Friday, January 12, 2007

Goodbye to "surge," hello to "augmentation"

It’s a pity that George Orwell can’t be with us to witness the latest White House word play.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Capitol Hill yesterday to defend her boss’ decision to dispatch 21,500 additional troops to Iraq. While insisting that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his fellow Shiites were on board with the Bush plan (a dubious claim, by the way), she introduced the latest in Bush administration terminology:

“They know that the augmentation of American forces is part of that plan.”

She then attempted to elaborate: “Now, as to the question of ‘escalation,’ I think that I don’t see it, and the president doesn’t see it, as an escalation. What he sees – ’’

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel then felt compelled to interrupt, probably because, at this point, most Americans aren’t particularly impressed with how President Bush sees things. He asked her, with some astonishment, “Putting 22,000 new troops, more troops in, is not an escalation?”

To which Rice replied, “Well, I think, Senator, escalation is not just a matter of how many numbers you put in. Escalation is also a question of, are you changing the strategic goal of what you’re trying to do?…I would call it, Senator, an augmentation that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad.”

So there it is. At least in Decider circles, surge is out and augmentation is in. This battle over words may seem trivial, but it is not. Language is powerful. Whoever captures the language has the power to frame an issue. Which is why the Bush camp has now unveiled augmentation, a word that sounds more benign than escalation, which still carries the stench of a certain lost war in the jungle.

The Bush administration has long understood the importance of word play, which is why, among many examples, it has long sought to redefine the privatization of Social Security as a push for “personal accounts” (because the word personal has a more positive connotation). Similarly, the urge to push the friendlier word surge (a burst of electrical power) stemmed from a war council desire to cushion the blow of a new troop hike.

Orwell, the British journalist/commentator/novelist, understood this impulse more than six decades ago. In his famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” he argued that because our leaders often have little interest in candor, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism.” He also wrote: “Politics otself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred….When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

Well, the general atmosphere is bad today, and language is suffering. Back in mid-November, Bush administration sources told The New York Times that any decision to hike the number of troops would be dubbed “the surge option.” By the end of that month, most of the Washington press corps had adopted the government’s preferred term. And on Christmas Day, The Wall Street Journal confirmed the Times account, reporting that “White House aides and senior Pentagon commanders have chosen an unusual term to describe the addition of the extra troops…”

Interestingly, the word was first used in the press as the word is supposed to be used: to signify (in the words of my Wesbster’s dictionary) “a short, sudden rush.” NBC News on Nov. 21 referred to a “short-term surge.” ABC News one day later referred to a “temporary surge.” But, as the weeks passed, the adjectives were dropped – and not just by the mainstream media. A Dec. 27 headline on the liberal Huffington Post website announced: “White House Pushes for Iraq Surge.”

Even though there were no empirical indications, prior to Bush’s speech on Wednesday night, that the troop hike would be short in duration, the Bush war team’s preferred word continued to surge through the information pipeline.

A few commentators tried to object; on Jan. 5, CNN’s Bill Schneider pointed out that “Surge sounds temporary….Escalation sounds long-term,” and five days later, on the eve of Bush’s speech, conservative columnist Tony Blankley pointed out in The Washington Times: “The troops would surely be in theatre for an idefinite period. The words escalation, reinforcement of higher sustained troop levels would all be honest. The word surge is deceptive.”

Yet even after it was clear, from Bush’s speech, that the new troops would be incrementally added over a period of months, and with a no exit timeline – in other words, the exact opposite of “a short, sudden rush” – some in the media have persisted in using surge. The U.S. News and World Report website headlined this: “Democrats Seek to Block Surge Funding.” The website headlined, “Leading Edge of Troop Surge Has Arrived in Baghdad.” They have been joined, of course, by a number of Bush allies, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who used the word on a cable news show following the president’s address.

Escalation clearly has some Vietnam baggage, and it’s undeniable that Democrats are using it in order to equate Bush with another Texas president who became politically isolated in the wake of an unpopular war. But it’s also undeniable that the dictionary definition of escalation (“to increase in intensity, magnitude”) clearly trumps surge as an accurate depicter of the Bush troop push. Which is why the latter word may not survive over time, even though it fits so nicely in a headline.

No wonder Condoleezza Rice introduced augmentation. Fearing the loss of surge, the Bush war team apparently felt that it needed a backup. The problem, however, is that most Americans no longer seem inclined to back or believe the Bush team, no matter what words it chooses to use. Rather, they would probably prefer to believe George Orwell, who in his essay famously warned, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The new way forward is to kick the can

President Bush made it abundantly clear in his White House address last night that he intends to dump his Iraq disaster into the lap of his ’09 successor. The new way forward is actually Operation Kick the Can Down the Road.

By announcing to his dwindling Republican base that he is sending 20,000 more troops to help shore up what he persists in calling the “young democracy” – indeed, the Republican base was his intended TV audience, since relatively few others support him on Iraq anymore – Bush signaled that the expenditure of American blood and money will continue until the day that he packs up and moves out.

His basic prescription is for more of the same, on an open-ended basis. By sending more troops and insisting on better behavior from the young democracy, he hopes that the situation in Iraq will improve “over time.” He said that the young democracy needs more “breathing space” in order to succeed. He wants Americans to understand that “the year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve.” (Given the fact that his overall handling of Iraq is supported at this point by roughly 25 percent of all Americans, it would appear that the majority’s patience is irreversibly exhausted.)

The most noteworthy aspects of his TV address were the things he omitted. He said nothing about how long those additional troops would stay in Iraq. He offered no evidence that the Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, would really take the crucial step of cracking down on the Shiite militias that are pivotal players in the sectarian civil war. All that Bush could offer us was Maliki’s “pledge” to do so (“Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated”). Bush said at one point that we “will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced,” but he didn’t say how he would respond if Maliki spends the year dragging his feet.

Much of the speech was devoted to cut-and-paste passages from the past. He said that our “victory” in Iraq (what victory?) would not look like the kind of victory that “our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.” But he’s used those lines many times before, notably in a speech back in December of 2004. Elsewhere, he extolled the building of democracy in Iraq – “the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region” – in words that seemingly had been lifted straight from the tattered neoconservative handbook. It’s debatable at this point whether the neo credo is broadly popular even within Bush’s Republican base.

Another passage was intended as a sign of Bush’s newfound humility: “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” Some in the press reported last night that Bush had admitted making blunders. Actually, he didn’t. He was merely employing the politician’s time-honored shell game of using the passive voice (“mistakes have been made,” somewhere at some point by somebody unspecified), then manfully accepting “responsibility,” only because that’s where the buck stops. He went passive again a few minutes later: “Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed…There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents.”

There were not enough American troops? Well, whose fault was that? Bush didn’t say. But we already know it was Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld – extolled recently by Bush’s vice president as the greatest defense secretary in history – who at the outset squelched the military brass who were urging more troops. Most notably Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, who did his urging up on Capitol Hill - and was subsequently nudged into early retirement.

Rhetorical passivity aside, one passage in the Bush speech was actually quite provocative. Consider this one, buried in paragraph 19: “Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”

That sounds like Bush is prepared to widen the U.S. commitment in Iraq and take on the neighbors (as opposed to talking to those selfsame neighbors, as recommended by James Baker’s Iraq Study Group). That passage might also be read as a provocation to the Democratic Congress; perhaps he is daring the Democrats to contest his constititional authority to widen the war. Considering the fact that roughly 70 percent of Americans now oppose Bush on Iraq (according to the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll, conducted after his speech), it's at least clear that Bush, in his fealty to the "young democracy" abroad, appears to care little what most people think in the old democracy here at home.

Yet one does wonder whether he has the requisite fighting resources to do everything he apparently intends – or whether he is merely going to stretch the military even further, with no good results. It’s noteworthy that his 20,000-troop hike is actually only half of what the hawks at the American Enterprise Institute think tank originally recommended. Many military experts doubt that Bush’s number is remotely enough to help quell the Baghdad region violence (especially since, at any given moment, as many as 75 percent of those 20,000 soldiers are either sleeping, eating, or generally off duty). So, all told, a case can be made that Bush’s escalation is both too much and not enough.

No alternative proposals are emanating from the prospective GOP ’08 frontrunners. For the moment, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani are echoing rival John McCain’s escalation endorsement. This makes sense, politically. Most of the voters who still back Bush on the war happen to be the same folks who can be expected to vote heavily in the ’08 presidential primaries, particularly in often-pivotal South Carolina. These three candidates know sticking with Bush now is a no-lose proposition: If the “surge” somehow works, they get kudos from the base for being so supportive in the president’s time of need; if the “surge” flops, they get kudos for giving a failed lame duck the benefit of the doubt.

(Although, interestingly, candidate Sam Brownback, the Kansas senator who is a religious-right favorite, declared yesterday that he opposes the “surge.” Politically, he might be betting that even the base is getting increasingly fed up.)

Some of Bush’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill, meanwhile, are discomfited at the moment. Those people have to run for office again in 2008. Norman Coleman, the Minnesota senator who is up for re-election in a blue state, assailed the Bush plan yesterday on the Senate floor. He is a barometer of moderate GOP sentiment, along with perhaps a dozen others, including Maine’s Olympia Snowe, Oregon’s Gordon Smith, and Ohio's George Voinovich (who today told Condoleezza Rice, "You're going to have to do a much better job" and said that Bush could no longer count on his support). These senators are ripe pickings for the majority Democrats, who are readying a non-binding resolution condemning Bush’s move, and who fully expect to split the GOP ranks and draw enough Republicans to further isolate Bush politically.

But that strategy is mere symbolism; Bush can theoretically kick the can down the road even if Gallup finds that his popularity has dwindled to Laura and his dog. Bush knows this, which helps explain why, in his speech last night, he threw down the gauntlet to the congressional Democrats. He argued that if U.S. troops are sent home, as “many” want him to do, the result would be “mass killings on an unimaginable scale.”

There are reports today that the Democrats, using the power of the purse, might seek to withhold “surge” money, or to attach conditions to such money. At the very least, beginning today, the Democrats will conduct investigatory committee hearings on the war - focusing on what comes next, and trying to get straight answers from this administration.

But, at the end of the day, and without letting Bush off the hook for the disaster that he has created, the Democrats, in the longer term, will still need to address the challenge that Bush posed last night: If the “surge” is a bad idea, and if staying in Iraq is a bad idea, are they prepared to simply wash their hands of the bloodbath that may well ensue?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Setting the stage for the urge to surge

Operation Iraqi Freedom
Mission Accomplished
Stay the Course
Adapt to Win
Plan for Victory
New Way Forward

The first five slogans are inoperative. But tonight, in yet another allegedly pivotal speech on Iraq, President Bush will declare that the sixth slogan is now operative.

With scant seconds remaining on the game clock, and facing fourth down and 50 on his own five-yard line, Bush is determined to throw the ball deep and simply hope for the best. But at this point the odds are heavily stacked against an immaculate reception. (OK, that exhausts my ability to employ football metaphors. Everyone else seems to be using the poker analogy.)

It does take a fair amount of gumption to decree a new troop escalation, in the face of deep skepticism or outright opposition from, among others, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Abizaid, British ally Tony Blair, gung-ho conservatives like retired Lt. Col. Oliver North (“Sending more U.S. combat troops is simply sending more targets”), the majority of the people in red-state Utah, the majority of ’06 midterm election voters (who mistakenly assumed that their votes would sway the Decider), at least 10 Republican senators, and a landslide majority of the American people (who are currently telling pollsters that Bush is wrong).

Therefore, one cannot reasonably imagine how the president expects to achieve victory in the art of public persuasion. His spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday that Bush needs to “bring the public back to this war and restore public confidence in support for the mission,” but it’s hard to see how he can pull that off, given the fact that at this point most Americans either disbelieve his arguments, or have simply tuned him out.

And don’t just take my word for it. Read this verdict: “He has little credibility left on Iraq.” That’s the word from David Keene, veteran conservative Washington activist and the longtime chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Keene wonders whether the public will be receptive to Bush, given the fact that it “has heard too many different and conflicting reasons for our initial invasion.” (Such as the purported Saddam-al Qaeda connection, which was dismissed by the 9/11 Commission; and the purported weapons of mass destruction stockpile, which was disproved by factual reality.)

Keene is also asking himself “why dumping more young men and women into a disastrous mess will do anything but make it worse.” Indeed, lest we forget (or not even realize), Bush in the recent past has tried several troop “surges,” none of which have worked – primarily because his friend the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is closely allied to the top Shiite warlord in the ongoing sectarian civil war.

Those Americans who are still tuning in Bush might well be advised tonight to listen closely to his remarks about Maliki. It is clear that no last-ditch U.S. troop escalation can begin to turn the tide unless the so-called “unity government” in the “young democracy” demonstrates that it is truly willing to take serious political steps for peace. For this to happen, Maliki would have to take on his political benefactor, cleric Muqtada Sadr, who runs one of the most violent Shiite militias.

Is Maliki really willing to do this, after balking so often in the past? Has he communicated this to Bush? Can Bush persuade TV viewers tonight that, this time, things will really be different? And how can Bush assure us that the United States is now imposing strict “benchmarks” on Iraq, at the same time that he keeps insisting that Iraq is “a sovereign nation?”

There are other questions that Bush won’t address tonight. To wit: If this “surge” doesn’t work, what’s plan B? (Or, perhaps more accurately, Plan Z.) It would be valuable to know the answer, since it does not appear that Bush can be deterred from his chosen course of action, notwithstanding the thumbs-down verdict in the voting booth. The potential downside of being a Decider, acting in defiance of overwhelming public sentiment, is that he risks permanent imprisonment within the bubble of his own making.

And don’t just take my word for it. As conservative commentator Tod Lindberg said yesterday in the Washington Times, the Bush escalation plan is his “last stand," and “if it fails, there will be no one else to blame.”

I withhold the balance of my remarks until after Bush’s TV address tonight.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fresh evidence of the McCain recalibration

As part of our continuing series on John McCain’s politically calculated conversion to Bush Republican orthodoxy, consider his interview the other day on Bloomberg Television.

Political commentator Al Hunt brought up the issue of Iraq, and asked the alleged maverick whether, in this era of severe budget deficits, he would support raising taxes on some wealthy Americans in order to help pay for this war, which is now costing America (or, more specifically, our children and their children) roughly $2 billion a week. Here’s how McCain replied:

“I’m not sure what the point would be. I would ask them to make other sacrifices, but I’m not sure I would want to raise their taxes just because we’re in a war.”

I'm not sure I would want to raise their taxes just because we’re in a war….There it is: the Bush orthodoxy in action, the argument that we can fight a major war and still have a free lunch at home – a concept that is unique in American history. Taxes were hiked during the Vietnam war, during the Korean war…but let’s go farther back:

Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, raised taxes on the wealthy in order to finance his war; he did this, in part, by introducing the tax on inherited wealth (the same tax that Bush and his allies have long been trying to shelve). Lincoln also signed the first bill introducing the income tax, responding (in the words of author Steven Weisman) to a “widespread demand in the North for sacrifice, especially from the wealthy.”

The inheritance tax expired after the war, only to be brought back four decades later by Republican president William McKinley, who needed it to help pay for the brief Spanish-American war. And the top rate of the income tax was raised precipitously by Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1917, to help pay America’s 19-month tab for World War I; as Wilson put it, “The industry of this generation should pay the bills of this generation.”

And a quarter-century after that, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the top rate even higher. In a State of the Union speech, delivered as war clouds loomed, he said: “I have called for personal sacrifice. I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. A part of the sacrifice means the payment of more money in taxes….I shall recommend that a greater portion of this great defense program to be paid for from (more) taxation than we are paying today. No person should try, or be allowed, to get rich out of this program; and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes.”

But McCain knows that if he was to quote FDR, and suggest that the amount of sacrifice in wartime should be tied to one’s “ability to pay” – in other words, if he was to behave as an actual maverick – he would be toast in the 2008 Republican primaries. If he was to suggest that rich Americans should actually pony up to help pay more for the war that he so vocally defends, just as rich Americans have done in the past, he would quickly lose the support of all those well-heeled Bush campaign donors whom he has been assiduously courting.

Better to let them keep their money, politically speaking. Indeed, they have gotten even richer during the Bush wartime era. In a report released the other day by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, households in the top one percent of earnings have fared best from the Bush tax cuts. Their effective individual tax rates dropped from 24.2 percent in 2000 to 19.6 percent in 2004 – roughly twice the rate cut that went to middle-income families.

There once was a time when McCain was known as a budget-balancing conservative. During the 2000 GOP primary season, when he was competing against Bush for the nomination, he repeatedly contended that Bush’s massive tax cut plan was too big and too risky for the economy; indeed, he countered with a more modest tax cut plan of his own, one that would have directed most of the savings to families with modest incomes. And in 2001, on the Senate floor, he even voted against the first wave of Bush tax cuts.

But many rich GOP donors and Bush loyalists have very long memories; in their eyes, McCain’s past behavior is proof that the man can’t be trusted. Hence his overriding desire to curry their favor during this crucial pre-primary phase. Hence his declaration to Al Hunt that the notion of taxing the rich to pay for a costly war is some kind of alien concept (in his words, “I’m not sure that that’s connected”). Hence his acceptance of the Bush Republican proposition that it is preferable to shift the financial burden for the war on terror to those who today are too young to be taxpayers, and to those not yet born.

It was Woodrow Wilson, 90 years ago, who said of his generation of Americans that “the war must be paid for and it is they who must pay for it, and if the burden is justly distributed…they will carry it cheerfully and with a sort of solemn pride.” But clearly such words are of no use to McCain. In his wooing of the GOP establishment, invoking historical precedents will get him nowhere. His first priority right now is simply to get with the program.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How will the Democrats define their spine?

Even though my latest print column focuses on the Republicans who fear that their leader’s impending troop escalation plan might be a political loser, the news this morning is really about the Democrats.

Because there are indications that they might be growing a spine. Depending on how you define it.

The Democrats are still sending mixed messages about the extent to which they are prepared to contest President Bush’s “New Way Forward,” as evidenced by their myriad comments on the Sunday talk shows, but there was no mistaking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s declaration of defiance. On CBS, she said that, while the Democrats will continue to finance the troops already on the ground in Iraq, they will not be so quick to finance the additional troops that Bush seeks to dispatch:

“If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request, we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now….The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them. But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it, and this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.”

Pelosi’s comments echo those made last week by her close ally, John Murtha, the new House defense appropriations chairman, when he said that he intends to “fence the funding.” There is also talk in Democratic circles of holding up the troop escalation money (in the form of an amendment) unless or until Bush proves that it would be well spent.

My translation: The Democrats are not willing to de-fund the war itself (a move demanded by many on the antiwar left), because they do not want to risk being tagged down the road as the party that “lost” Iraq. Fairly or not, this is what happened to the party in the wake of Vietnam. The congressional Democrats in the mid-‘70s cut funding during the last years of that conflict, as a U.S. pullout became imminent, thereby allowing conservatives to claim that the liberal wimps had “lost” Vietnam. Nor does the new gang want to open themselves to the old Karl Rove charge that Democrats don’t back our fighting men and women in the aggregate.

The new Democratic leaders don’t want to take that bait on Iraq. But Pelosi apparently is willing to carve out Bush’s troop escalation plan as a separate and distinct issue – and to subject it to protracted scrutiny, by using the prime weapon that Democrats now have at their disposal: oversight. A slew of House and Senate committees seem primed to examine the Bush plan in detail, and to assess whether more troops can actually make a positive difference – or whether Bush would be merely putting more young lives at peril, in another desperate bid to salvage the signature initiative of his presidency.

It’s clear that Bush, notwithstanding the “thumpin’” that he says he took in the ’06 elections, is daring the newly empowered Democrats to defy him, perhaps in the hopes that they will overreach and play heavily to their liberal antiwar base. Pelosi’s comments yesterday indicate, however, that the Democrats feel more comfortable focusing on the broadly unpopular troop escalation option (which is supported by only 12 percent of Americans nationally, according to the latest Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll; and which is now supported by only 44 percent of the citizens of Utah, the reddest state in the land.)

In other words, by opposing the troop escalation plan, Democrats are practicing safe centrist politics.

Stopping that plan, however, may be another matter entirely. And here we come to the Democrats’ mixed message. While Pelosi was promising serious scrutiny on CBS, Senate Foreign Committee chairman Joe Biden was suggesting on NBC’s Meet the Press that the Democrats really don’t have the clout to block Bush at the end of the day:

“We have a standing army with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. You can’t go in and, like a tinker toy, and play around and say, ‘You can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece’…he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to.”

Tim Russert then asked whether the Democrats could legislatively cap the number of troops in Iraq. Biden replied: “Because it’s very difficult to—it’s constitutionally questionable whether or not you can do that. I think it is unconstitutional to say, ‘We’re going to tell you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.’ When we wrote the Constitution, the intention was to give the commander in chief the authority how to use the forces, when you authorize them, to be able to use the forces.”

Translation: Top Democrats differ on how they would define “spine.”

Biden – a newly-declared ’08 presidential candidate - essentially thinks there is no single definition (“no party out of power ever has a congressional voice that is a unified voice on a particular party”). He basically undercut Pelosi’s declaration that Democrats would substantively fight Bush over the troop escalation issue. Biden clearly has no desire to draw that line in the sand (“there’s not much I can do about it”). Even though he is planning a month of hearings on the Senate side, he sees his role as a public educator (he says he plans to “speak out as loudly as I can”), and maybe a moral persuader (he says he has drafted “a resolution of disapproval”).

One can detect the evolving Democratic balancing act. They will combine tough talk (Pelosi) with caveats about the public expecting too much (Biden). They will stage a slew of committee hearings and submit Bush to the oversight that his Republican allies failed to provide, but, at the same time, the Democrats really don’t want to get into the weeds and grapple with Bush about solutions. They don’t want to share the ownership of this war. They want Iraq to remain Bush’s war, and if somebody on Capitol Hill is really going to pull the plug on Bush, they want Bush’s GOP allies to do it.

Biden even said it: “The only way this is going to change…is when a majority of (GOP) colleagues, Republicans, say to the president, ‘Mr. President, enough. We are not going to support you anymore,’ that when the president will begin to change his policy.”

As I indicated in my Sunday print column, a small number of Republicans (mostly those who are nervously eyeing 2008) have already begun to dissent or waver. But Democrats would be wrong to assume that a critical mass of Republicans will bail them out. In all probability, Democrats will still need to define their own spine.


Speaking of the Republicans, I wrote again yesterday about how alleged centrist John McCain is risking his standing among independent voters by pushing for the Bush troop escalation plan. Here is another fresh take on that topic.