Thursday, July 31, 2008

McCain Adviser's Horrifying Iraq Track Record: Will the Press Notice?

Zachary Roth
Talking Points
July 28, 2008

Over the weekend, The New York Times noted that some of John McCain's foreign policy advisers from the "realist" camp are uneasy with the amount of influence enjoyed by neoconservatives like Randy Scheunemann, who's been serving as McCain's chief foreign policy aide and spokesman.

But it isn't only his internal rivals who have reason to worry about Scheunemann. Not only does he have McCain's ear, he also has a track record of being consistently wrong on the major foreign policy question of the day -- Iraq. Of all the hawkish Washington foreign-policy types pushing both before and after 9/11 for war with Iraq -- a war that an overwhelming majority of Americans now considers a mistake -- Scheunemann, though not a marquee name, was among the most energetic and influential. And in the invasion's aftermath, he consistently opposed steps that might have helped stabilize the country.

And yet, the political press has largely given McCain a pass on the fact that his top foreign policy adviser was at the center of perhaps the biggest strategic folly in our history.

Here, to refresh reporters' memories, is the rundown on Scheunemann's Iraq record:
  • As a top aide to then-Senate GOP leader Trent Lott, Scheunemann helped draft -- and acted as a driving force behind -- the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), which essentially made "regime change" the official Iraq policy of the US. The Act was cited as a key basis of support in the fateful 2002 Congressional resolution authorizing military force, and directly paved the way for President Bush's invasion.
  • Scheunemann was a board member of Bill Kristol's Project for a New American Century, which played a major role in agitating for the war. Scheunemann signed Kristol's influential letter to President Bush, sent nine days after 9/11, which asserted that failing to respond to the Al Qaeda attack by going after Saddam would "constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism." Scheunemann also served as a "consultant" to Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon while it was planning the war. And in late 2002, Scheunemann, with administration approval, founded the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), an advocacy group with the explicit goal of whipping up pro-war sentiment across the country.
  • Scheunemann was a crucial Washington backer of Ahmad Chalabi, the now-disgraced Iraqi exile who helped feed the CIA false intelligence on Saddam's WMD program and has since been accused of giving US state secrets to Iran. In the years leading up to the invasion, the two were so tight that the spokesman for Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress shared a Washington address with both CLI and Scheunemann's private lobbying firm and Scheunemann was mentioned in press reports as a candidate for the job of formal envoy to the Iraqi opposition. During this period, Scheunemann, who acted as a crucial link between Chalabi and John McCain, was a go-to guy for reporters seeking pro-Chalabi quotes. He told The New York Times that Chalabi possessed "tremendous attributes that would be of immeasurable benefit to an Iraq in transition to democracy" and separately called him "an Iraqi patriot."
  • Like other war supporters, Scheunemann threw caution to the wind in declaring, wrongly, that Saddam had WMD. "There is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction," he assured Americans a month before the invasion.
  • Scheunemann also played a key role in lining up support for the invasion from the "Vilnius Ten," a group of former Soviet bloc countries seeking to gain entry to NATO, some of whom Scheunemann has worked as a paid lobbyist on behalf of. With his partner Bruce Jackson, a Lockheed Martin executive, Scheunemann reportedly gave assurances to the Ten that backing the invasion would help their chances for NATO membership. Ultimately, seven of the ten countries gained entry to NATO, and two of those, Romania and Latvia, employed Scheunemann as a paid lobbyist to promote their applications.
  • In the invasion's aftermath, Scheunemann's judgment proved no more effective. He argued vociferously against giving the UN a significant role in stabilizing Iraq. And he also opposed leaving any members of Saddam's Baath party in government positions, declaring: "It is very difficult for me to conceive of democratic institutions being established in Iraq with the Baathist power structure mostly intact." Both of these positions, of course, proved to be disastrous policy blunders, which badly damaged our ability to stabilize Iraq in the crucial early months.

It's kind of astonishing that McCain continues to be taken seriously on Iraq when his closest adviser has a track record on the issue as atrocious as Scheunemann's. At the very least, when reporters hang up from their frequent conference calls, arranged by the McCain campaign, in which Scheunemann attacks Barack Obama's judgment on Iraq, they might want to keep Scheunemann's own history on the subject in mind.

Copyright ©2008 Talking Points Memo

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Waving the flag on Iraq -- now in rerun!

McCain's attack on Obama as a defeatist is right out of the Karl Rove playbook. But here's why it won't work.

Gary Kamiya
July 29, 2008

Last week, I thought that I had woken up in "Groundhog Day." George W. Bush was raving about the glorious success of the "surge," attacking his opponents as defeatists, and promising that victory was just around the corner. Then I realized that it wasn't Bush at all, but John McCain. The lines were exactly the same, but the guy speaking them was older, crankier and running for president.

Who hit the replay button on this bad movie?

We had this national debate years ago, and the war party lost. And everything that has happened since then has made it even clearer that the Iraq war has been one of the greatest catastrophes in American history. Americans can't wait to get rid of Bush, and they want out of Iraq. Yet McCain has decided to run as a bad imitation of Bush -- and polls show that he still has a fair chance of winning.

Last week offered one of the more surreal disconnects in recent political history. Barack Obama swept triumphantly through the Middle East and Europe, delivering inspiring speeches to vast crowds and being greeted as a virtual president-elect. Meanwhile, McCain was wandering around in Schmidt's Sausage Haus und Restaurant in Ohio, singing a medley from Bush's greatest hits, and all but accusing Obama of treason. And McCain's stale-bratwurst strategy seemed to work: He got a bump in the polls in three key swing states.

The right-wing press, desperate to diminish Obama's star turn in Europe, made much of the fact that salt-of-the-earth Americans, not effete pointy-heads from the Continent, will decide who the next president will be. They're clearly hoping that songwriter Randy Newman's "Political Science," in which a nameless, God-fearing American urges his countrymen to "drop the big one and see what happens," speaks for middle America. Some of the more hysterical pundits even claimed to see evidence of fascism in the mass outpouring of support for Obama in Berlin, somehow forgetting that they themselves had demanded that Americans don brown shirts and support our president in the aftermath of 9/11.

It's hard to predict how Obama's trip will play out with voters in November. But McCain has obviously decided that whatever flashy stunts Obama pulls off, his own best strategy is to stay on message -- and that means turning the Iraq lemon into lemonade. The war may be hugely unpopular, warmonger-in-chief Bush's approval rating may be approaching Vlad the Impaler's -- no matter! Attack! The best defense is a good offense! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

It's an audacious strategy, and it could prove to be disastrous. Pickett's charge did not succeed for the Confederacy at Gettysburg. But it's right out of the Karl Rove playbook -- and if recent history has taught us anything, it's never to underestimate Karl Rove.

Rove, and his star pupil Bush, perfected a political tactic reminiscent of the old Green Bay Packer power sweep: Everyone knows it's coming, but they still can't stop it. And McCain is too smart not to stay with a proven winner -- especially because he doesn't have any choice.

The Rove play is based on three things: wrapping yourself in the flag, never admitting you're wrong, and impugning your opponent. These three tactics have one thing in common: They are aimed at the lowest common denominator of the American people. Under normal circumstances, they have only limited effectiveness. But when the nation is at war, they are extremely potent -- as John Kerry and the Democrats found out in 2004. And McCain is going to use them and use them and use them.

McCain's repeated claims that we are succeeding in Iraq and must stay the course to final "victory," and his attacks on Obama, are textbook examples of the Rove-Bush-GOP tactic. Take the recent speech in which McCain attacked Obama for not supporting the "surge." "If Sen. Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically," McCain intoned. "Al-Qaida would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the 'Sunni Awakening' would have been strangled at birth. Al-Qaida fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely."

McCain then went on to sketch an even more apocalyptic vision of what would have happened if America had been led by the weak and traitorous Obama instead of the brave and resolute Bush:

Above all, America would have been humiliated and weakened. Our military, strained by years of sacrifice, would have suffered a demoralizing defeat. Our enemies around the globe would have been emboldened. Terrorists would have seen our defeat as evidence America lacked the resolve to defeat them. As Iraq descended into chaos, other countries in the Middle East would have come to the aid of their favored factions, and the entire region might have erupted in war. Every American diplomat, American military commander and American leader would have been forced to speak and act from a position of weakness.

McCain's speech obviously appeals to the GOP's immovable base, red, white and blue ostriches for whom the very idea that America could ever wage a stupid, immoral or self-destructive war is tantamount to treason. But for McCain to win, he has to go beyond his base and convince independents and swing voters. Two things are in his favor here: First, the war is still going on, which mutes criticism of it. And second, polls show that voters still see Obama as a riskier choice, particularly on national security.

On the surface, then, McCain's tactic of attacking Obama on the war makes sense. He gets to simultaneously pose as a tough guy and attack Obama where he's weakest. Moreover, he knows that Obama may decide that it's too risky to attack McCain's own weak spot, his support of the war in the first place. Obama has attacked McCain directly on the war, but that was before he won the Democratic nomination and began moving to the center.

But what worked for Bush in 2004 may not work for McCain in 2008, for three reasons. First, McCain's specific arguments about the success of the "surge" and the alleged dangers of Obama's approach are simply factually unconvincing. Second, they inadvertently draw attention to the larger issue of McCain's support for the war. And finally, they require voters to believe that the United States can still "win" in Iraq.

If enough American voters are ill-informed about the war, still confusedly think it may have been a good idea to start it, and believe it is winnable, McCain could win. The first stipulation may be true, but not the second and third -- and that's why even the Rove power play may not save McCain.

McCain's defense of the surge betrays a complete inability to grasp the bloody, ugly complexities of the civil war the United States touched off by invading Iraq. (He also has difficulty in keeping the most rudimentary facts straight, as when he falsely asserted that the Anbar awakening "began" during the surge.) As Juan Cole pointed out in a thorough refutation of McCain's surge argument, the main reason that violence in Iraq has declined to the still-hideous levels of 2005 is probably that Shiite militias, inadvertently enabled by U.S. troops, carried out a successful mini-genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni residents in Baghdad. Once you've killed or expelled all those who belong to the evil tribe, there's no reason to keep killing. For McCain to praise the surge as leading to "victory" in Iraq is like praising a foreign power for "pacifying" Rwanda by alternately backing the Hutus and the Tutsi. (It goes without saying that McCain has nothing to say about the moral responsibility we bear for the nightmare in Iraq.)

At a deeper level, insofar as the surge and other factors played a role in reducing the violence -- and as Cole points out, it's impossible to know how large a role the surge itself played -- the conclusions one should draw from this are precisely the opposite from those drawn by McCain. For the factors that led to a lower level of violence in Iraq -- the completed ethnic cleansing, the increase in U.S. troop strength, bribery, Sunni revulsion at al-Qaida's horrific tactics, the Mahdi Army's decision to stand down -- represent the reverse of the simplistic, raising-the-flag-on-Iwo-Jima vision trumpeted by McCain and the Bush administration. When America has made progress in Iraq -- and all claims of "progress" must be measured against the fact that the war we started essentially destroyed the country -- it has been primarily due not, as war mythology would have it, to U.S. troops killing evil jihadists, but to far murkier factors -- the unintended consequences of ugly actions, canny political maneuverings, and back-room deals with deeply flawed players.

What has been widely overlooked, by both defenders and critics of the surge, is that these are precisely the kinds of complex, sometimes morally ambiguous responses that those of us who opposed the war in the first place called for as a strategy for fighting violent jihadists. Painstaking police work, diplomacy with sometimes unpleasant actors, good intelligence, the skillful use of carrots and sticks, knowing the local terrain, avoiding self-defeating moral posturings -- these things don't fit into bombastic presidential speeches about our heroic duty to fight the "axis of evil," but they have one advantage: They actually work. Which is not to say that they bring "victory," because there are no victories here.

McCain's claim that "al-Qaida fighters would have safe havens" in Iraq is even more pathetic -- and it draws attention to the most catastrophic consequence of the war for the United States. For it was precisely the invasion of Iraq that created safe havens for al-Qaida in Iraq. Before the invasion, of course, there were no jihadists in Iraq. Again, this is a historical fact that McCain simply cannot afford to acknowledge: If he did, he would have to address why he supported the war in the first place. And that's a subject best left shrouded in patriotic mists.

But McCain's argument completely devours itself when he outlines the supposedly apocalyptic consequences of a world without the surge. "A humiliated and weakened America. A military, strained by years of sacrifice, suffering a demoralizing defeat. Our enemies around the globe emboldened." These are indeed ugly consequences, but they have already happened-- and they happened as a direct result of the unprovoked war that McCain supported. McCain's argument resembles that of a man who, having driven his car at 100 miles an hour into a school bus, insists that those who want to take away his license are making it hard for him to save the survivors.

Lately, McCain's talking points have become even more nonsensical. He is forced to parrot his tough-guy line even when it has been rendered inoperative by realities on the ground. McCain and his mouthpieces mechanically continue to paint Obama as a traitor who "would rather lose a war that we are winning than lose an election." But it's hard to maintain your heroic pose as a fearless leader who will keep the troops in place until victory when your own allies keep throwing banana peels under your feet, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did when he said he concurred with Obama's call for a U.S. troop withdrawal in 16 months. Oops!

The same thing happened with Iran: McCain was just hitting the chorus of his stirring rendition of "bomb bomb Iran" when the Bush administration abruptly abandoned its dream of attacking the mullahs. McCain was left croaking all alone, like a tone-deaf backup singer cruelly exposed when a sadistic soundman turns down the rest of the mix. How can you rally the troops to fight evildoers when your fellow generals are inviting the evildoers to tea?

But the mere fact that McCain's arguments are flawed, his grasp of facts shaky, and his fear-mongering self-indicting does not necessarily mean that they won't work. After all, Bush won reelection in 2004 using the same arguments -- and his opponent wasn't someone who could be painted as a Muslim terrorist half-breed, but a decorated white war hero.

McCain's best hope is that neither the media nor the American people possess much memory. (It's a chicken-and-egg question as to which of the two is more responsible for this.) Once news breaks, it disappears, to be replaced by the next day's news. Reality has no tail; events have no context. Powerful forces push us toward living in a continuous now, like someone suffering from brain damage, or from a culture so rudimentary its language lacks words for the past.

On Monday, it's revealed that the Bush administration lied us into war. On Tuesday, we learn that most of Iraq's doctors have fled or been killed. On Wednesday, we learn that the U.S. government secretly approved torture. On Thursday, we learn that the war has emboldened jihadists and led to a dramatic rise in terror attacks worldwide. On Friday, we learn that the war is costing us $300 million a day. But on the next Monday, when we learn that violence has declined to merely horrific levels in Iraq, all that earlier information has disappeared, and so McCain can begin attacking Obama for being an appeaser all over again.

Yes, it worked for Bush. But times have changed. Our national memory may be spotty, but it's not gone. Some things stick.

In the end, though, what may really doom McCain is not what Americans believe in or know, so much as what they no longer believe in. And it seems clear that most Americans no longer believe in "victory." There have been too many moments when winning in Iraq was right around the corner. The boy has cried wolf once too often. McCain's demand that we fight until a final victory may have sounded inspiring when people still believed the Iraq war could be won, but now it sounds increasingly like Gen. Custer's last speech to the troops as the Sioux closed in at the Little Bighorn. It's not a cry you follow unless you're a fanatic or a jihadist. Which is why I believe that in November, the American people will finally declare this endless argument, and this endless war, over.

Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Caving To The Right On Affirmative Action

Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers
Center for American Progress Action Fund
The Progress Report
July 28, 2008

On ABC News's This Week yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) about how "opponents of affirmative action" in his home state of Arizona are pushing a ballot initiative "that would do away" with the equal opportunity program. "Do you support that?" asked Stephanopoulos. "Yes, I do," replied McCain, adding that he had "not seen the details of some of these proposals," but that he's "always opposed quotas." Asked again specifically about "the one here in Arizona," McCain responded, "I support it, yes." McCain's support for the current anti-affirmative action initiative is a reversal of the stance he took in 1998 when Arizona previously considered a similar referendum. At the time, McCain said that "rather than engage in divisive ballot initiatives, we must have a dialogue and cooperation and mutual efforts together to provide every child in America to fulfill their expectations." Caught off-guard by McCain's reversal on equal opportunity, his own spokesman Tucker Bounds struggled to explain the contradictory stances to ABC News, saying, "I do not have a firm enough grasp on the historical and relevant context of McCain's remark in 1998 to give you the pushback that this question deserves." Later, the McCain campaign "refused to say whether it stands by the candidate's announcement that he supports the ballot initiative," instead saying in a statement that McCain "has always been opposed to government-mandated hiring quotas."

WHAT MCCAIN IS BACKING: In his interview with Stephanopoulos, McCain justified his support for the Arizona initiative by saying, "I do not believe in quotas." But the effort to dismantle equal opportunity in Arizona has nothing to do with quotas, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 30 years ago. The proposed amendment to the Arizona's constitution, which is being pushed by the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, seeks to "prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination" by Arizona governmental entities "based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." "The initiative is part of a nationwide attempt by Ward Connerly to have governmental affirmative action policies eliminated." Connerly's anti-affirmative action initiatives are set to capitalize on the "tensions of race, class, and ethnicity" stirred up by anti-immigrant efforts. Connerly, who successfully outlawed affirmative action in California, is also supporting initiatives in Colorado and Nebraska. On CNN's Late Edition yesterday, McCain declined to take a position on the Colorado initiative, saying, "I'm not familiar with the referendum." The language of Connerly's Colorado amendment is essentially the same as the Arizona amendment McCain endorsed on ABC.

MCCAIN'S RECORD ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: As many news outlets have pointed out, McCain's embrace of Arizona's anti-affirmative action ballot initiative stands in opposition to his record on equal opportunity. Not only has McCain previously resisted state-level efforts to dismantle affirmative action, as he did in 1998, but he has also defended such programs on the federal level. In 1998, McCain worked with Democrats to defeat an amendment that would have ended a program that sought "to give 10 percent of all Federally financed highway contracts to companies owned by minorities and women." In 1999, while speaking at the Unity convention, McCain declared, "I'm in favor of affirmative action and I support it." He reiterated this support as recently as April 2008, telling reporters in Ohio, "all of us are for affirmative action to try to give assistance to those who need it, whether it be African-American or other groups of Americans that need it."

BENDING TO RIGHT-WING PRESSURE?: Throughout the election season, conservatives have been pressuring McCain to get behind their efforts to dismantle affirmative action. In June, after McCain's campaign repeatedly refused to take a position on the initiatives, Connerly told ABC News that it would help McCain politically to support the initiatives. McCain should say, "I believe that our country is at its best when it treats everybody as an equal and I have read these initiatives and they do precisely that," said Connerly. Other conservatives have been calling for McCain to back Connerly as well. In April, hardline right winger Pat Buchanan published a column wondering "where does McCain stand." Writing on the National Review's blog, Center for Equal Opportunity President Roger Clegg asked rhetorically of McCain, "[D]o you favor the ballot initiatives" and "Do you support the anti-preference plank in the 2004 Republican platform?" Reacting to McCain's ABC interview, Politico's Jonathan Martin wrote that McCain's answers on affirmative action and gay adoption are indicative of the fact that he has a "lack of interest in cultural issues," but that he knows there are positions he is "supposed to take" in order to please the conservative base. With his support of the Arizona referendum, McCain has now pleased one part of this base. Clegg responded by declaring, "Kudos to John McCain."

Copyright ©2008

Sunday, July 27, 2008

John McCain’s Summer of Love American Style

News Corpse
July 25, 2008

In 1967, John McCain was shot out of the North Vietnamese sky, crash landed in a lake, taken prisoner, and held in captivity for … 41 years, so far.

No one can dismiss the unimaginable agony of enduring six years in an enemy prisoner of war camp. It is surely a brutal experience both physically and mentally. It is the sort of experience that never leaves you and, indeed, it seems never to have left John McCain. His entire post-POW frame of reference is shaped by what he went through, and also by what he missed as a consequence of his incarceration.

The tenor of his candidacy is quagmired in history, and that is not a reference to his age. It is his policy proposals that harken back to the past. And it is a vision of the past that is still very much alive in McCain’s mind. His arrest in Vietnam simultaneously arrested his growth as an observer of politics, foreign affairs, and diplomacy.

It’s hard to tell lately if McCain is running to succeed President Bush, Gen. Petraeus, or perhaps Gen. Westmoreland. The persistent theme that McCain has adopted with regard to Iraq is identical to the 1970’s era military establishment and Richard Nixon’s “Peace With Honor” contrivance. Nixon also promised to stay the course and bring our troops home when victory was achieved, despite overwhelming agreement, even amongst his advisers, that nothing recognizable as victory was likely to result in Vietnam.

Now, McCain accuses Obama of preferring to lose a war in order to win a political campaign. But it is McCain who is pursuing a political goal at the expense of America’s interests. McCain is crafting an election scheme that parallels Nixon’s in 1972. Win the office by assuring voters that America is always right and thus, invincible. Then worry about proving it later. Unfortunately, the post-election scenario would also mirror Nixon’s, with an eventual withdrawal from Iraq that fails to achieve any objective articulated by Bush or McCain. And like Nixon’s mis-adventures in Laos and Cambodia, McCain’s Iraq exit could include a detour through Iran. But McCain doesn’t concern himself with these realities because he is too fixated on prevailing politically. And that’s exactly what he is hypocritically accusing Obama of.

As further evidence of McCain’s confinement to the past, consider his recent advertisement titled “Summer of Love.” It begins with images of colorful Hippies at protests, and music festivals. The announcer declares it a time of “uncertainty, hope and change,” skillfully associating uncertainty with two words that have become iconic within Barack Obama’s campaign. It then proceeds to insult an entire generation by asserting that McCain had “another kind of love - of country,” thereby implying that young Americans in the 60’s and 70’s were less than patriotic. As one of them I can assure you that it wasn’t because we hated our country that we dedicated ourselves to peace, civil rights, and free expression. Are those unpatriotic aspirations?

This is not the first time that McCain has attacked the Woodstock generation. In fact, he even opposed modest funding for a museum that commemorated the era and the event. Some may agree with McCain that…

“The Woodstock Museum is a shining example of what’s wrong with Washington on pork-barrel, out-of-control spending.”

Personally, I think that an event that drew nearly half a million people, featured some of the most popular and creative artists in the world, and emerged as emblematic of one of the most significant cultural movements of the century, deserves a small facility for remembrance and study. In addition, the Bethel Woods Arts Center, as it is called, is a working contemporary venue that enriches the community both creatively and financially.

The fact that McCain cannot recognize the importance of that era, and the contributions of citizens who lived through it, is representative of a larger problem for him. The time he spent in captivity was a defining time for those of us back home. There were so many socially profound events that altered just about everyone who lived through them. John McCain was not one of them. The history that shaped millions of Americans, McCain only heard about secondhand, after the fact. For example:

  • The first heart transplant.
  • The assassinations of Martin Luther King and two Kennedys.
  • Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation.
  • The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
  • Click here for a more comprehensive list.

So it may not be so surprising that McCain is trapped in a time warp, unable to relate to a country and world that shared these tumultuous experiences, but from which he was excluded. It may explain his hostility to a generation that was arguably more engaged in public service and community activism than any generation before or since. It puts into perspective the persistent pessimism expressed in the ad above that ends by saying to voters “Don’t hope for a better life.”

While many of us who went through the 60’s and 70’s have assimilated those experiences and included them as we’ve grown over time, McCain has remained stagnant and, in many ways, ignorant in the procession of time. That’s why, for us, the Summer of Love will always be remembered with an equal measure of frustration and pride that reflects the reality of that historic time. But McCain will only recall a combination of frightening changes and an idealized portrait of a sitcom utopia. That’s not a vision for the future that offers much hope. It’s not a vision of the future at all.

©2005-2006 Crass Commerce

2003 Flashback: McCain Mocked Germany and France

Jon Perr
Crooks and Liars
July 27, 2008

In Berlin this week, Barack Obama capped his European tour with an address to an audience whose numbers reached tens of thousands. But while the media will focus on Obama’s call to strengthen America’s trans-Atlantic alliance with France and Germany, no doubt lost in the coverage will be John McCain’s essential role in undermining it. As it turns out, back in 2003 John McCain stood shoulder to shoulder with the Berlin-bashers and Paris-hating purveyors of “freedom fries” and “old Europe.”

As President Bush prepared to pull the trigger on the Iraq war in February 2003, John McCain was at the forefront of those browbeating the Chirac government for France’s refusal to back the U.S. at the United Nations. On February 10, 2003, McCain declared on MSNBC’s Hardball:

“Look, I don’t mean to try to be snide, but the Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too.”

The next day on February 11, 2003, McCain co-sponsored a Senate resolution praising 18 European nations backing U.S. enforcement of UN demands for Saddam’s disarmament. In his press release, McCain echoed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in thundering at the France and Germany of “old Europe:”

“The majority of Europe’s democracies have spoken, and their message could not be clearer: France and Germany do not speak for Europe…most European governments behave like allies that are willing to meet their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security in defense of our common values. We thank this European majority for standing with us.”

McCain’s venom towards the French and Germans was on full display two days later during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
(Read the rest of this story…)

Copyright ©2008 Crooks and Liars

How Obama Became Acting President

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
July 27, 2008

IT almost seems like a gag worthy of “Borat”: A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

He never would have been treated as a president-in-waiting by heads of state or network talking heads if all he offered were charisma, slick rhetoric and stunning visuals. What drew them instead was the raw power Mr. Obama has amassed: the power to start shaping events and the power to move markets, including TV ratings. (Even “Access Hollywood”
mustered a 20 percent audience jump by hosting the Obama family.) Power begets more power, absolutely.

The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100
American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”

Never mind. This election remains about the present and the future, where Iraq’s $10 billion a month drain on American pocketbooks and military readiness is just one moving part in a matrix of national crises stretching from the gas pump to Pakistan. That’s the high-rolling political casino where Mr. Obama amassed the chips he cashed in last week. The “change” that he can at times wield like a glib marketing gimmick is increasingly becoming a substantive reality — sometimes through Mr. Obama’s instigation, sometimes by luck.

Obama-branded change is snowballing, whether it’s change you happen to believe in or not.
Looking back now, we can see that the fortnight preceding the candidate’s flight to Kuwait was like a sequence in an old movie where wind blows away calendar pages to announce an epochal plot turn. First, on July 7, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, dissed Bush dogma by raising the prospect of a withdrawal timetable for our troops. Then, on July 15, Mr. McCain suddenly noticed that more Americans are dying in Afghanistan than Iraq and called for more American forces to be sent there. It was a long-overdue recognition of the obvious that he could no longer avoid: both Robert Gates, the defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had already called for more American troops to battle the resurgent Taliban, echoing the policy proposed by Mr. Obama a year ago.

On July 17 we
learned that President Bush, who had labeled direct talks with Iran “appeasement,” would send the No. 3 official in the State Department to multilateral nuclear talks with Iran. Lest anyone doubt that the White House had moved away from the rigid stand endorsed by Mr. McCain and toward Mr. Obama’s, a former Rumsfeld apparatchik weighed in on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page: “Now Bush Is Appeasing Iran.”

Within 24 hours, the White House did another U-turn,
endorsing an Iraq withdrawal timetable as long as it was labeled a “general time horizon.” In a flash, as Mr. Obama touched down in Kuwait, Mr. Maliki approvingly cited the Democratic candidate by name while laying out a troop-withdrawal calendar of his own that, like Mr. Obama’s, would wind down in 2010. On Tuesday, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced a major drawdown of his nation’s troops by early 2009.

But it’s not merely the foreign policy consensus that is shifting Obama-ward. The Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens has now joined another high-profile McCain supporter, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in
knocking the McCain nostrum that America can drill its way out of its energy crisis. Mr. Pickens, who financed the Swift-boat campaign smearing John Kerry in 2004, was thought to be a sugar daddy for similar assaults against the Democrats this year. Instead, he is underwriting nonpartisan ads promoting wind power and speaks of how he would welcome Al Gore as energy czar if there’s an Obama administration. ... ( more )

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A tale of two campaigns

Joan Walsh
July 26, 2008

On Friday the Obama campaign circulated a report noting that John McCain had called a plan for withdrawing American troops from Iraq in 16 months -- Barack Obama's plan, in other words -- "a pretty good timetable." Another day, another odd move by McCain, who has had, by all accounts, a pretty terrible week.

So then why are the polls so close? Yes, Karl Rove's own firm's polling projects a slight Electoral College edge for Obama; most polls give him a slight edge. But given the gulf between the two campaigns in terms of visibility and positive media coverage, as well as in gaffes, I find myself wondering: Why is this race so tight? Why did this week's Quinnipiac Poll show McCain gaining in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado and Michigan?

I live in San Francisco, which is of course Obama country, as is my whole state. So I'm in a bubble. An interesting bubble, though: Although Clinton carried California, the most recent Field Poll found that 81 percent of her supporters say they'll vote for Obama, a much bigger share than in other states. If Obama were closing Clinton voters at the same rate everywhere, he'd have a much more comfortable edge. But I assume Obama's lead will open up as the election gets closer and more people tune in to the election, but I can't know for sure.

There's no better symbol, to me, of the past vs. future nature of this election than McCain's insistence on fighting over whether Obama was wrong to oppose the Iraq troop surge. It's a lost argument before it begins; nobody will ever be able to prove either side is right, and Obama is correct to acknowledge his doubts about the surge in 2007, but mainly duck the debate. While McCain continued to flail about the past all week, Obama was looking forward, and I can't help but think looking forward will carry the day. But I'm aware other people see this differently; the McCain campaign seems to be banking on scaring people out of voting for Obama by trashing his judgment, and scaring people certainly worked for George Bush in 2004.

I'll be leaving my political bubble for New York next week, but that's a (wonderful) bubble of its own. I mention that mainly to note that blogging will be lighter from the road; my apologies in advance. Use the comments section to tell me why you think the race is so close.

Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

McCain memo is riddled with inaccuracies

Alex Koppelman
War Room
Friday, July 25, 2008

On Friday, John McCain's campaign put out a memo that purports to debunk that "three prevailing myths about Barack Obama's foreign policy ... [that] work to Obama's benefit, are indeed propagated by his campaign at times, but have no real basis in fact." The memo, written by Randy Scheunemann, a senior advisor to McCain, is separated into three sections, each with its own "myth" and countervailing "fact." But it's the memo itself that's full of myths -- actually, as a colleague quipped to me, the memo would have been much more accurate if the "myth" and "fact" headers had been reversed.

Take the first section, which begins with this "myth": "Barack Obama Claims People Have Adopted His Unconditional Timetable for Withdrawal From Iraq." Under "fact," Scheunemann writes:

John McCain, our military commanders and the Iraqi government agree that our troops should come home based upon conditions on the ground -- not the unconditional timetable Barack Obama supports. Unlike Barack Obama, John McCain believes our troops should come home with honor and victory. Barack Obama's support for an unconditional timetable has led to an "open disagreement" with our military commanders. Even Iraqi leaders believe our troops should leave depending upon conditions on the ground. The only one advocating an arbitrary, unconditional timetable is Barack Obama. Everyone but Barack Obama agrees that a withdrawal dictated purely by politics invites chaos and the possibility that our troops would have to return.

Set aside for its pure silliness the implication that Obama wants American troops to come home in dishonor and defeat. There's also the implication that Obama wants to withdraw all troops from Iraq, something that's clearly not true. Nor has Obama advocated an "arbitrary, unconditional" timetable. After laying out his plan for withdrawal in his recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, Obama wrote, "In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected." And former Obama advisor Samantha Power has previously made clear that Obama's plan is a "best-case scenario" subject to change based on conditions on the ground.

Then there's Scheunemann's contention that "even Iraqi leaders believe our troops should leave depending upon conditions on the ground." McCain himself says he has heard that in private meetings he has held with Iraqis. But that's certainly not what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said in public statements recently.

The second part of Scheunemann's memo is no better. The "myth" Scheunemann claims to explode is, "Barack Obama Claims the United States Has Adopted His Policy of Unconditional, Presidential-Level Meetings With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Ahmadinejad makes a great boogeyman for the McCain campaign to exploit. But as I've written in this space before, and as Time's Joe Klein has repeatedly done a superlative job of explaining, there's no real reason to believe that the Iranian leader Obama would meet with would be Ahmadinejad. In May, Klein wrote:

I promised to check into whether Obama had ever said that he would negotiate -- specifically, by name -- with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, according to the crack Time Magazine research department and the Obama campaign, he never has. He did say that he would negotiate with the Iranian leadership -- but, on matters of foreign policy and Iran's nuclear program, the guy in charge is the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. As of today, John McCain was still accusing Obama of wanting to negotiate with Ahmadinejad. Why doesn't the McCain campaign and other assorted Republicans ever accuse Obama of wanting to negotiate with Khamenei? Well, because Khamenei isn't quite the flagrant anti-Semite Ahmadinejad is.

Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc.

The Barbeque Media Wants Senator Obama To Win? That's Rich.

Bob Cesca
The Huffington Post
July 24, 2008

As we have observed throughout the last several years, the notion of fairness in journalism has been guided by a miscalculated rule that in order to report good news about a liberal or a liberal success, news reporting has to be counterbalanced either with unearned praise for conservatives or trumped up and parroted negative news about the aforementioned liberal or liberal success. Oh, and the reverse doesn't apply. That's the rule.

And so now that Senator Obama's Berlin address is in the can, get ready for the backlash from the very serious corporate media. Get ready for profuse around-the-clock praise of Senator McCain and/or unfair, invented criticism of Senator Obama. Because reporting the news, however accurate, about Senator Obama's successful trip to the Middle East and Europe isn't news. It's obviously biased reporting against the McCain campaign.

That's all we've heard from the McBush Republicans this week: griping about the press coverage of Senator Obama's trip, as if such an epic event isn't newsworthy. Although I'm sure the McBush camp would've been thrilled about such wall-to-wall coverage if Reverend Wright had been spazzing out on the wing of the Obama campaign jet, ripping it to shreds Twilight Zone style -- Rezko and Ayers running around in turbans spray-painting "clinging to guns" on the side of General Petraeus' helicopter.

And it appears as if the McCain campaign's Gripe Surge is working:

HANNITY: Scott Rasmussen has a poll, 49 percent of Americans think the media is trying to help Barack Obama win. Only 14 percent think they're trying to help you win.

MCCAIN: The American people are very wise.

When the press aired the Wright videos around the clock for approximately six weeks while continuing to refer to Senator Obama as "Osama bin Laden," they've clearly been employing some kind of magic or trickery -- some kind of scary reverse psychology. You know, to help Senator Obama. Thankfully the American people were "wise" to it.

The McCain campaign even turned their griping into a web video this week to prove that the corporate media loves Senator Obama more than they love Senator McCain. Setting aside the idea of a web video from the campaign of a man who is just now learning how to "get online," it's staggeringly desperate and ridiculous of them to produce such a thing. Reason the first: because the content of the video, apart from Chris Matthews "leg thrill" remark, is mostly just reporters saying things like, Is the media in love with Obama? which, of course, doesn't prove a damn thing one way or the other. And, reason the second: because this other web video exists:

But several days of crotchety griping from both far-right talk radio and the McCain campaign has begun to show results. Here's how.

On Tuesday's edition of Morning Joe, Mika Brzeznski, Andrea Mitchell and Very Serious Mark Halperin (who publicly encouraged Senator McCain to convince people that Senator Obama is a terrorist) agreed that after three days of reporting the actual news that Senator Obama's overseas visit was successful, they should deliberately attempt to "trip him up" -- to "hold him accountable." Oh yeah? For what? We're gonna hold him accountable for not screwing the pooch on this trip -- the rat bastard! We're very serious! Barack's a Muslim terrorist [Halperin only]!

Then CBS News, showing its obvious penchant for wanting Senator Obama to win, edited out Senator McCain's laughable error with regards to the Anbar Awakening -- another in an on-going syllabus of McCain ignorance, which further proves that he's really not the Mighty Old Man of Awesome Foreign Policy Experience and Balls. Suggesting that there's such a thing as an Iraq/Pakistan border in a Today Show interview on Monday didn't help either.

But as the rule goes, the only way the corporate press (Olbermann, Maddow and the like excluded) can make a beef about these things would be to find a similar gaffe or mistake by Senator Obama and report on that first. And since nothing recent exists... Pass! Next!

And today, the word of the day in the corporate press is... presumptuous. Used in a sentence: Senator Obama is being presumptuous during his trip -- acting all presidential and dignified. How dare he be presidential while running for, you know, president. Presumptuous. During the live CNN web feed of the Berlin address, an anchor used it to describe the event. Joe Klein used it in a blog post today. Of course Joe attributed it to racist voters rather than very serious reporters -- racist because it's presumably a synonym for 'uppity' and we can't accuse the press of such awfulness. And Candy Crowley used it in her post-address analysis on CNN. That's a lot of coincidences. "Presumptuous" must really be a popular word. Odd that it's being used so often by people who want Senator Obama to win.

AP: "In a speech that risked being seen as presumptuous..."

TIME Magazine: "capable to become the Commander in Chief of a superpower -- without seeming presumptuous..."

The National Journal: "He is well aware voters here at home might see that as presumptuous..."

Washington Post: "Whether by the end of this week he will be seen as presumptuous or overly cocky..."

Chicago Tribune: "That means walking the fine line between looking presidential and appearing arrogant and presumptuous..."

Boston Globe: "plus the growing sense in some quarters that the presumptive Democratic nominee is getting a little presumptuous..."

Can you feel the wanting-Obama-to-win love radiating off your computer screen? No?

The reality is that positive coverage of any Democrat is limited and temporary for fear of networks and newspapers either being accused of liberal bias or being tossed out of the very serious barbeque loop. Regardless of whether the Democrat, in this case Senator Obama, is having a good day, it's somehow unethical to report on such good news for too long without deliberately concocting an antidote to appease the far-right. So rather than standing up as the only industry explicitly named in the Constitution and defending the very basic idea of journalistic integrity, the corporate media is all too quick to capitulate to these specious Republican attacks -- that is, when they're not tossing their ethics aside and taking bribes in the form of barbeque and McBusch beer from a candidate whom they're supposed to be covering objectively.

Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog! Go!

Copyright © 2008, Inc.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CBS Covers Up Major McCain Error

McCaine Watch
July 23, 2008

During a CBS interview on Tuesday, John McCain made a stone cold error on a subject about which he claims expert knowledge: the "surge" strategy in Iraq. In an interview with anchor Katie Couric, the Arizona Republican said, inaccurately, that the surge strategy was responsible for the much-touted "Anbar Awakening," in which Sunni sheiks turned against Al Qaeda, helping in turn to reduce violence in the country.

Yet McCain's error was not seen by any CBS Evening News viewers. As MSNBC's Keith Olbermann noted, "CBS curiously, to say the least, left it on the edit room floor. It aired Katie Couric's question, but in response, it aired part of McCain's answer to the other question instead." (Ironically, this edit came on the same day that McCain's campaign released a video mocking the media's "love affair" with Obama.)

Watch video of Olbermann exposing McCain and CBS.

Copyright ©2008

Obama's grand tour

Joan Walsh
July 22, 2008

So far, Barack Obama seems to have done everything right on his trip to Afghanistan, Iraq and Jordan. Enormous challenges still loom with his visits to Israel and the West Bank. But to this point the high-risk trip might actually help close the "commander in chief" gap pollsters have found between him and John McCain.

As I watched back-to-back Obama and McCain appearances on television Tuesday morning, it was hard not to feel a little bit sorry for McCain. What was his campaign thinking, scheduling a tiny, hokey town hall meeting in Manchester, N.H., where the GOP nominee spoke against the uninspiring backdrop of a sagging flag, nice elderly folks and a few small kids who can't vote? Meanwhile, Obama looked calm and presidential at the Citadel in Amman, Jordan, a history-rich landscape behind him, flanked by admiring, white-haired Senate colleagues Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed.

Obama is already being baited by McCain and his supporters for saying, respectfully but firmly, that he, not his commanders on the ground, will be the final arbiter of his war strategy. But of course that's his job as president. So far, he has set the right tone of respect for military leaders and troops without cowering or pandering. I had some worries about this trip -- I'm a worrier -- but Obama has done everything he had to do to this point.

Meanwhile, McCain seems to think his best hope for countering the P.R. bounty of Obama's foreign tour this week is to complain about the media. We all know how well that worked for Hillary Clinton. It's particularly silly given the media's longtime soft spot for (and soft coverage of) McCain. McCain's "Obama Love" ad was mildly funny, but most of the clips it used came from primary season, when his opponent was Clinton, not McCain. And while the coverage of Obama's trip has been overwhelmingly positive, I think that's partly because of Obama's relative newness, partly because of the trip's audacity and partly because Obama has performed well so far. As someone who has written before about the media's crush on Obama, I did chuckle at "The Daily Show," which depicts "Obama Love" far more cleverly than McCain did:

Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Madness and Shame

Bob Herbert
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
July 22, 2008

You want a scary thought? Imagine a fanatic in the mold of Dick Cheney but without the vice president’s sense of humor.

In her important new book, “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals,” Jane Mayer of The New Yorker devotes a great deal of space to David Addington, Dick Cheney’s main man and the lead architect of the Bush administration’s legal strategy for the so-called war on terror.

She quotes a colleague as saying of Mr. Addington: “No one stood to his right.” Colin Powell, a veteran of many bruising battles with Mr. Cheney, was reported to have summed up Mr. Addington as follows: “He doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”

Very few voters are aware of Mr. Addington’s existence, much less what he stands for. But he was the legal linchpin of the administration’s Marquis de Sade approach to battling terrorism. In the view of Mr. Addington and his acolytes, anything and everything that the president authorized in the fight against terror — regardless of what the Constitution or Congress or the Geneva Conventions might say — was all right. That included torture, rendition, warrantless wiretapping, the suspension of habeas corpus, you name it.

This is the mind-set that gave us Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and the C.I.A.’s secret prisons, known as “black sites.”

Ms. Mayer wrote: “The legal doctrine that Addington espoused — that the president, as commander in chief, had the authority to disregard virtually all previously known legal boundaries if national security demanded it — rested on a reading of the Constitution that few legal scholars shared.”

When the constraints of the law are unlocked by the men and women in suits at the pinnacle of power, terrible things happen in the real world. You end up with detainees being physically and psychologically tormented day after day, month after month, until they beg to be allowed to commit suicide. You have prisoners beaten until they are on the verge of death, or hooked to overhead manacles like something out of the Inquisition, or forced to defecate on themselves, or sexually humiliated, or driven crazy by days on end of sleep deprivation and blinding lights and blaring noises, or water-boarded.

To get a sense of the heights of madness scaled in this anything-goes atmosphere, consider a brainstorming meeting held by military officials at Guantánamo. Ms. Mayer said the meeting was called to come up with ways to crack through the resistance of detainees.

“One source of ideas,” she wrote, “was the popular television show ‘24.’ On that show as Ms. Mayer noted, “torture always worked. It saved America on a weekly basis.”

I felt as if I was in Never-Never Land as I read: “In conversation with British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, the top military lawyer in Guantánamo, Diane Beaver, said quite earnestly that Jack Bauer ‘gave people lots of ideas’ as they sought for interrogation models.”

Donald Rumsfeld described the detainees at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst.” A more sober assessment has since been reached by many respected observers. Ms. Mayer mentioned a study conducted by attorneys and law students at the Seton Hall University Law School.

“After reviewing 517 of the Guantánamo detainees’ cases in depth,” she said, “they concluded that only 8 percent were alleged to have associated with Al Qaeda. Fifty-five percent were not alleged to have engaged in any hostile act against the United States at all, and the remainder were charged with dubious wrongdoing, including having tried to flee U.S. bombs. The overwhelming majority — all but 5 percent — had been captured by non-U.S. players, many of whom were bounty hunters.” ... ( more )

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Monday, July 21, 2008

New York Times Spares McCain Embarrassment By Spiking Op-Ed

Jason Linkins
The Huffington Post
July 21, 2008

As anyone who hasn't been living under a boulder knows by now, John McCain has always enjoyed an extra-special relationship with the press, who care for the Presidential nominee as one might nurture an orphaned lamb, doing him no end of solids. For example, even though Barack Obama has consistently led in the polls since clinching the Democratic nomination, we are told that this is Good For McCain, because according to something written on the Ancient and Illuminated Manuscript of Press Corps Conventional Wisdom, Obama should be leading by more, and his waste should smell like Springtime in Vermont. Also, when McCain visits Europe, it burnishes his Presidential pedigree, but if Obama does so, it makes him look un-American.

Now, however, the McCain camp is angry at their special friend, specifically the New York Times, because the paper of record spiked an op-ed column that McCain had prepared in response to a similar offering from Obama. McCain's surrogates are flush with outrage over this. But I've now read the piece, and it's pretty clear to me that the Times' decision, if anything, is in keeping with the press' traditional friendly relationship. The Times put bros before prose, and in so doing, spared McCain no end of embarrassment, because the op-ed is rivetingly dumb and laden with inaccuracies. None of which would have come to my attention if the candidate had done the smart thing and kept his mouth shut! But since he wants the attention, let's give it to him.

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation "hard" but not "hopeless." Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

An inauspicious beginning! Surely the last thing McCain, as an Iraq War advocate, needs to be doing right now is pointing out that four years ago, things were really horrible in Iraq, and after an Olympic season of Surge and sturm and drang, we've only managed to almost get the level of horror back to where it was when it was horrible.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there," he said on January 10, 2007. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

As all "Surge" proponents tend to do, McCain overlooks a situation that was unfolding in Baghdad contemporaneously with the "Surge," namely a massive campaign of sectarian cleansing that expelled people from their homes, hardened neighborhoods, and created a massive internal displacement problem. Violence dropped as a result of the factions getting what they wanted - the people they were killing out of their neighborhoods.

Also, isn't it time that McCain stopped getting credit for being an "early advocate" of the Surge that President Bush was going to implement anyway? I was an early advocate and a vocal supporter of all of the Washington Redskins Superbowl victories, but you don't see me asking for a ring!

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that "our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence." But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

I think that when Obama denies that any political progress has resulted, it's probably because no political progress has resulted. Indeed, the "Surge" was supposed to "create space" for the Iraqi government to reach a level of functionality. What's the impediment? Well, according to a majority of Iraqi legislators, that "space" has been occupied by the occupation. They said so in the letter they sent to Congress, attesting to this:

Likewise, we wish to inform you that the majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters.

I don't seems like Obama might be aware of this!

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, "Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress." Even more heartening has been progress that's not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City--actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

Wow. That's a mouthful of nonsense to parse. It's not the U.S. Embassy in Iraq who's made such a claim, it's "Surge" architect and editorial-page-welfare recipient Fred Kagan who's contended that the Iraq has had benchmark success. This is a claim that CNN Reporter Michael Ware has already debunked. In truth, on benchmarks, it would be more accurate to say McCain has it precisely backwards.

Also, it's really unfortunate to see McCain citing the Sunnis here as a sign for the better, especially at a time when "the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement against the US and the Iraqi government has regrouped and reorganized, and is effectively lashing out again." And al-Maliki's "willingness" to "crack down" on uprisings in Barsa and Sadr City is mostly spirit. The flesh, on the other hand, has been weak. Al-Maliki's troops were proven unready for prime time, leaving U.S. forces to once again "take the lead" in ending the crisis.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama's determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his "plan for Iraq" in advance of his first "fact finding" trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

You'd think, of course, that had the military operation been a "success," that the rationale for withdrawal would be self-evident. At any rate, Obama's "plan for Iraq" pretty overtly stipulates that he wants to withdraw the troops from Iraq so that we might prevail over the terrorists who attacked us and who have benefited from Bush and McCain's policy of appeasement.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Uhm, actually? To suggest that Obama has "made it sound" like al-Maliki has said something he didn't say distorts the fact that al-Maliki has been clearly and consistently voicing his opinion that we need for a timetable for withdrawal. And after reports yesterday that he was walking those statements back, Maliki, as of this very morning, endorsed the Obama timetable.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

Funny thing. You go to war because you have to stop a terrorist mastermind's powerful military from unleashing their awesome arsenal of diabolical weapons of mass destruction, and you end up staying at war because the military you defeated is no longer good for anything but a few laughs. Nothing fails like success, I guess.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five "surge" brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

You see, when I read McCain saying things like, "A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five 'surge' brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind." I think: Yes, that is Barack Obama's plan.

But McCain's endorsement of the Obama Doctrine is bookended by two inane statements. In the first place, the United States favors a permanent U.S. presence. We are, at this moment, spending many a taxpayer dollar building "enduring" bases. One such base, located on the banks of the Tigris, will be as large as Vatican City. If McCain doesn't know this, then one can hardly take him for the spending hawk he claims to be.

Additionally, it's just seems to me that if McCain wants to insist on people not criticizing him for being dotty, he's simply going to have to stop saying things like he's going to "welcome home most of our troops from Iraq" one sentence after committing them to "beef[ing] up our presence" in Afghanistan.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Actually, it's also the crux of your disagreement with the sovereign government of Iraq, who back Obama's call for a timetable. And wouldn't you call the sovereign government of Iraq a "condition on the ground?" McCain once did!

From 2004:

Question: "What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?"

McCain: "Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."

Based on McCain's recent statements, one can only assume that McCain is now flip-flopping on the issue of Iraqi sovereignty.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his "plan for Iraq." Perhaps that's because he doesn't want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be "very dangerous."

Well, Obama's got the Iraqi leaders clamoring for a timetable now. And as far as our commanders on the ground go, they've made it clear that they serve at the pleasure of the President:

CLINTON: And finally, General, if there were a decision by the President, in your professional estimation, how long would a responsible withdrawal from Iraq take?

ODIERNO: Senator, it's a very difficult question, and the reason is, is because there are a number of assumptions and factors that I'd have to understand first...based on how do we want to leave the environmental issues in Iraq, what would be the final end-state...what is the effect on the ground, what is the security issue on the ground. So I don't think I can give you an answer now, but, certainly, at the time, if asked...and we do planning, we do a significant amount of planning to make sure that an appropriate answer was given, and we would lay out a timeline.

I think that if you aren't aware of what "Commander in Chief" means, you really can't claim to have crossed the "Commander in Chief threshold."

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we've had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the "Mission Accomplished" banner prematurely.

Of course, al Qaeda has staged a comeback precisely because we have too many troops in Iraq. And the surplus of American firepower has done nothing to prevent the expansion of Iranian influence in the region. This was made clear by one of the two Iraqi parliamentarians who traveled to the U.S. to offer testimony:

KHALAF al-ULAYYAN: And, unfortunately, now Iran is going into Iraq, and this is under the umbrella of the American occupation of Iraq.

Finally, McCain concludes:

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war--only of ending it. But if we don't win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

Naturally, I'd have to point out that McCain has, only recently, even suggested that his administration might get back to the task of winning the war on terror, having first announced a policy of avoiding that war for one hundred years. Only now has McCain put Afghanistan back in his foreign policy profile, and McCain has no idea where the troops are going to come from to support his "Surge Part Deux."

In short, there is just not one word of that op-ed that makes a lick of sense. Far from complaining, the McCain camp owes the Times a little gratitude.

Copyright © 2008, Inc.