John McCain announces timetable for withdrawal from Iraq!
Well, actually, he did no such thing, and probably will never do any such thing, but this morning, in an interesting speech (and crappy companion commercial) dreamcasting ahead to the year 2013, the presumptive Republican nominee cleverly set bait for the national media to undo his most enduring campaign blunder to date: Letting slip the bedrock truism that McCain sees no downside whatsoever to having U.S. troops stationed in Iraq in the year 2109.
The Arizona senator's ongoing political challenge this year is to maintain his strong support and feelings of empathetic good will from independents and Democrats who hate the war (and the mindset behind it) that he so adamantly supports and even embodies. It's a tough nut to crack, trying to convince people who hate George W. Bush that your foreign policy is more "moderate" than the president's when in fact it has been more radical and interventionist for a full decade running, but McCain is banking on the power of suggestion, and above all the remarkable potency of the benefit of the doubt, to obscure his rock-solid neo-conservative credentials and expansionist foreign policy.
Here's how he did it today. By January 2013, after the first McCain term, he says:
America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced. Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent; al Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated; and the Government of Iraq is capable of imposing its authority in every province of Iraq and defending the integrity of its borders. The United States maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.
That's the sole basis of the "McCain announces departure date" interpretation. It doesn't take a cynic to note that this is not remotely a tangible roadmap for drawing down forces, but rather an "I have a dream" laundry list of wonderful things he'd love to see. In fact, his speech today is chock full of such locutions, covering events roughly as likely as President Bush's Mission to Mars. Some other examples of McCain's wishcasting:
* The increase in actionable intelligence that the counterinsurgency produced led to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden, and his chief lieutenants.
* Concerted action by the great democracies of the world has persuaded a reluctant Russia and China to cooperate in pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and North Korea to discontinue its own.
* After exercising my veto several times in my first year in office, Congress has not sent me an appropriations bill containing earmarks for the last three years.
* U.S. tariffs on agricultural imports have been eliminated and unneeded farm subsidies are being phased out.
* Public education in the United States is much improved thanks to the competition provided by charter and private schools.
It sure would be pretty to think so! And obviously, it's better to have a prospective president mouthing platitudes about free agricultural trade than a political hack demagoguing a lousy farm bill. But as concerns the policy question du jour—and McCain's political necessity of scrubbing the word "neo-con" from his resume, without actually changing any of his neo-conservative policies or foreign policy team—the 2013 drawdown from Iraq should be seen as the strategic and process-free campaign cheap-talk that it is.
And how's it working out? By a quick look at the
headlines, Mission Accomplished!
McCain sees Iraq combat over, U.S. troops home before 2013
Troops home from Iraq by 2013: McCain
McCain Sets a Date