d be uncomfortable and it would be bad for McCain to have me in that slot,” he tells the Globe. McKinnon claims to deeply admire John McCain and wants to see him become president. Yet the desire to realize a McCain presidency evaporates into thin air once St. Obama steps onto the stage. What sort of loyalty is this, telling the media that you respect your boss only to the point that you would work for him unless your favored Democrat became the nominee? Not long ago, McKinnon could rightly be labeled as a “McCainiac” alongside Mark Salter, Mike Murphy or Marshall Wittmann. Now, McKinnon’s admiration for the Senator sounds about as genuine as that of John Weaver.
“We can live with whatever Mark has to do,” Salter tells the Globe. If this was last summer — after McCain had fired most of his top staff and was in serious debt — maybe such a forgiving attitude would be understandable. But now that John McCain will be the Republican nominee, why hasn’t the campaign fired McKinnon for going on like this? And, if he told the campaign that he wouldn’t continue working for McCain were Obama to become the nominee, why was he hired in the first place?
Victor Davis Hanson recently gave an interview to the Swiss newspaper Junge Freiheit. The reporter asked what makes Europe and the U.S. so different from each other. Not a word is wasted in Hanson’s lapidary exposition on the cultural and political split within the West.
We have a common legacy, as the elections in France and Germany remind us. And we coalesce when faced by a common illiberal enemy — whether against the Soviet empire or radical Islam.
But after the fall of the Soviet Union, you diverged onto a secularized, affluent, leisured, socialist, and pacifist path, where in the pride and arrogance of the Enlightenment you were convinced you could make heaven on earth — and would demonize as retrograde anyone who begged to differ.
Now you are living with the results of your arrogance: while you brand the U.S. illiberal, it grows its population, diversifies and assimilates, and offers economic opportunity and jobs; although, for a time you’ve become wealthy — given your lack of defense spending, commercial unity, and protectionism — but only up to a point: soon the bill comes due as you age, face a demographic crisis, become imprisoned by secular appetites and ever growing entitlements. Once one insists on an equality of result, not one of mere opportunity, then, as Plato warned, there is no logical end to what the government will think up and the people will demand.
“Pacifist,” “heaven on earth,” “lack of defense spending,” “ever growing entitlements,” and the demonization as “retrograde” of those who disagree. Sound like anyone you know?
Sometimes I despair of this administration. After three and a half years of fumbling, the president in late 2006 finally made a courageous if overdue decision to send more troops to Iraq. The payoff has been impressive: The war effort was rescued from the brink of defeat. Now the withdrawal of the surge brigades is underway, and no one knows what will happen when the number of U.S. troops goes back to roughly the pre-surge level of 140,000 by mid-July. At the same time thousands of detainees are being released from American custody, and tensions continue between the Iraqi government and neighborhood volunteers—the Concerned Local Citizens.
The only responsible stance in such a situation is to go slow on troop drawdowns. General Petraeus has recommended a pause and evaluation before resuming the withdrawals. But certain sectors of the administration and the military seem determined to accelerate the pace of withdrawals no matter what. On Friday a “senior White House official”—presumably National Security Adviser Steve Hadley or possibly his deputy, Doug Lute—told reports that, as the Wall Street Journal story has it, “the temporary halt in troop reductions set to begin in July would likely last only four to six weeks, and further withdrawals would almost certainly occur in 2008.” This same article quotes aides to Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying “troop withdrawals could resume this fall and continue at the pace of one brigade — about 3,500-4,500 troops — a month, pushing overall troop levels down to roughly 115,000 by the end of the year, the lowest level since the invasion.”
Why does anyone in the administration think it’s helpful to raise expectations that U.S. troop levels could fall so dramatically by the end of the year? It can’t be for domestic political reasons, surely. The president isn’t standing for reelection, and the Republican nominee, John McCain, has been the most stalwart defender of the surge. In any case, in the past we’ve seen that what has hurt public support for the war effort and the Republican Party is not the total troop levels but the perception that our troops weren’t winning. Now our troops are winning, but a too-sudden withdrawal could jeopardize that progress.
I fully understand and sympathize with the imperative to drawdown. General George Casey, the army chief of staff, is right to warn of the strain on the force. The sacrifices of our fighting men and women have been beyond praise, and everyone wishes we could bring as many of them home as soon as possible. But few soldiers I have spoken to want to come home prematurely if it means leaving the mission undone. And make no mistake: that is the risk we run.
It’s quite possible that it may be prudent to resume a drawdown in the fall. But why speculate about that now? It can only encourage our enemies to wait us out and doubt our resolve. At least that has been the effect in the past of such leaks about troop drawdowns which seemed to emanate every other month from the Rumsfeld Department of Defense.