Thursday, April 12, 2007

John McCain's speech

John McCain gave an impressive speech yesterday about what he strongly believes are the stakes in the war in Iraq. He focused on what so many opponents of the war rarely do - what will happen if we fail there.
America has a vital interest in preventing the emergence of Iraq as a Wild West for terrorists, similar to Afghanistan before 9/11. By leaving Iraq before there is a stable Iraqi governing authority we risk precisely this, and the potential consequence of allowing terrorists sanctuary in Iraq is another 9/11 or worse. In Iraq today, terrorists have resorted to levels of barbarism that shock the world, and we should not be so naïve as to believe their intentions are limited solely to the borders of that country. We Americans are their primary enemy, and we Americans are their ultimate target.

A power vacuum in Iraq would invite further interference from Iran at a time when Tehran already feels emboldened enough to develop nuclear weapons, threaten Israel and America, and kidnap British sailors. If the government collapses in Iraq, which it surely will if we leave prematurely, Iraq’s neighbors, from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt, will feel pressure to intervene on the side of their favored factions. This uncertain swirl of events could cause the region to explode and foreclose the opportunity for millions of Muslims and their children to achieve freedom. We could face a terrible choice: watch the region burn, the price of oil escalate dramatically and our economy decline, watch the terrorists establish new base camps or send American troops back to Iraq, with the odds against our success much worse than they are today.

To enumerate the strategic interests at stake in Iraq does not address our moral obligation to a people we liberated from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. I suspect many in this audience, and most members of Congress, look back at America’s failure to act to prevent genocide in Rwanda with shame. I know I do. And yet I fear the potential for genocide and ethnic cleansing in Iraq is even worse. The sectarian violence, the social divisions, the armaments, the weakened security apparatus of the state — all the ingredients are there. Unless we fight to prevent it, our withdrawal will be coupled with a genocide in which we are complicit. Given our security interests and our moral investment in Iraq, so long as we have a chance to prevail we must try to prevail.
He talked about preliminary signs of progress that he had made. And he also slammed the Democrats and the pull out now crowd with some very pointed language.
In Washington, where political calculation seems to trump all other considerations, Democrats in Congress and their leading candidates for President, heedless of the terrible consequences of our failure, unanimously confirmed our new commander, and then insisted he be prevented from taking the action he believes necessary to safeguard our country’s interests. In Iraq, hope is a fragile thing, but all the more admirable for the courage and sacrifice necessary to nurture it. In Washington, cynicism appears to be the quality most prized by those who accept defeat but not the responsibility for its consequences.

Before I left for Iraq, I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission. Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering. A defeat for the United States is a cause for mourning not celebrating. And determining how the United States can avert such a disaster should encourage the most sober, public-spirited reasoning among our elected leaders not the giddy anticipation of the next election. Democrats who voted to authorize this war, and criticized the failed strategy that has led us to this perilous moment, have the same responsibility I do, to offer support when that failure is recognized and the right strategy is proposed and the right commanders take the field to implement it or, at the least, to offer an alternative strategy that has some relationship to reality.
HE also tied the war in Iraq to the war on terror that the Democrats insist that they still believe in fighting.
Democrats argue we should redirect American resources to the ‘real’ war on terror, of which Iraq is just a sideshow. But whether or not al Qaeda terrorists were a present danger in Iraq before the war, there is no disputing they are there now, and their leaders recognize Iraq as the main battleground in the war on terror. Today, al Qaeda terrorists are the ones preparing the car bombs, firing the Katyusha rockets, planting the IEDs. They maneuver in the midst of Iraq’s sectarian conflict, sparking and fueling the horrendous violence, destroying efforts at political reconciliation, killing innocents on both sides in the hope of creating a conflagration that will cause Americans to lose heart and leave, so they can return to their primary mission — planning and executing attacks on the United States, and destabilizing America’s allies.

It is impossible to separate sectarian violence from the war against al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is following an explicit strategy to foment civil war in Iraq. The only way to reduce and finally end sectarian violence is to provide greater security to the population than we have in the past, as we are doing now in Baghdad; to encourage Iraqis to abandon their reliance on local militias, and to destroy al Qaeda and other truly irreconcilable enemies of the United States and the Iraqi people.
You may disagree passionately with what McCain said. But you would have to acknowledge that this is what John McCain has been saying all along even though his position has earned him obloquy from the media.

What struck me is how the media coverage is so set on framing McCain's speech as a political move. The first paragraph of the Washington Post article frames McCain's speech as an attempt to save his faltering campaign.
Sinking in polls and struggling to reinvigorate his foundering presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered a robust defense of the war in Iraq on Wednesday, declaring that President Bush and the conflict's supporters are on the right side of history in the struggle against terrorism and extremism.

Dismissing public opinion polls as offering nothing but "temporary favor" to the war's opponents, McCain directly confronted the biggest obstacle to his White House ambitions: his unyielding support of a war that more than two-thirds of the country has turned against.
In the press conference following, most of the questions focused on the political implications of his position.

Hey, the country is at war. Terrorists around the world are trying to bring down more moderate Muslim governments and to kill as many westerners as they possibly can. And so shouldn't the candidates for president be talking about this every chance they get? And if John McCain gives a speech saying many of the same things he has been saying since the war begain, is he acting out of political calculation? I have disagreed with McCain on several issues, most notably campaign finance reform and cutting taxes, but the one thing I have always admired is that he doesn't take positions out of political calculation but out of his sincere beliefs in what he thinks is right. Remember that McCain's son is set to be deployed over in Iraq. His speech deserved more than to be cast as a political maneuver.

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