Saturday, July 26, 2008

Barack Obama's Audacity of Hopelessness

I read passages last night, at Powerline, of John McCain's speech to the American GI Forum in Denver. The full text of the address is here.

McCain's message is exceedingly timely, given this last week's debate on the surge in Iraq. McCain, in reminding us of the political risks in staying the course, foreshadows a powerful and promising direction for his campaign throughout the summer and fall:

Eighteen months ago, America faced a crisis as profound as any in our history. Iraq was in flames, torn apart by violence that was escaping our control. Al Qaeda was succeeding in what Osama bin Laden called the central front in their war against us. The mullahs in Iran waited for America's humiliation in Iraq, and the resulting increase in their influence. Thousands of Iraqis died violently every month. American casualties were mounting. We were on the brink of a disastrous defeat just a little more than five years after the attacks of September 11, and America faced a profound choice. Would we accept defeat and leave Iraq and our strategic position in the Middle East in ruins, risking a wider war in the near future? Or would we summon our resolve, deploy additional forces, and change our failed strategy? Senator Obama and I also faced a decision, which amounted to a real-time test for a future commander-in-chief. America passed that test. I believe my judgment passed that test. And I believe Senator Obama's failed.

We both knew the politically safe choice was to support some form of retreat. All the polls said the "surge" was unpopular. Many pundits, experts and policymakers opposed it and advocated withdrawing our troops and accepting the consequences. I chose to support the new counterinsurgency strategy backed by additional troops - which I had advocated since 2003, after my first trip to Iraq. Many observers said my position would end my hopes of becoming president. I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war. My choice was not smart politics. It didn't test well in focus groups. It ignored all the polls. It also didn't matter. The country I love had one final chance to succeed in Iraq. The new strategy was it. So I supported it. Today, the effects of the new strategy are obvious. The surge has succeeded, and we are, at long last, finally winning this war.

Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn't just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better.

And as our troops took the fight to the enemy, Senator Obama tried to cut off funding for them. He was one of only 14 senators to vote against the emergency funding in May 2007 that supported our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would choose to lose in Iraq in hopes of winning in Afghanistan. But had his position been adopted, we would have lost both wars....

Senator Obama told the American people what he thought you wanted to hear. I told you the truth. From the early days of this war, I feared the administration was pursuing a mistaken strategy, and I said so. I went to Iraq many times, and heard all the phony explanations about how we were winning. I knew we were failing, and I told that to an administration that did not want to hear it. I pushed for the strategy that is now succeeding before most people even admitted that there was a problem.

Fortunately, Senator Obama failed, not our military. We rejected the audacity of hopelessness, and we were right. Violence in Iraq fell to such low levels for such a long time that Senator Obama, detecting the success he never believed possible, falsely claimed that he had always predicted it. There have been almost no sectarian killings in Baghdad for more than 13 weeks. American casualties are at the lowest levels recorded in this war. The Iraqi Army is stronger and fighting harder. The Iraqi Government has met most of the benchmarks for political progress we demanded of them, and the nation's largest Sunni party recently rejoined the government. In Iraq, we are no longer on the doorstep of defeat, but on the road to victory.

Senator Obama said this week that even knowing what he knows today that he still would have opposed the surge. In retrospect, given the opportunity to choose between failure and success, he chooses failure. I cannot conceive of a Commander in Chief making that choice.

A new hope is rising in Iraq today. Across the country, Iraqis are preparing for upcoming provincial elections. And security has improved enough to permit the Iraqi government to begin seriously providing services and opportunities to the Iraqi people. This progress is encouraging but reversible if we heed those who have always counseled defeat when they now argue to risk our fragile gains and withdraw from Iraq according to a politically expedient timetable rather than the advice from the commanders who so brilliantly led this stunning turnaround in our situation in Iraq.
This is the message that needs to be sharpened and hammered consistently through November. It's a message that's been sitting idle, while McCain's fortunes have been smothered by media adulation for Obama, and the worldwide reception of the ethereal new world leader.

But public opinion shows that the
press favoritism has not translated into political advantage for Obama at the polls. Americans are deeply concerned with Obama's cultural difference and lack of experience. McCain can sharpen public understanding by taking off the gloves, as he's begun to do so with his Denver speech.

As Karl at
Protein Wisdom observes:

In today’s New York Post, Kirsten Powers may overestimate how juggernauty Barack Obama’s campaign may be, but she is generally correct about the way in which the McCain contraption (credit Allahpundit) is still sputtering: “If he wants to run as Hillary 2.0, then McCain should rip off some of her better stuff.”

Camp McCain does not lack for analysis of the campaign’s weaknesses. Powers follows Time magazine’s
Mark Halperin (h/t RTO Trainer) and National Review’s Rich Lowry & Ramnesh Ponnuru in offering analysis and advice. The point common to these pieces — though not always expressly stated — is messaging. The McCain campaign too often seems like a pudding without a theme.

Perhaps we might now be seeing a productive theme emerging.

Obama's world tour highlights the Illinois Senator's massive popularity overseas, but his missteps at Berlin and Lansdstuhl demonstrate a host of personal contractions and a poverty of perseverance in the face of global threats. These may prove fatally damaging at home.

Are we at a turningpoint in the campaign?

I think we are, and events may well rebound in McCain's favor, especially if he's able to continue crafting a message the combines his embodiment of national greatness with a carefully delivered narrative on Obama's disastrous political liabilities.