I think I just got to the heart of the problem in the George W. Bush Administration, as well as the would-be sequel of the McCampaign.
It is a delicate, but incredible important distinction between strategies and tactics.
Friday in the debate, during a discussion about the 2003 troop surge in Iraq, Barack Obama said:
They have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war.
And so John likes — John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong.
John McCain, following this eloquent and succinct dressing down of his judgment, put on his most condescending face, flicked his tongue a few times and did exactly what the Karl Rove playbook says to do.
He belittled his opponent, plugged the message and changed the subject:
MCCAIN: I’m afraid Senator Obama doesn’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy. But the important — I’d like to tell you, two Fourths of July ago I was in Baghdad. General Petraeus invited Senator Lindsey Graham and me to attend a ceremony where 688 brave young Americans, whose enlistment had expired, were reenlisting to stay and fight for Iraqi freedom and American freedom.
I was honored to be there. I was honored to speak to those troops. And you know, afterwards, we spent a lot of time with them. And you know what they said to us? They said, let us win. They said, let us win. We don’t want our kids coming back here.
And this strategy, and this general, they are winning. Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq.
With McCain’s storied military career, his dressing down his younger opponent on the difference between a strategy and a tactic carries some weight.
Unfortunately, as Joe Biden pointed out in the immediate spin (which was not countered by the other veep candidate, by the way. hmmm…), McCain was wrong and Obama was right.
A strategy is a big picture goal while a tactic is what you use to help achieve those. In the case of the surge, the strategy was “Clear, hold and build” – the tactic used to try and accomplish it was a temporary increase in troop levels.
In a broader sense, the strategy was to use the military to tamp down violence and create breathing room for the diplomatic operations to take hold and allow us to get out. The tactic that was used to allow the military to tamp down the violence was “the surge”.
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