On Monday, February 25, while rolling through the highways of Ohio on the Straight Talk Express, McCain told reporters that if he can't convince Americans that the troop escalation in Iraq is working, then, "I lose."
Six seconds later he retracted the statement, saying, "I don't mean that I'll, quote, lose. I mean that it's an important issue in the judgment of the American voters."
Heh. Will he "mean" it when he tells his Secretary of Defense to "Blow the living bejesus out of every one of those sand farmers" or will he just be having a bout of the "grumpies?"
Right after that, McCain said, "It's not often I retract a comment." Great Caesars ghost! The guy's the Barry Bonds of flip-flopping. If he really doesn't think he goes back on what he says very often, what else can't he remember?
McCain bet his political farm on the surge and stood fast aboard the Good Ship Bush while the rest of the GOP hopefuls scampered down the ratlines. So far, the gamble has paid off, not because it got him Mr. Bush's backing, but because it bought him the aegis of the neoconservative movement and its Borg-like array of think tank strategy and propaganda wizards.
At this point, McCain's nose is planted so far up the neoconservative agenda it's a wonder he can get enough oxygen to sustain life. His foreign policy advisers include Richard Armitage, Max Boot, Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol, Ralph Peters, Gary Schmitt and R. James Woolsey. Rounding out this august group of warmongers is Henry Kissinger, who knows more than anyone else alive about how to keep America entangled in a self-defeating war in a third world country. If McCain really wants to keep us in Iraq for a century, Kissinger can tell him how to do it.
It's easy to see why the neocons were eager to embrace McCain as a bedfellow. Like Bush, he is malleable, willing to adopt to any policy that kinda/sorta sounds like it conforms to his value set (and as evidenced by McCain's track record, his value set is flexible enough to wrap itself around any philosophy that helps him get elected). And like Bush, McCain is quite capable of espousing the tenets of whatever dogma he's loyal to at the moment although, also like Bush, a lot of what he says makes him sound like he's been sitting on a barstool since breakfast.
Referring to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, McCain told reporters, “Now the majority of Americans believe the surge is succeeding.” The poll actually stated that 43 percent of Americans think the troop increase is "making the situation there better."
Does McCain really think "better" is a synonym for "succeeding" or that 43 percent of anything is a majority?
"It's generally quiet," McCain said of his recent visit to Iraq with ideological hug buddy Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. McCain based this assessment on an interesting metric: he said he flew over Baghdad and counted "fifty soccer games going on." Given that McCain thinks 50 is less than 43, it's hard to guess how many soccer games he actually saw, but he probably saw more than just a few. Giving aerial tours of the Baghdad soccer scene has become General David Petraeus's PR stunt of choice. He probably figured out finally that it takes a lot fewer troops and helicopters to secure soccer fields and fly VIPs over them than it takes to lock down an outdoor market so the press can take pictures of big shots like McCain and Graham while they buy hand woven rugs for a buck apiece.
Baghdad probably did sound "generally quiet" to McCain. A volcano in eruption sounds quiet when you're watching it from a turning helicopter.
If you want a poll that reflects reality, you survey people living in the middle of it. Had McCain really wanted to know what people who mattered thought of the surge, he might have taken a look at a BBC/ABC/NHK poll of Iraqis taken in fall 2007, shortly before McCain gushed, "We've succeeded militarily" and his neo-confederate Joe Lieberman giddily declared "We are winning." That poll showed that about 70 percent of Iraqis believed security had deteriorated in areas covered by the surge, and that a shocking 60 percent of Iraqis still thought attacks of U.S. forces were justified.
But that reality didn't interest McCain, whose "straight talk" conforms to the neoconservative notion of "truth."
William Kristol's father Irving Kristol, the "godfather" of American neoconservativism, established a hierarchy of truth. "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people," he once said in an interview. "There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy."
It is patently obvious the neoconservative spin merchants have been selling us the Gerber Baby Food variety of truth. The question is: which flavor of the truth is John McCain telling himself?
We might ask the same question of Frederick Kagan, neoconservative warfare expert and chief architect of the surge strategy. Earlier in the Iraq war, Kagan noted that tactical victories which do not produce desired political aims are merely "organized but senseless violence," precisely the condition his escalation gambit has produced.
The military success McCain and others boast of is a house of cards, consisting mainly of an operational pause while Petraeus supplies weapons to everyone he didn't arm when, while training Iraqi forces in 2004 and 2005, he handed out 190,000 free Kalishikovs that disappeared themselves, almost certainly into the hands of insurgents. Petraeus himself has warned that, "Security gains are fragile and still reversible."
More importantly, though, claims that Mr. Bush and his echo chamberlains have made lauding political progress in Iraq are, at best, specious.
As the Center for American Progress aptly notes, the oil revenue sharing bill has not even received a first reading in parliament. The de-Baathification law came up for discussion, but was roundly protested by Shiite members of the legislature. The constitutional review has been delayed for another three months (half of a Friedman unit), the fourth time such a review has been deferred. Promised provincial elections have been postponed indefinitely pending agreement on a law defining relationships between the national and provincial governments.
Petraeus says "There is no lights [sic] at the end of the tunnel" and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker says tensions have heightened between Sunnis and Shiites a the national level, and admits that, "nothing good is coming down the line."
Yet somehow, John McCain manages to tell America with a straight face that the surge is working. Most likely, he has developed what all true neoconservatives possess: his own personal truth fairy who tells him whatever he needs to hear to justify whatever means he employs in pursuit of his political aim. And since his presidential candidacy rides on the all-in commitment he made to Bush's surge strategy, he'll stay on top of that horse until it either reaches the barn or the glue factory.
Or, to couch his mendacity in terms his fellow naval aviators will immediately recognize, that's his story and he's sticking to it.
For a change.
Jeff Huber'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." — Booklist