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):
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