Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Passion of President McCain

If the election had gone the other way, Americans would have been spared all this doubt and deliberation about what to do in the Middle East.

Asked today whether adding 10 or 20,000 troops for Afghanistan would suffice, John McCain tells CNN it would be "an error of historic proportions" not to meet Gen. McChrystal's request for 40,000 or more.

If Barack Obama were as sure of anything as McCain is of everything, there would be no need for agonizing over what conservative Peggy Noonan calls "a choice between two hells":

"The hell of withdrawal is what kind of drama would fill the vacuum, who would re-emerge, who would be empowered, what Pakistan would look like with a newly redrawn reality in the neighborhood, what tremors would shake the ground there as the U.S. troops march out...a great nation that had made a commitment in retreat...

"The hell of staying is equally clear, and vivid: more loss of American and allied troops, more damage to men and resources, an American national debate that would be a continuing wound and possibly a debilitating one, an overstretched military given no relief and in fact stretched thinner, a huge and continuing financial cost in a time when our economy is low," with no guarantee or even definition of success.

A resolute President McCain would have little patience for this kind of hemming and hawing even though, as Frank Rich points out, "He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the war 'easily.' Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would 'probably get along' in post-Saddam Iraq because there was 'not a history of clashes' between them.

"What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq."

But the Might-Have-Been Republican President is content to keep shooting from the hip even as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, another Republican, joins Hillary Clinton in emphasizing a more considered approach:

"(T)he new commander has done an assessment and found a situation in Afghanistan that is more serious than we anticipated when the decisions were made in March. So that's one thing to take into account.

"The other is, clearly, a flawed election in Afghanistan that has complicated the picture for us...

"The president is being asked to make a very significant decision. And the notion of being willing to pause, reassess basic assumptions, reassess the analysis, and then make those decisions seems to me, given the importance of these decisions...among the most important he will make in his entire presidency--seems entirely appropriate."

With McCain in the White House, Gates would be in deep trouble for waffling like that.

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