I largely agree with Jonah about appearing to make the case for McCain. I didn’t want to get into the merits of whether we should have gone to Iraq in the first place for two reasons. First, we went. As David points out, McCain has been stalwart in his support, and it seems unfair to speculate like this in a way that could be interpreted as questioning his bona fides, which I most certainly do not – though I disagree with David that a speech in 2007 about the war’s being just and necessary gives us real insight into whether a President McCain, surrounded by a much different cast of characters, would have thought it necessary in 2003. Second, for those of us who supported Saddam’s ouster, justifiying the initiative is complex because, (a) not only as fought but as explained by the administration, Iraq has not been a coherent operation, and (b) I don’t think McCain, regardless of how exemplary he has been in defending the Iraq initiative, is especially coherent on what, with maddening imprecision, is known as the war on terror. So while I concur with Jonah’s perception that my speculation makes the case for McCain, it is a case for Iraq not for the war on terror. The latter is a lot more important.
A proper strategy for the war on terror would have accounted comprehensively, by military means and otherwise, for all the fronts in the war — both the global jihad and its state supporters. The war would not have been confined to Iraq and Afghanistan, nor bogged down for months at a stretch in a self-defeating quest for UN-sanctioned “legitimacy,” nor fought on the cheap by limiting our military to peacetime-level resources that were up to neither a wider fight (which the country would have supported between Sept 2001 and, say, 2003) nor democracy building in Islamic countries (which I don’t think the country would ever have supported if it had been pitched and debated as a war aim on a par with demolishing the terror networks or removing rogue regimes that supported those networks and might provide them with WMDs).
Perhaps McCain would have been a better commander-in-chief than Bush — I’m not as convinced as Jonah about that because I think Bush appreciates more than McCain does the centrality of intelligence in a war against a transnational terror network with no territory to defend. (McCain, as Mark Levin has often observed here, has been awful on intelligence.) But I don’t believe McCain is any more likely than Bush to have looked at the war as a regional, ideological struggle and prosecuted it accordingly; and I think he’d have been just as inclined as Bush has proved to be to subordinate the suppression of jihadist aggression and the ostracism of jihadist abettors to such dubious projects democracy-building and the Palestinian “peace process.”