Eighteen months ago, America faced a crisis as profound as any in our history. Iraq was in flames, torn apart by violence that was escaping our control. Al Qaeda was succeeding in what Osama bin Laden called the central front in their war against us. The mullahs in Iran waited for America's humiliation in Iraq, and the resulting increase in their influence. Thousands of Iraqis died violently every month. American casualties were mounting. We were on the brink of a disastrous defeat just a little more than five years after the attacks of September 11, and America faced a profound choice. Would we accept defeat and leave Iraq and our strategic position in the Middle East in ruins, risking a wider war in the near future? Or would we summon our resolve, deploy additional forces, and change our failed strategy? Senator Obama and I also faced a decision, which amounted to a real-time test for a future commander-in-chief. America passed that test. I believe my judgment passed that test. And I believe Senator Obama's failed.
Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn't just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better.
By November 2007, the success of the surge was becoming apparent. Attacks on Coalition forces had dropped almost 60 percent from pre-surge levels. American casualties had fallen by more than half. Iraqi civilian deaths had fallen by more than two-thirds. But Senator Obama ignored the new and encouraging reality. "Not only have we not seen improvements," he said, "but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there."
If Senator Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi Army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically. Al Qaeda would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the "Sunni Awakening" would have been strangled at birth. Al Qaeda fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners, and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely.
Senator Obama told the American people what he thought you wanted to hear. I told you the truth. From the early days of this war, I feared the administration was pursuing a mistaken strategy, and I said so. I went to Iraq many times, and heard all the phony explanations about how we were winning. I knew we were failing, and I told that to an administration that did not want to hear it. I pushed for the strategy that is now succeeding before most people even admitted that there was a problem.
Because of the choice we made and all the surge has accomplished, the time will soon come when our troops can come home. But we face another choice today. We can withdraw when we have secured the peace and the gains we have sacrificed so much to achieve are safe. Or we can follow Senator Obama's unconditional withdrawal and risk losing the peace even if that results in spreading violence and a third Iraq war. Senator Obama has suggested he would consider sending troops back if that happened. When I bring them home in victory and with honor, they are staying home.
Senator Obama might dismiss defeat in Iraq as the current President's problem. But presidents don't lose wars. Nations do. And presidents don't fight wars. You do, the men and women of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. The sacrifices you've made deserve to be memorialized in something more lasting than bronze or in the fleeting effect of a politician's speeches. Your valor and devotion have earned your country's abiding concern for your welfare. When our government forgets our debts to you, it is a stain upon America's honor. The Walter Reed scandal recalled not just the government but the people who elect it, to our responsibilities to those who risk life and limb to meet their responsibilities to us.
Here are my impressions. McCain insists on living in the past. It is a good place for him. He was right about a surge that he supported when no one else would. Barack Obama was wrong about a policy that he opposed when everyone else also opposed it. This is not something that McCain can let the voters forget. Yet, on many levels it is also irrelevant. McCain needs to pivot away from the past and focus on the future. Here is how Dick Morris explains it.
McCain needs to hammer at one basic theme: that Obama’s pullout plan will lead to a third Iraq war. The Democrat wants to keep substantial numbers of troops next door, to go back into Iraq if necessary. McCain should stress that a premature withdrawal will lead to a collapse - losing the hard-won stability in Iraq, opening the door to an Iranian takeover and al Qaeda revival, and potentially forcing a new US invasion.
Obama isn’t a peace candidate, McCain can say - just an advocate of a deferred war. Just as the first President George Bush left the ingredients in place for a second war when he failed to depose Saddam Hussein in 1991, so Obama will fail to finish the job and invite yet another war if he abandons Iraq before our gains have been consolidated.
In my opinion, Morris is dead on. There is a way for McCain to tie in Obama's lack of judgment on the surge to his current lack of judgment in advocating fixed timelines that disregard the events on the ground. Now, McCain touched upon this however he spent a couple paragraphs on Obama's timetable plan and nearly two thirds of the speech excoriating his opposition to the surge. I think those things need to be reversed. What McCain needs to hammer home is that a withdrawal prior to events allowing it will immediately spin the country from stability to chaos. It will force a choice, either watch a genocide or send in massive force to settle things down. It will force, as Morris points out, a third Iraq war. It will turn the anti war candidate into the pro war candidate. Yet, that isn't going to happen if McCain spends his entire time pointing out that he was right about the surge and Obama was wrong.