... Against Obama.
Michael Gerson attempts to attack Barack Obama's record on the Iraq war, but first a blatantly false assertion about McCain:
John McCain's nomination was ensured by the success of the surge he had consistently advocated, against intense opposition.Daniel Larison responds:
This is ludicrous. McCain was the frontrunner in the spring of 2007, long before anyone could have reasonably claimed that the “surge” had done anything (not that many pundits didn’t make outlandish claims), and there was in any case never any doubt in the Republican rank-and-file that the “surge” was the right thing to do. On the contrary, if McCain’s nomination was ever assured it was assured by the collapse of his only real national rival, Mitt Romney, under the waves of the Huckaboom, whose beginning had literally nothing to do with the war in Iraq.Gerson attempts to depict Obama as inconsistent on Iraq, lifting his analysis out of an essay by fellow Bush Speechwriter Peter Wehner. The phases appear to be:
- The 2002 speech, opposing the Iraq war;
- A post-war period, from 2003 to 2006, in which he argued that it would be irresponsible to withdraw, and that we had an obligation to try to stabilize Iraq;
- Starting in late 2006, argument for phased withdrawal, and skepticism about "the surge";
- An apparent present mindset that his Iraq policy as President will be shaped by the facts on the ground.
Not only is there no inconsistency between points one and two, Obama remains correct to have opposed the war, and once Bush started the war he was correct to press for the best outcome. Had his position during the post-war period been a demand for immediate withdrawal at any cost, it would have been ridiculous. And this, of course, further highlights Gerson's mendacity - Gerson would be savaging that stance, as well. (The difference being, had Obama taken such a ridiculous position, Gerson could have presented an honest impeachment.)
So now the "inconsistency" is reduced to skepticism of "the surge", and the suggestion that the time has come for the Iraqi government to shoulder the burden of running the country. Or, if you believe that the Iraqi government will remain incapable of assuming actual governance and responsibility for security in the next twelve to thirty months, that the time has come for us to cut our losses. With all due respect to Gerson, if he truly believed that "the surge" was working he wouldn't be trying to disown the Bush Administration's benchmarks of its success, or exaggerating its successes.
It is a perfectly legitimate reaction to the present situation to observe that it is not apparent that Iraqi factions will even try to resolve their differences as long as the occupation remains in force, and to ask, "Why shouldn't we cut our losses?" The easy thing to do is what Gerson and his ilk have done from day one - prop up the official Bush Administration line that up is down, left is right, and the best way to overcome past failures is to keep on doing exactly the same thing.
Oh, you say, but "the surge" was something different. Even accepting that argument, that the failures of the prior years of strategy had become so patent that there were some real changes in our approach to the occupation on the ground, the surge has failed by the Bush Administration's benchmarks, and apparently also in the assessment of General Petaeus. And here's where the circle closes - the brilliant strategy of the man Gerson wants to push into the White House? "We'll keep doing exactly the same thing, whether for a hundred years or even a thousand years." That, Gerson would have us believe, is the better Iraq war policy.
I know I tease Gerson here, by suggesting that he is a world-class idiot, but there's another possibility. He's capitalizing on his position with the Washington Post to inject Republican smears into mainstream discourse. If they don't stick, those feeding him the lines he is to pitch can shrug and say, "It's only Gerson." And if the smears stick, more credible right-wingers can run with them.