In no other area is the need for a John McCain presidency (and the risks of a Barack Obama presidency) more apparent than the war in Iraq. As the Donald Rumsfeld “small footprint” strategy became an obvious disaster, McCain called for a counterinsurgency strategy to deal with the realities on the ground. Meanwhile, fellow senator Obama called for precipitate withdrawal.
Here is the catch, however: Now that the surge is a rousing success ” sectarian violence down 90 percent, coalition deaths down 70 percent ” Obama ignores the changes in the situation and is calling for the same kind of withdrawal he was peddling in 2006.
Like Michael Dukakis, Jimmy Carter and George McGovern before him, Obama sees the world through the prism of social theory and academia. He likes to accuse McCain of representing a third George W. Bush term, but Obama himself fits the bill better. Bush, believing all the world to value freedom as much as we do, did not plan for the occupation of a hostile country. Obama, believing all the world to value nonviolent conflict resolution as much as social science professors do, is unable to see that Iraq cannot be considered in isolation.
Look at it from the perspective of our enemies: After Vietnam, we pulled out of Lebanon upon encountering casualties. Then we left the field in Somalia. Then Khobar Towers, the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, USS Cole. Never were our soldiers or sailors defeated; each time a lack of stick-to-itiveness, as John Madden would say, on the part of our political class was to blame. In Iraq, we fought back.
Saddam Hussein’s regime fought a war against us in the early Nineties. Time and again, he violated the terms that ended that conflict. His troops shot at our planes, his airplanes violated the no-fly zone and he ordered the assassination of an American president. Hussein used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors and his citizens. In 2002, the belief common to American and European intelligence agencies alike was that he was seeking to rebuild and expand his WMD program. Unfortunately, the Bush administration emphasized the last point almost to the exclusion of the rest. We all know the public-relations ramifications of that decision.
Lest we forget, the invasion of Iraq produced amazing results in the short term. Libya began the long process of joining the international community as Syria withdrew from Lebanon. Only after becoming bogged down in sectarian strife did the public turn against the war effort and our standing on the international stage suffer. This standing is not best understood as the approval of United Nations bureaucrats, but rather in a seemingly obsolete idea ” national honor. Libya and Syria did not come to heel because of talking around tables; it took proof of strength and the will to use it.
As president, McCain will seek to wind down the war in Iraq on our terms. He understands that the over-strong state was the curse of the 20th century. The curse of the 21st century shapes up to be the failed state. Were we to leave a power vacuum in Iraq, the worst elements of terrorism would create future threats to our security. Obama, like a French general, is only prepared to fight the last war. A return to the politics of weakness is not change we can believe in.
Reese is an attorney who lives with his wife and sons in Oklahoma City.