McCain looks at the use of force

David Brooks:

Barack Obama says: “John McCain is determined to carry out four more years of George Bush’s failed policies.” Obama is a politician, so it’s normal that he’d choose to repeat the lines that some of his followers want to hear. But before people buy that argument, I’d ask them to read three speeches.

The first was delivered by McCain on Sept. 28, 1983. The Reagan administration was seeking Congressional authorization to support the deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon. McCain, a freshman legislator, decided to oppose his president and party.

McCain argued that Lebanese society, as it existed then, could not be stabilized and unified by American troops. He made a series of concrete observations about the facts on the ground. Lebanon was in a state of de facto partition. The Lebanese Army would not soon be strong enough to drive out the Syrians. The American presence would not intimidate the Syrians into negotiating.

“I do not foresee obtainable objectives in Lebanon.” He concluded. “I believe the longer we stay, the more difficult it will be to leave, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of our withdrawal.”

This was not the speech of a man who thinks military force is the answer to every problem. It was the speech of one who conforms policies to facts. And it came a month before a terrorist attack that killed 241 Americans.

The second speech was delivered on Nov. 5, 2003. This was not a grand strategy speech. It was a critique of the execution of existing U.S. policy.

First, McCain wondered about the Pentagon’s publicity campaign in Iraq: “When, in the course of days, we increase by thousands our estimate of the numbers of Iraqis trained, it sounds like somebody is cooking the books.”

He then pointed out that the U.S. had not committed sufficient troops. He called for a counterinsurgency strategy in which U.S. forces would actually hold secure territory. “Simply put,” he said, “there does not appear to be a strategy behind our current force levels in Iraq, other than to preserve the illusion that we have sufficient forces in place to meet our objectives.”

He excoriated the arrogance of Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority: “The C.P.A. seems to think that all wisdom is made in America, and that the Iraqi people were defeated, not liberated.”

This was the speech of a man, adjusting to changing circumstances, who was calling on the administration to adjust quickly as well.

The third McCain speech was delivered on Wednesday. It is as personal, nuanced and ambitious a speech as any made by a presidential candidate this year.

McCain noted that we are not only fighting a war on terror. The world is seeing a growing split between liberal democracies and growing autocracies. We are seeing a world in which great power rivalries — with China, Russia and Iran — have to be managed and soothed.

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Obama's statements shows more his lack of understanding of the use of force than it does insight into McCain's policies. The two examples given by Brooks suggest a pretty keen insight by McCain into the effective use of force and when not to use it. Reagan's use of force in Lebanon shows the folly of a show the flag demonstration as does the Clinton policy in Somalia. History has also shown that McCain was right in predicting the inadequacy of the small foot print policy in Iraq favored by Gen. Abizaid.

It is clear that the policy favored by Democrats will be a disaster for Iraq and the policy we are currently following is working. What is not clear is why Democrats are so wedded to a failed policy and the only apparent answer is that they are desperate for defeat in Iraq.

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