"Hi, John McCain. This is Alex. And he's my first. So far his talents include trying any new food and chasing after our dog. That and making my heart pound every time I look at him. And so, John McCain, when you say you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were, you can't have him."
-- Script for a TV ad being aired by MoveOn.org and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
HI, ALEX'S MOM -- John McCain here. Your boy is adorable, and I don't blame you for being crazy about him. Believe me, I know just how you feel. I have been blessed with seven children -- Doug, Andrew, Sidney, Meghan, Jack, Jim, and Bridget -- and I can tell you from experience that the intense bond you feel now is only going to get stronger with time. Even after Alex has grown into a young man, your love for him will pull at your heartstrings. Few things will give you greater peace of mind than the knowledge that your child is happy and well -- and should anything threaten or hurt him, you will ache with distress and yearn to protect him.
So I understand why you might be wary and indignant if you've been told that I support an endless and unwinnable war in Iraq, or that I see children like Alex as eventual cannon fodder for that war. Any decent parent would recoil from a politician who was blithely indifferent to the prospect of American troops fighting and dying for another 100 years.
But I am not such a politician! The last thing I want is to see our country mired in a war it is doomed to lose. That's the kind of war we were fighting in Iraq before the "surge" that began in January 2007 -- the revamped counterinsurgency strategy that I had been advocating for nearly four years before President Bush finally agreed to change course.
Today, thanks to that change in strategy, our prospects for success in Iraq are brighter than ever. "Don't look now, but the US-backed government and army may be winning the war," The Washington Post editorialized recently. Just the other day, a Page 1 story in USA Today highlighted how dramatically things have improved. "Roadside bomb attacks and fatalities," the June 23 story began, "are down by almost 90 percent over the last year." Of course there are no guarantees in wartime, but I think the chances are excellent that the war in Iraq will have ended in victory before your Alex is old enough for nursery school.
But even in a peaceful postwar Iraq there is likely to be a role for American troops, just as there is in other former war zones. Despite what MoveOn, AFSCME, and the Democratic Party would like you to believe, I don't envision another century of war in Iraq. I envision a century of peace. That's why, when a voter mentioned during a New Hampshire event in January that President Bush had spoken of "staying in Iraq for 50 years," I replied: "Make it a hundred." After all, I continued, "We've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed." Barack Obama and his supporters always omit the words in italics, but wouldn't you agree that they are essential to my meaning?
John McCain as a prisoner of war in 1967, in a hospital bed in Hanoi, North Vietnam
Whatever our political differences might be, you and I both hate war. My family has a long history of military service, and like my father and grandfather before me, I know only too well how terrible its costs can be. The sacrifices of war are not mere abstractions or political talking points to me. I could never be blithely indifferent about placing in harm's way the brave Americans -- among them my two youngest sons -- who wear their nation's uniform and volunteer to defend its security and freedom.
And who knows? Perhaps your baby boy will grow up to be one of those brave Americans himself. The world will still be a dangerous place, and we will still need young men and women to stand guard against those who would harm us. If Alex chooses to step forward, he will have the support and esteem of a grateful nation. And, I feel quite sure, of his proud and loving mother.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)