Not the Iraq Debate We Need
This campaign offers the first opportunity in many years for a meaningful debate over future U.S. policy in Iraq, but if the past four days are any indication, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama plan to give us one.
The charges and countercharges have been flying. McCain complains to every audience that it's been more than two years since Obama visited
Obama hasn't done much better. He pounced on McCain's statement, part of a comment on the success of the troop surge, saying U.S. forces had been drawn down to pre-surge levels, when in fact the count is still about 25,000 soldiers above that. Obama now points to that (and McCain's refusal to acknowledge he was wrong) as proof that McCain is as ignorant and stubborn as Bush -- and that, like Bush, he's unwilling to tell Americans the truth. It's part of Obama's constant effort to tie McCain to the unpopular president.
Frankly, voters deserve a lot better. Arguments about past mistakes don't help, nor does having candidates who insist on trying to define their opponent as either naive or pigheaded. What we need is a serious debate about how the U.S. can extract itself from Iraq in the next few years, which must begin with a realistic assessment of what's been accomplished, what's left to be done and how much of that is the U.S.'s responsibility. Obama needs to recognize the successes of the surge and McCain needs to recognize the limits of that success. Then we can get on to the important question of what happens next. That's what Americans want to hear.