As noted in many places across the web today, Iraq’s Premier Nouri al Maliki has all but endorsed Obama’s plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq by 2010. Now, Jim is right when he points out the miniscule differences between the campaigns now. Who really cares whether we’ve got 50,000 or 70,000 troops in Iraq come 2012, when we’re back at the polls again?
In truth, there’s been a convergence of views here. McCain’s surge has won the war, for the most part, and now it’s just a matter of preserving the peace and preventing further meddling by Iran and its surrogates. Peter Ferrara argues this point persuasively in his piece at NRO, and one has to wonder — if we hadn’t had the Mission Accomplished Moment in 2005, would we be declaring victory today? Unfortunately, the false victory of the air craft carrier has precluded the real victory on the ground in Iraq. One wonders if, in twenty years or so, historians will consider the Iraq War to have ended in 2008, even if there are tens of thousands of troops remaining well into the next decade. After all, if the war lasts as long as the troops remain, then we’re still fighting the Nazis and the Soviets in Germany right now.
Instead, we’re stuck talking about how to end a war that is quickly disappearing of its own accord. That’s good for America and good for Iraq. It’s not very good for the planned campaign strategies of either camp. Obama expected to be demanding an immediate pullout from an Iraq engulfed in violence — if he was, he would 16 points ahead rather than 6. Obama wants a war he can run from, because the netroots are dead-set on fleeing the battlefield. We should all be happy that, if President Obama decides to run away, there won’t be left to run from. Indeed, we’re almost to the point that, if we go away, there will be a viable Iraqi security force remaining to take our place in every province of the country.
McCain thought the surge would be working, but maybe not this well. Al Qaeda would be on the run, but not run out on a rail. Most of his campaign to this point has been predicated on the need to have a war president — indeed, a war hero war president — to fight and win in Iraq and elsewhere. Instead, we’re left with a guerrilla war in Afghanistan that both Obama and McCain seem prepared to fight, and a mop-up action in Iraq that seemingly either candidate could handle. If McCain is left with this threat environment, he’ll be left arguing in favor of free market solutions to our economic challenges. Needless to say, that’s not the hill he wants to die upon.
But the progress of the war presents opportunities for both sides, opportunities that neither side seems to have fully grasped. For Obama, that means pulling out looks more honorable and victorious. But his liberal tic prevents him from declaring victory with honor while removing our troops — that might smell too much like the war was justified, and that just won’t do. McCain, on the other hand, can start supporting an advanced withdrawal of troops while still posing as a vindicated hawk. McCain’s reflexive resistance to “timelines,” however, keeps him from employing rhetoric that appears to favor an accelerated withdrawal. That resistance feeds into the worst fears of the public and reminds voters of the “100 years in Iraq” nonsense (which you can be sure will appear in ads and media reports dozens more times before November).
Unfortunately, McCain appears to be hurt the most by the positive turn of events in Iraq, precisely because any effort to take credit for the surge requires him to open up a debate about the past. When the surge was the present, even the future, of the Iraq War, it made him look like Today’s Leader. McCain was needed preserve and maximize the gains we’ve made from his strategy. Now that the surge is largely over, McCain is left saying that he was right about the surge (about the past), and thus he will be right about future decisions regarding national security.
But that gives Obama an opening — and it’s a big one. Once we start analyzing past decisions, Obama will dig deeper, questioning whether we should have ever gone to war at all. When there was a war on, McCain’s response was, “It’s not useful to talk about the past — we’re at war now, and we have win it.” Without a war, though, Obama’s retort either goes unchallenged or must be countered with the same arguments used by the Bush Administration for the past two terms. We know who wins that debate with the voters, and it isn’t McCain.
Who knew that McCain would need the Iraq War as a campaign prop more than Obama?