First it was the Des Moines Register. Then the Orlando Sentinel. Then The New York Times on Jan. 25 endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain for their respective parties' presidential nominations. In doing so, they and other leading papers (The Boston Globe endorsed Obama and McCain) in the same breath support one candidate who will embrace a lightning withdrawal from Iraq and another who insists that we fight to the finish. This is to portray a profound indifference to the war-not evident in their news reporting-or to reflect the schizophrenia of the American public when it comes to Iraq.
Having declared in an opinion piece last March, "Victory is no longer an option in Iraq, if it ever was. The only rational objective left is to responsibly organize America's inevitable exit," the Times would have been more consistent to endorse Rep. Ron Paul.
Two weeks after that editorial appeared, McCain made his own declaration during a speech at Virginia Military Institute: "Will this nation's elected leaders make the politically hard but strategically vital decision to give Gen. Petraeus our full support and do what is necessary to succeed in Iraq? Or will we decide to take advantage of the public's frustration, accept defeat, and hope that whatever the cost to our security the politics of defeat will work out better for us than our opponents? For my part, I would rather lose a campaign than a war."
Clinton, also consistent, when asked in South Carolina, "Are you looking to end this war or win it?" answered,"I'm looking to bring our troops home, starting within 60 days of my becoming president."
To embrace both ends of this spectrum, the Times editors, one imagines, got down to rolled shirtsleeves behind closed doors, chewing on their choices as they gnawed Styrofoam coffee cups (this is New York City after all: No smoking indoors). When it comes to Iraq, any Democrat will do. All subscribe to the "victory is no longer an option" coda. But Clinton prevails, in the editors' phrase-turning, because she understands better than Obama the "military steps that will be required to contain Iraq's chaos after American troops leave." In other words, with U.S. troops safely out she can dispatch a UN peacekeeping force for mop-up duty. If Darfur is any guide, Security Council approval might come before her first term ends.
Turning to the Republicans, the editors demand another round of coffee and scratch pads. "We have no respect . . ." No, no, make that, "We have strong disagreements with all the Republicans running for president," they begin. McCain, they write, "is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe." (No offense taken.) Now, how to square endorsing a candidate who supports the war more than the Bush administration? McCain wins points in the editorial board room for pointing out that the war was poorly managed and proposing a surge before Gen. Petraeus did. Then the editors scold, "We wish he could now see as clearly past the temporary victories produced by Mr. Bush's unsustainable escalation. . . . At the least, he owes Americans a real idea of how he would win this war, which he says he can do."
The Times editors may be forgiven for going out on the logic limb no further than most Americans, who tell a pollster they disapprove of the war when what they mean is they disapprove of the way the war is going. In New Hampshire 34 percent of GOP voters said they disapproved of the war and they voted for McCain.
They also are not so different from Iraqis. Over an outdoor dinner in Iraq last August, I asked a Baghdad couple if U.S. troops should go home. As the husband slowly shook his head no, the wife vigorously nodded hers in the affirmative. "They can do no more good for us," she said. "But if they leave, the Iranians will come and kill us," he rejoined.
The days grow longer in this campaign season. If the editorial boards-and voters-who hate the war want McCain to go the distance, they will have to get used to the prospect of winning. And they will have to get used to the idea of fighting until it's finished.
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