In essence, I think John McCain has the right attitude to the surge at this time. He made the following points on MTP which I agree with (this is from memory):
- General Petraeus has a genuinely new plan for Iraq which insists on gaining control over Bagdad and Anbar province
- General Casey's previous plan of slowly transferring control to Iraqi forces was ill conceived from the beginning and has been failing for over a year now
- Bush deserves a lot of critisism for not realizing that Casey's plan was failing earlier and taking steps to correct it
- General Petraeus has very solid credentials for this type of warfare (among other things, he helped oversee the military's new manual on counterinsurgency) and expert military opinion think his plan has a significant chance of success
- Anyone who opposes the "surge" should advocate a clear alternative strategy, which most Democrats don't seem to be doing
The clear alternatives I've seen so fare are
- withdraw ASAP, leaving it to the military to decide if that takes 1 month or 6 (cut and run),
- withdraw from central Iraq but stay in the periphery (like Iraqi Kurdistan) and intervene with airpower if the civil war killing gets too much out of hand (humanitarian containment), or
- use a new military strategy and more force to try to turn things around (surge).
(It pains me to say that because I deeply dislike Bush and in some ways I want him to fail so badly that there won't be another president like him for a thousand years. But his popularity is spiralling down so fast these days that hopefully the country will have learned a lesson even if Petraeus manages to turn things around in Iraq. At the end of the day I just can't morally justify a strategy that will inevitably lead to hundreds of thousands dead Iraqis in a prolonged civil war brought on by the United States.)
Now, having said all that I also want to clarify that I don't particularily like John McCain as a presedential candidate just because I think his opinion on the surge is a sensible one. In fact, I agree with the liberal blogosphere consensus view that McCain's flip-flopping on all sorts of issues in order to pander to various right-wingers is extremely pathetic. On MTP he remarked that he had disagreed with Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq for a long time (I forget the exact wording he used). Surprisingly he even pointed out that the failures of the war had been comprehensively chronicled in books like Fiasco and Cobra II. But I wish Russert had asked him about this quote from his 2004 Republican convention speech in August 2004:
Most importantly, our efforts may encourage the people of a region that has never known peace or freedom or lasting stability that they may someday possess these rights. I believe as strongly today as ever, the mission was necessary, achievable and noble. For his determination to undertake it, and for his unflagging resolve to see it through to a just end, President Bush deserves not only our support, but our admiration.No doubt McCain's answer would have been some version of "at the time I didn't know how badly handled the war was going to be". But that's a poor excuse. I'm just a lowly software developer but even I caught the "Blind Into Baghdad" article by James Fallows in February 2004 which detailed most of the early failures of the Iraq war.
The truth is, of course, that McCain knew full well in August 2004 that Bush had botched the post-war phase of the Iraq invasion. But he knew that his chances in 2008 would be shot to hell if he didn't support a then-popular Republican president. McCain may be wiser than most Washington politicians when it comes to foreign policy, but a man of integrity he is not.
UPDATE: I'm open to the possibility that this Sullivan reader may be right in his assumption that the "surge" or "plus up" is simply an attempt by Bush to kick the bucket down the road to the next president. But if those are the grounds on which the Congressional Democrats base their opposition then they should say so. Right now (imho) they just look like they're opposing the surge simply because it has Bush's name on it, while scrambling to come up with a justification. This other Sullivan reader sums up the Congressional cowardice well (although unlike him I would never endorse anything done by Hugh Hewitt).
UPDATE II: David Brooks argues (subscription only) in the Sunday NY Times for a Bosnia-style partitioning in Iraq. He has some good points.