The Magazine

Why We Went Into Iraq

The question McCain must answer.

Mar 24, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 27 • By PETER D. FEAVER
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McCain cannot stake his entire candidacy on trying to persuade people to support the original war decision. After several years of one-sided propaganda, American attitudes on this are fairly entrenched and unlikely to move much. But he shouldn't cede the ground without a fight.

In his victory speech, McCain showed that he understood this because he went on to say, "I will defend the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime as I criticized the failed tactics that were employed for too long to establish the conditions that will allow us to leave that country with our country's interests secure and our honor intact."

Avoiding the historical case won't trick Obama or Clinton into relaxing their relentless Iraq-oriented attacks on McCain. For Obama, his one speech opposing the Iraq invasion is the solitary piece of evidence that he has the foreign policy experience worthy of a commander in chief. Obama and Clinton will deliver their Iraq talking points no matter what. The real question is whether Americans can hear from McCain a more persuasive historical case on Iraq than we have heard in years. Yes, yes we can.

Peter D. Feaver is Alexander F. Hehmeyer professor of political science at Duke University. From 2005-2007, he was special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform at the National Security Council.