Sunday, July 20, 2008

How does he get away with this?

I'm not ready to come out and say that McCain is trying to get Obama killed, but what the hell, man? The other explanations for this don't look so good, either.

For the last several years, anytime high-profile U.S. officials arrive in Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s described as a “surprise” visit. No matter how many times these officials go to the countries, or how long their stay, it’s always a “surprise.” There’s no real mystery here — if the arrival of VIPs were publicized, their lives might be in danger.

Journalists are almost always responsible with this information, and see no reason to create a potentially dangerous situation. When there are exceptions, it tends to spark outrage — John McCain, for example, was “furious when the press reported on his son serving in Iraq” because McCain “feared the coverage would make him a target.”

The point is obvious — to protect Americans’ lives, details on trips to Iraq and/or Afghanistan are kept under wraps. Everyone knows this, and everyone respects this.

It makes John McCain’s careless remarks yesterday all the more striking.

For weeks now, Barack Obama has closely guarded the details of his planned fact-finding trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, citing security concerns.

But Friday, the Democratic presidential hopeful’s Republican rival, John McCain, may have let the secret out of the bag - infuriating some Obama supporters and putting Camp McCain on the defensive.

“I believe that either today or tomorrow — and I’m not privy to his schedule — Sen. Obama will be landing in Iraq with some other senators” who make up a congressional delegation, McCain told a campaign fund-raising luncheon. “I am sure that Sen. Obama is going to arrive in Baghdad in a much, much safer and secure environment than the one that he would’ve encountered before we started the surge,” McCain added.

While refusing to confirm or deny anything about Obama’s schedule, his aides were furious with McCain’s comment. They noted every major news outlet has resisted speculating on the timing or location of Obama’s war-zone maneuvers out of safety concerns.
John Kerry said he was “surprised” by McCain’s apparent breach of protocol: “I’ve been around enough of these trips to know that I’m leery of saying anything for security reasons. End of story.”

And therein lies the point: John McCain has been around enough of these trips to know the same thing. Yesterday, for whatever reason, he ignored security concerns because he wanted to score a cheap political point.

Once reporters began asking about this, McCain’s spokesperson, Tucker Bounds, said McCain “doesn’t know the itinerary of the trip, but was speaking in boarder terms.”

Actually, I really wish he had, but that’s not what happened. McCain said “either today or tomorrow.” Those aren’t “broader terms,” they’re fairly specific terms. A handful of reporters alluded to a general timeline — NBC”s Andrea Mitchell told viewers yesterday that Obama would be arriving in Iraq “shortly” — but only McCain referenced specific days.

Mark Kleiman considered some competing explanations.

1. John McCain is unaware that the timing of U.S. officials’ trips to Iraq is kept quiet to avoid helping terrorists there plan attempts to kill them.

2. John McCain is so forgetful that he didn’t remember that when McCain said in public that Obama’s trip to Iraq is scheduled for this weekend.

3. John McCain actually wants to help terrorists assassinate Barack Obama.

It’s hard to imagine the first and third options being true, which suggests McCain was either confused, forgetful, or dangerously careless — or possible some combination therein. (I’ve seen some suggestions that McCain might have been trying to force Obama to postpone his stop in Iraq, by making it excessively risky, and thereby saying, “A ha! Obama won’t go to Iraq after all!” This, too, strikes me as unlikely.)

I’m hesitant to get too outraged by this. Obama’s schedule wasn’t classified, and given what we know about the rest of his European schedule, one might have been able to infer that the stops in the Middle East were going to happen this weekend. For that matter, as much as I’ve lost respect for McCain, I’m hardly at the point at which I believe he’s willing to literally put Obama’s life in danger.

That said, John McCain’s increasing recklessness raises legitimate questions. Even if he wasn’t sure about Obama’s schedule, and was merely speculating about the weekend, McCain knows how this system works. He knows why any and all details are kept secret. He knows why breaking protocol is literally dangerous to those traveling into war zones. For most of us, it’s just common sense. For someone who’s been in the Senate as long as McCain has, and has traveled as extensively as McCain has, it’s standard operating procedure.

And yet, he did it anyway. At an absolute minimum, it should undermine public confidence in John McCain.

I’d just add one thing. Josh Marshall asked, “Any thoughts on the reaction if Barack Obama had publicly broken the embargo on details and timing of Sen. McCain’s imminent visit to a war zone?”

I shudder to think of the apoplexy. We would hear about it, literally every day, for the rest of the campaign. Republicans everywhere would call Obama a traitor, and the media would create huge graphics that read: “Obama: Does he want McCain killed?” Democratic members of Congress would distance themselves from Obama, and the senator would be forced to issue a public apology. Every media narrative — about inexperience, lack of national security bona fides, etc. — would be reinforced.

And you know people are gonna vote for him anyway. I can't stress my horror at this enough. So what if he has to look up his own stances on issues? So what if he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade? So what if the Iraqi Prime Minister explicitly told the world McCain is wrong about Iraq? So what if his economic plans are denounced by actual economists?

He's the Republican candidate, damn it. And Republicans vote Republican! McCain's pretty bad, but at least he's not that stealth-Muslim sleeper-cell-bred terrorist-appeasin' elitist colored man!

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