Sunday, January 20, 2008

John McCain on the War

Early last year, John McCain seemed to lash his political fortune to the success or failure of the troop "surge" in Iraq. Backing the surge fit his carefully tended reputation as a maverick; his allies noted that McCain was bravely risking his political career to do what he believed was right. "I have just finished an election campaign," Sen. Joe Lieberman said last January when he and McCain pushed the surge at a meeting at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "If rumors are correct, he may be starting one," Lieberman said of McCain, standing at his side. "He is not taking the easy way out here. But he is taking the way that he believes is best for the safety of our children and grandchildren and the values and the way of life that America has come to represent."

A year later, leaving aside the question of its long-term effects, the surge has had a tangible short-term security impact in Baghdad. And McCain, in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, isn't going to let us forget that he knew better all along. "I'm proud to have been one of those who played a key role in bringing about one of the most important changes in recent years," McCain trumpeted during the GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., on Jan. 6. "And that was the change in strategy from a failing strategy in Iraq pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld." Two days later, McCain won the Granite State primary.

In fact, lately former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has become quite the punching bag for McCain on the campaign trail. Part of the McCain mantra, whether recited on the stump or to reporters on his campaign bus, is that he knew that Gen. David Petraeus' surge of troops would work better than Rumsfeld's light footprint approach. It's his way of supporting the war while criticizing the way it was executed by the Bush administration without ever uttering the word "Bush." It is also meant to be proof of the gravitas McCain would bring to the job of commander in chief. "I have the knowledge and experience and judgment, as my support of the Petraeus strategy indicated, and my condemnation of the previous Rumsfeld strategy," said McCain in a Jan. 9 NBC "Today" show interview. "No other candidate running for president did that on either side."

But to buy into the McCain-knows-best version of the Iraq war, you have to ignore a lot of history. McCain was among the most aggressive proponents of a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein, cosponsoring the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. He also expressed full faith in the way it would be executed -- a war plan conceived and executed by Rumsfeld.

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