I know the debate was so last Friday, and we are all wondering “What now?” after the defeat of the $700 billion bailout this afternoon.
But darn it, I just can’t get over how incredibly badly Obama lost the battle for Iraq with McCain in the Presidential debate. The reason: Obama is focused both on being liked (“me too!”) and being right, not on how to win the argument. It’s a weakness that I believe will prove fatal.
Obama’s constant referrals to his speech on 2002 and his superior judgment on Iraq were a strategic reachout to HDS sufferers in the press and in the Obamasphere during the primaries. As Bill Clinton said, the whole idea of Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq was a fairy tale, considering that he has now been in the Senate for almost four years and has done nothing to end the war – nothing that Hillary hadn’t done, in any case. But this fairy tale was good enough for the Obamans, and got enough of them to vote for him that he was able to cheat, lie and steal his way to the nomination.
It’s the General Election, now, Barack, and you are now running for President. A President is expected to act, not dither and then come up with a “me too.” In order to act, a President must be focused on the present and the future, not the past. So why are you letting McCain spin his own fairy tales about the “surge” and the “great success” in Iraq?
Both Obama and McCain were asked what lessons they learned from Iraq. Here was McCain’s response:
MCCAIN: I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict. Our initial military success, we went in to Baghdad and everybody celebrated. And then the war was very badly mishandled. I went to Iraq in 2003 and came back and said, we’ve got to change this strategy. This strategy requires additional troops, it requires a fundamental change in strategy and I fought for it. And finally, we came up with a great general and a strategy that has succeeded.
This strategy has succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq. And we will come home with victory and with honor. And that withdrawal is the result of every counterinsurgency that succeeds.
MCCAIN: And I want to tell you that now that we will succeed and our troops will come home, and not in defeat, that we will see a stable ally in the region and a fledgling democracy.
Obama should have been hitting back rather hard on this revisionist history of McCain’s and this rosy view of the future of Iraq, neither of which have any basis in the reality of what is going on there. But of course, his “me-too” instincts kicked in. You were right in 2003, McCain? Well, I was right in 2002!!!! So there!!!!
OBAMA: Well, this is an area where Senator McCain and I have a fundamental difference because I think the first question is whether we should have gone into the war in the first place.
Now six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so because I said that not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world, and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn’t finished the job in Afghanistan.
We hadn’t caught bin Laden. We hadn’t put al Qaeda to rest, and as a consequence, I thought that it was going to be a distraction. Now Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.
And I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right, but that’s not the case. We’ve spent over $600 billion so far, soon to be $1 trillion. We have lost over 4,000 lives. We have seen 30,000 wounded, and most importantly, from a strategic national security perspective, al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001.
We took our eye off the ball. And not to mention that we are still spending $10 billion a month, when they have a $79 billion surplus, at a time when we are in great distress here at home, and we just talked about the fact that our budget is way overstretched and we are borrowing money from overseas to try to finance just some of the basic functions of our government. So I think the lesson to be drawn is that we should never hesitate to use military force, and I will not, as president, in order to keep the American people safe. But we have to use our military wisely. And we did not use our military wisely in Iraq.
So, the lessons of Iraq are, use your military wisely and don’t go in in the first place, according to Obama. I can’t disagree with those two lessons, but…dude, we’re already there. We’ve been there for almost 6 years now. Are you really going back to a speech in 2002 at this point? How about referencing what’s going on now and projecting into the future, as McCain did?
LEHRER: Do you agree with that, the lesson of Iraq?
MCCAIN: The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind. That’s the decision of the next president of the United States.
McCain then proceeded to beat Obama soundly about the head and shoulders regarding his contradictory statements on the troop escalation ordered by President Bush in the beginning 2007.
Senator Obama said the surge could not work, said it would increase sectarian violence, said it was doomed to failure. Recently on a television program, he said it exceed our wildest expectations. But yet, after conceding that, he still says that he would oppose the surge if he had to decide that again today. Incredibly, incredibly Senator Obama didn’t go to Iraq for 900 days and never asked for a meeting with General Petraeus.
Ouuuuuch. That’s John Kerry, “for it before I was against it” territory.
Now, if I were Obama, I would have said something like this:
As you know, John, the surge did not work for quite some time. And that was a surge that you yourself designed, with Joe Lieberman, and which was a terrible failure. It increased violence, empowered the insurgency, and left Al Qaeda alone. It was only after our tactics changed, and we included outreach to the anti-Al Qaeda Sunni community within Anbar province, that the surge began to function as promised. Even then, the quelling of violence was only achieved with the cooperation of Muqtada Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army agreeing to a cease-fire.
So yes, I would absolutely oppose the surge as originally designed. As you yourself have said so often, we cannot afford failure in Iraq.
But of course, Obama said nothing of the sort, because that would be, you know, fighting back against the Republicans and their framing. And we can’t have that! Besides, we have to realize that Obama’s judgment is always superior, in every case. That is very important to him.
But let’s get back to the core issue here. Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.They have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.
And so John likes — John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shia and Sunni. And you were wrong. And so my question is…
LEHRER: Senator Obama…
OBAMA: … of judgment, of whether or not — of whether or not — if the question is who is best-equipped as the next president to make good decisions about how we use our military, how we make sure that we are prepared and ready for the next conflict, then I think we can take a look at our judgment.
AAAAAACK! No one cares about what goes on your damn head, Obama. No one cares what you “believe” or “hope.” They care what you’re going to DO.
At this point, no one knows what Obama would do as President, and it’s largely because he keeps ceding important issues, like Iraq/The Surge, FISA and a strong pro-choice platform, to the Republicans. His me-tooism was never more cringe-inducing than it was during the debate, when he claimed to be wearing a meaningful bracelet, just like McCain – but it turned out that not only did he not remember the name on the bracelet, but that the soldier’s family had also asked him months ago to stop wearing it. That moment was so bad that I had to turn off the debate a few minutes later.
So, it looks like we have a choice between a real Republican and a fake Republican who calls himself a Democrat this year. My guess is that the public will pick the real Republican in November; because if there’s one thing McCain has that Obama doesn’t, it’s experience at being a leader on issues of great importance to the nation. That he was wrong on many of those issues will not matter. Americans prefer “me” to “me-too,” every single time.
Cross-posted at Partizane