McCain received only one campaign related question (about an audit of his campaign spending–yes an internal audit is almost complete), with virtually all the discussion about Iraq and related problems with Syria and Iran. On the Dem debate, he acknowledged they seem to be racing for the exits and expressed the view that the Dems have lost track of the idea that parties and presidents don’t lose wars, “nations lose wars.” He continues to make the case that the Surge is working. His view of the political situation is sober and realistic. On one hand he notes that he “can’t say I’m even guardedly optimistic” ; on the other hand he sees signs of local political progress and hopes to see support from the central government for Sunni chiefs who have now taken up the fight against Al Q’aeda. He is candid that there is simply no alternative now to Mailiki. A little news: he intends to organize a “No Surrender Tour” around the country, enlist veterans and try to drum up popular support for the continued war effort. Meanwhile he sees it critical that the Senate vote count for a withdrawal date be kept below 60. Although President Bush would veto a bill with an end date, it would represent a “huge setback” for the war effort and Democrats would take to including an end date in all legislation. General Petraeus will deliver his report on September 11, according to McCain, and debate will start on September 18. On Iran and Syria he clearly sees the need for a tougher policy and recognizes the destructive role both are playing. He’s not sure it’s time to bomb the Damascus airport but pursuing the UN investigation of their role in the Lebanon assassinations is high on his list. Coralling a “league of democracies” and pushing economic sanctions to deal with Iran, he also suggests moving troops from Anbar, where progress has been made, to try to close off the border, although he is under no illusions the border can be sealed.
On balance: if you are a believer in the Surge and think we can’t leave Iraq yet, you should be gratified to have McCain on your side. However, he is gradually shifting from the role of viable presidential candidate to leader of the war effort. If he is successful in the latter perhaps he regains his standing as a top contender.