McCain Outfoxed on War?

26Jul08

Did Barack kidnap the upper hand on Iraq from McCain this week? By shifting the focus to Afghanistan, and talking about escalating the war there while satisfying his base by talking about withdrawing from Iraq, Barack may have pulled off an incredible bait and switch, becoming the anti-war candidate who wants war!

Obama officials also say the push from Iraqi politicians for troop withdrawal schedules roughly in line with his (with the exception of Sunni chieftains who still fret about a rapid US exit). The language of “aspiration time horizons” agreed upon by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and the Bush White House also gave Obama a glide-path in Iraq on the question of troop movements and nothing on they trip, they believe undercut that opening advantage.

The foundation of Barack’s trick, is, or course, the success of the surge, which Barack opposed. But McCain even found a way to muddle that point.

On July 23, McCain said the surge wasn’t really about more troops, but counter-insurgency tactics. And yet the political credit McCain seeks for the turn-around in Iraq is based principally on his advocacy if the surge – meaning more troops to carry out counter-insurgency missions. To say the surge wasn’t really about more troops undercuts much of McCain has tried to tell the public about what has changed in Iraq and why.

This is true, of course. What is known as the surge is a collection of tactical changes that have led to a dramatic success – but some argue that the least important of these was adding more troops to the mix. But why would McCain seek to cloud the issue he’s worked so hard to highlight, making it possible for the left to argue this:

If you define “the surge” as broadly as he does here, you can no longer claim that Barack Obama opposed it. Obama, of course, has never been opposed to the use of more effective counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq. Indeed, from the moment Obama arrived in the Senate in 2004, he criticized the Bush administration for failing to appreciate that it was dealing with an insurgency and adopting appropriate counter-insurgency techniques. For example, in this 2005 speech Obama argued that we need to “focus our efforts on a more effective counter-insurgency strategy and take steam out of the insurgency.”

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