Much has been said about McCain’s arguably centrist positions on many issues. While the conservative pundits are determined to have him for lunch over this, it is arguably this position which makes him reasonably situated to do the unthinkable – preserve a Republican in the White House post 2008. His largest liability to achieving this seems to be the Iraq War.
Even on Iraq, he has a somewhat balanced position. While he supported the war, he was a staunch critic of its execution and of Donald Rumsfeld long before it became politically expedient to be such. Ironically, his current position supporting the Bush policies and “staying the course”, while Republican mantra, are hardly politically expedient either.
Here’s the thing. The staunch conservatives already hate him. But they have nowhere else to go. Sure, they could stay home, but honestly that seems unlikely. It would be giving the election to the Democrats, and while they rattle those sabers, I can’t imagine they would wield them. This is a fight for the middle. And in the middle, the key issue is going to be Iraq. Outside of the war, health care is arguably the only other major divisive issue among Clinton, Obama, and McCain. But I think that while health care will be important, it won’t be a deciding issue.
The barbs between Obama and McCain of late have been interesting. Obama is right that there was no alQaeda in Iraq before we created that opportunity for them. But McCain is also right that the reality is that they are there now, and must be dealt with. As much as “bring the troops home now” feels good, it’s not practicable. To that end, either Obama knows he can’t deliver on his promise, or he’s more naive on foreign policy than even his detractors claim.
McCain may well be in the best position of the three to fix the quagmire in the Middle East, or at least get it to something livable and maybe even marginally beneficial. He exhibits a nuanced and malleable perspective rather than being a slave to immutable dogma. But I have trouble getting by the fact that he is unrepentant about having taken us in there in the first place. I expect I’m not alone.
Iraq is arguably the debacle of my lifetime. It is not just a foreign policy nightmare, but has had enormous impact on us domestically as a social and economic issue. Our children will be paying for this war long after the history books have been written about it. Even if we withdrew tomorrow, the cost of the war would still loom large for decades to come.
To my mind, to gain any credibility here, the Republicans in general, and McCain in specific should own up to this. While the Democrats could and should have done more to stop it, the Republicans are responsible for getting us here. I could see myself getting to a point of believing they are part of the solution for building us out of the hole we’re in. But until I get some notion for them that they recognize that they are responsible and this was a mistake, I’m not inclined to let them near any shovels.
The First Rule of Holes: when you’re in one… stop digging.