Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tangible Evidence of McCain's Foreign Policy Illiteracy

Pointing out every gaffe and misstep along the campaign trail doesn't particularly interest me, but as the one contained in John McCain's interview with Katie Couric today speaks volumes about his lack of basic understanding in Iraq I'll break my own (unwritten) rule.

As I've said before, pointing to the "success" of the Surge is a tactic employed purely out of a desire to wipe discussion of the initial decision to invade Iraq from polite discourse, for obvious reasons. As Obama and others, including myself, understand, there were numerous factors to the drop in violence in Iraq, and the drop itself preceded the Surge by several months.

One of these factors was the Sunni Awakening, a resistance to AQI activities in Anbar province aided by both American funds and a legitimate frustration with militant actions. John McCain tried to tie this together today, at long last.

Couric: Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history.

McCain apparently thinks the last clause seals all debate, but alas, history is indeed set on the timeline here: The Anbar Awakening was declared in progress in September of 2006, two months before the subject of escalation was even broached and fore before the President's State of the Union in which it was announced. The Sunni Awakening is indeed a matter of history, Mr. McCain, just not your version. As Juan Cole explains, few Surge troops ever made it to Anbar:

The casualty figures dropped in al-Anbar, where few extra US troops were ever sent. They dropped in Basra, from which the British withdrew. Something happened. Putting it all on 30,000 extra troops seems a stretch. And what about all the ethnic cleansing and displacing of persons that took place under the nose of the "surge?"

Before the Surge, the US still had more than 100,000 soldiers (not counting private mercenaries) in Iraq, to say that 30,000 more were solely responsible for pacifying the entire country flies in the face of credulity. It's simply not plausible that other factors -- the Awakening, the Mahdi Army cease fire to name a couple -- did not play a role.

Here again McCain illustrates rather clearly that his reputation regarding foreign policy bears little resemblance to his actual grasp of the subject. Mistaking which country borders which (Iraq-Pakistan) or mentioning the name of a country that no longer exists (Czechoslovakia) are generic missteps that don't add up in the long run. Exhibiting a continual failure to grasp even the most obvious realities and enduring lack of historical literacy, however, paint a much broader picture. Namely, that John McCain's entire foreign policy rests on his ability to talk tough and pray that nobody asks him to explain anything.

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