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John McCain VMI Speech on Iraq War

John McCain gave a speech this morning at the Virginia Military Institute outlining his vision for winning the war in Iraq. I’ll be joining a blogger conference call with him at 1:30 and will update the post if there’s anything interesting to report.

Some excerpts from the speech (as prepared for delivery):

John McCain VMI Iraq War Speech Photo However it ends, the war in Iraq will have a profound influence on the future of the Middle East, global stability, and the security of the United States, which will remain, for the foreseeable future, directly affected by events in that dangerous part of the world. The war is part of a broader struggle in the Arab and Muslim world, the struggle between violent extremists and the forces of modernity and moderation.

In the early days after 9/11, our country was united in a single purpose: to find the terrorists bent on our destruction and eliminate the threat they posed to us. In the intervening years, we have learned the complexity of the struggle against radical Islamic ideology. The extremists – a tiny percentage of the hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims – are flexible, intelligent, determined and unconstrained by international borders. They wish to return the world to the 7th century, and they will use any means, no matter how inhumane, to eliminate anyone who stands in the way. But the vast majority of Muslims are trying to modernize their societies to meet the challenges of the 21st century. While al Qaeda seeks to destroy, millions of Muslims attempt to build the same elements of a good life that all of us want – security, opportunity, peace, and hope.

The war on terror, the war for the future of the Middle East, and the struggle for the soul of Islam – of which the war in Iraq constitutes a key element – are bound together. Progress in one requires progress in all. The many complex challenges we face require more than a military response. This is a contest of ideas and values as much as it is one of bullets and bombs. We must gain the active support of modernizers across the Muslim world, who want to share in the benefits of the global system and its economic success, and who aspire to the political freedom that is, I truly believe, the natural desire of the human heart. No matter how much attention their ruthless tactics receive, terrorists are not the true face of Islam. Devout Muslims in Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and in Iraq, aspire to progress for their societies in which basic human needs are met for more than the privileged few and basic human rights are respected.

This is pretty standard McCain boilerplate at this point but it strikes the right chord. The question, though, is how to avoid this catastrophe, or even convince the public that it’s not too late to avoid it.

Sadly, the rest of the speech doesn’t answer those questions other than to say that the Surge is addressing his longstanding call for “more troops” and that there are plenty of underreported signs that it’s working.

UPDATE: I managed to get in first and put the above questions to him. Essentially, he says that he’ll continue to give as many speeches as he can to convince the public. If he were president, he’d go on C-SPAN regularly and give specifics about our progress and work to change public opinion.

In follow-up, I noted that he’s not president and that the guy who currently holds the post has not shown much aptitude for either specifics or public speaking. McCain responded that Bush is decent in the right setting and that he should probably hold a lot of small, informal meetings with reporters where he has a map and points out various spots on the map where we’re having success.

UPDATE: Several questions into the conference, there’s not much new information. What strikes me is that McCain is, at least in these fora, quite candid and resigned to the realities of the situation. He’s under no illusion that turning around the public skepticism about the war is going to be easy and he thinks part of the problem is that the administration has oversold successes and undersold the problems for so long.

Additionally, he’s annoyed with the Pentagon and positively disgusted with the State Department. While he thinks the president is ultimately responsible, he thinks former SECDEF Don Rumsfeld and Generals Casey and Sanchez also did poor jobs. He opposed (as did I) elevating Casey to Army Chief of Staff after his failure in Iraq.

Overall, as with the first of these, McCain was the guy that the campaign press loved so much in 2000: direct, candid, and plain talking.

UPDATE: Others on the call who blogged it: David All

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. John McCain VMI Speech on Iraq War

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  2. the public skepticism about the war is going to be easy … McCain was the guy that the campaign press loved so much in 2000: direct, candid, and plain talking.” (James Joyner, “Outside The Beltway” Blog, “John McCain VMI Speech On Iraq War,” http://www.outsidethebeltway.com, 4/11/07)   VMI Senior Cadet Dustin Schultz: “[McCain is] one of the few who has stayed true to the mission in Iraq.” (Jonathan Martin, “McCain Promotes Surge Policy,” http://www.politico.com, 4/11/07)

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  3. year in attempting to pacify the insurgencies. … Ultimately, though, he blames Donald Rumsfeld for shrinking the military and using too light of a footprint in post-invasion Iraq — a position McCain has consistently maintained for over three years.” Outside the Beltway’s James Joyner: “The question, though, is how to avoid this catastrophe, or even convince the public that it’s not too late to avoid it. … Essentially, he says that he’ll continue to give as many speeches as he can to convince the public. If he were

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  4. John McCain VMI Speech on Iraq War

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  5. today at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) on the Iraq war. I think he got the big points right. In a blogger conference call after the speech, James Joyner (via Instapundit) reported that if he were president, McCain said he would: go on C-SPAN regularly and give specifics about our progress and work to change public opinion. In follow-up, I noted that he’s not president and that the guy who currently holds the post has not shown much aptitude for either specifics or public

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  6. who notes that McCain says he’d continue to hold blogger conference calls as President. Hey, the path to the Presidency leads through the blogosphere! UPDATE: Another report from Ryan Sager. And here’s a review of McCain’s speech on the war at VMI, and the conference call. David All blogged the conference call, too. Plus, Ed Morrissey and New Hampshire blog GraniteGrok. And the Bull Dog. [IMG]

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  7. the public skepticism about the war is going to be easy… McCain was the guy that the campaign press loved so much in 2000:direct, candid, and plain talking.” (James Joyner, “Outside The Beltway” Blog, “John McCain VMI Speech On Iraq War,” http://www.outsidethebeltway.com ,4/11/07) VMI Senior Cadet Dustin Schultz: “[McCain is]one of the few who has stayed true to the mission in Iraq.” (Jonathan Martin, “McCain Promotes Surge Policy,” http://www.politico.com , 4/11/07)

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  8. the world to the 7th century, and they will use any means, no matter how inhumane, to eliminate anyone who stands in the way. But the vast majority of Muslims are trying to modernize their societies to meet the challenges of the 21st century. While al Qaeda seeks to destroy, millions of Muslims attempt to build the same elements of a good life that all of us want – security, opportunity, peace, and hope. The war on terror, the war for the future of the Middle East, and the struggle for the soul of Islam

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  9. Tano says:

    Strikes the right chord?

    Sorry, but what I read here is that he conceives of the Iraq war as a struggle between Islamist terroist extremists vs. moderate modernists. When in fact, the main engine of the violence in Iraq seems to be the struggle for national power between Sunnis and Shiites. There are moderates in both camps, and religous zealots in both camps with the latter seemingly in control, on both sides. What I dont see is any cross-sectarian alliance of modernists taking on the extremists of both sides.

    The Shiites have some level of basic support from us because we believe in democracy, and they are the majority. But they are also closely tied to Iran, both religously and politically. And they seem far more interested in repressing and marginalizing the Sunnis than in constructing the institutions of democracy that would grant the Sunnis an equal seat at the table. So we support the Sunnis to some extent too, because their oppression is not in line with our democratic values. But they have ties with extremists, most notably al-Qaeda, which puts them beyond the pale.

    I dont hear McCain dealing at all with the reality in Iraq – his comments sound like a blast from the past – the rhetoric of 2003, when none of us had even a single clue as to what Iraq was all about.

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  10. legion says:

    I dont hear McCain dealing at all with the reality in Iraq

    Of course not, Tano. And for the same reason Lieberman seems so completely off-planet when he discusses Iraq. If he came anywhere near reality, he’d eventually have to criticise Bush for his continual mishandling of every single opportunity to actually accomplish anything in the GWOT. And McCain will never, ever do that – even after getting knifed by the Bush/Cheney/Rove campaign last cycle, he just can’t let go of the teat long enough to have a spine anymore.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    he’d eventually have to criticise Bush for his continual mishandling of every single opportunity to actually accomplish anything in the GWOT. And McCain will never, ever do that

    But he did and he has. Repeatedly. He did it again in the VMI speech and in the conference call. From the text of the speech:

    We have a long way to go, but for the first time in four years, we have a strategy that deals with how things really are in Iraq and not how we wish them to be.

    After my first visit to Iraq in 2003, I argued for more troops. I took issue with statements characterizing the insurgency as a few ‘dead-enders’ or being in its ‘last throes.’ I criticized the search and destroy strategy and argued for a counter-insurgency approach that separated the reconcilable population from the irreconcilable. That is the course now followed by General Petraeus, and the brave Americans and coalition troops he has the honor to command.

    It is the right strategy. General Petraeus literally wrote the book on counter insurgency. He is a determined, resourceful and bold commander. Our troops, many of whom have served multiple tours in Iraq, are performing with great skill and bravery. But the hour is late and, despite the developments I just described, we should have no illusion that success is certain. But having been a critic of the way this war was fought and a proponent of the very strategy now being followed, it is my obligation to encourage Americans to give it a chance to succeed. To do otherwise would be contrary to the interests of my country and dishonorable.

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  12. Anderson says:

    We must gain the active support of modernizers across the Muslim world, who want to share in the benefits of the global system and its economic success, and who aspire to the political freedom that is, I truly believe, the natural desire of the human heart.

    And is this goal advanced, or retarded, by continuing to occupy Iraq, four years after we invaded?

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  13. legion says:

    But he did and he has. Repeatedly.

    Huh. I admit I haven’t followed McCain more than shallowly – I don’t think I’ve sat & listened to an entire speech of his, let alone parsed it. But the impression I’d gotten from MSM (including Fox) coverage of him, at least for the last few years, has been of rather fawning obsequiousness. (there’s your SAT word for the day!)

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  14. anjin-san says:

    The realities of the situation? You mean like his reality based statements about going for a stroll in Baghdad?

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  15. Anderson says:

    Shorter McCain: “I have no real clue how to salvage Iraq, but it’s vital that Americans continue to die there.”

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  16. Tano says:

    “The war on terror, the war for the future of the Middle East, and the struggle for the soul of Islam – of which the war in Iraq constitutes a key element – are bound together. ”

    This is utter and complete nonsense.
    Does he offer no respite whatsoever from the absurd Bush framing of “war on terror”? Its been said a million times, and I sense most everyone understands it – terror is a tactic, one used by the weaker force in an asymmetic conflict, and sometimes by the stronger as well (the US, in Germany and Japan). Wars are driven by conflicts of interests and desires for power, and a refusal to deal with those issues, by claiming to fight against tactics, is deeply dishonest.

    And we are in Iraq to fight for the soul of Islam? Excuse me? How can anyone take this seriously? The soul of Islam is not a concern of the government of the United States of America. What various Islamic people do, in the real world may well be of concern to us, but a struggle for the soul of a religion is a business of the adherents of that religion, not for the United States military.

    Aside from his positions on the specific issues of the war today – surging or withdrawing, this attempt at framing the issue is so divorced from reality that he should not be considered a serious player on a presidential level.

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  17. Triumph says:

    Did anyone ask him in the conference call, James, why he claimed in his speech that the Iraqi people are our enemy?

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  18. Gay Patriot says:

    McCain Speech on Iraq: President Needs Better PR…

    I may have more to say later about Arizona Senator John McCain’s speech today at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) on the Iraq war.
    I think he got the big points right. In a blogger conference call after the speech, James Joyner (via Instapu…

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  19. Eliakim says:

    “we have learned the complexity of the struggle against radical Islamic ideology”

    Did they really? If they really did, they wouldn’t let Bush send 15,000 more troops to Iraq while people in Iraq is shouting that they want American get out of there. What makes them feel so right to push their own values to others? I don’t see any vision for “winning the war in Iraq” in his speech.
    I still can’t believe that they’ve already spent $340 billion on Iraq War thus far and $522 billion on US military budget. It is clear that the military solution is not working. why don’t they try to bring peace by sending humanitarian aid instead of troops and weapons?
    According to The Borgen Project, it only costs $19 billion to end global poverty and hunger. Compare to the amount Bush spent on “the war on terror”, this is very little. I hope our next political leader will make a commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals which will end global poverty and starvation. It is not so hard if we are willing to take an action!

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  20. [...] Seth Joyner at Outside the Beltway said while there was very little new ground covered in the conference, “what strikes me is that McCain is, at least in these fora, quite candid and resigned to the realities of the situation. He’s under no illusion that turning around the public skepticism about the war is going to be easy and he thinks part of the problem is that the administration has oversold successes and undersold the problems for so long.” [...]

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  21. [...] James Joyner felt the same McCainian vibe the MSM dug on his Straight Talk Express in 2000. Save and Share: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

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  22. anjin-san says:

    Yep, he is a candid guy. Just ask him how safe it is to stroll the streets of Baghdad.

    McCain is in freefall. It is instructive, because it shows what the American public thinks about Bush’s war…

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  23. G.A.Phillips says:

    Wow, OK, you know, your right, and I’m sorry for what I was about to say to them.

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  24. [...] Again, if we line up a candidate with the entire armed services behind him, is he really more presidential? James Joyner reports: [...]

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