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A Surge of Support For War in GOP Debate


In last night's GOP debates, the party's presidential candidates outstripped President Bush in their enthusiasm for the surge. (Reuters).

President Bush has regularly been criticized for presenting a rose-colored view of events in Iraq. But compared to some of the candidates running to succeed him, he looks like a downright pessimist.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) made last night's Republican presidential debate a contest in who could be more unequivocal in declaring victory for the president's "surge" in Iraq, with each of them going further even than Bush. During his visit to Iraq this week, Bush was careful to tout what he saw as "progress" and "some security success" while also stressing what has not succeeded. No such nuance on stage last night.

A day after the Governmental Accountability Office reported that only three of 18 political and security benchmarks have been met, Romney declared flatly that "the surge is apparently working" with no mention of unfulfilled goals. He quickly added the caveat that Gen. David H. Petraeus has not yet delivered his assessment to Congress, but then said that "if the surge is working, then we're going to be able to start bringing back our troop levels, slowly but surely, and play more of a support role over time." Just in case the message was cloudy, he added one more time, "The surge has worked."

McCain, the most ardent war supporter running for president, quickly jumped in to criticize Romney -- not for overstating the results of the surge but for underestimating them.

"Governor, the surge is working," McCain chided. "The surge is working, sir. It is working."

"That's just what I said," Romney protested.

"No," McCain said. "Not apparently. It's working. It's working because we've got a great general. We've got a good strategy."

The exchange underscores the difference between campaigning and governing. Bush learned a long time ago to couch any claims of progress in Iraq with concessions about the failures and deep challenges ahead. He generally does not give good-news assessments without some sort of qualification because past assertions of success have proved illusory and have sapped his credibility with many Americans. And so even when he is trying to highlight the successes he does see, he makes a point of recognizing their limits.

Not so much on the campaign trail, where stark blacks and whites are demanded and shades of gray penalized. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) saw that on the Democratic side last month when she offered an assessment of the surge that was more three-dimensional than some of her party activists preferred. While still criticizing the administration's approach in Iraq, she said of the current strategy that "it's working" in some places such as Anbar province, the western region where U.S. troops have teamed up with once-hostile Sunni tribal sheiks to take on al-Qaeda. That earned her nothing but grief from the blogosphere that saw it as a betrayal, even though Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) more or less endorsed her view.

The presidential campaign, therefore, has pushed both sides further toward their extremes, forcing candidates to take starker positions and widening the gulf between the parties.

-- Peter Baker

Posted at 10:06 AM ET on Sep 6, 2007  | Category:  Morning Cheat Sheet
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Do any of these GOP simpletons really support the continuation of this nightmare called Iraq? I think they have a snowballs chance in hell to win in 2008 if they do. Wake up GOP!! Your party started this war, your party mis-managed (screwed-up) this war, your party turned a blind eye to overseeing war graft and profiteering in this war, your party is responsible for the deaths of countless innocent Iraqi citizens, far more than ol Saddam could have killed off. Your party have so many gays and pedofiles coming out of the closet they should change their mascot from an elephant....to a Moth!!

Posted by: logcabin1836 | September 7, 2007 1:10 PM

Thanks John, Mitt.

Now that you have committed yourself to US success in Iraq, it will be obvious 12 months from now if you are right.

John, you have been wrong about Iraq before.

Again, I give my thanks as Democrat. The Republicans have wagered the success of their party on the successful imposition of a democracy on an Islamic state. They have had five years, by the election six and the closest thing they can point to as progress is the "surge" while Baghdad doesn't even have drinking water.

If Lincoln was right and "you can't fool all the people all the time," the Grand Old Party is in big trouble next election.

If only the demise of my country was not the price of the ascendancy of my party I could cheer.

Posted by: jim | September 7, 2007 1:27 AM

The debate on Iraq would be greatly enhanced if people read more history and biographies instead of watching television and reading Harry Potter.

Not only are we winning the Iraq War, we have won overwhelmingly. The Iraq War will be considered a boring war in history and its critics will be dismissed as copperheads and American Firsters.

Posted by: thetroubles | September 6, 2007 8:55 PM

Basically, even though he is a Republican, McCain had some good tactics in the debate with Romney. McCain took everything Romney said and threw it back in his face. McCain has a better chance of winning than Romney because Romney can not make up his mind, and he is Morman. On the other hand, McCain is just a White House Spokesman in Bush's pocket.

Posted by: doubleblackdiva323 | September 6, 2007 8:02 PM

Oh please. John McCain is a figure of turbo-charged irrelevance. From his 110-soldier stroll through the market to his direct denial of reality to his snappy duty-honor-country Boy Scout shtick, John McCain is the voice of George Bush, just older and weaker and, if that's possible. dumber.

Go away, John.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | September 6, 2007 2:46 PM

I am amazed that we keep hearing the surge is working and yet deaths are up and we are paying more of our taxes to Iraq. Some one please wake me from this nightmare the Republicans have created.

Posted by: antonio3 | September 6, 2007 1:52 PM

I continue to be dumbfounded as to why the media does not question, in any meaningful way, anything GW says. A vast majority of american folks knows this war in Iraq is wrong, yet our elected officials will not do what is necessary to put a stop to the useless loss of life and limbs of our troops. The only way I know that will work is, the money must be stopped, and get our troops out of there as soon as possible.

Posted by: lylepink | September 6, 2007 12:26 PM

THe only that anyone can ascertain is that all reports seem to agree that the political aspects of Iraq are dysmal, when they exist at all. All also are in agreement in that none declre the military aspects as conclusively showing permanent resolutions.

But the most troubling and most obfuscating aspect from an outsiders point of view is that in every single instance where a report or substantial portions of one, is leaked they differ markedly in the negative direction from the officially released one that is presented later on.

And we are expected to not to questions the motives and integrity of the 'Officials'?

Go back to media coverage two years ago, one year ago and today. Compare the storylines and details. You will find remakably little difference in numbers and events.

Draw your own conclusions.

Posted by: didereaux | September 6, 2007 12:22 PM

Peter Baker's analysis makes sense from the standpoint of the media, intent on reporting what is and usually at sea as to what should be.

He likes Hillary Clinton's statement on Iraq because it was closer to the kind of statement a Washington Post reporter might have made; the left-wing blogosphere resented Clinton's statement because it implied a protracted continuation of an American commitment in Iraq widely recognized as a dreadful mistake. This isn't a difference between "moderate" and "extreme" views of the surge, but rather between one view that values how the surge is described and another that sees it as secondary to the larger issue of whether the commitment in Iraq should be ended.

Of course the same is true on the Republican side. A specific listing of the things that are going wrong as well as right following the surge in American troops to Iraq would earn a GOP candidate praise from some quarters of the media, but that's all it would do.

Posted by: jbritt3 | September 6, 2007 11:33 AM

Can somebody please prod these people to produce one genuine statistic or metric that suggests success.

The people who claim the surge is working are always those most reluctant to discuss actual facts and figures.

Neither Iraqi nor US casualties have fallen since the surge began. In fact Iraqi civilian casualties are up somewhat. And the pace of ethnic cleansing - which the Surge was supposed to stop - is still rising.

McCain certainly knows this, and even the cardboard cut-out Romney probably does. But they also know the Base would rather hear more lies.

Posted by: Bud0 | September 6, 2007 11:22 AM

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