The Right’s Ahistorical Analysis of the Surge

Bob Herbert in his column today critiques the premise behind the media’s coverage of Barack Obama and John McCain: that the latter’s character and political history are known to all but Obama’s isn’t:

The conventional wisdom in this radically unconventional presidential race is that the voters have to get to know Barack Obama better. That’s what this week’s overseas trip was about: to showcase the senator as a potential commander in chief and leader of U.S. foreign policy.

According to this way of thinking, as voters see more of Mr. Obama and become more comfortable with him (assuming no major foul-ups along the way), his chances of getting elected will be enhanced.

Maybe so. But what about the other guy? How much do voters really know about John McCain?

Senator McCain crossed a line that he shouldn’t have this week when he said that Mr. Obama “would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” It was a lousy comment, tantamount to calling Mr. Obama a traitor, and Senator McCain should apologize for it.

But what we’ve learned over the years is that Mr. McCain is one of those guys who never has to pay much of a price for his missteps and foul-ups and bad behavior. Can you imagine the firestorm of outrage and criticism that would have descended on Senator Obama if he had made the kind of factual mistakes that John McCain has repeatedly made in this campaign?

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary asserts that there was nothing wrong or inappropriate about McCain’s accusation:

Bob Herbert is the latest of the liberal pundits to be flummoxed by Barack Obama’s refusal to admit the surge has turned our fortunes around in Iraq and that it was a good thing it did. So what to do? Attack John McCain, of course.
Lousy? But why? He doesn’t say why it was wrong, just that it is mean to say it. But it is not wrong, of course.

To support this assertion, Rubin quotes… John McCain!

As McCain explained in his radio address today:

Back here in the country that we are competing to lead, a lot folks were having trouble trying to square Senator Obama’s multiple positions on the surge in Iraq. First, he opposed the surge and confidently predicted that it would fail. Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge. But now that it’s clear that the surge has succeeded, and brought victory in Iraq within sight, Senator Obama can’t quite bring himself to admit his own failure in judgment. Instead, he commits the even greater error of insisting that even in hindsight, he would still oppose the surge. Even in retrospect, he would choose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory. That’s not exactly my idea of the judgment we seek in a commander-in-chief.

It is the bolded portion which provides the most support for McCain’s proposition. In other words Obama would prefer to have the non-surge Iraq, an American defeat and humiliation and chaos in Iraq. But no, his defenders say, he just thinks the surge wasn’t needed and everything would be just fine now without it. … There are two problems with that one.

First, it’s fantasy-land stuff. No U.S. military leader, outside observer, Iraqi official or military leader or allied leader thinks that is true. …

Second, this is not the reason Obama gave for saying even now he wouldn’t embrace the surge. He said he’d liked to have used the money elsewhere and he wants to implement a surge in Afghanistan. (I know– you can’t make this stuff up.) But in all that he didn’t say anything about Iraq being just fine without the surge. Once again, it is clear he doesn’t much care about the outcome there and didn’t much care all along if we lost in Iraq.

So back to McCain’s accusation. It seems fairly clear that the “losing a war” part of McCain’s argument is rather airtight. That has been the netroot argument all along — Iraq is not our fight, it is irrelevant to fighting Al Qaeda and so we can leave. (They like to say “leave” or “withdraw,” but “withdraw” when your side is in peril is known as “retreat.” And what follows is “defeat.”)

Well then, maybe McCain overstepped on the “for political gain” part of the the construct. Maybe Obama thought his position was really brave and daring and he wasn’t playing to the gallery. Yeah, right. This has been the rallying cry for his campaign, the ticket to the nomination and the item he used to beat Hillary Clinton into submission. So at the very least, he followed a path which maximized his political advantage at every turn. (Again he might claim he was woefully uninformed and despite independent experts, testimony of General PetraeUs and Ambassador Crocker, and reports from Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden, he was totally in the dark as to the progress of the surge, until lo and behold, time had passed and the nomination was sewn up.) And now that all the evidence is in he still sticks with the netroot party line and refuses to embrace the surge. (After witnessing the fit which the Left threw over his reversal on FISA it is understandable that this was one fight which he didn’t want to take on.)

In short, there is ample support for McCain’s argument. The fact that Obama’s supporters can only respond with an ad hominem attack on McCain should remove any doubt But if they want to go back to the naive/uninformed explanation for Obama’s inexplicable refusal to recognize and welcome the results of the surge that probably would be okay with McCain too.

Ugh. Such incoherent twaddle. It’s hard to know where to begin unpacking.

Let’s start with the lack of any actual facts to support Rubin’s retort that the surge has, too, been successful. “Violence is way down,” although true, is not proof that the surge “worked.” Notwithstanding McCain’s ahistorical conflation of the escalation of troop levels with the Sunni Awakening, which started before the escalation and had nothing to do with U.S. military efforts, the surge did not “cause everything,” as hilzoy put it in her delightfully funny and clever deconstruction of McCain’s ignorant fact-slaying claim that it did.

The entirety of Rubin’s certainty that the surge turned everything around in Iraq appears to be that John McCain, Pres. Bush, and David Petraeus say it did. And since the surge’s wonderfulness is as indisputable as the fact that tomorrow is another day, it follows that Barack Obama would rather be president than win the war. Never, at any point, do Rubin or McCain or any of the other cheerleaders for war define terms like “winning,” “losing,” “success,” “failure,” or “victory.” Even less do they question their assumption that Iraq is “winnable” or for whom or how they would recognize “victory” if they ever saw it.

If the surge is so successful, if it did everything it was supposed to do, put America on the road to victory and “turned our fortunes around,” then why are those extra troops still there? Why are any U.S. troops still there, if the United States has won the war thanks to the surge?

Dan Fejes, who blogs at Pruning Shears, put it well in a comment he left at Attackerman:

Um, “astonishing success of the surge”? I left the following on another site, but I’ll repeat it here: The surge was announced in January 2007 and it was universally acknowledged that by September of that year we would know whether or not it succeeded. This particular product arrived on shelves with the slogan ‘Return on Success’, with the idea being that a temporary increase of soldiers in Baghdad would provide the necessary stability for political reconciliation to occur. If as you insist the surge succeeded then why didn’t soldiers begin returning on it ten months ago?

3 Responses to “The Right’s Ahistorical Analysis of the Surge”

  1. Hold_That_Tiger says:

    Not to mention that the USA begun bribing 100,000+ Sunni fighters to fight with us and not against us BEFORE the surge (“The Sons of Iraq.”) Other than a piece on 60 Minutes (they should repeat it) the MSM has stayed away from talking about that expensive little nugget of information. Personally, I think the fact that the Sunni tribal leaders had had it with foreign insurgents wrecking havoc in their areas had more to do with the quieting of AQI in particular than more American Troops in Iraq, but whatever, the Repugs are just working with what they have, I suppose.

    As for the public “knowing McCain,” what a laugh. Your average American knows little about McCain other than his status as a POW, and that he is purportedly a “maverick.” God knows they have heard enough about Wright, Rezko, and have even discussed Michelle Obama’s Senior Thesis written over 20 years ago. What the public doesn’t know about McCain ain’t pretty. I’m not saying that all of the following SHOULD be known about McCain, but if Obama and Wife had the same History you can be sure that it would be out there:

    *McCain’s dumping of his first wife, to the displeasure of Republican Icons Nancy and Ronald Reagan no less who had befriended the McCains, and had come to love Carol McCain, when he came home from Vietnam and found her “disfigured” from a car accident that almost killed her, he almost immediately began cheating on her, and ultimately, to her complete surprize apparently dumped her for 24 year old Cindy when he was 42. The story has had some play in the English press, but hasn’t been widely mentioned here. The Right certainly harp on character enough (see the scouraging of Bill Clinton, and the current rumbling about John Edwards), I should think that McCain’s treatment of his first wife tells us something about McCain.

    *The coverup of Cindy McCain’s drug addiction; she stole drugs from her own charity and got a Doctor who worked with her to prescribe her narcotics. When she was outed by an employee, who reported her to the DEA, he was fired, the Doctor surrendered his license, and Cindy McCain went into rehab with no other penalty…some say due to John McCain’s Political influence. Oddly enough, even though Cindy had a 15 vicodin per day habit, John McCain apparently didn’t notice (15 a day, is heavy duty by anyone’s standard, BTW.)

    *The Keating 5 which cost the American tax payer millions upon millions has gotten little replay in the press…yes McCain got a slap on the hand, but no malfeasance has been found between Obama and Rezko either, yet Rezko’s name comes up frequently. The Keating 5 established a trend of dubious influence peddling that McCain has maintained to this day (see next paragraph.)

    *The questionable Land Deal that McCain finessed for a big time Land developer donor of his named Diamond, I believe. McCain arranged for a land swap of remote Arizona land for valuable developable land owned by the people of Arizona…with a huge net loss in value for the State of Arizona.

    *McCain calls Obama “Dr NO,” but most of the public have little knowledge of McCain’s voting record, many, I think would be appalled: NO on extending medical insurance for poor children, NO on susidies to help the poor and elderly cover energy bills, NO on several funding Bills for the Veteran’s administration, NO to the Webb GI Bill 4 times before he was shamed into supporting it, NO on Federal funding for family planning that just might help reduce the need for the abortions that McCain opposes. In addition, shockingly, a large percentage of Rpublicans who are pro-choice have no idea that McCain stridently opposes legal abortion.

    The problem is that the MSM is lazy and look upon John McCain as old news, and haven’t bothered to further vet him while they pick apart Obama’s every word looking for him to screw up. The Right of course desperately seizes on every gaffe of Obama’s whether real or imagined, and then claims whatever it is is a sign of Obama’s lack of character, or laughingly proves that Obama is stupid (the 57 States mistake got tons of play on the hard right blogs.)

    I honestly believe that the right initally thought that Obama would be another push over like Kerry or Gore, and could be easily painted as a far left loony, but have been unpleasantly surprized at his toughness, not to mention his savvy. Nevertheless, the press needs to stop insisting that “we know” John McCain when most of us know squat….

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks for the kind words and the link Kathy!

  3. Kathy says:

    No prob, Dan. I have to get you onto my blogroll at Liberty Street. I keep meaning to do it!

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