Jonah Goldberg

"Senator Obama didn't support the surge, wanted to pull out, said that it would fail. I supported it when it was the toughest thing to do. I believe that my record on national security and keeping this country safe is there. And the American people will examine our records, and I will win."

That's John McCain explaining why he'll win.

He's wrong.

He's leading a loud chorus of conservatives and Republicans desperate to make the surge the defining issue of the campaign.

In an editorial for the conservative Weekly Standard, Fred Kagan (the primary intellectual author of the surge strategy) wrote: "It would be hard to design a better test for the job of commander in chief than the real-life test senators John McCain and Barack Obama have undergone in the last two years."

It's understandable why so many Republicans see the surge as an ideal political battleground. Outside foreign policy, McCain's standing with the GOP base is shaky. The party doesn't have many policy wins to brag about. And Obama doesn't have much of a record to attack. Also, many hawks - often called neoconservatives - see the surge as vindication that they were right about the feasibility of the Iraq invasion from the beginning. It was President Bush's bungling that was wrong, they say, not the war itself.

Whatever the merits of all that, there's a problem. As political analysis, it's nonsense.

Yes, McCain heroically pushed for the surge when the war was at its most unpopular point. Even more impressive, he favored a change in strategy back when the war was popular.

Within months of the invasion, McCain was calling for more troops and the head of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Later, when the Iraqi civil war erupted, al-Qaida in Iraq metastasized and Iran mounted a clandestine surge of its own, McCain doubled down; he argued that we couldn't afford to lose and proposed a revised counterinsurgency strategy for victory. That was the same month that Obama introduced the "Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007."

That's great stuff for McCain's biographers. But the catch-22 is that the more the surge succeeds, the more advantageous it is for Obama.

Voters don't care about the surge; they care about the war. Americans want it to be over - and in a way they can be proud of.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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