In his recent foreign policy speech, Mr. Obama noted that there was no point trying to best Mr. McCain in matters of experience, that what counted was good judgment. Very true. How one can have the latter without the former is a question for the rest of us to consider.
You aren’t born with judgement you learn it over time. When I was a kid, I once poked my finger in a light bulb socket by mistake—I have never done it again. What Senator Obama doesn’t understand is that you have to poke your finger in the socket a few times to develop good judgement. That is one of the major differences between Obama and McCain. McCain has tasted defeat not only in Viet Nam, but throughout his life’s experiences. He has developed his good judgement, now Obama has to realize that he hasn’t yet developed his:
Does Obama Understand Defeat?
April 1, 2008
On Oct. 14, 1993, John McCain took to the floor of the United States Senate to offer what, in light of his past history and his later positions, was an unusual amendment. Earlier that month, 19 American soldiers had been ambushed and killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, by militiamen connected to warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid. The corpse of one U.S. serviceman had been humiliatingly dragged through the streets. The Arizona Republican wanted U.S. forces out of Somalia — and was prepared to cut off funds for the mission if the administration refused to expedite a withdrawal. President Clinton attacked the amendment as a “headlong rush into isolationism.” At the time, Mr. McCain saw it differently. “The United States has no viable military options in Somalia that I know of besides a massive military involvement which would involve the consequent slaughter of innocent civilians,” he said in an interview, sounding not a little like today’s Democrats on Iraq. “The United States has to be very careful when it gets involved militarily. Otherwise, we will not only not help the situation, but perhaps, over time, worsen the situation, with the consequent expenditure of American lives and treasure.” The Somalia episode comes to mind following two recent addresses from Mr. McCain and Barack Obama. On March 19, Mr. Obama gave a big speech on foreign policy at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, N.C. That was followed a week later by another big speech on the same subject, this one from Mr. McCain in Los Angeles at the World Affairs Council. As with most such speeches, many things are said, and few of them are interesting. We learn from the speeches that both men are — surprise! — politicians. Both are moving toward the political center as they approach the nomination. Mr. Obama has tough talk on hunting al Qaeda in Pakistan. Mr. McCain has soothing talk on the need for “international good citizenship.” The hawk and the dove are prepared to fly some distance together, particularly on Guantanamo, global warming and the promotion of Islamic moderation. And, to a degree that neither is fully prepared to acknowledge, each candidate shares policies with the Bush administration. Mr. Obama’s call to increase the size of U.S. ground forces by 92,000 troops — 65,000 for the Army and 27,000 for the Marines — is precisely the figure offered by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates in 2007. Where the candidates have real differences is over Iraq. Mr. Obama, as everyone knows, wants to remove American troops at a steady rate of one to two combat brigades a month, until they are all but gone, and “help Iraq reach a meaningful accord on national reconcilation.” Mr. McCain, as everyone also knows, will do just about everything it takes to win in Iraq and is prepared, on the Korean, West German or Japanese model, to deploy soldiers to the country for a century to preserve the peace. Yet what distinguishes Mr. McCain’s foreign policy from Mr. Obama’s is not about the nature of America’s commitments in the Middle East. It is about their understanding of the consequences of defeat. Mr. McCain seems to have some. It’s not clear whether Mr. Obama does. In his speech, Mr. Obama rightly observes the paradox of Mr. McCain’s position on Iraq. The Arizonan, he notes, argued in 2006 that the U.S. could not withdraw because “violence was up,” whereas now he argues the U.S. cannot withdraw “because violence is down.” “Success,” says the Illinois senator, “comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely.” A fair point. But here are questions for Mr. Obama: Could there be something worse than the indefinite maintenance of a flawed policy? What if, following a U.S. withdrawal, Iraq collapsed into chaos? What if U.S. embassy personnel have to be helicoptered to safety from the roof of the Baghdad embassy? It’s not as if this hasn’t happened before. Nowhere in Mr. Obama’s speech is that scenario entertained, and one wonders why. Perhaps it is a function of biography. With the exception of a failed congressional bid in 2000, defeat has not formed a significant part of Mr. Obama’s upwardly mobile life experience. Or perhaps it is a function of philosophy. Not everyone share’s Mr. McCain’s view that the defeat in Vietnam was a “disgrace,” or that the result of a war carried out “Not In My Name” nonetheless has bearing on the worth of one’s country. In a recent interview, Randy Scheunemann, who runs the McCain campaign’s foreign policy shop, noted that “Vietnam had a huge impact on John.” Obviously. Less obvious: “It’s not about his personal experiences in the war as a POW,” he said. “It’s about leading a group of naval aviators [after the Vietnam war] when they had to cannibalize parts.” Mr. Scheunemann is referring to a chapter in Mr. McCain’s life when in 1974 he took command of the Navy’s largest naval air squadron in Jacksonville, Fla. Nearly 20 of the squadron’s 50 jets had been grounded for lack of maintenance, and some hadn’t flown in years. Mr. McCain eventually managed to get all his planes flying again, a professional triumph. But the condition of the post-Vietnam Navy turned out to be an abiding lesson to Mr. McCain about what happens to a defeated military. As for Somalia, Mr. McCain noted in one of his memoirs that “The decision to leave Aidid unpunished and to withdraw from Somalia had a disheartening effect on our military. . . . They wondered if we would ever be as committed to victory as they were in the causes we ordered them to serve. Somewhere in Sudan, Osama bin Laden observed our withdrawal from Somalia and concluded that America no longer had the stomach for war.” In his speech, Mr. Obama noted that there was no point trying to best Mr. McCain in matters of experience, that what counted was good judgment. Very true. How one can have the latter without the former is a question for the rest of us to consider.