John McCain is morphing into George W. Bush. With his hopes for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination fading into the sunset, he’s taken to pushing his pro-Iraq war message in front of a friendly military crowd. But unlike Mr. Bush, who normally uses active duty troops for window dressing, Mr. McCain gave his most recent remarks before cadets of the Virginia Military Institute.
What’s next for McCain–a keynote speech at the national Campfire Girls convention?
A Chip Off the Old Blockhead
From Adam Nagourney of the New York Times:
LEXINGTON, Va., April 11 — Senator John McCain of Arizona today accused his potential Democratic presidential rivals of playing “small politics” in opposing the war in Iraq, saying withdrawal would lead to chaos across the Middle East, embolden Al Qaeda and expose the United States to “another 9/11–or worse.”
Imagine that, John McCain accusing his political opponents of playing politics and invoking 9/11. Yeah, he’s turning into George W. Bush all right. And like Bush, McCain seems blissfully dismissive of the fact that it’s our presence in Iraq that has emboldened the terrorists and created chaos across the Middle East.
But why should I even bother to bring this up? If you’ve been following the American domestic and foreign policy scene at all for the last six years, I’m preaching to the choir. If you still support Bush’s policies, I’m talking to the splinters on the pews.
McCain wants the 2008 GOP presidential nomination and he wants the Bush machine to throw its weight behind him. Backing the escalation strategy is one sure way to get it. Selling the success of the escalation strategy–as he did with his Baghdad photo opportunity while guarded by 100 heavily armed U.S. troops and five helicopters–is a vital part of McCain’s campaign strategy.
But McCain is also hedging his bets. “Having been a critic of the way this war was fought and a proponent of the very strategy now being followed, it is my obligation to encourage Americans to give it a chance to succeed,” he said. “To do otherwise would be contrary to the interests of my country and dishonorable.” If the escalation “works” (whatever that might mean), he can take credit for having supported it. If the escalation plan flops like a bad sitcom, McCain can always remind us that he had called for a surge much earlier than the Bush administration executed it, and that he had called for more troops than Bush committed to it. That’s standard Bush political procedure. Always position yourself to take credit for the good and delegate blame when things don’t go so good.
And, of course, McCain stole a page from the Karl Rove playbook, getting in a dig at the press. I just returned from my fifth visit to Iraq,” he said. “Unlike the veterans here today, I risked nothing more threatening than a hostile press corps.”
Yeah, McCain: you needed a hundred armed soldiers and five helicopters to protect you from those mean old reporters?
War and Politics
Despite what some would like you to believe, there is no clear divide between politics and war, just as there is no real separation of domestic policy from foreign policy. That’s always been the case, but it’s probably truer in contemporary America than at any other time or place in history. And I’m not terribly interested in actively opposing McCain’s presidential bid. He’ll do enough damage to himself without any help from me whatsoever.
What does concern me, though, is that by hitching his political wagon to Bush’s war, McCain is steering the national debate back toward the ad hominem collection of generalities, faulty analogies, false assumptions, straw man attacks, disinformation and so on that the neoconservative right has been manipulating us with for years. That’s a shame. We’ve had enough of that twaddle.
The Democrats in charge of Congress have a tough road ahead of them. Not only do they have to come up with a reasonable, responsible solution to Bush’s Iraq fiasco, they’ll have to figure out how to sell their program to the American public through logic and reason, and that’s going to be a big rock to roll up the hill. After years–decades really–of the neoconservative right’s efforts at training Americans to respond to irrational and emotional stimuli, getting them to actually think will require significant reprogramming.
Making things even tougher for the Democrats is that whatever they come up will be imperfect. There is no perfect solution to a perfect disaster the likes of which Mr. Bush and his supporters have created in the Middle East.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.