Via Andrew, here's a rough version of the sort of ad I think the GOP nominee ought to be running - though it isn't McCain-specific, and as a result it's focused on "staying the course" rather than "who do you trust?," which is the question McCain will win the election on if he manages to win it:
Meanwhile, Matt thinks the notion of running on the surge is a "little bit crazy." He writes:
The smart Iraq strategy for McCain is the one he was using before the current "Obama's a flip-flopper" tactic came into vogue, namely one that's less focused on lying about Obama and more focused on telling big lies rather than small ones. It's absolutely vital for McCain to repeat, loudly and falsely, that there's a very good chance of al-Qaeda taking over Iraq and using it as a base from which to attack the American homeland and that Obama believes he can appease al-Qaeda by giving them Iraq. He needs to say lots of stuff about how "unlike my opponent, I don't think al-Qaeda will be satisfied with Iraq; unlike him I remember what happened the last time we allowed them to take over a country."
The lie on which the war was initially sold, and the lie on which it retained its popularity, was that the war was directly necessary for U.S. national security in a very simple and straightforward sense. That required, yes, some whoppers but they were whoppers about the sort of thing (preventing a WMD terrorist attack on American soil) that would constitute a good reason for starting a war. All this "success of the surge" business is incredibly abstract and totally disconnect from anything real people care about -- I can tell you which Americans have died because of the surge, but I have no idea which Americans are supposed to have benefited from it.
Setting aside the "is McCain lying about Obama?" question - while noting for the record that the Democratic nominee has flip-flopped a great deal of late, and that he did support a rapid withdrawal from Iraq during the period when AQI's influence in that country was at its height - I think Matt makes a good broad point: Forward-looking arguments about specific potential dangers to the U.S. tend to be more potent than backward-looking arguments about dangers that have been averted. The question is whether the rule holds in this particular instance, and I'm just not convinced it does: I think McCain's ownership of the surge is a unique political case, and that having staked his career on a strategy that very few other politicians supported he simply has to make his (apparent, possibly temporary) vindication the centerpiece of his campaign. Obviously, McCain can make forward-looking and backward-looking arguments at once: He can take credit for the recent improvements in Iraq while simultaneously warning of the dangers that would follow from a swift withdrawal. The question is where he puts the emphasis, and I remain convinced that emphasizing the surge, and the successes that seem to have flowed from it, sets up a stronger contrast with Obama than talking incessantly about the future dispositions of U.S. forces in Iraq - an arena where Obama can, and will, blur the differences between the two candidates in a way he can't if the debate focuses on the recent past.
And yes, Matt's of course correct that framing the argument this way requires persuading the American public that the stability of Iraq ought to matter to us for reasons (both strategic and moral) that go beyond the immediate risk of terrorist attacks in the U.S. homeland. But frankly if John McCain can't make that case then he isn't going to win the election anyway, so he might as well give it a shot.