The Corner

The Politics of the Surge–and McCain

We forget that originally the critics of Rumsfeld were not calling for the present surge of about 30,000 troops, that along with changed tactics, seems to have tipped Anbar province to our side, but a much larger escalation — as I remember many were urging in December 2004 levels to increase to 200,000, and in some cases a bigger surge of 80,000 more army troops and 30,000 more Marines. Many rightly argued that those numbers might deplete our reserves elsewhere and only lead to a larger imprint and Iraqi dependency. In that regard, the unheralded accomplishment of Petraeus was not just the present turn-around, but that he got enough troops to implement his counter-insurgency doctrine, but not the vast forces that might well have proved counter-productive, both politically here at home, and in our larger force deployments abroad. Armies can always use more troops, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t think we wanted 200-250,000 soldiers in Iraq in 2007.

Re: McCain. While it is true that McCain at one time was calling for a mega-surge, and quite wrongly in over-the-top and cruel fashion called the Secretary of Defense “one of the worst” secretaries in our history (Rumsfeld will most certainly have a much different historic assessment when this is all over), McCain’s continued support for the war and the much smaller 30,000 Petraeus surge was critical, especially in one particular regard. That principled stance blunted, for a critical window of time, much of the Republican defections–at a time when key moderate senators were bailing on Iraq and working with the withdrawal Democrats.

And while it is also true that McCain has alienated the conservative base on questions of tax cuts, immigration quasi-amnesty, stem cell research, campaign finance reform, etc., (the list could go on), and while questions of age and temperament are legitimate concerns, his past service and experience, and his unflinching blunt replies to difficult questions (e.g., farm subsidies and ethanol) are starting to contrast with a lot of the candidates of both parties — to his advantage. For millions of voters there are three critical issues — speaking directly without the constant nuancing, triangulation, and reinvention, restoring financial sobriety and ending deficits, securing Iraq and Afghanistan — and again that helps McCain.

Again, contrary to popular opinion, I think all conservatives will rally to any of the mainstream nominated Republicans in the general election (e.g., a McCain-Thompson or Giuliani-Thompson, or Romney-Giuliani or Giuliani-Romney, etc)–given what the current Congress proved to be like, and the promises so far of an Edwards, Clinton, and Obama.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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