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It’s long past time we got a political grip. Americans, Republicans especially, need a little perspective. In the days before Super Tuesday, as the race for the GOP nomination became John McCain’s to lose, McCain continued his dishonest and dishonorable attacks against Mitt Romney. In a debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, he continued to insist, as he had just before the Florida primary, that Romney was on the side of defeat in Iraq.
McCain’s criticism is that during a TV interview last year, Romney endorsed the idea of private timetables between the United States and Iraq. This is not inconsistent with proposals McCain himself has considered. But McCain remembers that the word “timetable” was a Beltway buzzword last year for withdrawing from Iraq. Getting out of Iraq, however, is not what Romney was talking about. This debate has been a ridiculous distraction.
Instead of letting it go after nearly everyone, from the Associated Press and the New York Times to conservative talk-show host and lawyer Mark Levin, exposed McCain’s attack as disingenuous, McCain continued to focus like a laser on Romney. In fact, during that last debate before Super Tuesday, McCain put Romney in league with Harry Reid, who famously said last spring, “I believe … that this war is lost.” Today we know the war was not, and is not, lost. It is not lost in large part because Washington leaders like George W. Bush, McCain, and Joe Lieberman, among others, wouldn’t let the Democrats force them into defeat and withdraw from Iraq prematurely.
The real proponents of not finishing the job we started are the Democrats who either McCain or Romney will face before long. Look back to last spring, and most memorably and infuriatingly to last September, and you’ll remember the left-wing, antiwar group MoveOn running the reprehensible “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad. They accused this American hero of “Cooking the Books for the White House” in making his case for the in-progress surge of troops on the ground in Iraq. Hillary Clinton, during Petraeus’s Senate testimony at the time, accused him of lying to the Senate. Clinton said that believing his cautiously optimistic report required a “willing suspension of disbelief.”
The president of the United States is the commander-in-chief of our armed forces. If he or she does nothing else, we need the president to take that responsibility seriously. Yet Clinton, who originally authorized the war in Iraq, publicly undercut our military efforts there, in the face of the commander of our troops. It was a disgrace.
And what’s the other choice on the Democratic side? Barack Obama, who opposed the war in Iraq altogether. Unlike Clinton, who changed her mind when the war became unpopular, he’s been consistently against an important front in this war on terror. Neither has shown a serious understanding of the threat we face. We’re in a war we didn’t choose to be in but we’ve risen to the occasion.
Today, we’re not losing in Iraq because the president of the United States, as one senior administration official put it recently to me, “had the courage and determination to stick it out under tremendously difficult circumstances.” We need that kind of leader in the White House.
I understand why McCain is hostile toward Romney. I believe it’s about more than his desire to be president. McCain and his family have served their nation valiantly, and when he looks at Romney he sees a man who didn’t serve, whose sons didn’t serve, and who didn’t take the bold stand he did last year on the surge. But serving heroically does not entitle you to be president, nor does the failure to serve disqualify you. When you consider the options that will be before us in November, there are clear choices. But McCain muddies that clarity when he dishonestly suggests that Romney was on the Democratic side last year. Let me be clear: Romney was not the bold surge leader that McCain was. The Arizona senator deserves credit for his position, an unpopular one at the time. However, while Romney was cautious, he wasn’t the opposition. The Democrats who are on the road to the White House today were and are the opposition.
Reagan’s 11th commandment — Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican — was primarily about judgment and perspective. Don’t beat too hard on your teammates; ultimately, you’re on the same side. McCain’s attack on Romney blurs the distinctions on a fundamental issue of this war: Who is qualified to be commander in chief? Who is on the side of responsibility and victory? The answers can be found on the Right side of the race, not the Left.
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