Iraq: A winning issue for McCain?

Why the surge's success could backfire on John McCain.

The conventional wisdom is that the Iraq war is a millstone around the neck of John McCain, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. But that assumption is based on the outdated belief that Iraq is an ungovernable and hopeless mess. Thanks to the surge, new counterinsurgency tactics, and Iraqi government initiatives, “everything is changed.” The violence is ebbing, the Baghdad government is growing more unified, and the Iraqi army has driven Shiite extremists out of Basra, Najaf, and Sadr City. Al Qaida’s terrorists have been utterly defeated. Yet Democrat Barack Obama keeps campaigning on the premise that the war is lost, promising “fixed and unconditional withdrawal” of U.S. troops soon after he takes office. McCain, by contrast, says the U.S. must ensure that Iraq has a stable, representative government that serves as a strong ally against extremism. If McCain cannot convince the American people of the wisdom of his stance, and the folly of Obama’s, “he will not be president. Nor should he be.” So, c’mon, John. Run on Iraq.

If he does, said Frank Rich in The New York Times, he’s got no chance at all. Obama’s position on Iraq is not that it’s doomed but that it’s high time we turned Iraq over to the Iraqis, on a careful, 16-month timetable for withdrawal. McCain wants to give the Iraqis—and American military commanders—“a blank check” that would hold us hostage there indefinitely. The rationale for this position is hopelessly muddled, said Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek. In 2006, when the violence was at its worst, McCain warned that “if we left, the consequences would be tragic. Today, he says that things are going so well that if we leave, the consequences would be tragic.” In other words, his whole plan for Iraq is the same as George Bush’s—“keep doing what we’re doing.”

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