Monday, April 7, 2008

McCain Throws Down The Iraqi Gauntlet

John McCain gave a speech this morning at the VFW National HQ in Kansas City, on the situation in Iraq, the necessity of winning in Iraq, and attacking the Democratic nominees for placing ambition over our national security and prevarication over straight talk. He clearly and appropriately threw down the gauntlet, raising all of the reasons we need to succeed in Iraq and taking Clinton and Obama to task for their "recklessness."


John McCain made a major speech on Iraq today. The highlights of the speech include:

The job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished. Iraqi forces recently battled in Basra against radical Shi'a militias, supported by Iran, a fight that showed both the progress made by the Iraqi security forces -- a year ago, they could not have carried out such operations on their own -- and the continuing need for coalition support. The situation in southern Iraq remains unsettled. There continues to be a significant flow of money and weaponry from Iran into Diyala Province, Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere in support of the Iranian-backed Special Groups, the Jaysh al Mahdi, and the Badr Organization. Sunni terrorists and insurgents continue to maintain bases in Mosul and elsewhere in Ninewah Province.

But there is no doubt about the basic reality in Iraq: we are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success. Success in Iraq is the establishment of a generally peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists. It is the advance of religious tolerance over violent radicalism. It is a level of security that allows the Iraqi authorities to govern, the average person to live a normal life, and international entities to operate. It is a situation in which the rule of law, after decades of tyranny, takes hold. It is an Iraq where Iraqi forces have the responsibility for enforcing security in their country, and where American troops can return home, with the honor of having secured their country's interests at great personal cost, and helping another people achieve peace and self-determination.

Today these goals are within reach. . . .

But the question for the next President is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it. Our most vital security interests are at stake in Iraq. The stability of the entire Middle East, that volatile and critically important region, is at stake. The United States' credibility as a moral and political leader is at stake. How to safeguard those interests is what we should be debating.

There are those who today argue for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq. Some would withdraw regardless of the consequences. Others say that we can withdraw now and then return if trouble starts again. What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say, is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately. Our allies, Arab countries, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves will not step up to their responsibilities if we recklessly retreat. I can hardly imagine a more imprudent and dangerous course.

. . . Should the United States withdraw from Iraq before that level of security is established those goals will be infinitely harder if not impossible to attain. Al Qaeda in Iraq will proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke sectarian tensions in Iraq into a full scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East. Iraq would be a failed state that could become a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations. Iran's influence in Iraq -- especially southern Iraq -- and throughout the region would increase substantially and encourage other countries to seek accommodation with Tehran at the expense of our interests. These likely consequences of America's failure in Iraq would, almost certainly, require us to return to Iraq or draw us into a wider and far costlier war.

The American people deserve the truth from their leaders. They deserve a candid assessment of the progress we have managed to make in the last year in preventing the worst from happening in Iraq, of the very serious difficulties that remain, and of the grave consequences of a hasty, reckless, and irresponsible withdrawal. . . . That honesty is my responsibility, and it is also the responsibility of Senators Obama and Clinton, as well as Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress. Doing the right thing in the heat of a political campaign is not always the easiest thing. But when 4000 Americans have given their lives so that America does not suffer the worst consequences of our failure in Iraq, it is a necessary thing. In such a grave matter, we must put the nation's interests before our own ambitions.

. . . I do not believe that anyone should make promises as a candidate for President that they cannot keep if elected. To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.

I know the pain war causes. I understand the frustration caused by our mistakes in this war. And I regret sincerely the additional sacrifices imposed on the brave Americans who defend us. But I also know the toll a lost war takes on an army and on our country's security. By giving General Petraeus and the men and women he has the honor to command the time and support necessary to succeed in Iraq we have before us a hard road. But it is the right road. It is necessary and just. Those who disregard the unmistakable progress we have made in the last year and the terrible consequences that would ensue were we to abandon our responsibilities in Iraq have chosen another road. It may appear to be the easier course of action, but it is a much more reckless one, and it does them no credit even if it gives them an advantage in the next election.

We all respect the sacrifices made by our soldiers. We all mourn the losses they have suffered in this war. But let us honor them by doing all we can to ensure their sacrifices were not made in vain. Let us show an appropriate humility by recognizing that so little is asked of us compared to the burdens we imposed on them, and let us show just a small, but significant measure of their courage, resolve and patriotism by putting our country's interests before every personal or political consideration.
War is a terrible thing. You know that better than most; you who have borne the heartache and deprivations of war so that our country might be secure in its freedom. I hold my position on Iraq not because I am indifferent to the suffering caused by this war but because I detest war, and believe sincerely that should we fail in Iraq we will face an even sterner test in the very near future, an even harder war, with even greater sacrifice and heartbreaking loss than we have suffered over the last five years. . . .

The full text of the speech is here. This is clearly McCain's first real opening salvo against Obama, Clinton and the anti-war crowd on the issue of Iraq and our national security. The costs of a Vietnamesque withdraw from Iraq portend to be severe indeed, and McCain has done a good job of spelling them out.

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