"I have wounds to show you…"
—William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Coriolanus
In his January 28 State of the Union address, George W. Bush told Congress, America and the world that "The surge is working" and "al Qaeda is on the run in Iraq."
Mr. Bush must not have been watching NBC six days earlier when his "main man" in Iraq General David Petraeus said that, "there is no light at the end of the tunnel that we're seeing." And one has to wonder how Mr. Bush, if forced to, would square al Qaeda being "on the run" with the February 5 statement by his Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell that al Qaeda "remains the pre-eminent terrorist threat against the United States" and that he is "increasingly concerned" that al Qaeda in Iraq "may shift resources to mounting more attacks outside of Iraq.”
Mr. Bush would likely be mystified as a prehistoric man watching a rocket launch to know what the chief architect of his surge strategy had to say concerning whether or not it is "working." In the fall of 2003, when the Iraq situation was just beginning to unravel, neoconservative warfare guru Frederick Kagan wrote that combat which does not achieve the political objectives of an armed conflict—precisely the condition we have in Iraq—is merely "organized but senseless violence."
One may have grown inured by now to Mr. Bush's web of denial and delusion regarding his woebegone war in Iraq. One should be alarmed, however, that the evident GOP nominee to replace Mr. Bush appears content to extend America's policy of senseless global violence into the next century.
Neocons and Theocons
Before he dropped out of the race, Mitt Romney's foreign policy platform seemed to have something to do with using his personal wealth to bribe the rest of the world into doing what we want it to. Mike Huckabee's global agenda appears to involve praying for our enemies before having God and/or Chuck Norris smite them.
John McCain promises more war. He is "fine" with us spending another 100 years in Iraq. Maybe he was joking when he said that; but what kind of joke is that for a presidential candidate to be making? A regular Bob Hope, that John McCain is.
McCain was foursquare behind the surge in Iraq from the get go. That's how he became the official unofficial Bush sanctioned candidate to succeed the unitary throne. Back in November, McCain said "We've succeeded militarily." McCain must not have gotten the memo from Fred Kagan.
Straight Talk, No Chaser
The surge strategy was never meant to be anything more than a stall tactic, a ruse to keep a lid on political discontent over the mishandling of Iraq until a) our commitment there became a crack too tight for any Democratic president to wriggle out of or b) Team Bush could get John McCain elected and preserve the neoconservative initiative for war everlasting against post-modern extremism, emboldened Islamo-fabulism, or whatever magical realism happens to be available.
John McCain was highly critical of Donald Rumsfeld's conduct of the Iraq war. "We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement—that's the kindest word I can give you—of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war," he said. He also said, "Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."
McCain didn't say those things at the time Rumsfeld actually was mismanaging the war and being one of the worst SECDEFs in history. When Rumsfeld resigned from being such a bad defense secretary shortly after the 2006 elections, McCain said that Rumsfeld "deserves Americans' respect and gratitude for his many years of public service." Did he honestly think Rumsfeld deserved our esteem and thanks for being a worst ever wartime Secretary of Defense, or was that just another example of McCain's celebrated sense of humor?
It didn't sound like McCain was kidding during the 2000 GOP nomination race when he censured the Republican Party—and Mr. Bush—for pandering to the Christian right. He went so far as to characterize Jerry Falwell as an "agent of intolerance," and said the ideas of Falwell and his fellow televangelist Pat Robertson were "not good for the Republican Party."
By 2006, as the next Republican nomination race left the gate, Falwell had apparently become far more tolerable to McCain, who gave that year's commencement speech at Falwell's Freedom University. On Meet the Press afterwards, McCain explained that he now believed "the Christian Right has a major role to play in the Republican Party." That role, clearly, was to support McCain for the nomination and not some theocon like Romney or Huckabee.
In 2001 and 2003, he was a vociferous opponent of Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. Today, McCain promises to make them permanent, and Mr. Bush has praised him for it.
Here all this time I thought flip-flopping was something only Democratic presidential candidates did. Maybe it's a Vietnam vet thing, huh?
Coriolanus, Shakespeare's patrician war hero of ancient Rome, obliterates his honor and integrity when he succumbs to his political ambition and displays his war wounds to the plebians in exchange for their votes. John McCain's conduct as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton rivaled the bravery and moral character of any hero of myth or history you care to name; but the character presently running for president is not the same John McCain.
In a recent Newsweek profile of McCain, Evan Thomas wrote that the Senator "bridles at anyone or anything that impugns his honor." So far, however, the party most responsible for impugning McCain's honor has been McCain himself.
It was in an October debate that McCain first trotted out his cheesy one liner "I was tied up at the time" to explain his absence from the original Woodstock concert. I hoped that he would try to put this moment behind him, and let everyone forget how he had dumbed down the McCain sense of humor to tickle ditto head tastes, but no. McCain is so proud of this scripted ad lib that he turned it into a television ad that he now proudly features on his campaign website.
Worse yet is the image of a freshly tortured Lieutenant McCain that the Senator featured in his Christmas ad. This too would have been better swept under the rug, but he continues to feature this graphic in his media campaign. I'm frankly embarrassed for the guy, that he seems oblivious to the fact that he's making a spectacle of something so deserving of tacit reverence, and anyone concerned for his dignity and the dignity of all American POWs, living and departed, should be embarrassed too.
Worst of all is McCain's insistence that having been a prisoner of war for five plus years taught him something about when and why and how to conduct a war. It didn't. McCain's rhetoric indicates he doesn't know any more about the subject than does his ideological soul mate Joe Lieberman, and you forget more about the art of war every time you blow your nose than Joe Lieberman will ever learn.
McCain's war talk consists of the same Rovewellian boo noise we hear from the rest of Bush's echo chamberlains. He cautions that if we withdraw from Iraq, we'll fall into isolationism, which means that his idea of being engaged with the rest of the world is to invade and occupy it. He warns that victory in Iraq is essential because defeat will lead to bigger fiasco that the one we've already created.
Let's get something straight. The terms "victory" and "defeat" long ago lost any relevance to the situation in Iraq and the so-called war on terror. "Defeat" would entail our troops dropping their weapons, throwing up their hands, and allowing the evil ones to cut their heads off on videotape while one of Osama bin Laden's thousand-and-one number two men holds up a sign in the background that reads "Jihad Accomplished." "Victory" would involve bin Laden signing articles of surrender on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln while latter day American Caesar David Petraeus looks on.
McCain either knows this, and knows he's pitching us a bale of humbug, or he suffers from an even worse case of arrested cognition that Bush has.
Many of us, including and especially me, share McCain's self-confessed "many failings;" but many of us including me aren't running for president. McCain is a slob. He has no patience for detail. He is vindictive. He is a hypocrite, a fawner and a panderer who loudly condemns the practices of fawning and pandering. Newsweek's Thomas relates that as an "angry toddler," McCain would hold his breath until he passed out, a habit his parents tried to cure him of by dropping him in a tub of ice water. Today, he's a perpetually f-bombing temper tantrum with a 71 year-old life support system. McCain won't outgrow that sort of thing once he's in the Oval Office.
In some ways, I can admire those traits in McCain, and I rather hope Congress always has a "Senator Hothead" or three to shake things up when they need shaking.
But as president of the United States, John McCain would be the most dangerous human being of the face of the earth.
Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available April 1, 2008.
"…a witty, wacky, wildly outrageous novel that skewers just about anything you’d care to name, from military budgets to political machinations to America’s success as the self-appointed guardian of the world…a remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight."