This will have to be one of those occasions when I disagree with Ross, who wrote:
To a war-weary nation, Obama’s cool pragmatism has obvious appeal, but on a fundamental level McCain’s calculus is the right one. America’s responsibility for the current stability and future prospects of Iraq — a poor, tyrannized nation that our policies have plunged into bloody chaos — can’t be waved away by pointing out that we could be spending those billions on ourselves instead.
In the first place, Ross overemphasises the extent to which McCain makes an appeal to national responsibility while portraying Obama as the populist calling for reallocating our wasteful spending abroad to wasteful spending at home. Obama makes a fairly unassailable point that the war is fundamentally harmful to the U.S. military:
And our obligation to rebuild our military will endure as well. This war has stretched our military to its limits, wearing down troops and equipment as a result of tour after tour after tour of duty.
What is one of the United States government’s first obligations? To provide for the common defense of this country. Exhausting or damaging our military capabilities on a war that serves no national interest, and which we are apparently perpetuating out of a misplaced sense of guilt and obligation, is the irresponsible and reckless thing to do from the American perspective. Our resources are not unlimited, and we all know that we cannot maintain current deployments without some major change either to the size of our military or to the size of the deployment in Iraq. To govern is to choose, and McCain essentially proposes that we choose obligations to Iraqis over obligations to Americans, which is one of the reasons why he wraps his campaign so tightly in the flag. That is the basic flaw in McCain’s position that Obama exploits quite well in his speech, even if he often expresses it in terms of increased domestic spending. To accept the standard that Ross sets up (“America’s responsibility for the current stability and future prospects of Iraq”) is to accept responsibility for Iraq for at least a generation, and theoretically for longer than that (“why not 1,000 years or 10,000?” saith McCain). That is totally and in all ways unacceptable and, more importantly, completely unjustifiable.
Lofty talk about responsibility makes it seem as if it is the antiwar side that wants to be selfish, while the pro-war side is being high-minded and noble in its concern for Iraqis (never mind for the moment that this concern for Iraqi welfare is and always has been essentially rhetorical for most war supporters), when it is the refusal to give up control and power over another country that reflects the real spirit of aggrandisement and self-importance. In many respects, a lot of Iraqis will obviously not be “better off” after an American withdrawal (and a lot of them won’t be “better off” if we stay for a decade), but since each attempt to improve the lot of Iraqis for the last 18 years has resulted in the increased immiseration of Iraqis you might suppose that we would stop trying to “help” them. Indeed, I’m not sure that the Iraqis will be able to survive another four-year term of our responsible and benevolent assistance. At one time, invading Iraq was conventionally deemed to be the responsible thing to do, and this was partially justified in the name of the Iraqis who have suffered so terribly as a result. At what point will we abandon this sense that we have a responsibility for the affairs of another state, especially when attempts to fulfill that responsibility have tended to cause that state tremendous damage? When do we realise that this obsession with our supposed responsibilities to other nations directly undermines the responsibilities that our government has towards its own citizens? More practically, if we have not fulfilled our obligations to Iraq by now, when will we have done so? McCain and his backers have no answers for this, but conjure with words such as responsibility and honour and expect that to be enough. Unfortunately for McCain, his invocations of honour carry about as much weight as Mr. Bush’s lauding of freedom and democracy. Honourable nations do not attack others without cause or justification, and they do not occupy other countries for extended periods of time in defiance of the wishes of the population. Let Iraqis take care of their country, and let us attend to ours.
P.S. This section from McCain’s speech is just ludicrous:
Our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are critical in this respect and cannot be viewed in isolation from our broader strategy. In the troubled and often dangerous region they occupy, these two nations can either be sources of extremism and instability or they can in time become pillars of stability, tolerance, and democracy.
Iraq was a pillar of stability and tolerance, relatively speaking, until the invasion and democratisation came and empowered religious extremism and created massive instability. For McCain, it is as if the last five years haven’t happened and the “freedom agenda” is something other than very dangerous wishful thinking. As George Will once acerbically noted, the “problem” of stability in the Middle East had been solved by the policies advocated by the likes of McCain. While we are talking about responsibilities, what of American responsibilities to our regional allies, whose security is undermined by our presence in Iraq?
Another section is not much better:
Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism.
In other words, success is impossible, particularly when the government forces of Iraq are defending the interests of a group such as ISCI (the
terrorist group band of noble freedom fighters formerly known as SCIRI). If they represent religious tolerance, I am a duck.