28 mei 2008

John McCain is Out Of Touch

Every time John McCain aims low in his increasingly belligerent campaign rhetoric, I think about an item Time’s Joe Klein wrote about a month ago. Klein, a McCain admirer, predicted that McCain would avoid the cheap and pathetic style of campaigning we’re seeing now. McCain, Klein said, “sees the tawdry ceremonies of politics — the spin and hucksterism — as unworthy.” If he doesn’t, “McCain will have to live with the knowledge that in the most important business of his life, he chose expediency over honor. That’s probably not the way he wants to be remembered.”
Klein’s optimism is looking shaky. Consider how John McCain chose to honor Memorial Day.
“Barack Obama really has no experience or knowledge or judgment about the issue of Iraq and he has wanted to surrender for a long time,” the Arizona senator added. “If there was any other issue before the American people, and you hadn’t had anything to do with it in a couple of years, I think the American people would judge that very harshly.” […]
The Iraq war, which polls have shown that most of the country opposes, is shaping up to be a defining issue in the November presidential election. McCain, who wrapped up the GOP nomination in March, supports continued military involvement in Iraq; Obama, who has all but clinched the Democratic nomination, has called for withdrawing U.S. troops.
“For him to talk about dates for withdrawal, which basically is surrender in Iraq after we’re succeeding so well is, I think, really inexcusable,” said McCain, who has been to Iraq eight times, most recently in March.

Now, I’ve come to expect cheap rhetoric from John McCain, but “surrender” talk is generally more the province of right-wing blogs, not respected presidential candidates. Most Americans believe withdrawal from Iraq best serves American interests. Is McCain prepared to smear a majority of the country?
But that’s hardly the most nonsensical aspect of McCain’s attack. First, McCain decided to lash out at Obama for taking a sensible approach to Iraq on Memorial Day. This is a holiday for a reason — it’s about paying respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Can McCain — you know, the one who vowed to make this an “honorable” campaign — not see how wildly inappropriate this is?

Second, in what universe does McCain feel justified arguing that Obama’s “knowledge” and “judgment” on Iraq are lacking? Obama’s the one who’s been right about the war from the start, while McCain was the one who a) said the war would be short and easy; b) said Sunnis and Shi’ia would get along fine; c) insisted that the war was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from giving WMD to al Qaeda; d) said we had to “stay the course” with the Rumsfeld strategy; e) is still confused about Sunni, Shi’ia, al Qaeda, and Iran; and f) continues to believe the “surge” policy has brought about the non-existent political progress it was intended to create.
McCain may be too foolish to recognize his mistake, and too blinded by crass partisanship to approach his humiliating record with humility, but to lash out at Obama for being right is demonstrably ridiculous.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, who, exactly, does McCain think we would “surrender” to in Iraq were we to leave? I realize McCain isn’t the sharpest crayon in the box, but he does realize the nature of the conflict in Iraq, doesn’t he?
My hunch, reading over McCain’s obtuse and inarticulate assessments of the war, is that he’s deluded himself into thinking that the war in Iraq is with al Qaeda. That the Republican presidential candidate is confused about the source of violence in Iraq with the war in its sixth year doesn’t speak well of his competence, but with some regularity, McCain has said that “al Qaeda will then have won” if we withdraw U.S. troops.
Regrettably, McCain doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about.
Some students of the insurgency say Mr. McCain is making a dangerous generalization. “The U.S. has not been fighting Al Qaeda, it’s been fighting Iraqis,” said Juan Cole, a fierce critic of the war who is the author of “Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi’ite Islam” and a professor of history at the University of Michigan. A member of Al Qaeda “is technically defined as someone who pledges fealty to Osama bin Laden and is given a terror operation to carry out. It’s kind of like the Mafia,” Mr. Cole said. “You make your bones, and you’re loyal to a capo. And I don’t know if anyone in Iraq quite fits that technical definition.”
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is just one group, though a very lethal one, in the stew of competing Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, Iranian-backed groups, criminal gangs and others that make up the insurgency in Iraq. That was vividly illustrated last month when the Iraqi Army’s unsuccessful effort to wrest control of Basra from the Shiite militia groups that hold sway there led to an explosion of violence.
The current situation in Iraq should properly be described as “a multifactional civil war” in which “the government is composed of rival Shia factions” and “they are embattled with an outside Shia group, the Mahdi Army,” Ira M. Lapidus, a co-author of “Islam, Politics and Social Movements” and a professor of history at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in an e-mail message. “The Sunni forces are equally hard to assess,” he added, and “it is an open question as to whether Al Qaeda is a unified operating organization at all.”

Before McCain starts irresponsibly throwing around painfully stupid rhetoric about “surrender,” maybe he could take a moment to learn something about the war he helped create more than five years ago. While he’s at it, if could also pause to consider why it’s crass and disrespectful to make these kinds of attacks on Memorial Day, I’m sure we’d all appreciate it.