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MoveOn Calls Out McCain on His Iraq Flip-Flops

Public record reveals what the media haven't about McCain: He's been flip-flopping on Iraq since before the first war. First he said he could "not even contemplate" the bloodshed. Now he says more troops should "do the trick."

This week, the progressive advocacy group is trying to break up an epic love affair -- a passionate, committed seven-year relationship with all the romance of the most syrupy of Hollywood date flicks.

The group is trying to drive a wedge between John McCain and a fawning media that's pumped out mountains of nonsense about what a straight-shooting, independent-minded and, above all else, moderate voice McCain has been in the U.S. Senate.

Actually, they're stepping around the intertwined lovers, with a $275,000 ad buy in New Hampshire and Iowa that will bring the case straight to the American people that the War in Iraq -- and Bush's latest attempt to escalate it -- has McCain's fingerprints all over it [ VIDEO].

John McCain's been all over the map when it comes to Iraq for a long time. Cliff Schecter notes that way back in 1990, two and a half weeks after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, McCain said that Americans shouldn't support a ground war in the Middle East because "we cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood." Less than two months later, though, McCain not only contemplated the possibility, he voted to go to war on behalf of Kuwait.

As the war drums sounded for the current fiasco, McCain, echoing Dick Cheney and the administration's legion of half-baked neocons, promised a cakewalk. In September of 2002, he warned us that there might be a few casualties: "As successful as I believe we will be, and I believe that the success will be fairly easy, we will still lose some American young men or women." That same month, he told CNN, "We're not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad … we're not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies." And in early 2003, he promised viewers of MCNBC, "We will win this conflict. We will win it easily."

This month, though, he told MSNBC that he knew all along the Iraq war was "probably going to be long and hard and tough," and that he was "sorry" for those who voted for the war believing it would be "some kind of an easy task." "Maybe they didn't know what they were voting for," he said.

In October, John McCain was just as sure that 20,000 more U.S. troops would do the trick in Iraq -- bringing about stability, democracy and prosperity, and restoring America's image in the world (or something) -- as he had been about the ease with which it would be prosecuted in 2003. When reporters asked him to elaborate on his statement about the need for more combat troops in Iraq to quell a "classic insurgency," McCain said: "Another 20,000 troops in Iraq, but that means expanding the Army and the Marine Corps."

In November, McCain said again: "I believe victory is still attainable," adding: "But without additional combat forces, we will not win this war."

That prompted Robert Reich to pen a column in which he wrote: "McCain gives every impression of meaning what he says, which is one of his greatest assets." But after speaking with the senator, Reich said he "simply can't believe this one":

What's most important for the morale of the troops is knowing they'll be coming home soon, not hearing some politician say we need more troops when there's no possible chance of that happening.

I think McCain knows Iraq is out of our hands -- it's disintegrating into civil war, and by 2008 will be a bloodbath. He also knows American troops will be withdrawn. The most important political fact he knows is he has to keep a big distance between himself and Bush in order to avoid being tainted by this horrifying failure. Arguing that we need more troops effectively covers his ass. It will allow him to say, "If the president did what I urged him to do, none of this would have happened."

But if McCain thought that he was safe in advocating a troop buildup -- safe because Bush would never be insane enough to call for escalating an unpopular war just a couple of months after American voters delivered his party a powerful message that they had lost confidence in those running it -- he underestimated the president's capacity for stubborn self-delusion.

When it became clear that Bush was in fact going to call for an increase in troops, John Edwards, sensing an opportunity to get out ahead of the curve on McCain, who's considered a strong challenger for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, termed the escalation the "McCain Doctrine," effectively hanging the policy around the senator's neck.

And McCain's been squirming ever since. In early January, he said that the plan would require, specifically, 30,000 troops, adding, "a small size [deployment] would be the worst of all options to exercise, in my view." Just a day later, he went to the American Enterprise Institute with his friend Joe Lieberman and said: "We are not specific on numbers, we don't have -- we are talking about three or four combat brigades, in Baghdad, and one or two more in Anbar province. We are not that much detailed-oriented."

As blogger Steve Benen points out, McCain's been moving the goalposts in an attempt to preemptively distance himself from a policy that's all but guaranteed to fail.'s ads, which started airing yesterday in the crucial primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, criticize McCain for "leading the charge" to send more American troops to "a failed war."

"This Congress was elected with a mandate to end the disaster in Iraq," MoveOn's political director, Tom Matzzie, said in a statement. "MoveOn is going to demand that members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, show leadership that the president won't."

The group, which pumped over $27 million into the last election cycle, has seen its membership grow by 50,000 members after it circulated a petition against the president's planned escalation. The group is doing what many hoped the media would: holding public servants accountable for being wrong -- often many times over -- about the worst foreign policy disaster in American history.

Hopefully, that effort will have some traction, and the 2008 candidates will find that trying to "stay the course" in Iraq is politically untenable. And that might, at long last, allow us to bring American troops back home.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.

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