McCain, Obama, and Iraq

Last week, Senator John McCain celebrated the end of the war in Iraq by lauding the sacrifice of thousands of American soldiers and crowning the surge led by current CIA Director General David Petraeus back in 2007 as its most important moment. But McCain wasn’t so kind when referring to the man overseeing the withdrawal of troops. He concluded his remarks by chastising Barack Obama for playing domestic politics by withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraqi soil without leaving a residual force, and said history will judge the president’s leadership with “the scorn and disdain it deserves.” This was quite a fierce statement by the former presidential contender .

The end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq should have been a good news story, one in which a cruel dictator was overthrown and replaced by some semblance of democracy. Having the troops home for the holidays was certainly grounds for a more measured disagreement.

After all, there is plenty of blame to go around. The situation in Iraq is not entirely reassuring, as neighbouring Iran seems to have undue influence on Iraq’s Nouri al Malaki and his government. So while it might have been better that some residual force remains, Obama could not get them legal protection. Meanwhile, Bush veterans are writing books defending the decision to go to war despite the mistaken premise that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but Democrats cannot escape the fact that their party supported the war in the initial stages. Finally, many military strategists argue the war was fought badly, hampered by either a lack of troops or misguided strategic decisions by U.S. commanders such as Paul Bremer regarding former Ba’ath operatives, which created the insurgency that prolonged the war.

McCain’s reaction was not entirely surprising since he was an early cheerleader for the war. What was surprising was the harshness of his attack given that Obama was essentially putting into effect the agreement George W. Bush struck with the Iraqi government before leaving office. It is legitimate to argue that Obama, who initially opposed the war, was simply cleaning up the mess he inherited and fulfilling an electoral promise. The war was costly (nearly a trillion dollars and over 4,500 American lives, in addition to the lives of countless Iraqis), highly divisive domestically, and had lost the support of the American people.

This was a war of choice fought on a faulty premise, and it severely affected the U.S. economy and the country’s reputation abroad. Just that should have been enough for McCain to show more balance and some restraint. What do you tell a parent who lost a child for a ‘lie’ or, at best, wrong intelligence? Had the Republicans shown more restraint in 2003, they might discovered there were no WMD and there were other ways to deal with Saddam Hussein.

This latest reaction by McCain shows that he is increasingly out of touch by holding on to his neo-conservative philosophy. His approach to the Libyan revolution was belligerent and erratic, and his reaction to what most observers have considered smart strategy by Obama was mean-spirited. We are a long way from the days of the Straight Talk Express in the snows of New Hampshire back in 2000. Today, McCain conveys a lingering bitterness about his defeat to Obama in 2008. In so doing, he may be reinforcing the wisdom of the choice people made three years ago.

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