Monday, September 08, 2008

Another national security election?

These numbers from the USA Today/Gallup poll (as relayed by the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza) gave me a really sick feeling:
McCain has a ten-point edge on which of the two nominees is better equipped to handle the situation in Iraq and a 17-point bulge on terrorism.
That's the way it was with Kerry-Bush, too. Why does a candidate who was talking about invading Iraq days after 9/11, who promised Iraq would be a cakewalk, who said that we could invade with less than 100,000 troops, who thought we were doing just fine in Afghanistan three years ago, who has been the chief cheerleader for Georgia's reckless Mikheil Saakashvili, who advocated risking all-out war with North Korean in 1999 and 2002, who holds out the fantasy that the U.S. can cut the emerging powers out of world decision-making with a U.S.-dominated League of Democracies, and who chose a running mate who has never concerned herself with foreign policy issues in any position or forum get high marks on national security?

To be fair, McCain was right about the surge, and voters may feel that Iraq may come unglued if the U.S. pulls out too quickly. Then there's the eternal credit McCain gets for his combat and POW experience. Voters are right to credit this; having been tested under fire and torture is a powerful qualification for the highest-pressure office on earth. But it's not dispositive: a leader needs courage, but judgment too. And McCain's foreign policy prescriptions since at least 1999 have been hair-trigger, ill-informed and ham-handed. He's recommended giving Taiwan a nuclear shield, blockading North Korea, bombing Iran (is a jest about such matters really a jest?). He's been Chalabi's dupe, Saakashvili's enabler, and Russia's perceived public enemy #1.

The Dem mantra this year has been "it's the economy, stupid" squared. Post-9/11, despite appearances, I suspect that won't fly. Obama will have to convince voters, probably in the debates, that he is has the steadier hand and superior strategic mind on matters of foreign policy and national security. It's true -- will that help?

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