Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Addressing the Politics of Iraq

After following the primaries the one issue that I’m convinced that the Republicans are right about, and that Senator McCain is really right about is Iraq and foreign policy. If Senator McCain is given fifteen minutes to explain himself, it becomes clear that his position is the most humane for the Iraqi people, the most effective in dealing with Al Qaida, and does the most to protect U.S. security interests at home and abroad; and that he grasps foreign policy issues in a deep and meaingful way. However, more often than not a candidate gets fifteen seconds instead of fifteen minutes to explain their positions. Therefore, there are two arguments that Democrats often raise that I think could be countered better.

‘The Cause for War’ is the centerpiece of any Democrat’s discussion of foreign policy, and is often used as a reason for withdrawal in Iraq. Initially the logic given for war hinged predominantly on the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Consequently, when no WMD’s were found the President in particular and Republicans in general received harsh criticism for starting an ‘baseless war’. The counter to this criticism is that we should have invaded anyway. This is a weak argument because it ignores the fact that there was a huge intelligence failure, and it gives the impression that we were going in regardless of circumstances. Putting aside the actual argument of whether the US should or should not have invaded, there needs to be some responsibility taken for the fact that the intelligence system failed. If corrections need to be made to the intelligence systems then address that. This is important for national security, and it would be a sign to the American people that past mistakes won’t be repeated.

Concurrently there needs to be an acknowledgement that the American people have the right to be annoyed or upset if rationale for war was either not fully explained, or changed in time. This is largely a political problem of the President’s, but it will need to be addressed by Senator McCain too as people are likely to see it as guilt through association. Now this could be a challenging political move as people on both sides of the isle are very passionate and very opinionated about this issue, but I think it would be wise to acknowledge that there is a lot of justified frustration about the perception of being misled. While the fact that the Senate overwhelmingly approved the war indicates that the intent wasn’t to mislead the public, it still should be noted that the start of the war is still a source of anger and distrust for many. Senator McCain has done well in acknowledging the frustration people have with the handling of the war, but the initial decision itself is at the heart of almost every argument for withdrawal, and if he can take that element of the argument off the table the Democrats are left with only hollow arguments and grandstanding.

The second topic I’d like to see the McCain campaign address is the Democrat’s claim that Republicans practice “the politics of fear”. Oddly enough I think both parties are right and wrong on this issue. The Democrats say Republicans scare people in the way that they talk about security threats; the Republicans say that there are real and serious threats that need to be addressed that the Democrats don’t grasp. Democrats have a point that the rhetoric about terrorism sometimes takes the tone that makes it sound like individuals should be scared to leave their homes because a terrorist might be waiting for them at their car. However, the foreign policy of many Democrats seems to ignore the real and ongoing threats to national security. Senator McCain strikes me as being uniquely positioned to win this debate on substance. The fact that he was right about the surge, along with his military background puts him in a position to argue this issue on content and rebut the claims of fear mongering. If the McCain campaign can quell both issues about the ‘reasons of the war’ and ‘politics of fear’ and push the Democrat opponent into an argument of substance Senator McCain would be at a huge advantage as logic and reason would be more likely to prevail.

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