Matt Yglesias had a very good item this week, noting the “debacle” for the Republican approach to foreign policy. [McCain had] spent, several wee
July 22, 2008

Matt Yglesias had a very good item this week, noting the “debacle” for the Republican approach to foreign policy.

[McCain had] spent, several weeks with the main theme of his campaign being, quite literally, to criticize Barack Obama for not having been physically present in Iraq recently. This (of course) got Obama to go to Iraq, thus setting up a dilemma. Either Obama would survey the “progress” in Iraq and change his position, thus making him a flip-flopper, or else he would refuse to change his position, thus making him obstinate and out of touch with reality.

But instead of either of those things happening, Obama went to Iraq and Iraqi leaders said he’d been right all along! That’s about as close to “game, set, match” as you get in terms of real world events influencing your political campaign. What’s more, given the domestic situation and John McCain’s inability to talk about domestic issues persuasively, he can’t afford to play for a draw on Iraq.

Quite right. David Kurtz added how surprised he is to see “just how complete the Republican collapse on foreign policy has been in the short span of just a few weeks.” Kurtz noted that it’s “hard to think of any recent historical parallels.”

I’d just add that it goes beyond just Iraq. Over the last couple of months, the entire GOP foreign policy — the strategy, the worldview, the assumptions, the tactics — has crumbled to the point of destruction. The Bush administration bucked the McCain approach and adopted the Clinton policy to reach an accord with North Korea. McCain endorsed Obama’s policy on Afghanistan. Bush established the most direct diplomatic efforts with Iran since 1979. Just today, the administration sounded very Obama-esque in reaching out to Syria, which would have been unthinkable a year ago. Hell, the Bush administration is even distributing memoranda, telling officials to stop using language such as “jihadists,” “mujahedeen,” and “Islamo-fascism.”

And what’s left? To hear McCain tell it, the surge.

For McCain, that’s literally the only thing that matters anymore. In 2007, Bush and McCain decided it was wise to send thousands of additional troops into Iraq, in order to provide “breathing space” for political progress. Violence came down, Iraq became less unstable, but the political progress hasn’t materialized. To that, McCain effectively says, “Close enough.”

Now, I thought there was a general consensus among experts that the reduction in violence in Iraq can be connected to a variety of factors, including the surge, the “Awakening” in Anbar, the Sadr ceasefire, the completion of ethnic cleansing campaigns, and the fact that we’ve put a lot of the people who were shooting at us on the payroll. McCain sees a direct and unambiguous connection — more U.S. troops went in, Iraq got better — but that’s probably an overly simplistic take on what’s transpired.

But nevertheless, even if we accept McCain’s unsophisticated spin at face value, there’s just not much of an argument here. McCain, faced with the most important national security and foreign policy decision in a generation, got the war wrong. Indeed, he kept getting the war wrong, telling Americans we had to “stay the course” while the Bush/Rumsfeld policy was failing miserably. Now there’s a sovereign Iraqi government, and wouldn’t you know it, the prime minister thinks McCain is still wrong.

And the surge is supposed to be the saving grace? McCain got the big question wrong, and was half-right about a tactical decision after supporting a half-decade of failure? Please.

At this point, McCain has nothing to fall back on. His surrogates, desperate to find something, have fallen back to, “Oh yeah, we’ll he’s still inexperienced!”

It’s the wholesale collapse of the Republican foreign policy. Let’s see if voters notice.

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