One of the criticisms of Obama’s Afghan plan is that he announced a target withdrawal date. To his critics, that commitment to withdrawal (although it seems like a loose commitment) gives the Taliban strength by telling them they only need to wait it out for a couple of years. John McCain said “The way you win wars is to break the will of the enemy, not announce when you are leaving.” I don’t want to completely reject this view, because the tribes in Afghanistan have historically taken the long view, and 2 years is not long. But on the other hand, it’s not as if staying longer will necessarily help.
McCain views this as a traditional war, which it’s not. Al Qaeda and the extreme Taliban are religious nutjobs; we will never break their will, no matter what we do. But we can turn the moderate Taliban, and we can give the Taliban limited room to operate, by getting the average Afghan (Gul the Plumber?) on our side. And the best way to get them on our side? Give them security and then get the hell out of their country. Get their government to step up and provide services. A surge with a limit is a good way to do those things. It provides some security, it tells the Afghan government that it needs to get its act together, and it tells a people who hate occupiers that we don’t plan to occupy them. The marginalization of the Taliban that should come from all this will, I think, outweigh any psychic benefit that the hard core Taliban will get from an announced withdrawal.
The McCain-Palin campaign, and Republicans in general, keep attacking “elites.” What’s so terrible about being elite? When the US military has a difficult assignment, who does it send? Its elite commando teams, the SEALs and the Green Berets. If you want to win a gold medal, who do you send? An elite athlete like Michael Phelps. If you have a heart problem, what doctor do you want? An elite cardiologist.
For doing difficult things, we generally want the best prepared person we can get. After all, you wouldn’t get on an airplane piloted by someone who had barely gotten through flight school. But when it comes to the presidential election, the contest for possibly the hardest job in the world, suddenly the approach gets reversed. Advanced training and cerebral approaches are eschewed in favor of plain speakin’ and gut instinct.
I’m not saying you have to go to fancy schools in order to be a good president. George W. Bush went to two of the fanciest, and he’s pretty well cheesed things up. But neither should prestigious degrees or eloquent speech preclude one from being elected. There is nothing inherently bad about being elite, nor inherently good about being average. That being said, I don’t want Joe the Plumber running this country, although I want my president to remember who Joe the Plumber is. Or as Jon Meacham put it, “Do we want leaders who are everyday folks, or do we want leaders who understand everyday folks?”
Why? Because they lie and/or refuse to answer questions.
Example one: McCain’s senior advisor Steve Schmidt was quoted in today Wall Street Journal about whether Sarah Palin had been fully vetted:
This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States.
That is nonsense, a blatant lie. Wondering how a presidential candidate made a giant decision (his choice of a VP) is a totally legitimate line of questioning. Even if you support McCain and Palin, you might wonder “did he really know everything? Did he rush into that pick?” To claim that it’s a “faux media scandal” is ridiculous. That is what journalists are supposed to do: ask tough questions.
Example two: this clip from CNN, which has gotten a fair amount of buzz. In it, CNN’s Campbell Brown asks McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds some simple and legitimate questions about Sarah Palin. He ducks and weaves, refusing to answer the questions, and then attacks the journalist for “belittling” Palin. Avoiding questions and sliming people makes the average voter completely tune out these spinmeisters.