The art of losing, that is. Senator McCain, for example.
If, as I expect and, at this point, hope, McCain loses his bid for the Presidency, what is losing going to do to him?
Well, based on McCain’s behavior after losing to George Bush in 2000, and based on his body language in the latter stages of this campaign, I’d guess he’ll spend the next couple of years consumed by anger and bitterness.
Bitterness about what? Apart from losing as such, about what McCain cares most about: the stain on the honor of the United States as President Obama attempts – slowly, slowly – to reduce our presence and profile in Iraq, and accept something far less than the “victory” that McCain is holding out for.
I think there’s a real possibility that Senator McCain will spend between November of this year and the summer of 2010 (when he’ll be absorbed in his own reelection campaign) promulgating a stabbed-in-the-back narrative for the Iraq War, and generally making it as difficult as he can for Obama to pursue his foreign policy with something resembling confidence.
Both the Democrats and the GOP need to start thinking now about how they want to handle McCain if this is indeed the direction he chooses to go: the Democrats because if an Obama Administration spends its first two years looking nervously over its shoulder on foreign policy, it may very well fail (see Obama’s approach to the Russo-Georgian conflict for Exhibit A); the Republicans because it will be difficult for them to pursue a genuine rebuilding effort if they allow themselves to be swept up in a McCain-centric campaign of the sort I fear.
If I were Barack Obama, I would be thinking along the following lines: appoint a Secretary of Defense who will give me credibility with the uniformed services and bolster public support for my policy (I think Hillary Clinton would do will in this role); find a suitable surrogate in the Senate who is eager to take McCain on directly and on his own turf (I think Jim Webb is ideal for this); and find as strong a challenger for McCain’s seat as I possibly can as early as I possibly can (I have no particular ideas here). There’s no need for Obama to be aggressive. He just needs to put the pieces in place to win if McCain chooses to go to war.
The GOP is harder to advise, because they have no leader – which is precisely why they may be vulnerable to such a move by McCain.