March 26, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: The Real Fight Begins

As soon as Hillary Clinton ends the charade that is paralyzing the Democratic Party in America, voters can begin weighing the respective foreign policies of John McCain and Barack Obama. Yesterday we linked to Anatol Lieven's criticism of a potential McCain presidency. Today we link to a speech McCain himself delivered, today, in Los Angeles on his foreign policy vision. He begins powerfully:

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed. I rarely saw him again for four years. My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home to the country they loved so well. I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation's finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.

Whew. Stirring words from an honorable man. But as Abu Muqawama read the rest, he was left wondering about the specifics. How will McCain balance the competition for resources between the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan? What does "victory" or "the end" look like in Iraq? (McCain's victory rhetoric, by the way, really scares Abu Muqawama because he has no idea what the hell he's talking about. Define victory.) McCain talks about the need to face our challenges with more than military might, but how would he re-arrange the inter-agency process to make other departments more expeditionary? What does "the comprehensive approach" mean to him?

Ghosts of Alexander has helpfully pieced together the Afghanistan strategies for all the candidates. Here's the Obama strategy. Here's the McCain strategy. No one is paying as much attention to the Afghanistan plans as they are the plans for Iraq, but Abu Muqawama thinks these respective strategies offer an insight into the nuts and bolts of what each candidate might do as president in both theaters.

McCain may claim, with some justification, that his Iraq plan is more responsible than those of his adversaries. But you guys may have guessed that Abu Muqawama has long since quit evaluating plans for Iraq and Afghanistan separately from one another. The missions are different, but it's a zero-sum game. The resources available to each mission are finite and are drawn from the same pot. McCain seems to throw all our military resources into Iraq while putting pressure on NATO to devote more troops to Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama does not see that happening in numbers to make a real difference -- no matter the news about 1,000 more French deploying there (Le Monde; Guardian). Our words alone -- and threats about the long-term health of the NATO alliance -- are only going to have so much of an effect. Thus, McCain's Afghanistan plan does not strike Abu Muqawama as realistic or responsible.

Obama's Iraq plan, meanwhile, is perhaps best encapsulated in Samantha Power's infamous Kinsley Gaffe, which is what happens when a politician accidentally tells the truth. To the BBC, she said:

[the senator] will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator... What he's actually said, after meeting with the generals and meeting with intelligence professionals, is that you -- at best case scenario -- will be able to withdraw one to two combat brigades each month.

Now this strikes Abu Muqawama as responsible and, to him, smells of a gradual withdrawal that lets brigades deploy to Afghanistan as they are pulled out of Iraq, situation-dependent. Obama's pledge to deploy two more brigades (7,000 troops) to Afghanistan is a good one, and that kind of leadership by example might encourage more NATO troops to deploy -- if they think the Americans are going to launch an Iraq-style surge in Afghanistan under competent Petraeus-style leadership. We have never, sadly, really tried to win in Afghanistan. If we did, the NATO member states might get in line and help out. As it stands, though, Abu Muqawama understands why they are losing faith in the mission.

So Abu Muqawama has revealed his cards to a big extent, gang. He thinks that if you take McCain's Iraq strategy and put it against Obama's, McCain's looks more responsible. (Just, and only because of the MoveOn rhetoric that has seeped into the Obama campaign.) But if you combine the two campaigns' plans for both Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama's is the more responsible and realistic plan. Abu Muqawama is now bracing himself for hate mail from angry readers telling him he has sold out and gone all partisan. Bomb away in the comments section if you must.

The Math (on scales of ten):

Obama's Iraq Plan: 4
Obama's Afghanistan Plan: 7

McCain's Iraq Plan: 6
McCain's Afghanistan Plan: 2

Combined Score
Obama: 11/20
McCain: 8/20