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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"I Know How to Win Wars"

I've written before that a good way to spot a bad argument is to look for declarations. When someone throws out a claim without any proof, then there's a good chance that they're pulling stuff out of their butt. FOX News offers an excellent example with their reliance on the term "some people say." It allows them to cite a source for their assertions that's so vague that it might as well not exist -- in some cases, it doesn't. "Some people say Barack Obama's not patriotic," a foxbot will tell us and we're up in the air over how reliable these "some people" are. Are these "some people" the guys around the FOX watercooler? Show me an argument that hinges on a declaration and I'll show you a poorly crafted chunk of BS.

Keeping that in mind, we can look at a speech John McCain gave yesterday to a crowd in New Mexico and conclude that he was shoveling it deep. "I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars," Baghdad Johnny told an audience in Albuquerque. "And if I'm elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory, I know how to do that."

There's a slight problem with this declaration of competency on McCain's part -- we haven't actually won the war in Iraq. McCain's big idea was the surge. Now he apparently has nuthin'. That's it. If this is how you win a war, where's the big win? When it comes to Iraq, McCain hammers the argument that "the surge worked." Fine, for the sake of argument, let's let him have that one. The surge worked.

Now what?

-Continued after the jump-

Ask that question -- which, of course, no one has bothered to ask -- and you'd probably hear crickets. McCain's argument for his continued occupation is rooted entirely in the past. It should bother people that he doesn't talk about what we will do, but what we have done. In the times he talks about the future, he uses declarations. "We will win" is not a plan. And John McCain, based on what I've read on his Iraq policy page, doesn't actually have a plan -- he has his declarations. If McCain "knows how to win wars," why isn't he sharing that info with us, is it a secret plan? We're treading water here, what would Baghdad Johnny do differently?

Even his plans for the broader "War on Terror" aren't so much plans as they are hopes.


McCain received a standing ovation from the crowd when he vowed to get elusive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden if elected. "When I am commander-in-chief, there will be nowhere the terrorists can run, and nowhere they can hide," he said.

Where have we heard that before? If declarations aren't an argument, then neither are baseless promises. Like pretty much everything McCain's talked about in his campaign, he's heavy on the promises and light on the specifics. Bush has been playing this game for years and we've got jack to show for it. We kind of need a little more than vague forecasting, a peek into the Team McCain crystal ball. We need something that approximates some kind of a plan. McCain's strategy is identical to Bush's -- wishing makes it so. There is no plan, just declarations that we'll "win" -- whatever the hell that means...

Another speech on the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan was made yesterday by Barack Obama. No matter what you think of Obama's plan for those conflicts, you have to admit he won the argument -- mostly by being the only one of the two to actually have one.

Calling Iraq a distraction, Obama proposed pulling forces out of that useless occupation and putting them in Afghanistan. Citing the Marshall Plan, Obama told the audience:

Such a strategy would join overwhelming military strength with sound judgment. It would shape events not just through military force, but through the force of our ideas; through economic power, intelligence and diplomacy. It would support strong allies that freely shared our ideals of liberty and democracy; open markets and the rule of law. It would foster new international institutions like the United Nations, NATO, and the World Bank, and focus on every corner of the globe. It was a strategy that saw clearly the world's dangers, while seizing its promise.

As a general, Marshall had spent years helping FDR wage war. But the Marshall Plan -- which was just one part of this strategy -- helped rebuild not just allies, but also the nation that Marshall had plotted to defeat. In the speech announcing his plan, he concluded not with tough talk or definitive declarations -- but rather with questions and a call for perspective. "The whole world of the future," Marshall said, "hangs on a proper judgment." To make that judgment, he asked the American people to examine distant events that directly affected their security and prosperity. He closed by asking: "What is needed? What can best be done? What must be done?"

As I said, Obama wins this argument simply by being the only one to show up for it. Not only does he spell out an honest to goodness strategy, but he cites an example of how it has worked in the past. "As President, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy -- one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin," he said. "I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

Who agrees with Obama? The government of Iraq, for one. They want us gone. McCain's plan for Iraq -- such as it is -- runs contrary to Iraq's plan for Iraq.

But another group who agree with Obama are the military.

Barack Obama is taking heat for hinting that he might refine his 16-month timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. But a forthcoming Pentagon-sponsored report will recommend an even steeper drawdown in less time, NEWSWEEK has learned. If adopted, the 300-page report by a defense analysis group at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., could transform the debate about Iraq in the presidential election.

Expected to be completed in about a month, it will recommend that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring of 2009, down from about 150,000 now. The strategy is based on a major handoff to the increasingly successful Iraqi Army, with platoon-size U.S. detachments backing the Iraqis from small outposts, with air support. The large U.S. forward operating bases that house the bulk of U.S. troops would be mostly abandoned, and the role of Special Forces would increase.

The new focus would be Afghanistan. McCain says he knows how to win wars, but the guys who actually win the wars are with Obama's plan.

So McCain can declare all he wants, but until he comes up with some sort of concrete proposal, he's really coming up empty. He's making a lot of martial noise, but there isn't any substance there -- it's all frosting and no cake.


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