The Most Dangerous Man In The Field

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice (stammers), y-you don’t get fooled again.

George W. Bush

He has done it again.  Delivering remarks on the fifth anniversary of our ill-fated invasion of Iraq, Republican presidential nominee John McCain has again wrongly implied that al Qaeda operatives were receiving aid and training from Iran making this the third time in two days that he has made the error.

Indeed, he’s now making it look as though al Qaeda and Shiite extremists are merrily locked arm in arm in their quest for violence, further displaying his utter lack of knowledge regarding the struggles that exist within Iraq.  At a most fundamental level, handing him the reigns to our vast National Security apparatus means hamstringing our nation’s vision and comprehension of the region.  That he seems unable to actually take the time to comprehend the complexity of the relationships that are in place in this conflict points to a man who cannot succeed because he does not know the social topography, nor does he seem to want to.

Josh Marshall gets it:

But this is really just the tip of the iceberg with McCain. In almost every discussion of foreign policy, not just today but in previous years, what stands out is McCain’s inability to see beyond the immediate issues of military tactics to any firm grasp of strategy or America’s real vital interests. His free willingness to commit to a decades long occupation of Iraq is an example, his push for ground troops to be introduced during the Kosovo War is another. His refusal, almost inability, to grapple with the political failure of the surge is the most telling one if people will sift through its deeper implications.

The idea that fighting jihadists in Iraq or policing the country’s sectarian and ethnic disputes is the calling of this century is one that is belied in virtually everything we see in flux in today’s world and which seems certain to affect us through the rest of our lifetimes and our children’s.

It is very difficult to draw practical lessons from history. But one of the closest things to a law is that military power is almost always built on economic might. And the former seldom long outlasts the latter. Indeed, countries with sound finances have routinely been able to punch over their weight — great Britain and the Netherlands during different periods are key examples. So fiscal soundness even over the medium term is much more important than any particular weapon system or basing right.

Then you step back and see the huge number of dollars we’re pouring into Iraq, the vast mountains of capital being piled up in China, the oil-fueled resurgence of Russia, the weakness of the dollar (not only in exchange rate but in its future as a reserve currency), the rising tide of anti-Americanism around the world. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything from John McCain that suggests he’s given serious consideration to any of these issues, except as possible near term military challenges — i.e., is China building a blue water navy to challenge the US, Russian weapons systems, etc.

Candidly, I do not think I’ve heard sufficient discussions or solutions to these challenges from my preferred candidates. But neither has the myopia that McCain has about Iraq. Or the willingness to spend — how else to put it — like a drunken sailor in that country at the expense of everything else now going on in the world.

Hillary Clinton has stipulated to McCain’s qualifications as Commander-in-Chief; and Obama, implicitly, does the same. But his record actually shows he’s one of the most dangerous people we could have in the Oval Office in coming years — not just because he’s a hothead in using the military, but more because he seems genuinely clueless about the real challenges and dangers the country is facing. He’s too busy living in the fantasy world where our future as a great power and our very safety are all bound up in Iraq.

I break with Josh who criticizes the Democratic candidates for showing McCain a measure of respect; I think such shows to a degree are necessary given the man’s standing in American politics.  To outright disrespect McCain would be the equivalent of screaming “Santa doesn’t exist!” in a room full of five-year-olds.  Though I will cede that Clinton went the wrong direction in asserting that McCain has passed the “Commander in Chief threshold.”

The task at hand is to convincingly and prudently convince the room of five-year-olds that Santa doesn’t exist without resulting in them all breaking down in tears and resenting you eternally over it.

The case that must be built is that despite McCain’s honorable service and time as a POW, he is still not qualified to be trusted with the kind of decisions that the office of the President of the United States will afford him.  The case must be made that an actual understanding of Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world is absolutely vital to US interests there.  And when I say understanding, I do not mean understanding in a military sense, but in a comprehensive sense which seeks to better understand the social, economic, and political landscape of the region.

Shorter: we need a president that looks upon that region not as a laundry list of potential targets, but an actual place where millions of people live, eat, cherish their families, and try and carve out for themselves a decent life.

The case must also be made, as Josh aptly points out, that McCain’s laser like focus on a region he seems to know nothing about also drains from him as a potential Commander in Chief the ability to conceptualize America’s standing globally.  The costs of Iraq are to McCain like they are to Bush; something you put on the credit card without caring that China is the creditor, and China deciding to call in all debts would be devastating.

The saddest thing is that regarding John McCain, this is the best case scenario.  As I noted yesterday, the recurrence of McCain’s gaffe increases the possibility that he is like Bush in a way far more sinister and worrisome than simple ham-handed foreign policy.

In a way it is fitting that McCain’s conflation of al Qaeda with Iran comes at the fifth anniversary of our invasion of Iraq.  After all, it was Bush, his administration, and those talking heads in the media who went to bat for him, who employed the vital conflation of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that helped drum up the support that the president needed to invade Iraq.

Five years later, McCain is doing the same thing with Iran, using the same stock villain of al Qaeda.  Once could be written off as a “senior moment.”  Multiple transgressions denote a pattern.  One we have already been bitten by before.

The neoconservative movement in this country has been steadfastly working on making a case for war in Iran for quite some time now as though Iraq was such a grand success that we need to hop into the next war now before all the awesomeness wears off the war we still can’t manage to extricate ourselves from.  If I’m right, and I have no reason to think that I’m not, John McCain is shaping up to be the vehicle through which this new war will come to fruition.

This easily makes John McCain the most dangerous man in the field.  What makes him more dangerous is that in a bitterly waged Democratic primary, more and more numbers are vowing to vote for McCain if their candidate is not selected as the nominee.

Obama has also delivered some prepared remarks regarding the fifth anniversary of Iraq and his vision regarding foreign policy and national security.  I have yet to read these remarks, however; Abu Aardvark seems suitably impressed:

He argues that the troop withdrawal and changed political strategy

will finally put pressure on Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future. Because we’ve learned that when we tell Iraq’s leaders that we’ll stay as long as it takes, they take as long as they want. We need to send a different message. We will help Iraq reach a meaningful accord on national reconciliation. We will engage with every country in the region – and the UN – to support the stability and territorial integrity of Iraq. And we will launch a major humanitarian initiative to support Iraq’s refugees and people. But Iraqis must take responsibility for their country. It is precisely this kind of approach – an approach that puts the onus on the Iraqis, and that relies on more than just military power – that is needed to stabilize Iraq.

Obviously,I agree.   There’s a lot more in the speech, which places Iraq in a wider regional and global framework and talks seriously about the wider strategic perspective.   Instead, Obama gets the big things right, and easily counters Clinton’s attacks while very effectively equating them with the Bush-McCain playbook.  Great stuff.   It’s fascinating to compare this wide-ranging speech with Hillary Clinton’s laundry list of detail and endless name- checking lots of very important former officials in her own big Iraq speech yesterday.  Joe Klein nailed that one beautifully:  “Hillary Clinton’s Iraq speech today wasn’t very noteworthy–mostly a regurgitation of old ideas and old rhetoric–except for her slagging of former Obama advisor Samantha Power.”  That’s the difference between them. 

I tend to bristle a little bit at the, “Blame Iraqis,” meme, however; we’re not likely to find a presidential candidate that is outside that mindset at this juncture, and the endgame is still about right.  Redeploy, be on hand for humanitarian aid if needed, and let the Iraqis set their own course for their own country.

The difficult to impress Kevin Drum also seemed pleased overall:

There’s a lot more in this vein, and the speech was heavily focused on the purely military aspects of the war on terror — too heavily focused for my taste. But there were nods here and there to nonmilitary issues, including this nicely delivered paragraph:

Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have made the same arguments against my position on diplomacy, as if reading from the same political playbook. They say I’ll be penciling the world’s dictators on to my social calendar. But just as they are misrepresenting my position, they are mistaken in standing up for a policy of not talking that is not working. What I’ve said is that we cannot seize opportunities to resolve our problems unless we create them. That is what Kennedy did with Khrushchev; what Nixon did with Mao; what Reagan did with Gorbachev. And that is what I will do as President of the United States.

That last sentence is clever, associating himself with three presidents who are widely admired as toughminded negotiators. It’s a neat play, both rhetorically and substantively.

Overall, not a bad speech. There wasn’t too much new in it, and I wish he had taken on some broader themes, but overall it helped his cause. Not only was he firm about wanting to leave Iraq (thus addressing Hillary’s exploitation of Samantha Power’s remarksthat Obama would “revisit” withdrawal when be became president), but he gave good reasons for wanting to leave. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 7.

But it is Steve Benen that comes up with perhaps the most salient point.  Given that McCain is the most dangerous man in the field, we as Democrats need to beat him.

Perhaps most notably, Obama went after McCain’s big gaffe: “Just yesterday, we heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shiite, Iran and al Qaeda. Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no Al Qaeda ties,” Obama said. “Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America’s enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades.”

Good. I get the criticism of Clinton, mainly in response to Clinton’s criticism of him earlier this week, but as I’ve said umpteen times, the more these two go after McCain, the better. This is all the more important when McCain gives them a golden opportunity — such as repeatedly screwing up the basics of Iraq, Iran, and al Qaeda.

One more section of note: Obama addressed the question of how to go up against McCain in a general election.

“It is time to have a debate with John McCain about the future of our national security. And the way to win that debate is not to compete with John McCain over who has more experience in Washington, because that’s a contest that he’ll win. The way to win a debate with John McCain is not to talk, and act, and vote like him on national security, because then we all lose.

“The way to win that debate and to keep America safe is to offer a clear contrast, and that’s what I will do when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party – because since before this war in Iraq began, I have made different judgments, I have a different vision, and I will offer a clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past.”

We discussedthis point in some detail a couple of weeks ago, but Obama’s argument sounds about right. Clinton’s emphasis on experience seems like a short-sighted strategy, intended to knock down Obama, but ultimately making it easier for McCain.

This is where the debate needs to be, and for all intents and purposes, that’s where Obama intends to take it.  We most definitely do not need to be claiming that McCain has passed any Commander in Chief tests because, by all measures, he has not.

3 Responses to “The Most Dangerous Man In The Field”

  1. man, i wrote about the same thing a few minuts ago

  2. heh… there I go, stealin’ your thunder again.

  3. It’s seriously crazy that he really believes this. Make a gaffe? Just lie about it! The media won’t notice!

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