Over the past two weeks, Senator John McCain and the Republican Party have been hammering away at Senator Barack Obama for not admitting that the surge in Iraq has been a success. A number of politicians, political pundits, media political analysts, and others, have been doing the same, and have also said that Sentor Obama ought to congratulate Senator McCain for having been a forceful advocate of this strategy.
This collective chastisement of Senator Obama is occurring within what I call a "soundbite context." Politicians, political analysts, and journalists, as well as American voters, are conditioned by the soundbite. It is the be-all end-all of American politics for them.
What is the soundbite? The soundbite flows from either-or thinking. It is a terse, singular, simplistic comment or phrase that appears to convey truth, knowledge, understanding, and to reflect reality, when in fact, it does none of these things. A soundbite is employed when one wants to obscure or ignore, or distort all of these things.
To make this point, take the phrase: "taken out of context." This is a reference to the construction of a soundbite. Taking a comment or phrase out of context means isolating it from other phrases and comments in the context and focusing on it as if it were the only thing said, and thus, indicating where the discussion and analysis should begin.
An isolated comment or phrase becomes the soundbite, and since it is taken from the context that would invest sense, truth, or meaning in it, the comment as a soundbite, represents not only a distortion, or misrepresentation of facts, or a reality, but also represents a conscious effort to tell a lie.
Senator Obama loathes the soundbite. He thinks in holistic, rather than either or, singular terms. His preference is to provide knowledge and explanations, and to try to help people understand things, and that usually involves, as he sees it, providing them with more than one factor to consider and digest, to accomplish this objective.
Senator Obama regards the soundbite feature of American politics, as a manifestation of old political thinking and old politics, which then becomes one of the things that induces him to try to change political thinking and politics in the country.
Senator John McCain is a long time practitioner of the soundbite. He seeks to explain the surge on this basis, because he takes one aspect of the surge--the military/security aspect-- and makes it appear that this is what the whole surge was about. Thus, he is engaged in conscious deception and falsification. This is John McCain playing the surge card.
The surge as launched in 2007 and made very public involved three broad component parts: 1) a large increase in American troops in Iraq (30 or 40,000) that would train Iraqi military and security forces, and that would seek to reduce or suppress the daily violence in the country. 2) the use of the military/security part of the surge to provide some political space to develop the new Iraqi government and to promote political reconciliation between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, and between the central and outlying governments of the country and 3) to rebuild the economy and the country, and work out a method to redistribute the oil revenues of Iraq.
John McCain signed off on and encouraged this surge in Iraq. But over the past two weeks, following Senator Obama's successful trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, and other places in the Middle East and Europe, where he substantially showed his Presidential, foreign policy, commander-in-chief, and world leader credentials, McCain has turned desperately to playing the surge-card to try to lessen the domestic impact of Senator Obama's great triumph, and to try to salvage his own image of having the same credentials.
If Senator McCain argued that the military and security dimension of the surge was successful, Senator Obama would readily agree with that. He saw that success in Iraq, and while there, and since being back in the country, he has praised the American troops for their courage, dedication, and magnificent performance in achieving this result.
But Senator Obama also expanded his view. He said in Iraq and back in the country, that the Anbar Awakening and the cessation of the hostilities between the Shiites and Sunnis, i.e., the present halting of the civil war, also contributed to the reduction of daily violence, deaths, and casualties in the country.
There were McCain surrogates and political analysts who pounced on this comment, saying that it undercut credit for the troops, and also that his answer was not "straightforward," that it was "mixed", or "ambiguous", and seemed like an effort to try to "avert" dealing with and crediting the surge. In short, Senator Obama did not honor the soundbite and its deception.
Senator Obama praised the part of the surge that succeeded, but he could not praise the surge itself, because as a full scale reality, it had not been successful. He refused to be drawn into promoting a lie despite some political pressure to do so.
But in playing the surge card, Senator McCain was contradicting General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. When they reported to the House and Senate hearings on the war in Iraq in 2007, they acknowledged that the surge had three broad parts. The military/security part had significant success, but political gains, as both men said many times at the hearings, were "fragile and reversible," thus, clearly not successful; and that the economic recovery, rebuilding of the country, and the equitable distribution of oil revenues was proceeding frustratingly slowly.
In Iraq, Senator Obama learned that military and security successes had increased since the earlier report, but that the other features of the surge still lagged frustratingly behind. General Petraeus wanted more time to work on these matters with massive U.S. troops in Iraq, and indicated to Senator Obama, as the latter himself reported, that he was not in favor of a time table drawdown of troops in the country, and that he wanted more time and flexibility to deal with the situation.
As another part of his comments, Senator Obama said that if he were in General Petraeus's shoes, he would espouse the same values. But he also said that as President of the United States, he would have more concerns to deal with than the General, on the homefront and in regard to America's strategic interests, that went beyond Iraq and even Afghanistan.
Senator Obama said directly to General Petraeus that as President he would be commander-in-chief, and that he would set the mission in Iraq. He said this many times during his Presidential nomination campaign, and he conveyed that understanding to General Petraeus when he talked to him.
What has continued to go unnoticed by politicians and political analysts is that President Bush has abandoned his commander-in-chief role to General Petraeus to let him set the American mission in Iraq. Senator McCain shows deference to General Petraeus and satisfaction with this submission, implying that if he were President, he, like Bush, would let General Petraeus, or someone else dealing with events on the ground, be commander-in-chief.
This is not Senator Obama's attitude. He showed great respect for General Petraeus, but not deference, and indicated to him that he would still work from a 16 month time table drawdown of troops in Iraq, and would redeploy troops, about two brigades, to Afghanistan.
In August of 2007, he had said that 7000 troops should be sent to Afghanistan. In early 2008, the commanders in that country, fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, called for 7000 troops, echoing the Senator. Now the call is for about 10,000 troops.
But Senator Obama had shown Presidential and commander-in-chief metal, asserting both with General Petraeus. He held his ground about the 16 month strategic withdrawal, and more than that he got Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his government to endorse the plan.
Senator Obama had bested John McCain. He had taken some of the shine off of his credentials as military expert and commander-in-chief. Senator Obama had also succeeded in changing the debate that McCain had once dominated: from Iraq to Afghanistan, from the surge to the withdrawl and redeployment of troops, and from the long term occupation of Iraq, which Senator John McCain had said on a number of occasions, could be from 50 to 100 years, to a protective and tactical U.S. force in the country.
Senator McCain sought salvation and redemption in playing the surge card, and on a basis of trying to demean Senator Obama. He and his surrogates have argued that the Senator was showing a lack of character and being dishonest, and unprincipled, because he still would not admit that he had made a mistake opposing the surge, and because he still would not apologize for having done so.
There are politicians and political analysts playing the surge card along with John McCain and his surrogates, as this is also their talking point with Senator Obama and his surrogates.
The behavior on the part of Senator McCain and his spokespeople is so disingenuous and dishonest that political observes should have taken them to task for it, which they have not done, and presently show no willingness to do.
The political observers insisting that Senator Obama should admit his mistake and apologize do not place the same demands on John McCain.
Senator McCain has never admitted, nor apologized, for the mistake he made encouraging and being in full support of the Bush administration taking the United States into a needless war with Iraq; and, therefore, a war of needless deaths and needless casualties, a needless massive expenditure of American taxpayer dollars, and a needless drain on the country's military preparedness and capabilities.
Senator McCain has never admitted that he made mistakes supporting the Bush administration's strategic blunder of waging war against Iraq and not encouraging or insisting that it pursue Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in their haven and training ground between Afghanistan and Pakistan, nor has he ever apologized for this mistake.
He has never admitted that the war in Iraq has not made America safer or more secure, which it has not, because it has allowed Al Qaeda to re-group and to re-strengthen itself, and to ready itself to renew its attacks on the U.S. at home and abroad.
These are all instances of poor judgment and miscalculation on Senator McCain's part. And his refusal to at least admit his mistakes, which were so collosal and so obvious, says something poignantly about his character and temperament, and how he seems to think that he stands above criticism.
It also points to how much of a risk and liability he might be in the White House, because he really does not seem to see that he made collosal mistakes and grievous miscalculations. As President he might engage in the same kind of myopic thinking and behavior with respect to Iran.
There is a very egregious way that Senator McCain also plays the surge card, and that also reflects his character and temperament. He says that when Senator Obama stands against the surge and its successes, he is saying that American troops have been fighting and making sacrifices in vein in Iraq.
He charges that Senator Obama would rather have the U.S. surrender and lose a war in Iraq, and leave the country with dishonor, in exchange for achieving a political objective, namely, to become President.
Senator McCain has said that he would rather lose a Presidential election than lose a war, while Senator Obama would take the opposite road. These words and sentiments not only called into question Senator Obama's loyalty, but also implied that he was a traitor.
This is the pugnacious and cruel streak that dwells in John McCain, that is often hidden by a sudden smile that follows a remark, and by attempts to cover up the traits with humor. Political observers should have laced into the Senator for making these outrageous and contemptible charges--a Presidential candidate virtually accusing another Presidential candidate of being a traitor!
But, instead, they have given him another one of their many passes to help him escape criticism, and enabling him to feel that he does not have to be held accountable for what he says or does.
The same people also permit Senator McCain to keep saying, unchallenged, what he said repeatedly over the past two weeks: that he always puts his country first, and also saying that Senator Obama doesn't.
But McCain did not put America first when he supported the United States engaging in an unprovoked and needless war with Iraq. He did not put the country first when he was adamant in supporting the Bush administration to step up that war while letting Al Qaeda reconstitute itself and become an ever stronger threat to the United States. And he did not put America first when he was in favor of the country spending huge amounts of money on a needless war, that could have been spent on rebuilding the infrastructure in the country, and augmenting the lives of the American people.
In all of these instances, Senator McCain put a neocon ideology, a military mentality, and a military based foreign policy first. This was also the same mind-set that prompted him to advocate and support the surge, and that keeps him welded to his deceitful position regarding it.