Fellas, can I just interject that I think the Obama-and-the-surge argument is something of a sideshow and a waste of energy (I have a column on this going up on NRO tomorrow). Admittedly, it would be even more of exercise in futility if Obama wasn’t being so arrogantly moronic in his refusal to admit he was wrong.
McCain was right about the surge and Obama was wrong. Period, full stop.
But so what? McCain already crushes Obama on the question(s) of who’s got better foreign policy judgment/who’s more qualified to be commander-in-chief. If McCain’s supporters convince America that Obama was wrong on the surge or get him to admit it, McCain’s advantage on that front will go up a couple more points.
While McCain’s supporters are taking a bow for scoring a few debater’s points, the surge’s success in the real world makes voting for Obama seem less risky. Obama doesn’t have to persuade Americans he’s better than McCain on the commander-in-chief test, he just needs to persuade Americans he’s minimally qualified to be commander-in-chief. The electorate wants to vote Democratic. It wants the war to be over (though it doesn’t want to feel like it was a waste either). The surge’s success enables voters to feel comfortable voting for the riskier candidate.
Look at it this way. It seems obvious now — as it did then — that Reagan’s victory in the Cold War (and poppa Bush’s clean-up efforts) made Bill Clinton’s candidacy possible. The same dynamic is at work with Obama. The Democratic Party was on the dovish side of the Cold War (for it’s last couple decades at least). And it harbored people at its ideological fringe who were outright hostile to the effort. The same holds true in the war on terror. If this is a foreign policy election, McCain probably wins. If it’s a domestic goodie-giveaway election, McCain loses in a landslide.
Convincing the public that McCain was right and Obama was wrong about the surge doesn’t translate into making this a foreign policy election. It helps those who argue that it isn’t one. McCain needs to explain why this election must be decided on national security issues if he wants to run on his national security credentials. Nobody disputed that George HW Bush was vastly more qualified than Clinton to be commander-in-chief. Clinton won by convincing a plurality of voters (with help from domestic issue-obsessed Ross Perot) that they shouldn’t vote based on foreign policy. (Churchill was treated similarly by a public that wanted to tend its own garden).
But, McCain has an advantage poppa Bush and Bob Dole didn’t have. No one knew that Clinton’s policies would help midwife the first 9/11. But McCain can make the case that Obama’s approach could lead to a second. If McCain succeeds in convincing the voters that the war on terror and foreign policy generally are still the paramount issue, he can talk about the surge all he likes.