Commentary Magazine


Got Him Off The Bench

It wasn’t too long ago that Republicans were bemoaning John McCain’s hesitance in going after his opponent. He was praising Barack Obama’s  patriotism too much, refusing to invoke Reverend Wright (and chastising his own supporters who did), and seemingly trying to float above the fray. That’s changed in a big way.

On Iraq McCain is personally going after Barack Obama in speeches and interviews. The message is broadening from the specifics of Iraq to judgment and character. His argument is three-fold.

First, McCain argues that Obama was wrong and made his judgment at the time for political convenience. He said yesterday:

Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn’t just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better. And as our troops took the fight to the enemy, Senator Obama tried to cut off funding for them. He was one of only 14 senators to vote against the emergency funding in May 2007 that supported our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would choose to lose in Iraq in hopes of winning in Afghanistan. But had his position been adopted, we would have lost both wars.Three weeks after Senator Obama voted to deny funding for our troops in the field, General Ray Odierno launched the first major combat operations of the surge. Senator Obama declared defeat one month later: “My assessment is that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now.” His assessment was popular at the time. But it couldn’t have been more wrong. . . Senator Obama told the American people what he thought you wanted to hear. I told you the truth.

Second, McCain argues that Obama doesn’t understand the implications of a defeat — which is where we were heading without the surge — for America. He declared: “Senator Obama might dismiss defeat in Iraq as the current President’s problem. But presidents don’t lose wars. Nations do. And presidents don’t fight wars. You do, the men and women of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world.”

And finally he contends that Obama insistence that he still would oppose the surge makes him unfit to lead: “In retrospect, given the opportunity to choose between failure and success, he chooses failure. I cannot conceive of a Commander in Chief making that choice.” As he told the Columbus Dispatch:

I do know that he used the war for political reasons because no one, no one would refuse to acknowledge, no rational observer could refuse to acknowledge the success of the surge. And he still advocates a course that because of the left of his party,, etc., he still advocates a surge — excuse me, a date for withdrawal — that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and General Petraeus say is very dangerous. Very dangerous — not wrong, but dangerous.

Both the speech and interview are must-reads, both because of the force of the arguments and the fact that this is John McCain, who conservatives thought could never say a harsh word about a “Democratic friend,” dismembering his opponent limb-by-limb. If there were any doubt that this is where the election will be won — on disproving Obama’s character, judgment and readiness to lead — this should dispel those doubts. And if there is a better argument for McCain to make that can rally the conservative base and appeal to independents no one has yet found it. (Well, domestic energy production is a close second.)

McCain would do a lot worse for an ad than simply lifting Jamie Kirchick’s concluding paragraph from his recent piece:

To admit that his judgment was wanting on the subject of the surge would irreparably damage — if not kill — the Democratic narrative of the war. Admitting he was mistaken on something is a bridge too far for the supposedly post-partisan Obama to cross. Choosing a president this November, voters would do well to remember which candidate — during America’s darkest days in Iraq — called for retreat and which one presciently counseled a strategy for victory.