McCain and Obama Begin the Iraq Debate

McCain and Obama Begin the Iraq Debate


Looks like John McCain and Barack Obama are giving us a preview of the general election’s Iraq debate.

In the Wisconsin Democratic debate, Obama said: “If Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad.”

John McCain later responded: “I have news for Senator Obama. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. And that’s why we’re fighting in Iraq, and that’s why we’re succeeding in Iraq.”

The long distance argument continued when Obama later said: “I have some news for John McCain, and that is there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.”

That last quote from Obama is what bothers me so much about the Democratic position on Iraq. Yes, he’s absolutely right that al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist until we blew open the door and they streamed in. However, in terms of making policy in the here-and-now, what does it matter how al Qaeda got to Iraq? The real focus should be on defeating them or at least keeping them from ever organizing the kind of operations that threaten the stability of Iraq and the security of the United States.

Now, according to Obama’s first quote, he is comfortable taking action against al Qaeda in Iraq if they form a base. I don’t know what Obama’s definition of “base” is but al Qaeda is certainly already active in Iraq and I don’t think it’s a radical position to think our goal should be to stop them from forming bases rather than holding off action until they do. I fail to see how quick withdrawal of our troops is the most sensible way to stop al Qaeda from gaining/regaining footholds. Shouldn’t we at least wait until the commanders on the ground deem the al Qaeda presence negligible or deem the Iraqi army and police capable of taking whatever further actions are needed?

I don’t think our speedy withdrawal from Iraq will suddenly inspire the Iraqi government to come together, patch up their differences and go out and secure their territories. If you believe we have a duty to act against al Qaeda in Iraq, as Obama says he believes, then why take away our troops when, in all likelihood, we’d have to send them back in the moment the place slips into the chaos caused by the vacuum of our absence?

I know there are many Americans desperate for us to get out, regardless of what the future consequences of a quick withdrawal may be. However, I think there are many more Americans who, while fatigued over the war and upset that we ever got into this mess, understand that the situation in Iraq is delicate and requires careful action so that the progress of the last nine months doesn’t evaporate. Obama has to convince those Americans that his plan is based on military, moral and national security interests and not just on the wishes of the anti-war agitators in his party.

Obama can certainly make an issue out of McCain’s judgment , using the Arizona senator’s support of the invasion to call into question his fitness to make future decisions. But that’s really where the debate about the invasion ends. We’re a long way from then. We need plans based on the realities of today and not on the complaints of yesteryear.

  • TerenceC


    You must be very young and very inexperienced with things military. What we did was criminal – we invaded their country, killed their people, installed a puppet government, attracted every Arab and Iranian terrorist in the world into their country, lied to the world, stole the Iraqi national resources, and for some reason trained an American version of the Free Iraqi defense forces.

    This Administration allowed millions and millions of Iraqi’s to relocate to the Sh’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish area’s (a form of ethnic cleansing) and perfectly staged the modern day (read man made) country of Iraq (the cradle of civilization) to split into 3 new countries.
    People think McCain has a handle on things better than anyone else? This is just plain wrong – there is no right or wrong side anymore – it’s all wrong. Until someone can tell the American people why our great Army and Marine Corp was sent there – until someone can explain why we need to spend 1 Trillion dollars and counting – until someone can explain why the Constitution was allowed to be used as toilet paper by this administration – until someone can explain why after all the crimes uncovered during this fiasco, the only people convicted and sent to prison were a couple of low ranking soldiers – until those questions are answered I saw f’em all. Bring our military home – save lives, save money, put the perpetrators all in jail.

    The United States is not responsible for the 3 nations formally making up Iraq. China and Russia have been making hay all over the globe as we bleed ourselves to death on this crime scene. Nothing good can come of this, and nothing good will come from keeping it going. When will our countrymen wake up and realize that John Wayne is dead, and we aren’t the good guys anymore?

  • Tony

    More importantly, Al Qaeda is only a fraction of the “extremists” in Iraq.

    Obama’s position should be:
    1. It’s McCain’s and Bush’s fault they’re there (obviously they should be more subtle).
    2. Not realizing that there are bigger problems than Al-Qaeda in Iraq (like the Kurds vs. the Turks) shows how narrow-mindedly they’ve approached this whole war.
    3. We should take out the top of the Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and nearby areas and then focus on dismantling the foundation through a comprehensive strategy (building schools, humanitarian aid, etc.).
    4. Most importantly, we should take away their biggest recruitment tool (the worldwide perception that we’re imperialist bullies who hate Muslims).

  • mdgeorge

    I normally disagree with most of your posts Alan, but I think this one is spot on, and gets at one of my biggest anxieties about my own anti-war inclinations. This war is such a clusterfuck that I think it’s impossible to be optimistic about anyone’s plan. I don’t buy the argument that pulling out will cause progress, but I also don’t buy the argument that staying in is causing progress.

  • H Kissinger

    Justing Gardener made the point that I have been making for 4 years now. That is: “what does it matter HOW we got into Iraq?” The fact is that we ARE in fact IN Iraq now. What we do moving forward is the key, not continuing the ever popular personal attacks on the American Taliban and Heir Bush.

    Barak Obama’s response proved to be wonderful campaign sound bites but the problem is that they show the very genuine lack of foreign policy vision the man has in dealing with the reality of foreign policy. We all know that Hillary and Obama share a very similar plan for Iraq therefore Barak Obama has not had to really discuss his foreign policy vision with any detail at all because he and Hillary both share a similar vision.

    However John McCain and Barak Obama do not share a similar vision.

    Round one? John McCain did not land a punch but Barak Obama swung and knocked himself to the ground.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Terrence, so because you disagree with me that makes me very young and very inexperienced with things military? Instead of assuming I might have a point you’re just going to belittle me? You’re a regular commenter here, I’m a regular writer, we’re going to have to deal with each other with more respect than that. Clearly one doesn’t have to be young or inexperienced in things military to hold my position as it’s similar to that of the very old and very experienced John McCain.

    As for your point, I’m not sure what you want us to do — go back in time and change the mistakes made (impossible) … Prosecute Bush (possible but extremely unlikely) … admit we’re just a horrible country and give ourselves over to the EU (at least that would improve our currency).

    All we can do at this point is try to make a bad situation better. We can either debate ways to do that our we can decide we’re no longer the good guys, as you say, and wallow in our own self-hate. I prefer trying to make things better. I might be wrong in my choice of tactics but I’m sure I’m right in my belief that we still have the ability to do good in this world.

  • Alan Stewart Carl


    Yep, al Qaeda is only one of many problems in Iraq — based on what I’ve heard McCain say, he understands the implications of all that is going on there. But this exchange was about al Qaeda. Still, he’ll do himself a favor if he focuses on the whole picture and doesn’t play a Bush and just focus on the terrorists.

  • Tony

    Alan, I don’t doubt McCain’s knowledge of the situation- obviously way better than mine. But I think Obama should (and can, to the average voter) paint him as having the same kind of short-sightedness that has caused this mess.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Tony, I think you’re right. That’s a very viable tactic and one that would be partially if not completely closed to Clinton because she voted for the war.

  • TerenceC

    Al – I never said I disagreed with you I only implied that you were being a bit linear with your thinking. (So you are young.)It’s JMC I disagree with, your just going along with him. JMC will stay the course in Iraq because he doesn’t have the political courage to make the tough call – he never did.

    Our soldiers shouldn’t be in Iraq period. Since we have them in the area they can be moved to Afghanistan without much of a problem. They might even do some good hunting the terrorists in their lairs – which is the whole reason they are over in that part of the world – and I might add it is a NATO front. We made a colossal mistake going in there – and confusing the electorate with comments such as “if we pull out it’ll be a disaster” – “if we pull out we’ll be cut and runners”. What If we don’t listen to the experienced warmongers when they say if we pull out it will just make it worse – how do they know. I challenge any of those loud mouths to prove it. Prove that our pulling out will destabilize the region further – prove that our pulling out will invite a vacuum of terrorists. Who are these god dahmed experts and where were they before this started?

    The problems will only be solved by letting all the sides fight it out – as they have continued to do on and off since the 10th century (give or take a century). And will continue to do long after we are gone. It’s the height of arrogance to think a Christian army in the middle of Arabia (and a USA army to boot) doesn’t have some strong historical significance that invites immediate hatred from the people in the region. Frankly I can’t think of one thing more destabilizing than having an army of Christians in the middle of Arabia.

    Why is it so hard for some responsible politicians (and so many of our uninformed citizens) to admit we made a huge mistake, get the troops out, and start proceedings to have a genuine investigation to uncover all the facts? How did something like this happen? Once we uncover the facts we start charging people with crimes, once they are convicted we put them in jail.

    Getting our troops out isn’t rocket science and doesn’t require a lot of discussion, we screwed up, the whole world knows we screwed up – we have no “face” we’re going to lose, we already lost it. Stating that we need to get out with care is simply asinine – did we get in with care? I don’t see what the problem is with saving 2 $Trillion and so many lives.

  • TheMiddle

    Im a left-leaner, no doubt, but I’ll give you points. I suppose my response is this: Terrorism, has and will exist. It will exist regardless of whether we are in Iraq, It will exist whether we are in Afghanistan. It currently exists in Iran, Syria, Libya, Palentine, Lebanon, etc… If we operate on the notion that we must attack terrorism wherever it exists, we’ll be fighting a global battle against an unseen, untraceable, military.

    Now for my response. I can’t claim any actual military time, I did however study leadership and tactics at a prominent military high school in Minnesota, St. Thomas Academy, a school which holds the distinction of having sent more students to Military Academies than any other school in the nation. I’m also a huge military geek myself. With that being said:

    Terrorism is whats called asymmetrical warfare – a situation where one side changes the rules of the military game by fighting in an unconventional way in order to counter a superior military force. Nearly any 15 year old could tell you its the same philosophy that largely led to our independence. Yes, we fielded armies of the field, but we also pioneered many of the same tactics that are now being used against us. Urban warfare, hit and run, kidnapings. These are all strategies any military commander has learned about and is well versed in. The problem is that were countering that fighting force of our enemies in an awful way. Let me say this to be perfectly clear WE CANNOT DEFEAT TERRORISM WITH CONVENTION WARFARE. We could put a million troops on the ground, deploy the entire Navy, fly thousands of sorties via air and still not make a dent – it just wont work.

    We need to begin fighting fire with fire. Withdraw the majority of our conventional military forces which are simply easy targets, and expensive ones at that. Begin training CIA operatives and start making targeted killings against leadership targets. Actually utilize our special forces. Take them out of uniform and make the enemy play by their own rules – I promise we can be a helluva lot more effective at it than they can.

    Second, this notion that fighting a war in Iraq, or any far flung corner of the world for that matter, somehow makes us safer domestically is one of the most lunatic ideas I’ve ever heard. If I really wanted to I could go out today, and make a fertilizer bomb, pair with a detonator, stick it in the back of my car, and drive it into a building – like of I dont know, the Lockheed facility here in town or the Mall Of America, or the IDS tower. And it would be SIMPLE. I simply dont buy into the notion that a few well guys cant sneak into our country, and attack us (and no, tighter border regulations wont help – if a well trained, determined individual or group wants in, they’re getting in). Committing 140K troops in Iraq doesn’t defeat that, not by a long shot.

    So why not save ourselves the money, train up our own guys and begin hitting these SOB’s where they train. I promise, they’ll have more difficulty dealing with a shadow enemy they can’t find hanging out at a stationary outpost down the block. We’d do well to take heed of the Israeli military’s strategy.

    Yeah, McCain caught Barack in a tough situation here, but do either of these guys actually have a clue how to defeat terrorism? Give me a break! Barack thinks we’re better off saving the 1.2 trillion a year and investing it here – he’s right. McCain thinks a surge of 5 battalions will help – he’s wrong, it just drives us further into debt. I know he’s quick to claim, along with our President that the surge is responsible for the quelling of the violence, but top commanders there know and acknowledge it has a helluva lot more to do with the ceasefire that many of the warring parties have been adhering to. That didn’t happen because we sent another 40K troops in.

    If you’d like, I’d be happy to debate the matter with you.

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Terrence, if it makes any difference, I’m 33. I don’t take offense to being called young, I take offense to the way you used “young” which was like you were patting me on the head and saying “there, there child, you’ll grow up and understand some day.” That’s dismissive. But it’s also ancillary to the argument so we’ll leave it at that.

    I think you believe my opinion to be linear because unless you’ve been following my writings on this issue for the last three years, you’ve only got a little bit of information to go on and are conflating my opinion with others who’ve argued similar points. I’m no neo-con or lock-step Republican on this issue. I’ve just come to the conclussion that our leaving would screw things up more than our staying. There are only bad options and that’s the least bad option. I’m not interested in “saving face,” just in leaving an Iraq that won’t distabalize the region or serve as a haven for terrorists.

    Now, I can’t prove that leaving is a bad option like you ask. But I don’t know how you can prove that leaving won’t create more chaos than us staying will. It’s not the simplest of calls and we each have to base it on our one understanding of the region, it’s historical conflicts, our nation’s capabilities and, finally, our gut instinct on what is right. I appreciate that others have come to different conclusions but I’m going to keep arguing mine until I see convincing evidence (not just opinion but real evidence) that leaving would end in a better result than staying.

  • Rebecca

    Can someone explain to me what kind of result we are looking for in Iraq? Specifically when people speak of “success” in Iraq, what exactly would that be? I am fairly “young,” and my political infatuation is fairly new, so this is a genuine inquiry (not to be confused with a snarky rhetorical question.)

  • TerenceC

    TheMiddle – Nice post, and I agree with many of your points. However, I believe the violence has slowed as a result of the institutionalized ethnic cleansing that occurred over the last 3-4 years. 4 million people have moved in and around Iraq and a few million more have simply left = that equates to 20% or so of the population choosing sides with the other 80% that didn’t need to choose. “There will be blood” – I just don’t think it should be ours. This level of instability would have occurred eventually no matter what – Saddam couldn’t have lived forever and things would have come apart on their own – atleast that’s what history tells us.

    Al – it was never my intention to be condescending – it’s just when it comes to McCain I know him for the liar he is. I read an article yesterday stating that by the end of 2009 if things don’t change we will have spent $3 Trillion on that crime scene in Iraq. Part of that expense are 12 huge military installations. Why were 12 military installations built unless there is and always was a plan to stay indefinitely. Did any of us have a choice in that? It is a blatant imperialist move – it can’t be explained any other way.

    $3 Trillion is an awful lot of roads, schools, bridges, hospitals, medical care, electoral reform. I am a veteran of the 1st Gulf War, and lived and worked in the Middle East for several years in the 90’s. Middle Eastern people (Arabs by and large) are not animals – they are good people who just want to take care of their families, and live their lives in peace. For the most part they realize how Islam has been subverted, and believe the perpetrators are criminals. I believe they are too.
    Working with other nations a “police” action would, and continues to be the right move – these are criminals we are dealing with. If going after terrorists at their country of origin was the point we would have invaded Saudi Arabia. So bring the military home, it’s the wrong tool for the job. Screw the Iraqi’s, take the money we save and spend some of it on border and port security – national ID cards, and developing an International counter terrorism police force.

    I can’t help feeling that there are powers inside our government that have a vested interest in seeing the Iraqi situation continue as is. These are the Old Cold Warriors from the 80’s and early 90’s who are in charge. They are narrow of mind by and large – remember when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. If it was an international police action – all these cold warriors both in and out of government would be out of jobs – that’s what they are really afraid of, being made irrelevant. We’re in the middle of the largest bait and switch in history – and we are relying on the department store to explain the specials to us – wake up people!

  • Alan Stewart Carl

    Terrence, as a fiscal conservative, the expense of Iraq makes me sick, particularly since I think so much was clearly wasted. I would love it if we could stop draining money into the conflict but I just don’t see our withdrawal as a solution at this point. I am, however, very much in favor of non-miliatry approaches as even our generals admit there isn’t a military solution.

    Middle, I would love to debate but I am running out the door on my way out of town … there will be more posts on this, I bet, and more chances to go through the details. Quicky point, though, the ceasefire has been a huge help but there’s good reason to think it wouldn’t have occured without the troop surge scaring them into it and then enforcing it. But that’s a complex matter.

  • DJtheDJ

    I just love when a republican claims to be a fiscal conservative. Did you vote for Bush twice Alan? If so, you aren’t anything remotely resembling a fiscal conservative. How many times are you going to keep believing the big lie about balanced budgets and smaller government while they always do the exact opposite?

  • axt113

    The islamists have always gone overboard when left to their own devices and been repudiated by the people of the middle east, its only our prescense that is allowing them to maintain any support in Iraq

  • Lit3Bolt

    Alan I sympathize. You’re looking for something from this clusterfuck, and there is none. The argument that “we can’t leave, things will fall to pieces” could be carried at ad infinitum for the next 2, 5, 10, or 20 years. The thing is, what we did was exactly how imperialists behaved at the last turn of the century. But now the U.S. is an untenable position. We simply cannot bleed ourselves and fatigue our military this way. If we do withdraw, it will likely be to the north into Kurdistan. The Shi’ites and Sunnis can have it out. I’d love to hear anyone’s argument about how that petty feud is the United States’ responsibility.

    In anycase, we need to be concerned with American lives and treasure, not Iraqis anymore. So people may die when we withdraw. Boo hoo. It’s not as if we cared about all the people who died thanks to our sanctions, or all the Shi’ites who were massacred at the end of the first Gulf War, or people being systemically massacred in any other part of the world. We are isolated, with no international support and are fooling nobody by staying in Iraq. We cannot do anything for the Iraqis that we have not already done. We need to retrench and play the hedgehog for a little bit, and while we should try to salvage something from the situation, if the Iraqis want to wage a civil war against each other, that’s that. Our military might or our money will not stop that…perhaps delay it, but not stop it.

    So ultimately, we have no moral obligation to the Iraqis, and didn’t in the first place. Doing what is “morally right” in international politics would be waging war on nearly every nation for innumerable sins.

  • probligo

    what does it matter how al Qaeda got to Iraq? The real focus should be on defeating them or at least keeping them from ever organizing the kind of operations that threaten the stability of Iraq and the security of the United States.

    I think my sentiment echoes an earlier comment.

    Surely (and I would hope this to be behind Obama’s statements) it is far more important that the US does not undertake similar campaigns in the future, make the same mistakes as Iraq. Repeating the Bush approach (or was it Cheney’s, or Rove’s or whoever the puppet master?) is only going to open more doors to alQaeda.

    As an outsider, I hope most sincerely that whoever ends up as the next President is going to have enough candle to find a different approach to “fighting terrorism”. I am sorry, I can not provide the answer. I know of no-one who might.

    What is certain is that repeating Iraq in any other theatre – Islamic or not – is merely going to create another alQaeda.

    To Lit3bolt –

    “So ultimately, we have no moral obligation to the Iraqis, and didn’t in the first place. “

    So, if I come and burn your house down, kill your wife and kids, I can claim “no moral obligation” and does that imply “no legal obligation” as well?

    No, mate, your attitude absolutely stinks. You, your nation, made the decision and did the act. Take the responsibility for it. Go clean it up – even if takes the 100 years that McCain has stated.