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GOP debate: No runs, no hits, some errors

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Not since Lyndon Johnson’s administration has there been such a consensus among the president’s own party stalwarts that getting too close to him may be injurious to political health. Of all the major contestants, John McCain is perceived to be the closest to Bush in his strategic thinking about Iraq. The perception is not entirely correct. While McCain is adamant about not withdrawing precipitously, he is realistic about the low chances for success if we stay. He understands our reluctance to commit the forces necessary to get the job done, the four years we’ve waited to employ the proper tactics, and the damage done by Paul Bremer’s hideously dysfunctional administration of Iraq.

But in one remark last Thursday, McCain unconsciously summarized the naïve world view of Bush’s presidency. When he said that he would pursue Osama bin Laden “to the gates of hell,” he fell into the same simple-minded trap that has led this administration to mismanage expectations by personalizing the war against terrorists.

The truth is that Osama bin Laden is the least important of our strategic security concerns. Al-Qaeda is a serious problem, but bin Laden himself is of less significance than at least half a dozen others. Pursuing bin Laden is at best a waste of resources and demonstrates only that we have unsophisticated solutions to complex problems.  Although we hope that he is killed or captured, Osama bin Laden is much more likely to die of a landslide or dysentery or old age.

John McCain may have been kidding, of course. He has a well-developed and wry sense of humor, and maybe he was having a little joke. Or perhaps he was playing to the simple-minded among those who will vote in the primary, since primary voters typically hold more extreme views and tend to be a bit rabid.

In the end, though, if McCain wants to energize his campaign, regain momentum and avoid being viewed as another politician with worn-out ideas, he needs to distance himself from the failed strategies of George W. Bush.

Jack Jacobs is an MSNBC military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also holds three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

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