Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We Need More Cooks!

In dueling statements on Iraq and Afghanistan, Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama exchange I-told-you-so's.

McCain says: Obama and I both thought the Bush Admin bungled the war early on, but I supported the surge, which is working, while he opposed it, so I have better judgment.

Obama says: The military component of the surge has reduced violence but there still is inadequate political reconciliation in Iraq and, more importantly, McCain's judgment is terribly suspect because he supported the invasion of Iraq, which I opposed.

For my money, even if one thinks the surge was the right call given where matters stood a year ago, this is a losing game for McCain to play. The tactical question of whether to surge or not is so obviously less important than was the strategic question whether to invade in the first place. How this will play out politically is not entirely clear. Elections tend to be about the future more than the past, and so voters would likely be more interested in what each candidate would do going forward. To the extent that the battle of I-told-you-so's matters, my best guess is that Obama wins here. No matter how many times people hear "the surge is working," and no matter how much distance McCain tries to place between his position and that of the Bush Administration, the overall impression of a failed policy in Iraq would favor the greater change agent, which is pretty clearly Obama.

And what about the title of today's post? Well, that's a reference to the following inadvertently hilarious excerpt from Sen. McCain's speech:
Too often, even as American soldiers and diplomats cooperate in the field, their superiors back home have been squabbling. Last year, the Bush administration appointed a war czar, responsible for both Iraq and Afghanistan. This was a step in the right direction. But Afghanistan is sufficiently important that a separate Afghanistan Czar is needed. I will appoint a highly-respected national security leader, based in the White House and reporting directly to the President, whose sole mission will be to ensure we bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful end.
Yes, what better way to ensure that the superiors back home don't squabble than to have two separate "Czars" for Iraq and Afghanistan? Surely two people will squabble with each other much less than one person would squabble with himself!

Posted by Mike Dorf (aka "Dorf on Law Czar for posts by Mike Dorf")

12 comments:

egarber said...

For my money, even if one thinks the surge was the right call given where matters stood a year ago, this is a losing game for McCain to play. The tactical question of whether to surge or not is so obviously less important than was the strategic question whether to invade in the first place.

I'm not one to think polls mean anything at this point, but there are some conflicting signals that play to your point:

On the one hand, according to my link:

1. "Among all Americans, 63 percent say the war was not worth fighting, steady the last year and a half. And six in 10 reject the idea that winning in Iraq is necessary for success against terrorism more broadly."

But on the other,

2. "One reason McCain can push back on Iraq is his advantage as commander-in-chief — a striking one, albeit perhaps not surprising given his military background. Seventy-two percent of Americans — even most Democrats — say he'd be a good commander-in-chief of the military.

By contrast, fewer than half, 48 percent, say Obama would be a good commander-in-chief, a significant weakness on this measure."

Read one way, this might mean that voters are giving McCain material credit for supporting the surge, reflected in his high marks as a potential commander in chief.

But read another way, that might simply be a function of his experience, and on the issue of Iraq itself, the initial decision will weigh heavier.

One thing I would love to know is the result of the same question in '92. My guess is that Bush senior would have trounced Clinton on the strict measure of being a strong "commander in chief". But in the end, issues won out -- the economy in particular.

Jeff said...

There are two problems with your analysis, prof. Dorf. First, your conclusion that Obama's "I told you so" is better than McCain's depends on the assumption that the Iraq war was not worth fighting in the first place. You believe this. And, as the above poll shows, most of the American public tends to agree with you. But this may change over the next few months. A large percentage of the population probably is not aware of the recent improvements on the ground, but these people will become aware of them as the election nears and McCain talks about them (assuming, of course, that the situation in Iraq doesn't deteriorate). It's possible that roughly 20% of the population could change its mind on Iraq around the time of the presidential debates, when they start paying attention to the Presidential race.

Second, you're ignoring the narrative power of McCain's argument that he himself forced the Bush administration to adopt the "surge" strategy, which basically fixed many of the problems in Iraq. (Note that I'm not saying that this narrative is true, just that he will use it and it's powerful.)

Derek said...

I like this multiplicity of Czars trend. Maybe someday we can have a Russian Czar...

Tam Ho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neal said...

Has the US Government ever had a successful "Czar" of any program? The only other instance besides the current Iraq/Afghanistan Czar that I recall is the Czar of the War on Drugs.

PG said...

Jeff,

A large percentage of the population probably is not aware of the recent improvements on the ground

According to the Washington Post, many people believe the surge has improved Iraq, and still think the war was a mistake. There is no conflict between thinking a situation has improved recently, and thinking that it still was a bad idea in the first place.

To remain in favor of the Iraq war (and implicitly to believe that McCain was right), one must believe that the difference between Iraq 2002 and Iraq 2008 is good enough to warrant:
the deaths of 4119 American soldiers,
the serious physical and emotional wounding of tens of thousands more,
the inability to project more force in Afghanistan and Pakistan (where Al Qaeda actually was and is),
the $600 billion spent,
the loss of support for the U.S. among foreign nations.

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This comment has been removed by the author.
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