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McCain’s Tougher Rhetoric on Iraq

DETROIT — As we noted yesterday, Sen. John McCain is using stronger language in describing that he frames as the U.S. success in the war in Iraq than he has in the past. For months, McCain asserted that the so called “troop surge” – as well as Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy — was working, and the United States is winning the war. At a town hall meeting yesterday in Kansas City — and again during a press conference in Michigan — McCain flatly stated that “we have succeeded in Iraq. Not we are succeeding. We have succeeded in Iraq.”

During today’s town hall meeting at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich,, just outside of Detroit, McCain ramped up his praise of Petraeus. McCain referred to the general as “one of the great generals in history.” Whether this is an accurate description or hyperbole is an academic discussion for another day. But McCain’s use of absolutes where he once offered more cautious, qualified statements indicates a push from the McCain camp to reframe the debate — and Sen. Barack Obama’s position — on the war in Iraq.

McCain has relentlessly hammered Obama on the war in recent weeks — portraying the presumptive Democratic nominee as naive and uninformed. Yesterday, the McCain campaign released an eight-minute video on YouTube that pits Obama’s past statements against his current position. By changing the terms with which he talks about the war — that the surge has succeeded, Petraeus is a genius, he was right, etc. — McCain is trying to put Obama on the defensive for opposing and denigrating the surge until recently. McCain has been an unabashed supporter of the war from the beginning, but if he can convince Americans to buy into his assertion that “we have succeeded,” McCain might be able to turn a negative into a positive.

Can it work? Possibly. Despite the fact that virtually every poll shows a solid majority of Americans view the war as a mistake, a new ABC/Washington Post poll found Americans are split almost evenly on who they trust to best handle the war. Furthermore, the poll found a whopping 72 percent of Americans believe McCain would make a good commander-in-chief — compared to just 48 percent for Obama.

On the bright side for Obama, he is supposed to soon visit Iraq and Afghanistan along with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) — a Vietnam veteran who is regarded as a foreign-policy heavyweight. McCain was the one who called for Obama to visit the war zones in the first place. If Obama plays it smart, he may be able to erase one of McCain’s lines of attack by the time he gets back.

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