Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I Will (Probably) Vote for McCain

Last week I gave my reasons why I won't vote for Barack Obama in November. Today I'd like to explain why I probably will vote for John McCain.

I should say first that McCain's campaign has been desultory and disappointing. He seems unfocussed, unable to articulate his positions and unwilling to differentiate himself clearly from his rival. Like Obama, he has been, until the primaries, pretty much of an open borders/amnesty guy. He says things that cause me to shake my head in puzzlement. The Democrats have never won the White House with a candidate of the left, and yet they appear poised to do so this year. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton ran as moderates. George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry, all left-wingers, all lost. Obama might have been already out of the running had the GOP been able to find a principled, articulate conservative to run against him. As it is we have John McCain who seems intent on playing General Custer to Obama's Sitting Bull.

Nevertheless, despite his inadequacies as a campaigner, McCain can be relied upon to do what needs to be done to prevail in the Middle East, and he will probably also expand domestic oil supplies. He's much more likely than Obama to follow through on his new-found commitment to border security and appoint judges who believe their role is to interpret the law rather than make it. He's a deficit hawk who will oppose unnecessary spending and the boondoggle earmarks which are attached to so much legislation. He has also vowed to keep the Bush tax cuts in place which will help a struggling economy. He has throughout his career been reliably pro-life and has certainly demonstrated personal toughness and courage, especially during his five years as a POW.

All of this makes him a more qualified candidate than his opponent, who, by any measure, has no qualifications for the office whatsoever other than a personal afflatus that many find endearing.

I have qualified my claim to vote for McCain with the word "probably" because though he seems to be better than Obama on most important issues, one can't be sure how committed he is to some of them since he has arrived late to the need for off-shore drilling, secure borders, and low tax rates.

Even so, at this stage of the game there's no other plausible choice in the race, nor is there likely to be. Libertarian Bob Barr is a good man who I wish was still in Congress, but he has no chance of gaining sufficient name recognition by November to be a contender. He could, though, cost McCain the election by taking votes in close states that would otherwise go to McCain, just as Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000 by pulling several hundred votes away from him in Florida, and Ross Perot may have cost George Bush, Sr. the election in 1992. For this reason, I will cast a protest vote for Barr only if election-day polls show a lop-sided Obama victory pending in Pennsylvania where I vote.

Otherwise, I will pull the lever for John McCain with the same diminished enthusiasm I had for Bob Dole in 1996. Unfortunately, McCain's candidacy seems in many respects to be a reprise of that ill-fated venture. You'd think the Republicans would have learned from the Dole experience not to run an aging war veteran with few deep ideological commitments against a young, charismatic charmer who's able to mask his leftism behind a smokescreen of seductive speeches. Time will tell whether this time things work out differently.


Obama on Iraq

Senator Barack Obama lays out his thinking on Iraq in a column in the New York Times, but I don't think he succeeds in clearing up the questions that surround his position. He writes that:

The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep....I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president.

What does this mean to people who read it? McCain would also end the war if he could. So would Bush. The question is what are the deep differences in how and when Obama would end it. If there really are significant differences then to end the war can only mean that he will quit fighting and start an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. If this is not what he's prepared to do then his plan is essentially the Bush/McCain policy of staying in Iraq until it's stable and able to fend for itself.

Obama assures us that, as president, he will have most of our troops out of Iraq in two years. Unless he can't. But what would prevent him? Conditions on the ground, says he, but then how is this any different than saying that he'll take as long as he needs to get the job done?

Obama is trying to pull off a bit of rhetorical legerdemain. He says he'll end the war, and the left hears him say that the shooting will stop as soon as he's president. Then he says he'll listen to the generals, and the moderates hear him say that he'll not surrender or retreat until Iraq is stable. So, while winking at his anti-war base he actually adopts, for all practical purposes, the Bush/McCain position.

Besides, as we noted before, to get the troops out in the 16 months he has promised they'll have to leave behind all their equipment. That's simply not going to happen.

Obama admits in his column that the surge has worked, but even so:

[T]he same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we've spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq's leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.

None of these are good reasons to leave. They're reasons for ratcheting up the pressure on the Maliki government, perhaps, and for getting more international help in Afghanistan, but not for abandoning Iraq before it's capable of standing on its own.

The Senator thinks we could leave the Iraqis to their own devices and "protect their stability by diplomatic negotiations". Well, perhaps we could persuade Kuwait not to invade Iraq and seize their southern oil fields, but I doubt diplomatic negotiations with no threat of real force would do much to persuade Iran and Syria, not to mention al Qaeda. Obama is terribly naive if he thinks that people can just be talked into doing what he wants.

But here's the fine print. He admits that he's not going to end the war. He's only going to end the fighting in the Iraq theater:

Ending the war [in Iraq] is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won't have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.

So Barack is not going to end American involvement abroad. He's not going to end military operations. He's just going to end them in Iraq, for reasons hard to make sense of, and move those operations to Afghanistan. He's going to send at least two brigades (minus their equipment, remember)to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

So where are the "deep differences"? His difference with McCain is simply one of tactics. McCain wants to hang on in Iraq until the Iraqis can defend themselves and then move troops to Afghanistan. Obama wants to abandon Iraq and transfer the troops to Afghanistan now where they'll still be fighting Islamic extremists.

It all makes me wonder why anti-war people continue to support Obama. Do they not think he really means what he's saying? Are they hoping that he's lying about going to Afghanistan? Do they agree with him that there's some significant difference between fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq? What principles guide their opposition to the war, and where does Obama really stand on all this?


PA Turning Purple

Suddenly Pennsylvania, which had been a pretty solidly blue state, has been put in play and Barack Obama has no one else to thank for this blow to his campaign than his fellow Democrats in the Pennsylvania state legislature. Twelve of them are now under indictment, two high ranking elected officials and ten staffers, for using millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to pay for political work and personal benefits.

Among the most egregious of their offenses was the practice of rewarding staffers with bonuses for doing work in political campaigns. The bonuses were paid with public funds and some of the staffers, whose salaries were paid by the taxpayer, did nothing but political fundraising and other campaign work in their offices in Harrisburg.

The Philadelphia Inmquirer notes:

[The bonuses] helped trigger the investigation, which has centered on Democrats because of the sheer dollar amount of the bonuses.

At the end of 2006, after winning back control of the lower chamber, House Democrats gave nearly $1.9 million in bonuses to 717 aides - more than the other three caucuses combined.

House Democrats, according to the charges, had the bonuses down to a science. House aides, at the request of Veon and Manzo, created a grading system for rewarding staffers who had done political work. The grades: "OK," "good," and "rock star." Depending on the grade, aides got anywhere from $250 to $25,000.

By 2006, the system of bonuses for political work was so ingrained that finding aides for campaigns was a cinch, the charges state.

The investigation is continuing and perhaps hundreds more Democratic staffers and elected officials may be implicated before it's all over. The Democrats are almost sure to suffer a backlash in November from Pennsylvanians who are already outraged that the legislature voted themselves a pay raise two years ago in the dead of night. The only question is how severe the backlash will be. There is also the possibility that some Republicans might also be charged in the investigation, thus blunting voter anger against the Democrats.

If this turns out to be a purely, or mostly, Democratic scandal, however, Obama may well lose Pennsylvania in November.


Logistical Nightmare

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air writes that Senator Obama's plan as outlined on his website for a withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months is a logistical impossibility and that the Senator is telling us something important about his lack of understanding of matters military by proposing it. Citing this ABC News report Morrissey writes:

This is the kind of information that policy makers usually get before formulating policy. We can rotate troops out of Iraq on the kind of timetable Obama suggests, but we'd have to leave all of our heavy equipment in Iraq. Unless Obama plans some kind of nationwide garage sale, that would be a rather large loss for the American military in material as well as making our exit look more like Dunkirk.

Obviously, Obama didn't have any awareness of logistics when he made this proposal - and that's the point. His lack of experience, combined with a hubris that he has consistently shown on the campaign trail, makes clear that he is in way over his head at this point of his career. He has no sense of military policy at all, and got the biggest call of the war - the surge - completely wrong. Yet he insists that he's ready to lead this nation's military during a time of war as Commander in Chief?

The troops in the field have strong feelings about premature withdrawal under any circumstances. As one soldier put it, pointing to his bulletproof vest, he doesn't want his children having to wear the same gear in Iraq in 30 years because we (once again) bugged out before the job was finished. When Obama visits Iraq this summer, he will undoubtedly hear plenty of that sentiment - but they will also include a primer on logistics that Obama should have requested long before he started making promises about the pace of withdrawal.

Here's a video of the ABC News reporter on Good Morning America:

Morrissey concludes by asking that if casualties in Iraq have dropped to effectively zero by the time Barack takes office what would be the hurry?

Good question. Here's mine: When the anti-war folks realize that many of the combat brigades that will leave Iraq are going to be redeployed to Afghanistan are they still going to insist that they should be pulled out of Iraq? Haven't many of those who have opposed the Iraq venture been saying all along that we should be in Afghanistan hunting down Osama bin Laden? It'll be interesting to see what they have to say once it appears that their words will be heeded.