Monday, February 05, 2007

The McCain Resolution

It’s time to start work on electing a new President, so I am going to be spending some time in the next couple of years looking at what Presidential candidates say and do. These pieces of information will be useful in determining what type of President each person would become.

The Battle of the Resolutions

In this regard, Senator John McCain has been making news recently as the Senate takes up a so-called “vote of no confidence” regarding President Bush’s “Surge” strategy for Iraq. The vote comes in the Warner-Levin Resolution (pdf), a non-binding resolution that says that the Senate “disagrees with the "plan" to augment our forces by 21,500.”

In its place, McCain has offered his own resolution (pdf) that

Congress should ensure that General David Petraeus, the Commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq, and all United States personnel under his command, have the resources they consider necessary to carry out their mission on behalf of the United States in Iraq.

What I find particularly interesting, and what provides an important insight into McCain’s character (and the type of President he will be) is what he has said against the Warner-Levin resolution. As reported in a New York Times article, “War at Home: McCain’s Resolution,” McCain is defending his position by saying things like,

In other words, this is a vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there. . . . a vote of, quote, “disapproval,” which is fundamentally a vote of no confidence in the troops and their mission.

This idea that disapproving a commander’s plan is the equivalent of insulting the troops is absurd.

Captain Bush

Let us assume that there is a war on. Captain Bush of Company B goes to his superiors with a plan to capture an enemy stronghold. The commanders look over Captain Bush’s plan. They also look over his service record as leader of Company B. Those five years have been a disaster. Captain Bush has shown a persistent tendency to misread intelligence and draw false conclusions, make overly optimistic projections of combat results, charge into battle poorly equipped, grossly underestimate the enemy, fail utterly to anticipate their reactions to his maneuvers, and chalk up appalling casualty rates in the process.

The commanding officers are about to refuse Captain Bush’s plan, when General McCain comes along and says that rejecting the plan sends the wrong signal to the troops in his company. He claims that it is equivalent to a vote of no confidence in the soldiers of Company B.

This is nonsense.

McCain’s philosophy is that supporting the troops means accepting whatever plan comes down the pipe because rejecting it is an insult to the troops – a vote of no-confidence in what the soldiers can accomplish.

In fact, anybody with a decent sense of responsibility for the troops holds that “support the troops” means giving them all of the advantages one can muster and not wasting their lives when less wasteful options are available. It means making sure that they are not being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice unless that sacrifice is necessary, and that one will take the effort to make sure that the sacrifice is not necessary.

One does not support for the troops by saying, "Hey, let's show our troops how good we think they are by sending them on poorly planned missions with insufficient supplies against an unknown enemy with total confidence in their ability to win in spite of the fact that we have stacked the deck so heavily against them.”

In fact, if there were a Captain Bush in the military, any decent commander would “support the troops” by assigning this incompetent officer to some desk job that limits the amount of damage that will result from his incompetence, if they did not simply dismiss him.

The military shows its support for its troops by rejecting stupid plans that do not give the soldiers all of the possible advantages and even rejecting leaders (and their plans) if they prove sufficiently incompetent.

It may be necessary, when the situation demands it, to go along with a commander once that commander gives his orders. However, it is never necessary to pretend that one agrees with the commander’s decisions.

One of the things that this suggests about McCain is that, if he were President, he would share one of Bush’s worst qualities – the inability to distinguish dissent from treason. We can expect him to be a President who will spend four years stifling debate and silencing critics by asserting that any who disagrees with him insults the soldiers.

Six years of this kind of thinking are enough, and we have two more years to put up with under the best of circumstances.

The “No Plan” Criticism

There is a second element of this political battle that deserves some comment as well.

McCain criticized Democrats, who are seeking to pass a non-binding resolution of no confidence in Bush’s “Surge” plan for Iraq, for not coming up with a plan of their own. I believe that I have an idea of what McCain is up to with this.

This is another interesting piece of political rhetoric.

Let us say that you put 10 people in a room. Each of them has their own plan for how to accomplish some task. Each of them thinks that theirs is the best plan. You then introduce a non-binding resolution – a vote on whether the 10 people assembled accept or reject Person 1’s plan. Under these conditions, you will get a vote of 9 to 1 in favor of a resolution rejecting Person 1’s plan.

However, let us say that you introduce a slightly different resolution – a resolution that says, “Reject Person 1’s plan approve of Person 2’s plan.” Now, you are going to get a vote of 9 to 1 against a resolution that rejects Person 1’s plan and accepts Person 2’s plan.

McCain is in a win-win situation here. He can win by asserting that the Democrats have no alternative plan to offer, thus making the Democrats look bad. Or, if the Democrats come up with a plan, it will almost certainly be a plan that many people will criticize, at which point he can join the criticism of the Democrat’s plan.

Please note that these political dynamics exist without ever specifying the content of the plan. It does not matter what Person 1’s plan is, or Person 2’s plan, or any of them. The content of the plans is irrelevant. All that matters is a political dynamic where you have 10 people who love their own plan more than anybody else’s.

McCain is good at playing political games. So are the Democrats. Both of them are trying to exploit this dynamic – the Democrats by criticizing Bush without offering an alternative, and McCain by insisting on an alternative because no resolution could pass if it were made too specific.

I would hope, with the lives of troops hanging in the balance, the Senate would pay more attention to content and less on political maneuvering.

As it turns out, we will get nothing. The Republicans in the Senate blocked any Senate debate on Iraq today. The Senate now has to move on to the important business of passing a budget by February 15th, or the government comes to a halt. Maybe later, we can have an honest discussion of the best way out of this situation.

Or, maybe not.

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