Sep 11, 2008

McCain's war

“I don’t think he said we have to lose,” McCain said, “but he did say in unequivocal terms, to standing ovations, ‘I’ll bring them home, we’ll end it, we’ll end it, I’ll bring them home.’” — John McCain, Atlantic magazine

It's an interesting insight into what lies behind the "he'll lose a war to win an election" slur. What gets McCain's goat is not so much that Obama wants the war to end but he gets "standing ovations" for it. In other words: civilians don't understand. It's what makes him truly dangerous, I think, because it means he will never see himself as beholden to having to explain why he wants to invade this country, or send airstrikes into that. It's all over our heads. So all he has to do is wave terms like "victory" under our noses, even after General Petraus has admitted the term is be applicable. Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon — director and senior director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff 1998-1999 — recently wrote:—

For a man who routinely calls the fight against terrorism "the transcendent challenge of our time," John McCain seems to understand little about it. At least twice, he has confused Sunni and Shia, the two main sects of Islam. On one famous occasion in Amman last March he suggested that Al Qaeda terrorists, who are Sunnis, were receiving training from Iran's Shia government. That notion would have surprised the late Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, who killed Shia with a demonic fury and repeatedly called them "worse" than Americans. According to the CIA, Al Qaeda personnel do operate within Iran, but the Iranian government is unaware of their presence. McCain's other fumble came just a few weeks later when he implied that Al Qaeda was "an obscure sect of the Shiites." Perhaps there should have been less surprise at McCain's mistakes, given that in a 2003 interview with Chris Matthews, he predicted that there would be comity between the sects in postwar Iraq because "there's not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along."

McCain has also spoken about Hamas and Hezbollah in terms that suggest that he considers these groups no different from Al Qaeda, Iraq's Baath Party, and the Iranian regime. He has speculated that if the United States were defeated in Iraq, Iran and Al Qaeda would reach a strategic understanding to divide the country between them--an inconceivable outcome, given their deep hatred for each other.

What McCain fails to comprehend
is that his preference for firepower will give the terrorists exactly what they want. For bin Laden and his fellow jihadists, it is axiomatic that the United States must feel itself to be at war with Islam. Ramzi Yousef, the architect of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, explained this clearly to his American captors after he was apprehended in Pakistan in 1995 and flown back to the United States for trial. When the United States considers itself at war, the mujahedin believe, it will behave in a warlike way, and the deployment of its heavy equipment in places like Iraq will confirm to the world's Muslims that America is, as bin Laden claims, at war with Islam. This is the jihadists' strategy for winning hearts and minds, and it has worked for them. It is true that Al Qaeda hasn't mobilized the masses as it wanted, but it is nevertheless getting the funding and recruits it needs.

The key is to provoke an American overreaction.... For the jihadists, a "war with America" not only wins them supporters, it also tempts the United States into overreaching. Jihadists know that they cannot defeat America militarily; but they can bleed it.
McCain doesn't understand asymmetry; Obama does.

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