Reeling from some big slaps and almost daily gaffes, the McCain campaign has plotted its way into a new message on Iraq in the last week and a half. But the Senator can’t quite get the message right in recent interviews, while continuously attacking Obama’s patriotism. Let’s listen between the lines to realize what’s really causing this insidious desperation -and of course all those awkward laughs: Senator McCain knows he’s spewing putrid spin, and can hardly trust his own words.
Al-Maliki’s endorsement of a relatively quick withdrawal changed the debate. Nevermind the Pentagon’s fabricated “mistranslation” excuse last week; Senator McCain’s now settled response line is even more telling. On CNN Sunday, he said the Prime Minister of Iraq is simply pandering to upcoming elections. But it’s not hard to recognize the irrelevance of the point. If al-Maliki is responding to the concerns of his constituents, well, isn’t that, like, democracy? Iraq is too used to a foreign occupying force overriding its sovereign local leaders. Reap what you sow and suck it up, Republicans.
But more still. A few moments after patronizing Iraq’s elected leader, McCain actually claimed al-Maliki was endorsing his plan. Besides the obvious delusions, two important points here: (1)If McCain actually agreed with al-Maliki’s assessment, he wouldn’t need to discredit it as just political. (2) McCain doesn’t actually have a plan! He never has offered anything other than more of the same, and nothing has changed.
McCain insisted on ABC Monday that he could bring home the troops as quickly as Obama would, in “three months, two months, whatever,” as long as withdrawal is “based on conditions on the ground.” It’s tempting to see this as a frantic, stark switch from what McCain has been saying for over a year on the campaign trail. But let not the desperate rhetoric fool you; there is hardly reason to believe John McCain wants to leave Iraq any time soon.
The fact is “conditions on the ground,” and the White House’s “horizons for withdrawal,” are as vague as Bush’s promises for the last 5 years of this war. Daniel Larison spells it out:
“Meanwhile, the horrific attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk offer a reminder why so-called ‘conditions-based’ withdrawals are forever subject to revision and why timetables that can be revised by such contingencies are meaningless. Tying withdrawal to conditions in Iraq places U.S. policy at the mercy of the worst elements in Iraq, which gives these elements every incentive to persist in trying to sow discord and engage in spectacular acts of violence.”
The argument against timetables can revolt against itself. If setting a date for withdrawal would only embolden those who want us to leave, making continued violence the deciding factor emboldens the violent factions in Iraq that have an interest in our continued presence-namely, al Qaeda. Moreover, the factions who want us to leave aren’t the terrorists; they are now the great majority of the populace and their elected spokesman.
McCain and his friends in the press will continue to drone over the success of the surge until the election, oversimplifying the tremendous complications and theoreticals of the past few years in Iraq. But at some point we have to wise up. Either the reduction in violence is the success McCain says it is and we can leave, or the surge has not fully succeeded, and after five years and thousands of American lives we’ve done enough. So I’ll ask it again: why haven’t we left yet?