Compromise or capitulation?

Perusing the press briefings this morning, it is crystal clear that both Team McCain and the White House are determined to stress that everybody won. The substance of the detainee deal is still a little murky, but the White House seems to have given ground on evidence while the Senators are relying on sunshine – the ...

606969_McCainWarnerGraham5.jpg
606969_McCainWarnerGraham5.jpg

Perusing the press briefings this morning, it is crystal clear that both Team McCain and the White House are determined to stress that everybody won. The substance of the detainee deal is still a little murky, but the White House seems to have given ground on evidence while the Senators are relying on sunshine - the best disinfectant of all - to keep the techniques in bounds.

Politically, at first glance, George W. Bush and John McCain have both won. The impression of Bush as a president straining every sinew to keep America safe has been reinforced by the narrative of the last couple of weeks—as his uptick in the polls suggests. Meanwhile, the image of McCain as the principled former POW, the conscience of the Senate, has been bolstered. The fact a deal has been reached—which is opposed by the ACLU and the ed board of the New York Times—and the public civility of the negotiations means that the damage caused to McCain among conservatives has been limited. Indeed, the Senator who might pay the highest political price for his principles is Lindsey Graham, whose break from the no-compromise right on immigration, judges, and now torture—combined with his importance to McCain for 2008—is making him increasingly vulnerable to a primary challenge in South Carolina.

The Democrats have not risen to the occasion. As the country debated this issue, the Democrats made a conscious decision to absent themselves from the stage, allowing the Republicans to claim that they're the only party serious about the war on terror. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spun this line yesterday: "What you saw today was all Republicans coming together to enable this program to go forward in order to enhance the security of the country." The Democrats are now faced with either passively accepting the deal, as Nancy Pelosi indicated they would last night, or bucking the man they deferred to as the conscience of the country on this issue and handing Karl Rove the campaign weapon he wants—and needs—so desperately.

Perusing the press briefings this morning, it is crystal clear that both Team McCain and the White House are determined to stress that everybody won. The substance of the detainee deal is still a little murky, but the White House seems to have given ground on evidence while the Senators are relying on sunshine – the best disinfectant of all – to keep the techniques in bounds.

Politically, at first glance, George W. Bush and John McCain have both won. The impression of Bush as a president straining every sinew to keep America safe has been reinforced by the narrative of the last couple of weeks—as his uptick in the polls suggests. Meanwhile, the image of McCain as the principled former POW, the conscience of the Senate, has been bolstered. The fact a deal has been reached—which is opposed by the ACLU and the ed board of the New York Times—and the public civility of the negotiations means that the damage caused to McCain among conservatives has been limited. Indeed, the Senator who might pay the highest political price for his principles is Lindsey Graham, whose break from the no-compromise right on immigration, judges, and now torture—combined with his importance to McCain for 2008—is making him increasingly vulnerable to a primary challenge in South Carolina.

The Democrats have not risen to the occasion. As the country debated this issue, the Democrats made a conscious decision to absent themselves from the stage, allowing the Republicans to claim that they’re the only party serious about the war on terror. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spun this line yesterday: “What you saw today was all Republicans coming together to enable this program to go forward in order to enhance the security of the country.” The Democrats are now faced with either passively accepting the deal, as Nancy Pelosi indicated they would last night, or bucking the man they deferred to as the conscience of the country on this issue and handing Karl Rove the campaign weapon he wants—and needs—so desperately.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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