Douthat thinks McCain should keep running on the surge, Jonah doesn’t see it that way. In a surprise development, I agree with Jonah (I’m telling ya, the Liberal Fascism stuff is performance art). To wit:

‘Sen. Obama didn’t support the surge, wanted to pull out, said that it would fail. I supported it when it was the toughest thing to do. I believe that my record on national security and keeping this country safe is there. And the American people will examine our records, and I will win.”

That’s John McCain explaining why he’ll win.

He’s wrong


Voters don’t care about the surge; they care about the war. Americans want it to be over — and in a way they can be proud of.

Richard Nixon didn’t win in 1968 by second-guessing LBJ about the mess in Vietnam; he ran on getting us out with honor. McCain is great talking about honor, but the getting-us-out part is where he gets tongue-tied. Obama, meanwhile, talks about getting out of Iraq as though Americans don’t care about honor. That may have worked for him in the early primaries, but it won’t in the general election. Americans don’t like to lose wars.

Politically, the surge is a bit like the Supreme Court’s recent decision affirming the constitutional right to own a gun. Obama’s position on gun rights, a miasma of murky equivocation, would hurt him if gun control were a big issue this year. It isn’t, thanks to the high court’s ruling. That’s a huge boon.

The surge has done likewise with the war. If it were going worse, McCain’s Churchillian rhetoric would match reality more. But with sectarian violence nearly gone, Al Qaeda in Iraq almost totally routed and even Shiite Sadrist militias seemingly neutralized, the stakes of withdrawal seem low enough for Americans to feel comfortable voting for Obama. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s support for an American troop drawdown undoubtedly pushes the perceived stakes even lower.

See, that’s really good stuff. And in any event, he’s really one of the very few I’ve seen, left or right, who have acknowledged the real problem with the surge for McCain; there’s simply no way for him to argue that the surge is the ultimate test of judgment and/or fitness for command and to keep voters away from doing the same with the original decision to go to war. And Jonah’s right, if it comes down to who was right about the surge vs. who was right about the war, the war (Obama) is going to win. You can look at it two ways; intellectually speaking, the war was a strategic decision, the surge a tactical one, and being the President is about managing the broad spectrum of US foreign policy, not tactics on the ground everywhere. Electorally speaking, the war is just more straightforward and more engaging than the surge, and is more likely to weigh on voters minds as they make a decision. And without the war, there’s no debate over the surge in the first place now is there?

He’s also fundamentally right about the way the war is going, and it’s effect on the election. Perversely perhaps, this is the ambiguousness of victory coming back to bite the neoconservatives in the ass. We never knew what “victory” meant, so naturally people will assume that “things are getting better” would be pretty damn close to it. But now Bush and McCain are saying that really just means we can’t leave anytime soon, and people are wholly catching on to the game. Jonah’s right here, the American people want out, but generally speaking we don’t want to be embarrassed. We want a workable way out, and Maliki just gave us one. If human beings are rationalizing creatures, we just got the ultimate means to rationalize withdrawal; the Iraqis want us gone. We can leave it to them and let them sink or swim, and our hands are clean.

Barring a massive increase in violence or a true, wholesale reversal by the Iraqis on the matter, Iraq is a complete non-starter for McCain at this point.