The Kibitzers

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Jul 16, 2008 12:01 AM
The Kibitzers

A couple of past presidential wannabes now have done their ineffectual best for the Democratic attack machine: John Kerry - you may remember him - has joined Arkansas' own Wesley Clark in questioning John McCain's credentials for serving as the country's next president and commander-in-chief of its armed forces.

Sen. Kerry, as credible as ever, says his colleague from Arizona "has been wrong about every judgment he's made about the war" in Iraq. That assertion may surprise anybody's who's been following the news out of Iraq of late. But it does illustrate the lengths that political partisans will go to deny reality. For of all American politicians, John McCain has proven the most prescient for the longest time about what needed to be done in Iraq.

Speaking at the lowest point in American fortunes in Iraq - in January 2007 - Sen. (and Captain, U.S.N.) McCain pointed out that American forces not only needed to clear the enemy out of its bases in Iraq, which they had done with marked success, but hold the territory they'd cleared.

To accomplish that mission, he called for at least three additional combat brigades in Baghdad and one in Anbar Province. Not a popular tack to take at a time when disgust with the war, or at least with the way it was going, was widespread. And growing.

Sen. McCain was proposing his decidedly unfashionable course at a time when other politicians, including a freshman senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, were ready to give up. Here is how Sen. Obama responded the day George W. Bush announced the Surge early in 2007:

"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think it takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there."

How did Barack Obama become such a defeatist? He did so on what he must have assumed was the very best counsel available at the time, that of the generals he'd conferred with, and they saw no point in a surge. Never mind that those were the very generals who were fast losing the war.

The moral of this story: Presidential judgment requires more than doing whatever the commanders in the field advise - as the current commander-in-chief discovered much to his regret.

Good judgment may even require changing those commanders and their strategy, which this president finally summoned the gumption to do. That kind of independent judgment, and vision, may come only from extensive experience with heavy responsibility, and with life.

At 71, John McCain has been through enough - and how - and made enough mistakes to know who he is and what he thinks, and take a clear, firm stand, however unpopular it may be at the time. In January 2007, he took his stand in favor of what would be called the Surge, and prove a dramatically successful strategy.

By now John McCain has served in the U.S. Senate for 20 years - and he was in the U.S. Military for 20 years before that. But when it comes to choosing a president, both John Kerry and Wesley Clark would prefer a first-time U.S. senator who never served in the military. Instead, Barack Obama has been a state legislator, lawyer and community organizer.

Given the striking contrast between the experience of these two presidential candidates, not to mention the difference in their judgment and constancy of purpose where this war is concerned, which do you think would make a better commander-in-chief?