Paul Greenberg

Barack Obama makes the perfect contrast with his opponent in this race. If John McCain is a doer, Barack Obama is a thinker. Or at least a talker. His time line on Iraq doesn't go beyond 2006, when American fortunes were at low ebb. To listen to him talk about Iraq, it's still 2006 and always will be. He's got a lot riding in this campaign on proving that American forces were defeated in a war that should never have been fought, and, if elected president, he might prove himself a prophet. For there is still time to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Iraq doesn't matter, to hear Senator Obama tell it, because Afghanistan is really the central front in this war on terror, and that's where another three or four American brigades should do the trick. All of which reduces John McCain, a not very articulate man at his best, to a prolonged sputter. He tries to explain that the Surge wasn't just a matter of sending more troops to Iraq but how they were deployed in the midst of the population rather sequestered far from the action, and in close cooperation with Iraqi troops and tribesmen. The Surge wasn't just a new tactic but a new strategy.

A professor of law, Barack Obama is used to picking apart arguments, not deploying troops. Like most citizens in a post-draft America, he seems wholly innocent of even the rudiments of military culture. He speaks of military affairs with the assurance of someone who never had anything to do with them. For the first time in many years, I was reminded of an ROTC instructor of mine who was astounded beyond words that someone of our (apparent) intelligence just didn't get it.

In the end, the debate was a wash between the old warrior and young critic, though it did give the country some idea of what having a president who's really a critic-in-chief would be like. An Obama administration could prove one of the most introspective and least effective in American history. A McCain administration would be headed by a cantankerous chief, but one whose naturally impetuous temperament has been seasoned by experience. Which raises the possibility that he might actually get some things done. As for Senator Obama's experience, I get the impression it lies mainly ahead.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.