Saturday, July 26, 2008

Judge their judgment before Iraq war started

Washington Post Writers Group

BOSTON | Is it any wonder that John McCain was feeling a tad neglected? There was Barack Obama on a nine-day trip through eight countries with three network anchors, and all John got was a lousy T-shirt. Or to be more exact, all he got was a ride in George H.W. Bush’s golf cart and a rejection slip from The New York Times’ op-ed editor.

Even McCain’s inner circle began to get snarky. They keep referring to Obama as “The One” and complain that the maverick boytoy McCain has been replaced in the media’s heart by a new trophy wife named Barack. The straight talker’s Web site even posted a video of “The Media is in Love,” a montage of fawning sound bites against a soundtrack of Frankie Valli singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Frankie’s “Eyes” was a No. 2 hit in 1967, a year when Obama was 6. But it wasn’t just Frankie Valli that makes me think the Republican is locked into a 40-year-old time frame. It’s the debate about Iraq itself.

Gary Hart once said, “In a way, John is refighting the Vietnam War.” For a long time, the former prisoner of war has thought that it should have, could have had a different ending. Americans lost the war because they lost their will. He’s thought more about the sorry last chapter of that war than its foolish beginning.

So, too, his attention on Iraq has been less on the war’s origin than on some undefined victorious conclusion. McCain jumped the shark when he accused Obama of wanting to win an election even if it meant losing a war. But even before that intemperate charge, he said something equally damning: “The fact is, if we had done what Senator Obama wanted to do, we would have lost.”

McCain starts the historical clock running after the invasion and even after the surge. For all his complaints about the media, he’s been able to focus the Iraq debate on the surge’s success. He has said repeatedly: “I’m proud that I was right. That’s what judgment is about. That’s why I’m qualified to lead.”

But what if “we had done what Obama wanted to do” in 2002, when he was a lowly state senator and an opponent of invasion? We wouldn’t have roared into this disaster. What if we dated judgment to the prewar days? Is McCain still proud that he was right?

The current president has never admitted that we invaded Iraq on false premises or phony pre-emptives or fictitious weapons of mass destruction. President Bush will breeze home to Texas without a modicum of guilt. Do we want another president like that?

Let’s go back to a McCain op-ed that did run in The New York Times before the invasion: “Only an obdurate refusal to face unpleasant facts ... could allow one to believe that we have rushed to war.”

In the recent, rejected op-ed, McCain said that by advocating timetables for withdrawal, Obama was “emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner prematurely.” Dear John: Wasn’t the “worst mistake of the Bush administration” launching the invasion at all?

Americans are in a $10 billion-a-month war with more than 4,000 dead and 30,000 wounded. We’ve watched the current president deny and deny that he was wrong in invading Iraq.

If there’s a bottom-line, rock-solid qualification for being the next president, it’s a candidate who acknowledges just how badly we were misled. So far, Obama’s The (Only) One.

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