Iraq Highlights McCain’s Strength, Obama’s Weakness


By: Greg C. Reeson

The New York Times ran an article September 3rd citing campaign aides as saying the McCain campaign would focus on U.S. successes in Iraq, particularly in the once troubled Anbar Province, as it heads into the final stretch of the election season following this week’s Republican National Convention.

Focusing on Iraq is a smart approach for Senator McCain because it allows him to highlight his greatest strength while further exposing Senator Obama’s chief weakness: the courage and judgment to be commander-in-chief of a country at war.

Well before President Bush decided to send additional U.S. military forces to Baghdad and Anbar Province, Senator McCain was lobbying for an increase in the number of American troops in Iraq, and for a change in strategy to confront the reality that we were in danger of losing the war.

Senator McCain showed courage and sound judgment in calling for more combat power at a time when violence in Iraq was spinning out of control, when many in the American public and in Washington were calling for a U.S. withdrawal, and when much of the world expected the United States to retreat from Iraq in humiliating defeat.

McCain’s courage is the result of a lifetime of heroic service to his nation. As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he rejected an offer from his captors to be freed early, instead choosing to remain with his fellow servicemen in a hellish prison where torture was routine. As a candidate, he once proclaimed he would rather lose the presidential election than have the United States lose the Iraq war.

Senator McCain’s judgment is the kind that comes about only after a lifetime of learning and experience. McCain was able to see what was happening in Iraq because he had made multiple trips to the country over the course of several years that enabled him to assess the conditions on the ground firsthand. He was able to see for himself that what the United States was doing was not working, and that a bold course of action would be required to secure Iraq and set the conditions that would eventually allow America’s soldiers to return home. Politically unpopular at the time, it was the right call for the United States, and it was based on knowledge and experience that take decades to acquire.

Senator Obama says that he had the judgment to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning. But he argued against the war while a state senator in Illinois, without access to the same information as those in the United States Senate, like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. He may have made his argument based on a core belief that the war was wrong, or he may have made his argument based on the wishes of the Chicago constituency he represented. What is certain is that he did not make his argument as an elected member of the United States Senate, where the stakes were considerably higher than the stakes in the Illinois legislature.

Senator Obama also argued against the surge of American forces to Iraq, saying not only that such a move would not work, but that more troops would likely make the situation worse. He made that assessment based on one visit to Iraq in January of 2006. It was only after the success of the surge became undeniable to everyone but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that Senator Obama begrudgingly acknowledged that the additional American forces had in fact improved security in Iraq.

Now, just over a year and a half after President Bush ordered additional American forces to Iraq to stop the bloodletting, the United States has handed over security responsibility for Anbar Province to the Iraqi government. Anbar, once the most violent region in all of Iraq and witness to some of the most atrocious acts of the war perpetrated by al Qaeda fighters, is now one of the country’s calmest regions, just two years after an American intelligence officer said the province was lost and could not be saved. This reversal could not have happened without an American commitment, in blood and treasure, to the Iraqi Sunnis who decided that enough was enough, and that it was time to retake control of their country.

The years ahead will be difficult ones for the United States. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will continue for the foreseeable future, Pakistan is increasingly unstable and unpredictable, and a resurgent Russia is flexing its muscles in its near abroad in an attempt to regain some of the influence that was lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Islamic extremists are active in Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Maghreb, and China is using its economic might to reduce its military deficit with the United States.

The future promises to be one of turmoil and conflict, and while it is impossible to predict what foreign policy challenges will most test the next president, one thing is certain: the United States will need a strong, experienced commander-in-chief capable of exercising sound judgment based on the best information available to him.

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