The Corner

Re: What If? McCain 2000

Andy, I dunno. I understand that you’re not “making a judgement on the comparative wisdom.” And that’s fair enough. But I think it’s worth saying that I think you’re making the case for McCain. The hindsight argument in favor of Bush over McCain in 2000 falls mostly in the realm of tax cuts and Supreme Court appointments. Everywhere else, I think the record’s either very mixed or in McCain’s favor. On the key point of the Iraq war, my guess is he would have gone to war, but not the way Bush did. That is, in my mind, a point in McCain’s favor.

In office, he would have ended up being more of a “uniter not a divider” than Bush. We would have gotten more of a Democratic buy-in to the war on terror (though maybe less of a Republican one — not an entirely bad thing if you ask me). I was in favor of the Iraq war. I still think, given what we knew then, that the better arguments were in its favor. And I believe firmly that now that we’re in it, it is imperative we see the Iraq project through. But I find it very hard to defend the war — as fought — as an unmitigatedly wise course of action. If the charge against McCain is that he would have chosen a different time, place and/or manner to remove Saddam Hussein from power, then I count that as a charge in his favor. A president McCain who would have waited until we had a better plan for the peace, more allies, or he would have insisted on a surge from the get-go, strikes me as a better choice than the one we took with Bush in 2000.

That said, I think to argue that we would have been better off with McCain overall piles too many contrafactuals upon one another to be a fruitful discussion. But  I’m pretty convinced that McCain would have been a better commander-in-chief for the war on terror.

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