Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The War on Memory

On the day President Bush announced the initiation of hostilities in Iraq back in 2003, he said:

"The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed." Spectacularly wrong.

Because the assumption embedded within this statement (that Saddam possesed WMDs) turned out to be false, this statement is doubly inaccurate. Saddam Hussein did not verifiably possess WMDs at the moment at which the Iraq war began in 2003. In any case he is dead, but the terrorist threat to America has only increased, not diminished.

Today, Senator McCain called on Senator Obama to admit that the "surge" has "succeeded": "He (Obama) said he still doesn't agree that the surge has succeeded now that everybody knows that it has succeeded."

But, as Obama knows (and should argue) the success of a remedial action (the "surge") cannot justify a war that began with a flawed premise ("The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed"). McCain is using orthogonal reasoning on an amnesiac media and public in equating the surge's success with the war's legitimacy.

But I do believe that McCain means what he says when he repeats one of his favorite applause lines: "When we adopted the surge, we were losing the war in Iraq, and I stood up and said I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war." For McCain, this is not about the legtimacy of the war anymore (that is George Bush's cross to bear), it is about leaving Iraq intact, and with dignity.

The Iraq problem is more complex than the antipodal positions of Obama and McCain suggest. Obama supporters want Bush punished, their skepticism about the war back in 2003 vindicated; as they rightly should. McCain supporters realize that for whatever miscalculations ex ante, there is a security situation that persists in Iraq that must be resolved rather than abandoned; as they rightly should. Caught in the middle are the American people and the troops, forced to initially accept the unilateral war-making power of the executive branch; yet cognizant that there are now genuine national and international security concerns should there be a precipitous American pull-out from Iraq. The only thing clear about this dissensus is the premise both sides accept but is now a distant memory in the heat of this year's election. George Bush was wrong, he created the Iraq problem, and now both presidential candidates are fighting about how best to clean up his mess.

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