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Hoosiers' Lessons Apply to Iraq

July 29, 2008

In the 1986 movie Hoosiers - arguably the best sports movie of all time and a true story - the most compelling scene took place during Hickory High School’s first basketball game of the season.

Hickory had a new coach - Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) – and the school was so small the team consisted of only six players. In the season opener Coach Dale had to bench one of the six because he did not follow Dale’s philosophy of passing the ball four times before anyone could take a shot at the basket. Coach Dale was teaching team work and the long-term success of the season depended on it.

In the fourth quarter a Hickory player fouled out of the game and the team was left with only four players on the court. The player Coach Dale had previously benched started to check himself into the game to round out its five players on the court when Coach Dale ordered him back to the bench to the disbelief of the fans and players and informed the referee that Hickory would play the remainder of the game with just four players.

Fans booed and hissed and Hickory lost the game. But Coach Dale had made his larger point – he would not waver on his principle that either the team would win or lose together – but no one individual would go it alone.

So it is that John McCain is basing his stand in Iraq. On principal McCain says he’d rather lose an election than lose the war. He stood by the troops and President Bush’s surge strategy when many in both political parties wouldn’t. His support for the war has been called an extension of President Bush’s policies and he’s endured the heckling and criticism of Democrats and his opponent Barrack Obama for sticking to his stand.

Now Obama is finding that his hardcore stand against the war – that played so well in the Democratic primary – is a tough sell to voters in the general election. The surge in Iraq has worked and Americans do not want to cut and run especially when victory is now at hand.

General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, opposes a firm timetable for withdrawing the troops saying, "Let’s keep our powder dry." Petraeus wants to make decisions based on the conditions on the ground and not be locked in to some fixed timetable like the one Obama is proposing.

For his part, Obama’s position keeps changing. He wants a 16-month timetable to remove the troops but is now saying he’ll leave the door open depending upon the conditions on the ground. But that wasn’t his position six months ago when he largely ridiculed Sen. Hilliary Clinton for her vote to go to war. He campaigned in the primaries saying that if elected President he would call the generals into the Oval Office "on day one" and give them a new war mission - bring the troops home.

His refusal to say he was wrong in not supporting the military surge in Iraq - or even to admit that the surge has worked – is also troubling to voters. Now Obama is calling for an Iraq-style surge in Afghanistan ostensibly because the Iraq surge worked – although as stated - he did not support the Iraq surge and denies it worked.

It’s hard to see a principled stand here.

McCain has long held that our goal in Iraq must be to stabilize the country so Iraqis can take over their own security. He was a lone supporter of President Bush’s surge policy in Iraq and faced a great deal of criticism and ridicule from Democrats and pundits for his support of the policy.

In Hoosiers the townspeople of Hickory were impatient and thought the coaching philosophy of Coach Dale was wrong and misguided because they lost their first several games. They even tried to have him removed as coach in a town meeting style coup.

Cooler heads prevailed and the townspeople failed in their efforts to impeach him. The team went on to win the 1952 Indiana State Basketball Championship in a miraculous Cinderella season that is now legendary in basketball lore.

It took a while for the folks of Hickory to understand Coach Dale’s philosophy and his principles in guiding the team.

Hoosiers shows that those who stand on their principles usually win.