Did the Surge in Iraq create a Surge for McCain?
Whatever happened to the War in Iraq as a campaign issue?
A year ago, I wouldn't have given you a plugged nickel for John McCain's presidential chances. His campaign seemed like a lonely and quixotic quest. Now, if the polls are to be at all believed, he stands on the cusp of achieving an upset victory in New Hampshire.
Really bad ideas have a way of collapsing under their own weight over time. Al Qaeda, and to a lesser degree, al Sadr's Shia Mahdi Army, seem to have overplayed their hands to their own surprise and detriment in Iraq. Beheadings, often posted on the internet, and a cavalcade of monstrous and horrific car bombings, along with a host of other atrocities, has turned even the Sunni tribal populations against al Qaeda. Of course, this takes nothing away from the tactical competence of General Petraeus and the hard work of the US Armed Forces. The sacking of Rumsfeld and his team after an endless litany of mistakes in Iraq should be seen by everyone as an exceedingly positive development, regardless of how they view the rightness of the war.
Nevertheless, it does bring up a fundamental question. Even if there has been some tactical success on the ground in Iraq in 2007, what does it say about the American population and their attitude towards this war in general? What does it have to do with the question of whether or not it was the right thing to do to begin with? What does it say about both our initial motivations and our continued involvement? Do these things matter to the populace at large, or is all that matters the appearance of winning or losing? It’s certainly understandable that a population will always be unhappy with a war that isn’t going well, but what does this say about us as a nation?
One of the best commentators on the progress in the War in Iraq has been the author and columnist Thomas Ricks, the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. While he concedes that al Qaeda has suffered reverses in Iraq, he cautions that the overall decline in violence should be seen in relative terms, and that the political conundrum is as thornily present as ever. Is real progress being made in terms of national reconciliation, or are the Sunni and Shia militias merely building up their strength and biding their time before an all-out civil war? It's hard to say, in this strange war that morphs into something new every year. From the online debate The War Over the War, in The Washington Post in November... I'd hardly call Ricks optimistic...
Boonsboro, Md.: When will it be okay to state that we are winning in Iraq and all the naysayers ("the war is lost") were wrong? Even the New York Times is admitting things are going well.
Thomas E. Ricks: Well, things are going better. I just got back from Baghdad last week, and it was clear that violence has decreased. But it hasn't gone away. It is only back down to the 2005 level -- which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth.
I interviewed dozens of officers and none were willing to say we are winning. What they were saying is that at least now, we are not losing. But to a man, they were enormously frustrated by what they see as the foot-dragging of the Baghdad government. Here is the story I wrote summarizing their views -- and their current worries.
In any case, I think we can see why the Democrats should not be as cocky about their chances as they were one year ago. Of course, next November, we might find ourselves looking at another scenario again....
In the wake of Iowa and on the eve of New Hampshire, a few random thoughts about the other candidates. Don’t expect depth. :-D
Barack Obama: The return of the youthful and inevitable "Candidate of Hope" who had seemed to lose his way in the early stages of the race. He seemed unsure of himself in the early campaigning, struggling to find his footing, but after some missteps by Hillary, he was able to find his stride. If I had to make a provisional endorsement at this point it would probably be for him. I think he has more gravitas and policy wonk savvy than a lot of people give him credit for. I have to say, though.… that in the wake of his Iowa victory, he sounded tired, wan, callow, and uninspired in his speeches. He sounds hoarse and exhausted. I don’t know how these candidates keep this grueling schedule up. After his Iowa win, I expected something a bit more energetic from him, more like the speech and redoubled efforts that have been offered by…
John Edwards: The economic populist. I love what this guy says, but like a lot of other people, I just seem to have a problem with accepting the sincerity of the man. It probably isn’t fair. I think a lot of people feel this way… they like what Edwards has to say, but they wind up pulling the lever for Obama. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.
Hillary Clinton: What was she thinking having her husband and Madeline Albright up there on the dais with her in Iowa? I suppose Bill has to be there, but I don’t think people want to go back to the Clinton years, and this is what people are being reminded of. We’ve had 19 years of the Clinton-Bush dynasties. Enough already. I don’t blame young people, who’ve known nothing else, to want to look elsewhere. She sounded a bit shrill, peeved, and desperate in the debate on Saturday night. Don’t count her out though. The Clinton machine works very well, they’ve got plenty of money, and they are bare-knuckled brawlers who can match the worst that anyone else can dish out, Democrat or Republican.
Bill Richardson: A confused, doddering performance in the debate the other night. He needs to get out.
Mike Huckabee: What the Huck? The evangelicals have found their guy to get behind. Nice win on his part, and I think the press was surprised that the Romney ad press conference controversy came off better with the electorate than it did with them. I don’t know… I don’t think he’s presidential timber. He’s a bit prickly. I think that both he and McCain lack the temperament to be president. What’s with the Chuck Norris thing?? We’ll have hundreds of new Chuck Norris facts by the time this is over.
Mitt Romney: Bwahahahahaha! Sorry for the schadenfrude… I can’t help it. He’s one of the most obnoxious political candidates I’ve seen in decades. I think Liam’s description of him is right on the money. Consider a couple of things about Mitt… He did his missionary work in France and has nothing but contempt and ridicule for France. He did his gubernatorial stint in Massachussetts and has nothing but contempt and ridicule for Massachussetts. A typical pump-and-dump corporate suit. I could wind up with egg on my face, but I hope McCain beats him in NH like a rented mule.
Ron Paul: Wow. He got knifed by the rest of them on Saturday night like Julius Caesar in the Forum, without a scintilla of logic from the whole crew.
Fred Thompson: “I sure hate this campaigning and meeting people stuff… Heck, I don’t expect people to vote for me up here…” How did Bullfrog get talked into doing this?
Rudy Giuliani: A Johnny-One-Note. Whatever... I listened to this Republican debate the other night and could only shake my head. They’ve got nothing to sell but fear. Invocations of Ronald Reagan and one-upmanship on how much better they’ll be at killing people. Fear about terrorism, fear about immigrants, fear about providing kids with health care, although we somehow seem to have found an old shoebox in a drawer somewhere with enough cash in it to keep pre-emptive wars going for generations to come. All this talk about who’s going to pay for health care, and precious little talk about why it costs as much as it does. Greenspan and his boys at the Fed kept inflation pretty low for 20 years. Have we seen low inflation in health care and the cost of a college education over that same period of time? Fear gets invoked on the prospect of the government making decisions about your health care. Has everyone been thrilled with insurance companies making those decisions instead?