For John McCain, dealing with the Iraq war issue is understandably tricky. McCain has declared he is willing to keep troops in Iraq "a hundred years" and has been clearly in favor of the policy of attacking the country. Here's how he untangles the issue in three* points (this is a summary of his position, not a direct quote):
1. The problem was not the invasion, it was the "Rumsfled" way of handling the occupation, which I criticized.
2. The surge has been working, and I supported that.
3.We shouldn't get involved in many military adventures, but it is best to go all in. It is best if the president simply allows military commanders (such as David Petraeus) to do their thing, and the presidents job is providing them with what they ask for. The lesson of Johnson and McNarmara was that politicians and civilians should not not micromanage the military.
I take issue with all of these.
1.It was folly to invade in the first place. This, McCain fails to recognize.
Following the invasion, the occupation was a disgrace and a disaster. However, McCain was hardly the staunch critic of the policy that he portrays himself as. His criticisms of Rumsfeld were muted until the Defense Secretary was thoroughly discredited (I'll post more on this later). It should be noted that criticizing Rumsfeld by name is a way of giving Bush a free pass, even though the responsibility for this sort of failure ultimately lies with the President, not the Secretary of Defense. If one criticizes Rumsfeld, one should criticize Bush. The sign on Harry Truman's desk said "the buck stops here". As much as Bush and McCain don't like this idea, the president bears the ultimate responsibility for failures of his administration.
2. The success of the surge is mainly illusionary. The appearance of success in Iraq is partly due to the fact we are now working with Sunni tribes in Al Anbar. These tribes by the way, are preparing for the fight against the Shi'ite government. Another reason is that Baghdad has been largely ethnically cleansed, so their is less fighting.
Once we end surge, and we will have to eventually, you will see just how chimerical progress actually has been.
3. Georges Clemenceau said war is too important to be left to the generals.
When a politician such as John McCain say he intends to leave war to the generals, it's not a good thing. The point of a president is not to simply supply a commander with what he says he needs. What if you have two commanders who both claim to need resources and you are unable to supply both? This is not a hypothetical , considering that resources have been pulled of
Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden and dedicated to Iraq. Say that he will give Petraeus what he needs only abdicates the strategic role a president necessarily plays. Worse, it risks the usurpation of civilian control of the military.
*Typo: I originally said four points, but I meant to say just three.