Sunday, October 19, 2008

Johnny and the Warmongers

by Jeff Huber

This is the first installment of a pre-election series of essays on John McCain and American militarism.

Having based his presidential candidacy on his prowess in national security affairs, John McCain needed a running mate who wouldn't show him up by understanding more about the subject than he did. This left his vice presidential search committee with a Herculean task, and one that they performed dutifully, but make no mistake. The top bimbo on the GOP ticket is not Sarah Palin. In the area where McCain claims to possess the most competence, he couldn't find his proverbial rear end if Joe Lieberman held the map for him and Lindsey Graham worked the compass.

To paraphrase Voltaire, witticisms can be the best way to make a point but they never prove anything. So while a couple of satisfying one-liners may illustrate the chasm between McCain's perception of his national security credentials and the stark reality of his fecklessness, it is vital that we examine the specific ways in which, as commander in chief of the United States military, McCain would be the most dangerous man in world history.

It's vital that we take this journey, even if it turns out that Colin Powell left McCain and his number two without a pot to go number one in. Every president for the foreseeable future will have to deal with the threat to U.S. security interests that McCain personifies: parasitic, malignant militarism.

McMega Dittos

At the October 15 presidential debate McCain declared, "I am not President Bush," but when it comes to military and foreign policy matters, he's close enough to Bush for government work.

McCain has been in lockstep with Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neoconservative cabal on the woebegone war in Iraq from the outset. On March 20, 2003, the day Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, he echoed Dick Cheney's mantra that "the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Eight months later, he described the initial invasion as having been "spectacularly successful," and as late as December of 2005 he said, "Progress is being made in a lot of Iraq."

Not until early 2007, after the so-called "surge" strategy had been unveiled and McCain came out in favor of it did he insist that he had been "… the greatest critic of the initial four years" of the Iraq war, and only in Summer of 2007 did he jump on the scapegoat bandwagon and blame Donald Rumsfeld for everything that had gone wrong up to the time of the surge, saying that Rummy would go down as "one of the worst secretaries of Defense in history."

Once onboard the surge express, McCain was committed to riding it all the way, supporting it in any manner he could, including acting as a key component of the strategy's integrated disinformation campaign. The most egregious example was his participation in the April 2007 shopping spree that General David Petraeus staged in an outdoor Baghdad market for McCain and a congressional entourage that included Graham, who later gushed to reporters that he'd managed to buy five hand woven carpets for five dollars. McCain's party likened the escapade to spending the day at "a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime." The next day, however, a different narrative emerged. It turned out that over 100 heavily armed U.S. soldiers and multiple Blackhawk helicopters had provided security for the propaganda event. One Iraqi merchant said of McCain and his shopping demonstration, "He is just using this visit for publicity. He is just using it for himself. They'll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America, and we will have nothing."

Straight Talk, No Chaser

McCain continues to tout his support of the surge as proof that he can win in Iraq, but that rosy forecast is contraindicated by the cautious rhetoric of Petraeus and his successor as top U.S. General in Iraq, Ray Odierno, both of whom, along with Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, caution that the "gains" made in Iraq are "fragile and reversible."

Petraeus and Odierno have good reason to be cautious; they know better than anyone how they manufactured the illusion of the surge stratagem's success. The measure of effectiveness by which Sarah Palin declared that "the surge worked"—reduction of attacks to a mere 25 per day in a country with the size and population of California—would not be lauded as a sign of success in any other conflict in U.S. history. Further, not only is the "reduced" violence statistic hollow, it was achieved by problematic means.

First among them was Petreaus's recruitment of Sunni Militias. Petraeus rented their loyalty with guns and money for the supposed purpose of fighting al Qaeda in Iraq. No one has ever determined exactly how many al Qaeda in Iraqi members there ever were, but in late 2006 the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank often criticized for supporting Bush administration positions, estimated the total number of foreign fighters in Iraq at between 800 and 2000, a range that would include almost the entirety of al Qaeda in Iraq. It's worth noting that after years of being targeted by the U.S. and coalition militaries, and Iraq's security forces, and the Sunni militias, and the Shiite militias, tiny al Qaeda in Iraq, according to Petraeus himself, is still not defeated and is capable of launching lethal attacks.

Those al Qaeda in Iraq guys must be gosh darn good, huh?

On the Shiite front, the Iranians—at whom Petraeus and the administration consistently level unsubstantiated charges of fomenting violence in Iraq—were responsible for brokering a peace agreement between Mahdi Army chief Muqtada al Sadr and Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki.

There's not a drop of glue holding this house of cards together. The Sunni militiamen are going to need real jobs when they can no longer take bribes from us for a living, they don't have any marketable skills except ones that involve shooting people and blowing things up, and the Shiites who run Iraq's security forces don't feel at all secure about hiring on a whole lot of Sunnis. The Sunnis then, are quite likely to go back to the mattresses with the Shiites, and the Shiites, who put their guns down but remember where they put them, aren't likely to roll over and play dead.

Oh, yeah, the third party in this circle recreation, the Iraqi Kurds, are in a full-blown state of war with Turkey.

As for hopes of a political solution in Iraq, Mariam Karouny of Reuters tells us Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians talked to her of "bad news" ahead, of deep political divisions and assassinations to come as the provincial elections in January approach. One senior Sunni official warned Karouny that despite appearances of improvement in Baghdad, "Nothing has really changed."

Rudy Guliani and other McCain advocates maintain that their candidate's support of the surge was a principled stand, that McCain was willing to stick by what he believed in even if it cost him the GOP nomination. Giuliani and others neglect to mention that in early 2007 when McCain came out in favor of the surge, he was behind Giuliani in the poles, and the trinity of McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson were in a desperate race to out-messiah each other, McCain and Huckabee as jeebus surrogates in their Christmas TV spots, and Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. His campaign organization was also in disarray and broke.

McCain was looking for a devil to sell his soul to, and the neocons, searching for their next model/spokesperson, were more than happy to stroke a deal with him.

Next: Pavlov's Dogs of McWar

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.


  1. The pentagon has let Humvee construction contracts to Pakistan military. I'm curious what your take is on that. It seems to me that a military contract for wacky-stan has more potential to backfire against the US than help stabilize the region. see asia on line for the full article.

  2. Heh. Huh. Heeh. See my story from a few weeks back about the janitor at Islamabad Intl. who swept the floor with a broom that didn't have a handle.

    Paki Humvees. What will they have instead of wheels?

  3. Anonymous4:03 AM

    As an aside, I find it rather surprising that Victor Davis Hanson has not yet been mentioned on this blog.

  4. Fear not, Red. Hanson's day will come.


  5. Let the record reflect: Colin Powell left McCain without the pot, and the window.

    I voted early today.

    Anybody who can should. Long lines for early voting - usually mean total chaos on election day.

    The sticker that the election clerk gave me stated that "My Vote Counted."

    I certainly hope so.

  6. EL,

    I too voted.

    I suspect we countered each other.


    Odd how dissenting voices are not heard here.