Friday, February 1, 2008

Quibbling with McCain

I Will Vote For Romney. For Now.

I've been writing about the 2008 presidential campaign since April 2005. During that entire time I have been determined to remain uncommitted. I thought that would make for more objective observations about the campaign. It is also an admission that no candidate came along, whom I felt compelled to support.

As the number of possible nominees has dwindled, especially with Fred and Rudy proving that you can't leave the field to opponents and still prevail, I tried to warm up to Senator McCain. After McCain's South Carolina and Florida victories, it is clear he has again attained the dreaded status of front runner.

Embracing McCain ought to be easy for a security voter like me. If your main issue is victory in the War the Islamic Extremists are waging against us, supporting McCain should not be a difficult thing.

Yet I have quibbles with Senator McCain. And they're not going away, even with the Florida results and the Giuliani and Schwarzenegger endorsements.

There are the usual policy quibbles, which have been repeated so often they have become cliche. Yet like all cliches, they are based on truth:

I continue to wonder if President Bush's tax cuts would now be permanent if only Senator McCain supported the tax cuts in 2001.

I object to the 2002 McCain/Feingold so-called campaign finance reform, which I still consider an abominable infringement on my constitutional rights, even though the Supreme Court says it isn't.

There is also the McCain/Kennedy so-called immigration reform, both versions -- the 2005 edition and the 2007 McCain/Kennedy II -- amount to little more than a dressed up amnesty that like the failed 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act will encourage additional illegal immigration.

More recently, we have been forced to grapple with the McCain/Lieberman Gore-like energy tax that is somehow suppose to magically reverse global climate change.

Even so, as I said, a week ago I was thinking I could set these quibbles aside and support Senator McCain's presidential candidacy. Then the Senator went Hillary -- telling lies about Mitt Romney's position on Iraq. Even in the face of Romney's objections and denials, McCain repeated this criticism in the Reagan Library debate the other night.

Senator McCain, on NBC's "Meet the Press," said that last year Romney wanted to set a secret timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. That plan, similar to what Democrats have proposed, would lead to a victory for al-Qaeda. Romney, on CNN's "Late Edition," said McCain's description of his position was "dishonest." I'm going to rely on upon Paul Mirengoff's "Did he or didn't he?" post to resolve this dispute between the two presidential contenders:

McCain apparently is referring to a statement Romney made last April in which he assumed President Bush and the head of the Iraqi government might discuss timetables and troop levels in Iraq. I don't think Romney's statement fairly can be construed as advocating setting a date for our withdrawal.
I take Mirengoff's post to mean Romney was saying let's see if the surge works and be prepared for it not to. He also says Mitt was definitely less gung-ho than McCain on the surge. Mirengoff's conclusions are also supported by Byron York's "McCain, Romney, and Timetables" post. This presents me with yet another quibble about McCain. This one about my most important issue -- achieving victory in the war the Islamic extremists are waging against us.

There is more to Mirengoff's post, and he credits McCain for being right about Iraq and advocating an approach to Iraq that is "essentially the one that’s working now." So I thought maybe I could overlook this quibble as well. Then I started to think seriously about McCain as Commander in Chief. The more I look into what Senator McCain has actually advocated in Iraq the more quibbles I have about supporting his presidential candidacy.

I may vote for Governor Romney on Tuesday. But I understand the reality of the situation, and that pretty soon my choice will be not between Romney and McCain, but between McCain and Hillary (or Obama). So I hereby pose my quibbles to Senator McCain in the hopes that he will rise to this challenge and make his case to this security voter as to why Senator McCain should be Commander in Chief.

Senator McCain has consistently advocated the deployment of many more troops into Iraq. The Senator's version of a surge envisioned some 100,000 additional troops, and he has been all over Donald Rumsfeld for failing to deploy such a large additional force as early as 2004. Here, I have another problem with McCain's position. We simply don't have enough combat brigades and Marine equivalents to throw into the fight in the numbers the Senator insistently says we should have.

With troops tied down in Central European bases, Bosnia and South Korea, and still others fighting in Afghanistan, the combat units required to make the deployments advocated by Senator McCain don't exist. He has advocated increasing the size of the armed forces, but the additional troops such increases might have produced would not have been available at the time Mr. McCain wanted to deploy them.

The 30,000 or so troops that were used for the surge pretty much used all the available forces. Note that Army Chief of Staff George Casey recently declared that the surge has "sucked all the flexibility" out of the system in a year. General Casey predicts that much of the lost flexibility will be restored if the troops can be drawn down over the next six months, but the current enhanced deployment level is not sustainable for a long period of time. In an encouraging sign, the New York Times quotes Defense Secretary Gates as saying by next summer the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will be reduced to 15.

Senator McCain has opposed the redeployment of troops out of Germany and South Korea. In doing so he ensures that those forces cannot be used in the current war. I know Senator McCain has called for increasing the armed forces, but given the time it would take to recruit, train and deploy these still on-paper troops, how does he answer the quibble of how he would have staffed his enhanced version of the surge?

I'm willing to give Senator McCain credit for advocating a change in strategy in Iraq. Perhaps he can make an argument that we should have done it sooner. I'm not sure that he can, it seems to me that the key to the success of the surge was a lot of hard work -- blood sweat and tears -- in the years leading up to the surge. More Iraqi forces had been trained to a level where they could be effectively used to support counterinsurgency strategy being used by General Petraeus. The Anbar awakening occurred before the deployment of the surge troops making it more likely the surge would succeed. Plopping down another 100,000 or so troops, even if such numbers were available, years earlier as advocated by Senator McCain may not have had the same effect in 2004 as did the 30,000 troops surged in 2007.

I also have a problem with Senator McCain pinning the perceived lack of instant success in Iraq on Rumsfeld. He has come up with a very simplistic story that Rumsfeld was bad and Petreaus is good. But successful counterinsurgency campaigns take time. A lot of time. More than a year. Everyone, including Senator McCain is willing to credit General Petraeus with the success of the surge. But maybe we should look at the General's first two tours in Iraq for the secrets of his success, and maybe we should consider who promoted General Petraeus, more than once, and who recommended General Petraeus to be the Iraq commander--the very same Donald Rumsfeld that McCain vilifies.

I could go on here, but I think I've made my point, which is that McCain takes too much credit for the surge, especially since I'm not sure he was as involved in the strategy shift as he says he was. This makes me wonder about how he will behave as Commander in Chief. Will the military appreciate his eagerness to grab the limelight and denigrate the long, difficult and frequently unpopular work that leads to success in a mission like Iraq?

I certainly admire the Senator's service during Vietnam, and I respect him as a hero. Nevertheless I don't think he has demonstrated that he is more qualified to be the civilian commander in chief than has Romney. Nor do I think his decades in the Senate and his experience leading a naval air squadron is the type of executive experience I want to see in a president.

Therefore, as things now stand, when I step up to the voting machine on super Tuesday, I will be registering my vote for Mitt Romney. He has executive experience, both in the private sector, where he made a fortune turning around troubled companies, in the public sector as a successful governor and don't forget his rescue of the Salt Lake City Olympics.

I don't find the Governor's positions on Iraq objectionable. Nor do I find the fact that he has changed certain views over the years to be a bad thing. I tend to prefer the newer views and appreciate that he saw the need to change. But I will also give John McCain his fair shake, and I would like to know how he would answer my quibbles, should he chance to see them.

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