Obama "would rather lose a war ... [than] an election"

Continuing a frequent theme, John McCain's national security advisor accuses Barack Obama of having set his Iraq policy for political gain, without knowledge of the current situation there.

Published July 17, 2008 3:46PM (EDT)

John McCain's campaign -- and its surrogates -- have been pressing one argument about Barack Obama, and his foreign policy, hard this week. By making major announcements about his plans for Afghanistan and Iraq before he has made his trip to those countries, they say, he has shown that his policy is based more in politics than in reality. Randy Scheunemann, a senior advisor to McCain, hit that point hard again Thursday, in a memo released to reporters.

"This week, Barack Obama announced his strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan. He did this before visiting Iraq for the first time in well over 900 days, before ever visiting Afghanistan, and before meeting with our commanders on the ground," Scheunemann wrote, continuing:

As Barack Obama reaffirmed this week, at the core of his strategy is a politically motivated promise to withdraw -- regardless of the facts on the ground or advice of our military commanders. As The Washington Post said this week, "The message that the Democrat sends is that he is ultimately indifferent to the war's outcome ..."

As we see progress in Iraq because of the Surge strategy that John McCain advocated, many questioned whether Barack Obama would maintain his steadfast refusal to recognize the facts on the ground and continue his stubborn call for immediate withdrawal. Barack Obama has now answered those questions by tossing aside the facts in favor of an ideologically-driven approach that puts unconditional withdrawal above all other considerations. He has done this without even bothering to see the facts on the ground ...

Barack Obama has determined that he would rather lose a war that we are winning than lose an election by alienating his base. This is the reason Obama did not have to wait until his trip to declare his strategy. Iraq is fundamentally a political decision for Barack Obama, not a national security decision ... We cannot afford to replace a Rumsfeld strategy that refused for too long to acknowledge failure in Iraq with an Obama strategy that refuses to acknowledge success in Iraq.

There are a couple of interesting -- and faulty -- things about this line of attack. First, Obama may not have visited Afghanistan, but he somehow managed to come up with a policy for American strategy in that country that McCain is now emulating.

Also, though it makes for a neat sound bite, and perhaps an effective one, it's hardly clear that visiting Iraq as a presidential candidate will actually give Obama a realistic picture of the situation there. As CNN's Michael Ware, a longtime Iraq reporter, quipped earlier this year, when McCain and his surrogates were pressuring Obama to travel to Iraq, "I mean Senator McCain has been here, what, more than half a dozen times. And we've seen him get assessments of Iraq terribly wrong."

Really, one need look no further than McCain's own visits to Iraq to see just how skewed a picture such a trip can present, especially if someone wants to create a modern-day Potemkin village. Remember his visit to a seemingly peaceful market in Baghdad? That was only possible because of "100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead," and the next day, merchants there exposed the fiction behind his stroll.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Iraq War John Mccain R-ariz.