Commentary Magazine


Thou Shalt Not

After scolding Republicans for the wacky notion that we should develop our domestic oil reserves Thomas Friedman questions Barack Obama’s sincerity and motives with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan. Friedman writes:

For many Democrats, Afghanistan was always the “good war,” as opposed to Iraq. I think Barack Obama needs to ask himself honestly: “Am I for sending more troops to Afghanistan because I really think we can win there, because I really think that that will bring an end to terrorism, or am I just doing it because to get elected in America, post-9/11, I have to be for winning some war?”The truth is Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Pakistan are just different fronts in the same war.

Friedman goes on to doubt the efficacy of sending more troops to Afghanistan and ends with a warning:

Before Democrats adopt “More Troops to Afghanistan” as their bumper sticker, they need to make sure it’s a strategy for winning a war — not an election.

Friedman has violated two of the main Shalt Nots in the Barack Obama Rules of Permissible Criticism. (These must be published somewhere. After all, infractions are regularly called with a shrill whistle from Chuck Hagel, or with a severe tut-tut from a liberal cable TV pundit expressing “disappointment” that John McCain would go so “low” as to violate what everyone agrees are the appropriate parameters of Obama criticism.)

First, Friedman impugned the Great Man’s motives. He pointed to the lunacy of supporting a war against al Qaeda in one country, but not the other. Friedman inferred not that Obama is behaving illogically (because he assumes Obama is a logical fellow), but rather that he must be acting out of base motives (or self-deception) to win an election. McCain has been called for multiple personal fouls on that one. I imagine Friedman’s letter of reprimand from the Defenders of Obama will be coming forthwith: Thou Shall Not Question His Pristine Motives.

Second, Friedman casts doubt on the notion that Iraq doesn’t matter and that it is irrelevant to the outcome in Afghanistan. That is hogwash in netroot land. Iraq is beside the point, didn’t he hear? We should have been using that money for domestic spending or in Afghanistan against the same enemy which was running rampant in Iraq pre-surge. So Friedman has clearly overstepped: Thou Shall Not Point Out Facts (e.g. the same enemy is in both places).

It is, of course, on these very points and others that John McCain has been vilified by the liberal pundits and Left blogosphere. Ironically Friedman’s paper does just that as the New York Times editors excoriate McCain for many sins (e.g. Thou Shall Not Point Out His Snubs of Soldiers). But, as Freidman aptly demonstrates, there is plenty of reason for McCain to argue that his opponent is not operating in good faith. As McCain himself explained yesterday:

On Iraq, Barack Obama says he wants peace, but even today he opposes the strategy of the surge that succeeded in Iraq and will succeed in Afghanistan. No rational person could see the progress we’ve made in the last year and a half, and not recognize that the surge, and the brave Americans who made it work, rescued us from a terribly dangerous defeat and put us on the road to victory. I don’t question his patriotism. This country has been as good to Senator Obama as it has been to me, and I’m sure he loves it. He just doesn’t understand how our defeat in Iraq would have left al Qaeda with a base to prepare attacks against us; increased Iranian power in the region; and threatened to draw other countries in the Middle East into a wider war that would have demanded even greater sacrifices from us. He didn’t see the danger in his policy, and so he thinks Iraq was just another issue to play politics with. Just like he doesn’t see that his policy of unconditional withdrawal before we are certain Iraqis can protect the gains we have achieved at the cost of American blood and treasure could result in in renewed violence and a third Iraq war.

Now it is not surprising that Obama supporters, the Times chief among them, don’t like the arguments offered by McCain. But frankly there is nothing inappropriate or outlandish about his making them. And as Friedman points out, there’s plenty of reason to question Obama sincerity and motives in pursing arguments that are so entirely divorced from reality.