John McCain in Friday night’s debate:
I’d like to tell you, two Fourths of July ago I was in Baghdad. General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans, whose enlistment had expired, were reenlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom.
I was honored to be there. I was honored to speak to those troops. And you know, afterwards, we spent a lot of time with them. And you know what they said to us? They said, let us win. They said, let us win. We don’t want our kids coming back here.
And this strategy, and this general, they are winning.
I’m kind of disturbed by McCain’s use of some troops’ desire to stay and continue to fight as an argument for having them stay and continue to fight. He appears to be holding them up here as the experts. After all, if the people on the ground doing the actual fighting think we can win, why would we not let them do it?
The crucial point I think he’s missing is that they’re experts at fighting wars, given that there’s a war to be fought. They’re not experts at deciding when a war should be continued or not. They’re not experts at deciding when a war should be started or not. The whole point of having civilian control of the military is to have the President and Congress–people who should ideally be able to take a larger strategic view–look at a situation and decide whether war is even the best option. If they decide it is, then the military people–the experts in implementation–are called on to apply their expertise in deciding how the war should be fought. But the decision about whether a war should be started or continued should not be up to them. The United States is not a country run by its military.
To be fair, I don’t know that McCain intended for this quoting of troops who want to stay in Iraq to constitute an argument. I should probably take it as just another attempt to paint himself as pro-military and Obama as anti-military. “He won’t let the troops stay and fight, even when they want to.” But the way he put it sure sounds like an argument: The troops want to stay. Therefore they should be allowed to stay. So if it is an argument, I just wanted to point out that I think it’s a very bad one.