Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All Hail McBama!

I frankly don't think folks anticipated the political implications of victory in Iraq.

It's a strange turn of events, where the candidate who was right all along is now a spectator in the media's adulation of Barack Obama. Thomas Friedman's even gotten to calling the Democratic nominee, "

Obama in Jordan

Yet, interesting,
the antiwar crowd remains determined to deny the surge had anything to do with Iraq's stunning achievement, which is the basis for the McBama phenomenon. To hear folks on the left, the strategic turnaround had entirely local origins, with the indigenous Anbar Awakening, for example.

Looking at the timelines on Anbar, the Weekly Standard offers a compelling rebuttal to the left's version of pre-surge Anbar provine:

As Frederick Kagan wrote in September 2007: “Anbari tribal leaders did begin to turn against AQI in their areas last year before the surge began, but not before Colonel Sean MacFarland began to apply in Ramadi the tactics and techniques that are the basis of the current strategy in Baghdad.”

If McCain was saying that Col. McFarland's counterinsurgency approach "began the Anbar Awakening" then that's pretty much on the mark. The "surge" after all is often shorthand for both the addition of U.S. troops as well as the adoption of a counterinsurgency strategy.

Of course, the official "surge" was ordered by President Bush in January 2007--four months after the Awakening began. Some are pointing to this statement as proof that McCain gets "his facts all wrong", as Matthew Yglesias writes.

But Yglesias's colleague Marc Ambinder writes that a charitable reading of McCain's statement is "that the surge helped the Anbar Awakening to succeed because the shieks could actually be protected."

Indeed, the surge did not midwife the Anbar Awakening--it kept the Awakening from being strangled in the crib. Here's how the Washington Post characterized a Marine intelligence report on Anbar from mid-November 2006:

The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there [...]

Moreover, most Sunnis now believe it would be unwise to count on or help U.S. forces because they are seen as likely to leave the country before imposing stability.

So two months after the Anbar Awakening began, the province looked hopeless. Yet Yglesias contends that the surge was not largely responsible for the progress in Anbar:

This specific timing issue aside, we can see here the larger point that McCain doesn't actually seem to know what the surge was. But the surge troops were overwhelmingly sent to increase the level of manpower in Baghdad (i.e., not where the Anbar Awakening happened)

But Fallujah--in Anbar--is about 30 miles west of Baghdad. That's the distance between Washington D.C. and Dulles airport. Might not U.S. forces killing terrorists in Baghdad have reduced the level of violence in Fallujah as well as 30 miles farther west in Ramadi?

Furthermore, two additional Marine battalions were sent to Anbar, and it wasn't until they were deployed and the counterinsurgency implemented that the Anbar Awakening flourished.

The Awakening, Kagan wrote,

proceeded slowly and fitfully for most of 2006 and, indeed, into 2007. But when Colonel John Charlton’s brigade relieved MacFarland’s in Ramadi and was joined by two additional Marine battalions (part of the surge) elsewhere in Anbar, the “awakening” began to accelerate very rapidly. At the start of 2007 there were only a handful of Anbaris in the local security forces. By the summer there were over 14,000. [...] The fact is that neither the surge nor the turn of the tribal leaders would in itself have been enough to turn Anbar around — both were necessary, and will remain so for some time.

Of course, the hated Kagans will never be credited with being right about anything on Iraq, so the truth of the story will be like a giant Sequioa felled in a forest grove, silent but deadly.

More deeply, though, is the propensity of left-wing pundits and the mainstream press to posit Barack Obama as "right all along." You know, how John McCain's "adopted" Obama's plan for withdrawal. Or most recently, McCain's age increasingly reveals a propensity for gaffes.

Yet, beyond the tit-for-tat on media missteps, it's McCain who's been right all along, and with the meme now well established that Obama's "right" on Iraq, McCain needs to go with the flow to focus on exactly the details of the Obama foreign policy. The Washington Post, for example, indicates that Obama's wrong in his military proposals for Iraq:

THE INITIAL MEDIA coverage of Barack Obama's visit to Iraq suggested that the Democratic candidate found agreement with his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces on a 16-month timetable. So it seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, "does not want a timetable," Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that "there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn't take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."
Further, on Iraq and the larger terror war:

Obama's account of his strategic vision remains eccentric. He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves. If Mr. Obama's antiwar stance has blinded him to those realities, that could prove far more debilitating to him as president than any particular timetable.
Facts like this should form the basis for a major adjustment in John McCain's presidential campaign.

The Arizona Senator needs to make a national address on victory in Iraq. McCain's mission is to hammer the point that Obama's been consistently wrong on Iraq and the surge, and that Obama's proposals for the future direction of the war are out of touch with military and strategic realities on the ground.

More importantly,
as Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru argue, McCain needs to go on the attack across the board - he needs to pull a Hillary Clinton, with 3am campaign spots, beer and chasers with the working class, topped off the Maverick-style GOP talking points on promising public policy solutions to the electoral angst of American people.

Photo Credit: "Obama Survives Iraq, Looks Ahead," Time