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A Disgrace Bai Any Measure

8:45 PM, May 14, 2008 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The New York Times Magazine is running a long profile by political reporter Matt Bai on John McCain's foreign policy vision this weekend. Although the story of McCain's foreign policy expertise and record is sufficiently sterling that even the Times has a hard time sliming him, it's not for lack of trying.

In particular, the article's treatment of the surge is a real piece of work. Bai declares that the surge is "unpopular with a lot of military leaders"--a blanket assertion that then wafts away. He also declares the Iraqi security forces a failure, citing as his single piece of evidence that "some 1,000 Iraqi troops deserted during a crucial battle in Basra." (Apparently, he didn't see the front page of his paper on Monday, which reported that "forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al Maliki" have since "largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants," and that "the principal factor for improvement that people in Basra cite is the deployment of 33,000 members of the Iraqi security forces." Whoops.)

Against these authoritative generalities on the part of the author, McCain is the only source Bai cites to defend or explain the surge. In his 8,000-plus word magnum opus, Bai never gets around to mentioning, for instance, the 90-plus percent reduction in violence in Baghdad the surge brought about, or its success at routing al Qaeda in Iraq from parts of the country that had once been declared "lost" to the jihadists.

These are not exactly minor details, given that it was in no small measure such hard proof of the surge's success that propelled John McCain to the Republican nomination, vindicating his national security acumen and illustrating precisely why he is qualified to be the next commander-in-chief--subjects that a reporter, writing a profile of John McCain's foreign policy vision, might want to mention.

Bai's most despicable little dig, though, comes in the form of the following passive aggressive parenthetical, as McCain explains America's progress against al Qaeda in Iraq:

"Is it long and hard and tough? Yes," McCain told me. "Has Al Qaeda been beaten? No, but they certainly have been diminished." (To the dismay of many of his critics, McCain often uses "Al Qaeda" as a shorthand for the Iraqi insurgent group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.)

Ah yes, the famed "Iraqi insurgent group" that just happens to "call itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia"! This, of course, would also be the same "Iraqi insurgent group" that is led by non-Iraqi foreign fighters; that has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden; that receives direction and support from Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda senior leadership; and that--according to a recent National Intelligence Estimate--is al Qaeda central's "most capable affiliate" and "the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland."

It's easy to see how "dismayed" John McCain's critics must be at him suggesting some sort of close relationship between the groups! One can only wonder who, exactly, John McCain might have picked up this dangerous and deeply misinformed "shorthand" from. One possibility…

"As you can see, we've reduced considerably the areas in which Al Qaida enjoys support and sanctuary, though clearly there is more to be done. Having noted that progress, Al Qaida is still capable of lethal attacks." -General David Petraeus, testifying before Senate Armed Services Committee on April 8, 2008