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August 17, 2008

McCain used 9/11 to plump for invasion of Iraq, NYT swoons

David Kirkpatrick has a gushy little story in the New York Times about how tough John McCain was after 9/11 when he called for the invasion of Iraq to fight terrorists that weren't there.

What did McCain do to earn Kirkpatrick's praise? Well, according to the article, after 9/11, he immediately went on TV a lot and called for war with as many countries as possible. Only sissies wait for the facts before calling for war.

Within hours, Mr. McCain, the Vietnam War hero and famed straight talker of the 2000 Republican primary, had taken on a new role: the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against Al Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria. [NYT]

Taken in context, the story is a valuable reminder of something that McCain doesn't like to broadcast: That he did everything he could to drag America into Iraq.

McCain was an early and forceful advocate of the invasion of Iraq. Actually, there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq until after the US invaded. So, McCain's bold plan to attack Iraq in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was either befuddled or opportunistic.

Within a month he made clear his priority. “Very obviously Iraq is the first country,” he declared on CNN. By Jan. 2, Mr. McCain was on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, yelling to a crowd of sailors and airmen: “Next up, Baghdad!”[NYT]

But McCain's a Republican. As far as Kirkpatrick is concerned, it's the thought that counts. Calling for the invasion of Iraq for no reason was gutsy. Who cares if McCain's decision was flat-out wrong?

McCain was an honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. His top foreign policy adviser, lobbyist Randy Scheunemann headed up the committee and served as one of Ahmed Chalabi's top American fixers.

After dragging the U.S. into a ruinous war, Scheunemann used that credential to launch an international petro-influence peddling cartel. All the while, he continued to lobby for various foreign governments, including Georgia. Of course, Scheunemann continued to pressure McCain and other Republicans on his client's agendas, including the expansion of NATO.

McCain wasn't tough on Iraq, he was at best catastrophically wrong and characteristically rash. He says he has foreign policy experience, and he does--experience fucking up.   


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My question is why McCain was fixated on Iraq and not on, say, Iran, or Pakistan, or North Korea. We all know why Bush cared about Iraq more than about other rogue states, but what about McCain?

Reading this article, I've come to almost the opposite conclusion as you. The article doesn't glorify McCain; on the contrary, it notes which parts of his case for war were overstated and which were plain wrong, and contrasts his earlier statements about the Bush administration with his current one. Overall, it portrays him as someone who likes to shoot first and ask questions afterward. Its portrayal isn't completely negative, but is not particularly positive, either.

I agree Alon. Whilst I don't support J McC, he doesn't appear to be the brightest candle in the chandelier: a pre-requisite of Repuplican prospects.

BTW, hope you and yours are well and it's high time you got back to Nick's Patch!

The article frames McCain's policies as tough, and his putative toughness in terms of a response to 9/11. This is the classic and specious Republican frame. If if I could discredit one Republican myth, it I'd sever the thoughtless association between starting wars and toughness. There's nothing tough about starting a war that neither you, nor anyone you care about, will ever have to fight. There's nothing tough about pandering to the public's worst instincts or using a national tragedy to further your neo-conservative foreign policy agenda. The reason John McCain was calling for war on Iraq right after 9/11 was because he had his hitlist drawn up long in advance. The neocons decided which countries they were going "roll back" and they seized on 9/11 as an excuse to do it. That's why the war has always been so half-assed in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld and his entourage saw it as a distraction to their pre-ordained showdown in the Middle East. (Assassin's Gate has a good discussion of Rumsfeld's attitudes towards Afghanistan vs. Iraq post-9/11.)

This profile represents so much of what's wrong with journalism these days. The reporter goes with the narrative without stopping to question whether the facts he's presenting undermine the story. If the guy actually thought about what he was writing, he might wonder..."Hmmm, maybe I should mention that McCain was, objectively wrong about Al Qaeda in Iraq. And don't my quotes show him changing his mind about the rationale for war? First he said that it was to fight Al Qaeda, and now he's talking about the WMD, which is convenient because that distracts from him being wrong about Al Qaeda in Iraq. Also, I don't think the profile mentions the fact that McCain's intelligence source, Chalabi, turned out to be an Iranian agent! McCain's top foreign policy adviser was Chalabi's main backer in the run up to the war. On what planet would such a track record not disqualify anyone for the presidency?

-The neocons decided which countries they were going "roll back"-

John McCain is not and was not a neocon.

Bullshit, Phantom. Randy Scheunemann brought McCain into the neocon fold. The fact that McCain has chosen Scheunemann as his top foreign policy adviser shows where his real loyalties lie.

McCain was the honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, for crying out loud. If you want to split hairs, you can call him a fellow traveller, but he endorsed the policies of the neocons and ingratiated himself with them. Joe Lieberman's just the most visible example.

I'm not saying that McCain doesn't have great common cause with the neocons.

But "neocon" used correctly refers to a political movement of those who were formerly Democrats/leftists/progressives but whose views evolved to conservative/Republican/interventionists.

Bill Kristol and Norman Podheretz and Joe Lieberman can accurately be called neocons. John McCain cannot be one, as he was conservative with an independent streak for his entire political life.

as he was conservative with an independent streak for his entire political life

"Was" is the operative word here.

Q: What is a neoconservative and who are they?

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

"Rich Lowry: Historically, 30 years ago it meant a former liberal who became a conservative. The cliche was because "they were mugged by reality," but it was because they saw the empirical failures of liberal welfare, state and foreign policies, and they were therefore less ideological than other conservatives and brought much more of a social science background to their argumentation.

"They were associated with Irving Kristol's journal, the Public Interest, that had a lot of social-science pieces poking empirical holes in liberal theory. These people were former liberals, former Democrats, and in some cases former communists, but gradually over 30 years they really merged into the conservative mainstream, and the difference was very difficult to tell.

"In fact, one of the foremost neoconservatives, Norman Podhoretz, wrote an obituary for this distinction several years ago because it just seemed to no longer matter. We've seen the rise of it again, first of all, with John McCain's candidacy in 2000, where the segment of conservatives that supported Sen. McCain tended to have more neo-kind of tendencies and tended to sort of self-consciously describe themselves as "neoconservatives," foremost among them Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

"Neoconservatives are less skeptical of government than other conservatives. They are less worried about reducing the size of government, less enthusiastic about tax cuts, more concerned about forging national crusades that can tap either the American public's patriotism or its desire for reform. You saw this in McCain with his campaign finance proposal and a little bit in his foreign policy.

"And with the war on terror, you saw neoconservatives emerging as a distinct tendency within conservatism, mostly on foreign policy; its hallmarks being extreme interventionism, extremely idealistic foreign policy, and emphasis on democracy building and spreading human rights and freedom and an overestimation, in my view, of how easy it is to spread democracy and liberty to spots in the world where it doesn't exist currently."

More at:

Neocon, or not, or whatever . . . The reporter’s slant, if he has one, also hardly matters, the article is damning enough as it stands. Details like McCain’s family having fought in every fucking American war since Columbus or maybe since humans crossed the Bering land bridge left me feeling a little sick. McCain comes from the warrior caste. Soldier idolatry is his religion. He can’t imagine anything else. Of course he wanted to send the legions to the Empire’s frontier to teach the primitive Middle Eastern tribesmen, whoever they are, a lesson. To his way of thinking and to that of tens of millions of his American co-religionists there was, and remains, no other answer to the 9/11 attacks other than minimally discriminate counterattacks against the warlords and their subject populations living in the general vicinity of the perceived threat. The natives will surely cower and submit when they are shocked and awed by the Empire's fearsome and divinely guided power. McCain is one of the high priests of the American warrior creed and soon he will be its pope.

Besides, relax, everything is going fine with the war(s). We’ve surged our way to victory. All is currently more or less peachy, and is likely to remain so until the November election, which is all that matters.

"Chalabi turned out to be an Iranian agent"

I cannot beat Wikipedia's paraphrase of those events:

"In June 2004, it was reported that Chalabi gave U.S. state secrets to Iran in April, including the fact that one of the United States' most valuable sources of Iranian intelligence was a broken Iranian code used by their spy services. Chalabi allegedly learned of the code through a drunk American involved in the code-breaking operation. Chalabi has denied all of the charges, and nothing has ever come of the charges nor do the Iraqi or U.S. governments currently seem very interested in pursuing them."

So, proceeding cautiously, we cannot say, on the basis of publicly available information, that "Chalabi turned out to be an Iranian agent". No court of law or commission of inquiry ever pronounced such a verdict. There was a raid in Baghdad, there were rumors imparted to journalists, and in the end nothing happened, though most people had stopped watching by then. As for Chalabi's relationship to Iran, I have trouble thinking of an Iraqi Shia politician who does not have some relationship to Iran; perhaps Allawi comes closest.

Proceeding less cautiously, I would say that Chalabi's status is one of many, many contested issues between two factions which might be loosely identified with "OSP" and "VIPS", and that the exposure and downfall of the OSP does not mean that their victorious political enemies were good guys through and through. It just means that the tricks employed by the winning faction were generally not exposed as such.

-->McCain comes from the warrior caste. Soldier idolatry is his religion. He can’t imagine anything else.<--

It's easy to overstate and oversimplify, but I think the statement, above, is more true than not. I would like to add a personal opinion, though a speculative one, to that observation. McCain's infamous angry rages are a symptom of PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. His PTSD is a consequence of years of torture, isolation, pain, and degradation during his captivity in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war. It is almost a certainty that his terrible experiences as a POW would lead to manifestations of PTSD, even decades later.

His blistering tirades are legend. He tried to soft-soap his reputation for extreme outbursts by saying, recently, that they are an expression of how passionately he feels about the issues he believes in. He's passionate, not raging.

For a long time I have felt that the downing of his jet over North Vietnam, his suffering as a POW, and his returning to the U.S. from a lost war was, for him, a failure to complete the legacy of the Navy McCains. For him, it may even have been shameful. When I see him today and in recent years, it is as if his life's work will not be complete until he brings closure to his legacy with a decisive victory. A military victory in Vietnam eluded him. However, there are other opportunities to start one and then finish it the right way - with victory.

Again, this is my personal assessment and is speculative.

The problem for Obama, and for any Democrat, is that Americans, generally, will choose 'shoot first and ask questions later' over 'think before acting' by about a 2 to 1 margin.

Attacking and punishing are two verbs that Americans identify with strength. Considering consequences is not a very prominent thread in American history.

It's not the media's job to report things based on your biases. The article portrays McCain as tough, but there are worse conservatives to do it with than McCain, who's hardly a chickenhawk. It gives refutations of some bad arguments - for example, McCain's contention that he doesn't remember which reasons he gave for supporting the invasion of Iraq - but not others. That's perfectly fine with me. It's an overview article, not a fisking.

As for Iraq and McCain, I don't think you can chalk it up just to neoconservatism. McCain isn't a neocon - he's militant as hell, and he may even have the same post-Vietnam national pride issues, but he has nothing to do with the same group of people that decided attacking Iraq would restore America's virility. The closest relationship I can think of is that after the 2000 election, McCain decided that to make nice with Bush he'd have to support the same goals as Bush's foreign policy advisers.

Norman, I hadn't thought to link McCain's temper to the abuse he suffered as a POW, but it does make sense. As you say, it's just an opinion, but it helps me look at McCain's behavior in a new light.

McCain's a low-grade pimp.

He's similar to Randy "Duke" Cunningham, only Duke was a better pilot, and McCain was better at covering-up his corruptibility.

McCain's known propensity for violent responses coupled with his poor grasp of international politics (not to mention a team of advisers that are bought and paid for by foreign states), make him a HUGE mistake waiting to happen if he gets any closer to the presidency than he already is.


I think there is a pretty good case for identifying John McCain's raging temper as a symptom of PTSD, originating with his traumatic experiences as a POW in North Vietnam. But, there is more to McCain than can be predicted by those horrible experiences. I was very impressed by his response to a crowd that was angry with him for his moderate and more humane proposals on dealing with illegal immigrants. He answered, "They are all God's children, too."

Yet, I believe there are matters that can overwhelm him and cause him to betray, seemingly, his own values. He was dead set, at one time, against torture for the sake of protecting our own soldiers who become POWs. Personally, he felt it was immoral. He was also conscious of the need to project a moral force in the world. In the end, the White House pressured him into backing down, several years ago, and support the President's legislation on torture.

Other things I am noticing are subtle cues of dissociation that pass for minor memory lapses. Being corrected by Joe Lieberman in Israel is but one example. Of course, it could be age, or the demands of campaigning and travel.

These are my personal opinions and are speculative.

OK, so the old bat has PTSD, so what?

That might be a reason, but that sure as hell ain't an EXCUSE.


My PTSD comment is not a reason for anything, nor an excuse for anything. Did I suggest it was an excuse for something? Of course I didn't.

You may not realize that it's perfectly acceptable for you to proffer an informed decision on your own in this venue without using me, or anyone else, as a foil or straw man. If you have something to say, then say it. It's not necessary to falsely denigrate someone else's comments so that your comments appear to stand elevated, by default. You've done this before by misrepresenting my comments so that you could present yourself as the sole remaining observer of truth. Truth is big enough to spread around so that we can all partake in it. You don't have to minimize everyone else's you that yours looks a lot bigger by comparison.

My comment was a discussion, though speculative, of PTSD in this military veteran. Perhaps someone else with experience in PTSD, treating PTSD, or dealing with veterans with PTSD can contribute something substantive to the issue.


Keep talkin'

I would contribute to a fund to put your brain dead views on national TV.

Brain dead Phantom Homer?

I'm sorry, but does McCain have a tendency to respond violently to situations, he seems to have a history of that.

Does McCain not have a pitifully poor grasp of international politics? He doesn't seem to know the difference between Sunni & Shia (on 3 different occasions), has no grasp of Iran's involvement with Al-Qaeda, advocates a permanent presence for the US military in Iraq (100/1000/10,0000 years), still thinks that Czechoslovakia is a single country, and is now advocating that the US get in a shooting war with Russia.

Are not McCain's most senior advisers highly paid lobbyists for foreign governments, including loose canons like Georgia? Not to mention his senior econ adviser is Phil Gramm, one of the people who is primarily responsible for the mortgage crisis.

Brain dead Phantom Homer?

Brain dead is an accurate description of people who, after all of McCain's mistakes, think McCain would be a good choice.

You know, conservatives.

"Low-grade pimp," TB? Are you by any chance a Firedoglake frontpager?

On another note, the mortgage crisis wasn't the result of a single person. I'm sure you can find a way to blame it on a Republican you don't like, just like Phantom might find a way to blame it on Clinton for signing the bill deregulating the banking industry. None of those individuals can be meaningfully said to have caused the crisis. There have been good writeups about what really caused it - I'd recommend Kevin Phillips' Bad Money, and Eric Janszen's Harper's article, The Next Bubble. Neither of them is so polemical as to blame the crisis on one politician or one party.

Of course you can't lay ALL of the blame on one person, but you can lay a larger portion of the blame at the feet of a worthless money grubber like Phil Gramm.

I have no illusions of the democrats being any less of a danger to me than the republicans, just a shrewed idea of who's going to step on my neck first.

And given conservatives unrelenting call for "deregulation, deregulation, deregulation", for the past 30 years, it's pretty clear who's primarily responsible for failures in lending practices.

A presidential candidate having someone like Gramm on their staff, let alone asking for his council on economic issues, is just one of many examples that McCain is simply unfit to be president.

Violent, reactionary and having his pre-senile brain led down the garden path by the likes of Gramm, Bolton and Scheunemann, not to mention McCain's position on things like, oh civil liberties, make him too dangerous to let into office.

I have no illusions of the democrats being any less of a danger to me than the republicans

Except that you engage in class A shrillness against Republicans while sparing Democrats...

Well DUH!

Because the republicans are worse, demonstrably worse, than the democrats for the American people.

This was a post, and a comment thread, about what a republican is doing, not a democrat. When democratic failures come up, I'll address them, but given the constant and unrelenting republican failures over the past 8+ years, do not expect me to bring up Nancy Pelosi et al's failures when we're talking about the guy who wants to continue the failures of this current administration.

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