Karl Rove’s main contribution to the strategic lexicon is the notion that candidates should identify their big weakness, and their rival’s big strength, and then go barreling head-first in that direction. It’s counter-intuitive, I know.
And yet, some candidates seem to like it. This week, for example, John McCain argued that he’s shown better judgment on Iraq than Barack Obama, which, of course, doesn’t make any sense.
“Senator Obama has consistently offered his judgment on Iraq, and he has been consistently wrong. He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ’surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong…
“We continue to face challenges in Iraq, and we have a lot of work ahead. Yet the American people must ask whether we are more or less likely to succeed there if Senator Obama has his way.”
How very odd. McCain has gotten every aspect of the war wrong for six years, so his campaign pitch is that Obama — who’s been right from the start — has gotten every aspect of the war wrong. It’s like watching the campaign through a special prism that refracts reality.
Obama responded in a statement, “While I always appreciate hearing the news from John McCain, he should explain to the American people why almost every single promise and prediction that he has made about Iraq has turned to be catastrophically wrong, including his support for a surge that was supposed to achieve political reconciliation.”
The facts are clearly on Obama's side here.
The LAT’s Rosa Brooks noted, “McCain’s the one presidential candidate pledging to continue the very Bush administration policies that got us into the mess we’re now in, and McCain’s record of getting it embarrassingly wrong on Iraq is virtually unparalleled.”
Here’s McCain, in his own words, getting Iraq wrong from Day One:
“Saddam Hussein [is] developing weapons of mass destruction as quickly as he can,” he informed Fox News in November 2001. By February 2003, McCain had upgraded Hussein’s capabilities and was warning Americans that “Hussein has the ability to … [turn] Iraq into a weapons assembly line for Al Qaeda’s network.”
Well, no. But never mind that. We won’t hold McCain responsible for the Bush administration’s cooking of the intelligence books.
So how’d McCain do on his other Iraq-related predictions?
On the Cheney/Rumsfeld Delusional Thinking Index, McCain scores a perfect 10 out of 10. “I believe that the success will be fairly easy,” he assured CNN’s Larry King in September 2002.
Quagmire? Insurgency? Naah. “We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting,” he scoffed to Wolf Blitzer in 2002. “We’re not going to have a bloodletting.” In fact, by March 2003, McCain was positively giddy with Rumsfeldian enthusiasm: “There’s no doubt in my mind … we will be welcomed as liberators.”
When it came to predicting the sectarian conflicts that have wracked Iraq since we “liberated” it, McCain was equally off target. “There’s not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias,” he explained confidently on MSNBC in April 2003, “so I think they can probably get along.”
McCain’s had five long years since then to reflect on just how well Sunni and Shiite groups are getting along, but he’s still having a tough time keeping the whole thing straight. In Jordan this past March, he pronounced it “common knowledge … that Al Qaeda” — a Sunni-dominated group — “is going back into Iran” — a country led by hard-line Shiites — “and receiving training … from Iran.” Oops … no! Joe Lieberman, McCain’s new Mini-Me, whispered a correction in his ear, presumably explaining that the Iranian Shiites hate Sunni-dominated Al Qaeda and wouldn’t help the group if their lives depended on it.
A slip of the tongue on McCain’s part? That would be easier to buy if McCain hadn’t repeated variants of the claim on multiple occasions, insisting to a Texas audience in February that Iran was aiding Al Qaeda and wondering during Senate hearings if Al Qaeda in Iraq was “an obscure sect of the Shiites overall? … Or Sunnis or anybody else.”
So, to recap, McCain was wrong before the war (he said it would be easy, that Saddam had WMD, and that Iraq was connected to al Qaeda). He was wrong during the Rumsfeld years (he repeatedly said we had to “stay the course”). And finally, McCain said all we had to do was give Bush’s so-called “surge” a chance, and we’d finally see political reconciliation in Iraq. Strike three.
Who’s been “consistently wrong” on Iraq?