Iraq and al-Qaeda

John McCain brought the straight talk on a CNN interview earlier today:

Well, all I can say is that [Hillary Clinton] obviously does not understand nor appreciate the progress that has been made on the ground. She told General Petraeus last year when he testified that she would have to suspend disbelief in order to believe that the surge is working. Well, the surge is working.

So I just think what that means is al Qaeda wins. They tell the world that. And we fight here again and around the Middle East. And their dedication is to follow us home. All I can say is that this will be a big issue in the election as we approach November because at least a growing number of Americans, though still frustrated and understandably so, believe that this strategy has succeeded.

Bracketing the entire issue of whether or not the surge is succeeding, to portray what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq as primarily a matter of fighting al-Qaeda is breathtakingly dishonest. At least I hope it's dishonest, because if McCain is really that clueless about what's happening, then we're in more trouble than I thought. Meanwhile, this business about al-Qaeda following us home from Iraq is ludicrous. The American deployment in Iraq isn't a physical barrier preventing people from coming to the United States. Obviously, preventing would-be terrorists from getting into the country is an important priority, but sending 160,000 soldiers to Iraq doesn't accomplish that.

Meanwhile, as John Brennan told me a few weeks ago, McCain "says that al-Qaeda has said it will be a defeat if we leave, I think it is most inappropriate to concede to al-Qaeda the ability to define what constitutes success." After all, "al-Qaeda's strategy has been to bleed the U.S. into bankruptcy and to continue with the same approach will have severe consequences for U.S. national security." I think that's exactly right. To reason, as McCain does, that because al-Qaeda will boast if we leave Iraq that we therefore most make an unlimited commitment to indefinite warfare there is crazy; we'd be letting a small group of fanatics pin down a huge swathe of the American military with nothing more than the threat to release a gloating videotape.