McCain's Big Unanswered Question

Washington Matters

McCain's Big Unanswered Question

John McCain laid out a broad foreign policy agenda in his Los Angeles speech last week, promising more multilateral outreach and also saying the U.S. "incurred a moral responsibility in Iraq" and that leaving Iraq prematurely would be "reprehensible." There is one overarching question, however, he does not like to entertain but may have to in the fall campaign and debates. "Why, specifically, did we go to war?" 


First it was to find weapons of mass destruction that the administration claimed to have slam-dunk evidence about. Then it was because of alleged links between Saddam's regime and al Qeada and 9/11. Then it was regime change and deposing Saddam and his henchmen. Then de-Baathification. Then it was to establish a democratic government. The it was to rout out Al Qeada and prevent a destabilizing civil war between Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds. Now we are there to promote stability and security, train Iraqi forces and root out corruption, right?

Can the question even be answered directly and clearly anymore? The original debate seems ages ago.


McCain gets downright irritated at the old debate about who supported the war when and how strongly and whether it has been a costly mistake and mismanaged, even though he backed it from the start. He says the debate should not be about why we went but about what we do now.

So be it, but even so, he'll still have to offer a clear and compelling and believable answer to why, specifically, we went and have stayed for six years. Dancing around all the different reasons will be tempting politically (who wants to open old hornets nests about WMD and botched intelligence). But not answering directly or giving changing, flip floppy answers could prove costly, especially if McCain espouses a long U.S. commitment and presence in the Persian Gulf for a generation to come and the Democratic nominee does not and questions, as many Americans do, why we went in the first place instead of going full throttle after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

It may be a debate about the past that he doesn't particularly like, but it's one voters deserve to see and hear.