John McCain's Shameless Call for Escalation in Iraq

"Straight talking" John McCain's call for thousands more troops in Iraq is just a pathetic ploy to seem like a patriot for the presidential elections.

"I understand the polls show only 18 percent of the American people support my position. But I have to do what's right... In war, my dear friends, there's no such thing as compromise. You either win or you lose." -- Senator John McCain

Funny -- it's the same way with elections.

So John McCain has joined Bush in throwing a shit fit over the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. What's bothering him? Well, it's certainly not the fact that no one who participated in the ISG had the foresight to oppose the war in the first place. McCain yelled at Baker and Hamilton last week because they didn't like his proposal to increase troop strength in Iraq by a number somewhere between 20 and 40 thousand. But the real bone in McCain's increasingly freakish craw? If the ISG recommendations are followed -- an unlikely event considering Bush's classic "whatever" dismissal -- US combat troops will be out of Iraq before McCain has a chance to get his election on.

While McCain's insistence on "re-invading" Iraq and holding out for a miracle has been assailed as unrealistic except by diehard hawks and Bush loyalists, it has also been absurdly misinterpreted as the brave, bold stance of a man who puts the welfare of his nation above his own presidential aspirations. The common take is that McCain is "jeopardizing" his electability by continuing to support an unpopular war. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said McCain is "swimming against the tide." CNN's Wolf Blitzer gushed that it was "a Profiles in Courage kind of statement." Even the UK press got in on the act, with the Times of London's Bronwen Maddox arguing the report "damages" McCain, making him look "like the nation's maverick, not the next president." Anatol Lieven wrote on the Guardian's website that McCain "seems to have committed himself to a course which could very well cost him the presidency in 2008."

These opinioneers are either lying or stupid. Mainstream journalists are loath to engage in "straight talk" about McCain in deference to his heroic legend. In the simplistic, shorthand narrative of American political coverage, McCain's flashcard has the word "integrity" on it in big red letters. It's as if a few years of torture and imprisonment renders one immune to ambition, vanity or dishonesty for a lifetime. That may sound callous, but the truth is that McCain has time and again proven willing to change his tune on issues of conscience for maximum convenience, and has even admitted as much. In May, McCain told Fox News' Chris Wallace all about it: "I've found in my life that when I do what I think is right... it always turns out in the end OK. When I do things for political expediency, which I have from time to time, it's always turned out poorly."

Asked for an example, McCain elaborated: "I went down to South Carolina and said that the flag that was flying over the state capitol, which was a Confederate flag, was -- that I shouldn't be involved in it, it was a state issue. It was an act of cowardice," he said, admitting he had done it to help his chances in the South Carolina primary and seeming only to regret the act because he "lost anyway."

Early indicators of the depths to which McCain will stoop to win include his freshly appointed campaign manager, professional scumbag Terry Nelson. Nelson, Bush's national political director for his 2004 reelection campaign and an unindicted coconspirator named in Tom Delay's money-laundering indictment, is responsible for the infamous below-the-belt white bimbo ad which helped sink Harold Ford, Jr.'s senatorial campaign this year by exciting the powerful anti-miscegenation Neanderthal demographic in Tennessee. The appallingly racist ad drew so much heat that Nelson was fired by Wal-Mart, but McCain apparently has lower standards.

Further examples of McCain's shamelessness come in the form of flip-flopping: On abortion, from "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations" in 1999 to "I do believe that it's very likely or possible that the Supreme Court should -- could overturn Roe v. Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support" last month. On the gay marriage amendment, from "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans" in 2004 to "reconfirming" his support for the same amendment to Baptist gasbag Jerry Falwell and doing two commercials for an Arizona ban. On Falwell himself, who McCain called an "agent of intolerance" only two years ago, only to eat shit at Falwell's Liberty University this year and now supporting teaching the idiot theory of Intelligent Design in schools. McCain opposed Bush's tax cuts, but has since voted to make them permanent.

The list goes on and on, making it incredibly clear to any knowledgeable observer that John McCain is just another go-along-to-get-along bullshit artist -- in other words, a senator. But reporters and pundits don't just avoid the subject; they deny it with an irrational certitude. The Washington Post's Harold Meyerson personified press fealty to McCain in an Op-Ed on the 13th: "McCain's position, at least, is sincerely held, as befits a candidate whose calling card is his integrity."

That's cute, isn't it? Meyerson offers no explanation or argument as to how he determined McCain's sincerity -- there is none -- he just says it is so, and you're supposed to buy it. "Integrity" is the long-established meme attached to McCain, and intellectually lazy mainstream journos aren't particularly interested in breaking new rhetorical ground there.

Some more sophisticated analysts acknowledge McCain's tradition of bullshittery, suggesting that McCain's call for more troops is a savvy feint, considering the unfeasibility of such a plan in the face of depleted troop reserves. Cokie Roberts called it "a somewhat convenient position, because he can always say, 'No one tried to win the war the way that I suggested to win it.'" But I don't think so. McCain seemed genuinely pissed that the ISG didn't consider his proposal, and I think I know why. The reality is this: John McCain is running for president. Just like any other serious candidate, everything McCain says and does for the next (and the last) two years is calculated to help him win in 2008. If McCain thought calling for an immediate withdrawal would help his chances, he'd do that. Hell, if he thought doing a choreographed dance number on the senate floor to the tune of "Love Machine" would help his poll numbers, he'd be working out the steps with Paula Abdul right now. If McCain wants the war to intensify, you can bet he thinks it's a good long-term strategy to win -- the election.

The idea that the war hurts McCain is just plain dumb. Americans may regret the war, but most Republicans still hate the idea of admitting defeat. McCain's hawkishness will help him secure the GOP nomination, perhaps the most difficult obstacle between him and the White House -- and the reason for all the fundamentalist footsy with Falwell. And a still-roiling quagmire in Iraq would be huge boon for McCain in a run against soft-on-slaughter Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, his most likely opponent.

McCain isn't any more responsible for the war in Iraq than Hillary, for one, so the idea of voters punishing him for supporting it makes no sense. And who do you think voters will trust to guide the country to an acceptable solution in an ever-worsening war, the celebrated 'Nam POW or the smarty-pants feminist? Hillary has and will continue to talk tough about the war, but she just can't win a bloodthirstiness contest against McCain.

By contrast, in the improbable event the Iraq mess is largely over by November 2008, McCain seems old and irrelevant rather than strong and reassuring. What issue does McCain really have without the war? Gay marriage? The ISG recommendation to pull out the troops by 2008 completely FUBARs McCain's program, and that's why he pulled the Popeye routine on Baker and Hamilton. McCain wants this stupid, pointless, sucker's war to drag on, maybe even get worse. He needs something to rescue us from. He can't win without it. And hey, what's a few thousand more corpses if it means he gets to be president?

Allan Uthman is the editor of the Buffalo Beast.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World