Commentary Magazine


Topic: McCain

How the Left Lacks Humor

One of the most telling differences between the Left and the Right–at least among political journalists–is that the Left lacks a sense of humor. Case in point: the wickedly funny piece by Christopher Buckley–author of Thank You For Smoking–in yesterday’s New York Times, which seeks to explain why some conservatives are uneasy with a McCain presidency. In discussing McCain’s alleged lack of conservative bona fides, Buckley writes:

And—true, again—Mr. McCain is a bit of a girlie-man when it comes to waterboarding high-value detainees; but that’s a tricky one, even for macho, red-meat conservative chest-thumpers. You get a pass on that one if you’ve spent five-and-a-half years being bastinadoed by North Vietnamese.

This earned the following reaction from the oh-so-serious folks at ThinkProgress, blog of the Center for American Progress, which categorizes Buckley’s column as yet another example of the “Radical Right-Wing Agenda”:

Buckley’s description of McCain as a “girlie-man” reveals a couple of things. The first is Buckley’s belief that one’s “manliness” can be deduced from his support for torture. The second, and more important, is that the state of American conservatism is such that McCain requires “forgiveness” for opposing torture.

Aside from the fact that the author of this post totally misses the point in that Buckley is lampooning McCain’s conservative critics, he also seems like a total party pooper. Observe that, in the column, Buckley refers to the “the Archfiend, Ted Kennedy” and notes that Fred Thompson “could barely manage to stay awake during his own announcement speech.” Indeed, Buckley opens the piece with an anecdote about a New Yorker cartoon. The problem with the liberals at ThinkProgress is that, since they themselves have no sense of humor, they cannot recognize a joke when it hits them square between the eyes.

I may not agree with Christopher Buckley or Mark Steyn about everything, but I’d sooner share a drink with them than with Paul Krugman, Joe Conason, or any other of the multitude of sober, boring, hectoring liberal writers who populate the nation’s newspapers and magazines.

One of the most telling differences between the Left and the Right–at least among political journalists–is that the Left lacks a sense of humor. Case in point: the wickedly funny piece by Christopher Buckley–author of Thank You For Smoking–in yesterday’s New York Times, which seeks to explain why some conservatives are uneasy with a McCain presidency. In discussing McCain’s alleged lack of conservative bona fides, Buckley writes:

And—true, again—Mr. McCain is a bit of a girlie-man when it comes to waterboarding high-value detainees; but that’s a tricky one, even for macho, red-meat conservative chest-thumpers. You get a pass on that one if you’ve spent five-and-a-half years being bastinadoed by North Vietnamese.

This earned the following reaction from the oh-so-serious folks at ThinkProgress, blog of the Center for American Progress, which categorizes Buckley’s column as yet another example of the “Radical Right-Wing Agenda”:

Buckley’s description of McCain as a “girlie-man” reveals a couple of things. The first is Buckley’s belief that one’s “manliness” can be deduced from his support for torture. The second, and more important, is that the state of American conservatism is such that McCain requires “forgiveness” for opposing torture.

Aside from the fact that the author of this post totally misses the point in that Buckley is lampooning McCain’s conservative critics, he also seems like a total party pooper. Observe that, in the column, Buckley refers to the “the Archfiend, Ted Kennedy” and notes that Fred Thompson “could barely manage to stay awake during his own announcement speech.” Indeed, Buckley opens the piece with an anecdote about a New Yorker cartoon. The problem with the liberals at ThinkProgress is that, since they themselves have no sense of humor, they cannot recognize a joke when it hits them square between the eyes.

I may not agree with Christopher Buckley or Mark Steyn about everything, but I’d sooner share a drink with them than with Paul Krugman, Joe Conason, or any other of the multitude of sober, boring, hectoring liberal writers who populate the nation’s newspapers and magazines.

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What Sovereignty?

Literary entrepreneur Dave Eggers laments that his home state of California voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary.

Eggers opines:

With Mr. Obama’s newness comes a certain element of chance, and Mr. McCain, though he leans ever more doctrinaire, is still erratic enough that on the Internet he can be found singing — to a classic Beach Boys tune, mind you — about bombing yet another sovereign nation.

Eggers’s defense of Iraqi or Iranian “sovereignty” is made in passing, but it is one of the more obnoxious ticks of the Left. It is part of a Democratic Party tradition that goes back at least as far to Henry Wallace, up through George McGovern and to the supporters of Barack Obama today. This is the “Hands Off [fill in the rogue state]” crowd, which always sees America as the root of international instability and promises that if only we “engage” our enemies and “restrain” our warlike impulses, the world will be a more peaceful place. It is this world-view that places such stock in the wondrous “sovereignty” of a theocratic, terror-state like the Islamic Republic.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not have sovereignty for the international community to violate. He had committed genocide, repeatedly, against his own people. He stood in defiance of 17 Security Council Resolutions regarding his weapons of mass destruction programs. He had illegally invaded his neighbors on two occasions and provided assistance to terrorists around the world. All of these actions warranted intervention according to the very international legal mandates that liberal internationalists so revere and that the supposedly reckless neo-cons denigrate at every turn.

Iran has a similar rap sheet. Neither Hussein-era Iraq nor present-day Iran — authoritarian states that do not rule by popular consent and flout international law as a matter of routine — is “yet another sovereign nation” alongside Canada, Hungary, or Botswana. To presume otherwise represents a grave and a deeply pernicious mode of thinking, yet it is one shared now amongst the Democratic base and its presumed nominee.

Literary entrepreneur Dave Eggers laments that his home state of California voted for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary.

Eggers opines:

With Mr. Obama’s newness comes a certain element of chance, and Mr. McCain, though he leans ever more doctrinaire, is still erratic enough that on the Internet he can be found singing — to a classic Beach Boys tune, mind you — about bombing yet another sovereign nation.

Eggers’s defense of Iraqi or Iranian “sovereignty” is made in passing, but it is one of the more obnoxious ticks of the Left. It is part of a Democratic Party tradition that goes back at least as far to Henry Wallace, up through George McGovern and to the supporters of Barack Obama today. This is the “Hands Off [fill in the rogue state]” crowd, which always sees America as the root of international instability and promises that if only we “engage” our enemies and “restrain” our warlike impulses, the world will be a more peaceful place. It is this world-view that places such stock in the wondrous “sovereignty” of a theocratic, terror-state like the Islamic Republic.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not have sovereignty for the international community to violate. He had committed genocide, repeatedly, against his own people. He stood in defiance of 17 Security Council Resolutions regarding his weapons of mass destruction programs. He had illegally invaded his neighbors on two occasions and provided assistance to terrorists around the world. All of these actions warranted intervention according to the very international legal mandates that liberal internationalists so revere and that the supposedly reckless neo-cons denigrate at every turn.

Iran has a similar rap sheet. Neither Hussein-era Iraq nor present-day Iran — authoritarian states that do not rule by popular consent and flout international law as a matter of routine — is “yet another sovereign nation” alongside Canada, Hungary, or Botswana. To presume otherwise represents a grave and a deeply pernicious mode of thinking, yet it is one shared now amongst the Democratic base and its presumed nominee.

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Two Out of Three Isn’t Bad

Hillary Clinton thinks Fox News is fairer than MSNBC and says of Barack Obama: “You never hear the specifics. It’s all this kind of abstract, general talk about how we all need to get along.” However, she also declares, “Luckily, I agree with my party more than Senator McCain agrees with his party.” The latter sounds a bit like the Karl Rove theory of infinitely expanding your base and forgetting about Independent voters. I thought that was out of fashion now.

Hillary Clinton thinks Fox News is fairer than MSNBC and says of Barack Obama: “You never hear the specifics. It’s all this kind of abstract, general talk about how we all need to get along.” However, she also declares, “Luckily, I agree with my party more than Senator McCain agrees with his party.” The latter sounds a bit like the Karl Rove theory of infinitely expanding your base and forgetting about Independent voters. I thought that was out of fashion now.

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A Revealing Poll

The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll shows McCain at 30 percent, Romney at 28 percent, Rudy at 18 percent and Huckabee with 14 percent. Some interesting internal numbers jump out. First, with Hispanic voters, McCain leads 60 percent to 16 percent over Rudy, while Romney draws only 10 percent. These voters are 10.7 percent of the GOP electorate and were thought to be a source of strong support for Rudy. But the numbers tell a different story. McCain may get a further bump today with the endorsement of Senator Mel Martinez, who may not be the favorite among conservative Republicans nationally but is very popular with Florida’s Hispanic population.

Even more startling is this nugget from the poll: McCain leads 37 percent to 25 percent over Romney among voters who say the economy is the number one issue. This seems counterintuitive in light of Romney’s improved messaging and his obvious command of economic issues. However, there may be something missing in his appeal. In a speech today at the Latin Builders Association he added some lines that we haven’t heard before:

I’ve had settings where I’ve had to lay people off. It’s an awful feeling. No one likes laying someone off . . . Someone who thinks that you’re a bad person if you lay someone off doesn’t understand. You feel bad. Its probably the hardest thing I’ve done in business.

Could it be that Romney comes across too corporate or too upscale and is now attempting a slight course correction? There is some evidence this is a problem for him. In New Hampshire, for example, he lost every economic group except those making $150-199K, and lost 22 percent to 39 percent to McCain among voters who considered the economy the number one issue. His focus on economics has intensified since then, and he has had much more time to demonstrate his expertise, but if the Florida poll is accurate it suggests he still has not connected with the majority of voters on what should be his best issue. Hopefully, he won’t resort to tears, but I do expect more ” I feel your pain” moments before Tuesday. (By the way, we should keep in mind that with over 700,000 early and absentee votes already in, half the voters expected to turn out have already voted.)

The latest SurveyUSA Florida poll shows McCain at 30 percent, Romney at 28 percent, Rudy at 18 percent and Huckabee with 14 percent. Some interesting internal numbers jump out. First, with Hispanic voters, McCain leads 60 percent to 16 percent over Rudy, while Romney draws only 10 percent. These voters are 10.7 percent of the GOP electorate and were thought to be a source of strong support for Rudy. But the numbers tell a different story. McCain may get a further bump today with the endorsement of Senator Mel Martinez, who may not be the favorite among conservative Republicans nationally but is very popular with Florida’s Hispanic population.

Even more startling is this nugget from the poll: McCain leads 37 percent to 25 percent over Romney among voters who say the economy is the number one issue. This seems counterintuitive in light of Romney’s improved messaging and his obvious command of economic issues. However, there may be something missing in his appeal. In a speech today at the Latin Builders Association he added some lines that we haven’t heard before:

I’ve had settings where I’ve had to lay people off. It’s an awful feeling. No one likes laying someone off . . . Someone who thinks that you’re a bad person if you lay someone off doesn’t understand. You feel bad. Its probably the hardest thing I’ve done in business.

Could it be that Romney comes across too corporate or too upscale and is now attempting a slight course correction? There is some evidence this is a problem for him. In New Hampshire, for example, he lost every economic group except those making $150-199K, and lost 22 percent to 39 percent to McCain among voters who considered the economy the number one issue. His focus on economics has intensified since then, and he has had much more time to demonstrate his expertise, but if the Florida poll is accurate it suggests he still has not connected with the majority of voters on what should be his best issue. Hopefully, he won’t resort to tears, but I do expect more ” I feel your pain” moments before Tuesday. (By the way, we should keep in mind that with over 700,000 early and absentee votes already in, half the voters expected to turn out have already voted.)

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Behind The Scenes

In a debate as dull as last night’s, the best part was the e-mail stream pouring in from the campaigns. From the Rudy camp, we got word that the New York Times had endorsed McCain. Score one for the McCain rivals arguing that he’s too friendly with the liberal media and not conservative enough. Then we got this homage to the Kerry windsurfing ad from the McCain camp. Next came the oppo from two camps indicating that, despite his denial, McCain really had said that he knows less about economics than foreign policy and that he still needs “to be educated.” Does any of this matter? The McCain ad is cute and may get some play, and the NYT endorsement will provide fodder for Romney. However, in a debate this inconsequential, the chatter about the debate certainly won’t make many headlines. The most interesting incident last night may have been McCain’s closing praise of Rudy, a gentle way of suggesting to the voters McCain is trying to scoop up that you can admire Rudy and still not vote for him. If he can pull more of the voters away from Rudy, his competitor for moderate and national security voters, McCain will have gone a long way toward securing a win.

In a debate as dull as last night’s, the best part was the e-mail stream pouring in from the campaigns. From the Rudy camp, we got word that the New York Times had endorsed McCain. Score one for the McCain rivals arguing that he’s too friendly with the liberal media and not conservative enough. Then we got this homage to the Kerry windsurfing ad from the McCain camp. Next came the oppo from two camps indicating that, despite his denial, McCain really had said that he knows less about economics than foreign policy and that he still needs “to be educated.” Does any of this matter? The McCain ad is cute and may get some play, and the NYT endorsement will provide fodder for Romney. However, in a debate this inconsequential, the chatter about the debate certainly won’t make many headlines. The most interesting incident last night may have been McCain’s closing praise of Rudy, a gentle way of suggesting to the voters McCain is trying to scoop up that you can admire Rudy and still not vote for him. If he can pull more of the voters away from Rudy, his competitor for moderate and national security voters, McCain will have gone a long way toward securing a win.

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McCain Unplugged

Lots of ads are out from the Republican side today. Romney, after a few days of Mr. Fix-It messaging, is back to flashing his conservative bona fides with this TV spot. He makes good use of his conservative endorsements, but then ends with a line from the Boston Globe–his liberal hometown paper which endorsed his rival McCain and criticized his every policy revision (not to mention his choice of lawn services). Odd.
The bigger splash comes from McCain, who offers up two video contributions. The first is his TV interview this morning in which he lambastes Hillary for “waving the white flag” on Iraq. The second is a clever web ad in which he calls himself “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.” (Actually, that may be Bill, as others have pointed out, but I digress.) The ad makes the electability argument, which is exceptionally strong, given that McCain in current polling narrowly beats both Democratic contenders while Romney loses to them by double digits. And it also serves the “bonding with the base” purpose for a candidate who is often criticized for being too friendly with conservatives’ Democratic foes. Both McCain offerings are being praised by conservative blogs, just the places he should be cultivating.

Lots of ads are out from the Republican side today. Romney, after a few days of Mr. Fix-It messaging, is back to flashing his conservative bona fides with this TV spot. He makes good use of his conservative endorsements, but then ends with a line from the Boston Globe–his liberal hometown paper which endorsed his rival McCain and criticized his every policy revision (not to mention his choice of lawn services). Odd.
The bigger splash comes from McCain, who offers up two video contributions. The first is his TV interview this morning in which he lambastes Hillary for “waving the white flag” on Iraq. The second is a clever web ad in which he calls himself “the Democrats’ worst nightmare.” (Actually, that may be Bill, as others have pointed out, but I digress.) The ad makes the electability argument, which is exceptionally strong, given that McCain in current polling narrowly beats both Democratic contenders while Romney loses to them by double digits. And it also serves the “bonding with the base” purpose for a candidate who is often criticized for being too friendly with conservatives’ Democratic foes. Both McCain offerings are being praised by conservative blogs, just the places he should be cultivating.

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I Know Him from Somewhere . . .

To judge from the dueling e-mails coming out of the McCain and Romney camps in the last few days, one would think we were back in New Hampshire. Romney is the flip flopper, McCain’s team explains; McCain, warns the Romney camp, is a tax-hiking open-borders proponent. However, aside from the e-mails, the race bears little resemblance to the one that took place only three weeks ago, in large part because McCain is running against a different candidate. Gone are Romney’s references to “full spectrum” conservatism and the “three legs of the conservative stool.” Romney’s latest TV ad does not even mention the word “Republican” and touts him instead as a Washington outsider. Phil Klein observes:

This is a clearly a persona that fits Romney much more comfortably, because it’s basically who he is–a moderate Republican businessman who believes that when competently managed, the government can help solve people’s problems.

There are at least a couple of problems with this. First, it assumes the Florida electorate reads no national newspapers and doesn’t watch the debates or national TV news. If this assumption is false, as it surely is, this becomes the “Darrin on Bewitched” problem–a whole new guy shows up and everyone is expected to act like nothing has changed. (Here, the two Romneys look more or less the same, but the transformation is no less startling.) This, of course, has the potential for voters to recognize another Romney “evolution,” this time from conservative stalwart to Ross Perot-like outsider.

The second problem is that there may not be an available voting bloc receptive to Romney’s message. Thompson’s absence and Hucakbee’s retreat from Florida were supposed to leave an opening for the New Hampshire Romney, the conservative standard-bearer. With Giuliani running on his New York success story and McCain on his role straightening out Iraq policy and rooting out government waste, it is not clear there is room for another Mr. Fix-It. Moreover, it is far from clear that Republicans want someone touting the wonders–like universal healthcare coverage–that can be achieved by an active federal government.

Nevertheless, as Klein points out, the newest Romney has a timely message and may be sincere. In that regard, he may actually win.

To judge from the dueling e-mails coming out of the McCain and Romney camps in the last few days, one would think we were back in New Hampshire. Romney is the flip flopper, McCain’s team explains; McCain, warns the Romney camp, is a tax-hiking open-borders proponent. However, aside from the e-mails, the race bears little resemblance to the one that took place only three weeks ago, in large part because McCain is running against a different candidate. Gone are Romney’s references to “full spectrum” conservatism and the “three legs of the conservative stool.” Romney’s latest TV ad does not even mention the word “Republican” and touts him instead as a Washington outsider. Phil Klein observes:

This is a clearly a persona that fits Romney much more comfortably, because it’s basically who he is–a moderate Republican businessman who believes that when competently managed, the government can help solve people’s problems.

There are at least a couple of problems with this. First, it assumes the Florida electorate reads no national newspapers and doesn’t watch the debates or national TV news. If this assumption is false, as it surely is, this becomes the “Darrin on Bewitched” problem–a whole new guy shows up and everyone is expected to act like nothing has changed. (Here, the two Romneys look more or less the same, but the transformation is no less startling.) This, of course, has the potential for voters to recognize another Romney “evolution,” this time from conservative stalwart to Ross Perot-like outsider.

The second problem is that there may not be an available voting bloc receptive to Romney’s message. Thompson’s absence and Hucakbee’s retreat from Florida were supposed to leave an opening for the New Hampshire Romney, the conservative standard-bearer. With Giuliani running on his New York success story and McCain on his role straightening out Iraq policy and rooting out government waste, it is not clear there is room for another Mr. Fix-It. Moreover, it is far from clear that Republicans want someone touting the wonders–like universal healthcare coverage–that can be achieved by an active federal government.

Nevertheless, as Klein points out, the newest Romney has a timely message and may be sincere. In that regard, he may actually win.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: McCain’s Victory Speech

It was McCain at his best:

“I didn’t go to Washington to go along to get along. I went there to serve my country, and that, my friends, is just what I intend to do if I am so privileged to be elected your president.”

“Nothing should unite us more closely than the imperative of defeating an enemy who despises us, our values and modernity itself. We must all pull together in this critical hour and proclaim that the history of the world will not be determined by this unpardonable foe but by the asperations, ideals, faith and the courage of free people. In this great, historic task we will never surrender. They will.”

It was McCain at his best:

“I didn’t go to Washington to go along to get along. I went there to serve my country, and that, my friends, is just what I intend to do if I am so privileged to be elected your president.”

“Nothing should unite us more closely than the imperative of defeating an enemy who despises us, our values and modernity itself. We must all pull together in this critical hour and proclaim that the history of the world will not be determined by this unpardonable foe but by the asperations, ideals, faith and the courage of free people. In this great, historic task we will never surrender. They will.”

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Huckabee, Who Swallows Other Campaigns Whole

Of course Mike Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. I dismissed the possibility a few weeks ago by saying he had no “path to the nomination,” and I was foolish to do so. Huckabee’s path is evident — with surprising victories in early states, he steamrolls faltering campaigns and pushes them aside until he is the only guy left standing. This is precisely the Mitt Romney strategy, only instead of being manufactured at great expense with a campaign machine as Romney’s was, Huckabee’s path is being cleared for him not by money and media but but by an honest-to-God (or, perhaps, given Huckabee’s own sentiments about the role of Christ in his campaign, honest-to-Jesus) groundswell. So the Romney strategy is working, but it may not be working for Romney, in Iowa, at least.

Perhaps the most telling sign of Huckabee’s potential national success is his ability to drain the life out of the nominating strategies of other campaigns. First, he vampirized Fred Thompson — the candidate who was supposed to emerge relatively late as the socially conservative Southerner and overwhelm the other candidates with his capacity to unite core Republican constituencies. Thompson was half-hearted about it — wanted to talk more about the threat of Social Security, which no voter actually cares about — but Huckabee is not. Having subsumed Thompson, Huckabee is now in the process of trying to subsume Romney. And if Huckabee should actually win Florida on January 29 — the state that was supposed to confirm Rudy Giuliani’s sure march to the nomination — then Huckabee will have gone from swallowing Thompson whole to swallowing Romney whole to swallowing Giuliani whole.

In this scenario, that leaves McCain, the only candidate who doesn’t actually have a theory about how to win ever since his strategy to run as the party consensus frontrunner blew up so spectacularly over the summer. Right now it seems McCain is just winging it, trying to score better numbers than anyone expected in New Hampshire and seeing if that reignites mainstream Republican enthusiasm for him. If the race for the Republican presidential nomination has taken a turn away from theories, and if a guy with little or no money (Huckabee) can stage a dramatic race to the front of the pack, then a guy with little or no money (McCain) can begin to move on Huckabee in January.

This scenario depends on Rudy Giuliani’s slide becoming permanent, and on Mitt Romney deciding he doesn’t want to waste any more of his fortune on a losing battle. But if Giuliani arrests his slide, and Romney goes all in with up to $100 million of his own money, then the three of them — Giuliani, Romney, and McCain — will be battling to make the case that he and only he can save the Republican Party from a Goldwater-level electoral disaster in November with Huckabee at the top of the ticket.

Of course Mike Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. I dismissed the possibility a few weeks ago by saying he had no “path to the nomination,” and I was foolish to do so. Huckabee’s path is evident — with surprising victories in early states, he steamrolls faltering campaigns and pushes them aside until he is the only guy left standing. This is precisely the Mitt Romney strategy, only instead of being manufactured at great expense with a campaign machine as Romney’s was, Huckabee’s path is being cleared for him not by money and media but but by an honest-to-God (or, perhaps, given Huckabee’s own sentiments about the role of Christ in his campaign, honest-to-Jesus) groundswell. So the Romney strategy is working, but it may not be working for Romney, in Iowa, at least.

Perhaps the most telling sign of Huckabee’s potential national success is his ability to drain the life out of the nominating strategies of other campaigns. First, he vampirized Fred Thompson — the candidate who was supposed to emerge relatively late as the socially conservative Southerner and overwhelm the other candidates with his capacity to unite core Republican constituencies. Thompson was half-hearted about it — wanted to talk more about the threat of Social Security, which no voter actually cares about — but Huckabee is not. Having subsumed Thompson, Huckabee is now in the process of trying to subsume Romney. And if Huckabee should actually win Florida on January 29 — the state that was supposed to confirm Rudy Giuliani’s sure march to the nomination — then Huckabee will have gone from swallowing Thompson whole to swallowing Romney whole to swallowing Giuliani whole.

In this scenario, that leaves McCain, the only candidate who doesn’t actually have a theory about how to win ever since his strategy to run as the party consensus frontrunner blew up so spectacularly over the summer. Right now it seems McCain is just winging it, trying to score better numbers than anyone expected in New Hampshire and seeing if that reignites mainstream Republican enthusiasm for him. If the race for the Republican presidential nomination has taken a turn away from theories, and if a guy with little or no money (Huckabee) can stage a dramatic race to the front of the pack, then a guy with little or no money (McCain) can begin to move on Huckabee in January.

This scenario depends on Rudy Giuliani’s slide becoming permanent, and on Mitt Romney deciding he doesn’t want to waste any more of his fortune on a losing battle. But if Giuliani arrests his slide, and Romney goes all in with up to $100 million of his own money, then the three of them — Giuliani, Romney, and McCain — will be battling to make the case that he and only he can save the Republican Party from a Goldwater-level electoral disaster in November with Huckabee at the top of the ticket.

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Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Just Enough to Stave Off Defeat

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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