mccain_wow.thumbnail.jpgTPM’s Greg Sargent [corrected] is correct that most of "the national press is basically giving McCain a pass on the McCain campaign’s double-talk about Obama’s patriotism." McCain is not just questioning Obama’s patriotism; he’s lying about it.

But the national media are also giving McCain a free pass on McCain’s argument that his judgment in advocating the Iraq surge has been vindicated. This is the piece our media doesn’t get, even though the evidence is staring at them in the headlines.

McCain’s intellectual slight of hand has two parts. The first, which only a few in the media see, is that McCain wants the clock for measuring Iraq "judgment" to begin in late 2006 - early 2007, when he advocated inserting tens of thousands more troops into Iraq. He’s free to claim that additional troops helped pacify parts of Iraq; others argue that the more important factors were al-Sadr’s decision to stand down, the pre-surge Sunni "Awakening" (now in danger), the claim that ethnic cleansing was completed and other causes. But McCain cannot honestly argue that his original insistence on connecting Iraq to 9/11 and his belligerent, fact-free advocacy of starting wars with Iraq, Syria and Iran in the weeks and months after 9/11, were not signs of extremely poor judgment; these shoot from the hip, hot-headed reactions should be disqualifying.

Second, McCain always discusses the Iraq surge in isolation, as though it had no consequences for other US strategic interests. He justifies this policy-by-blinders approach by arguing that because al Qaeda wanted the US bogged down in Iraq — and thus declared Iraq important — that Iraq was thus the central front on the "war on terror." Aside from the illogic of allowing your enemy to define your battle space, every US intelligence report in recent years has said, as Obama has said and repeated to the VFW, that the core problem is in Afghanistan/Pakistan.

McCain’s narrow Iraq focus had consequences, huge consequences, and they have been blaring in the headlines for months (in Afghanistan and Pakistan) and weeks (in Georgia). Because of people like McCain, the US has been bogged down in the wrong country, fighting the wrong war and making it impossible for the US to respond effectively anywhere else.

The consequences of this distraction can be seen in our tragic inability to defend our own and NATO allies’ troops in Afghanistan or prevent the collapse of US policy in Pakistan. It is a contributing factor to the US and NATO’s inability to respond effectively in Georgia. The Russians know we can’t defend Georgia; we can’t even shore up our threatened forces in Afghanistan until December.

Instead of beginning a path of disentanglement, the surge had severe consequences for US strategic interests that should be laid squarely at John McCain’s feet. And they’re not trivial. Afghanistan is faced with encirclement from a resurgent Taliban; our Pakistan policy, so dependent on an unpopular dictator instead of adequate US/NATO forces, lies in ruins. And the Russians are still ravaging Georgia and hauling away US military equipment, taunting the US and NATO as they do. When we most need moral credibility against unilateral invasions, we have none.

The media have fallen for a false description of what a President is supposed to do. They’ve bought the ridiculous line that a President’s main job is to be Commander in Chief, so we should be asking who’s the most aggressive warrior. But that’s dangerously false.

The Constitution made the civilian President the Commander in Chief of the armed forces to ensure civilian control of the military, and to ensure that America’s strategic interests would be properly weighed by civilian authorities, including Congress, in making decisions about war and peace. The Founders wanted to prevent strictly military thinking from dragging us into wars we didn’t need to fight.

Our media doesn’t seem to understand this vital American principle. We should measure a person’s qualifications for President not on how they’d command an army — we have generals for that — but in how they make the strategic choices about when, if ever, and where, if anywhere, the armed forces of the US should become engaged. That’s where McCain has failed, miserably, but our confused media doesn’t get it.