To update my recent (ridiculously long) post on John McCain, the pieces on “100 years” just keep coming — or I keep finding them. In this round, here’s Dave Tiffany (the NH questioner), Hendrik Hertzberg, Josh Marshall, DDay #1, DDay #2, Somerby #1, Somerby #2, and Somerby #3 on “100 years.” Feel free to pass on any other key posts I’ve missed.
I would hope at this point my take is fairly clear, and apologies for going self-referential here. On the style front, I won’t claim rhetorical purity in my previous post; I don’t have a problem with tweaking McCain or others where I think they’ve been disingenuous, but readers may disagree with my assessments on that score, and the real point is to critique McCain and the rest on substance, which I hope I’ve achieved. Ultimately, how important is it if McCain’s sincere or not if he’s also wrong? I think I’ve provided a pretty complete picture of John McCain’s rhetoric on Iraq, his grasp (or lack thereof) of the situation there, and his policies.
In this latest round, Somerby makes a number of good points. As he writes in reaction to his e-mail, “We were mainly struck by the number of progressives who think we can beat McCain this year only by making inaccurate statements.” He points to this (very good) Frank Rich op-ed on this whole mess as a model of how to proceed.
I do think there’s some serious cross-talking going on here. While McCain’s been taken out of context by Democrats, and it’s inaccurate to say he actually proposed “100 years of war” or “endless war,” it is accurate to say that under McCain there will be no end to the war, at least no time soon, and he has no exit strategy. There’s a distinction between those two positions, but they really aren’t miles apart, certainly not in terms of their practical consequences. McCain isn’t a comic book super-villain, gleefully surveying the battlefield and salivating over the prospect of death and destruction. He’s a mistaken man (I’d add obstinate and occasionally immature) whose policies would likely continue the current rate of death and destruction. McCain’s Iraq policy is virtually identical to Bush’s — it’s stay the course, an “open-ended commitment.” Frank Rich makes a similar point when he writes:
The sum total of [McCain’s] public record suggests that he could well prolong the war for another century — not because he’s the crazed militarist portrayed by Democrats, but through sheer inertia, bad judgment and blundering.
Whatever McCain’s process for arriving at his positions, whether from sincerity, calculation, insight, obtuseness, stubbornness or a sense of duty, however base or noble his intentions, he remains wrong. I’m starting to think of McCain and his “100 years” comments in terms of 3 Ds: His remarks were a Dodge, his portrayals of Iraq are Delusional, and his policies (continuing Bush’s) would be just as Disastrous. But the last two are much more important.
John McCain talks about the costs of staying in Iraq, and being honest about those costs with the American people. All right. If McCain were elected president, perhaps Congress would develop a spine and cut off funding, or McCain would actually withdraw troops due to some miraculous change in Iraq or a change of his mind. But currently, staying in Iraq costs us roughly 12 billion per month. Four more years would amount to roughly 576 billion, on top of the tab Bush will leave when he finally departs office (after running out the clock on the hellish situation he’s created). At the current rate, several thousand more American troops would die in those four years, and tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I suspect the total American cost could be greater still, in terms of our economy, the strain on our military, veteran care, and international trade and prestige (not to mention greater enmity in the Middle East). Are all those costs that we’re willing to pay? And is McCain honestly discussing them? He claims the national security cost of us leaving Iraq is far greater, but I hope I’ve refuted that pretty thoroughly. I also have a new post on the Petraeus-Crocker testimony that tackles similar issues.
Somerby’s admonitions about accuracy are well-taken, as well as his political advice in the first piece linked above:
When you misstate about McCain, the mainstream press will fact-check you. You run the risk of making him into a martyr, as happened with Bush in 2004.
Yup. So why not critique McCain instead on his genuinely horrible policies? Let me return to Rich, who ends his piece by writing:
“We’re succeeding,” Mr. McCain said after his last trip to Iraq. “I don’t care what anybody says.” Again, it’s the last sentence that’s accurate. When General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress again this week — against the backdrop of a million-Iraqi, anti-American protest called by Mr. Sadr — Mr. McCain will ram home all this “success” no matter the facts.
The difference between the Democrats and Mr. McCain going forward is clear enough: They want to find a way out of the morass, however provisional and imperfect, and he equates staying the disastrous course with patriotism. Mr. McCain’s doomed promise of military “victory” in Iraq is akin to Wile E. Coyote’s perpetual pursuit of the Road Runner, with much higher carnage. This isn’t patriotism. As the old saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again and hoping you’ll get a different result is the definition of insanity.
The Democrats should also stop repeating their 100-years-war calumny against Mr. McCain. There’s too much at stake for America for them to add their own petty distortions to an epic tragedy that only a long-overdue national reckoning with hard truths can bring to an end.
Prettier and pithier than I. I’m happy to move beyond the “100 years” remarks, as I tried to do in my earlier post, since John McCain’s been misquoted. But he’s also dangerously wrong. That’s the point that needs to be hammered home relentlessly. Let’s get to it, and work to make the media tell the full, accurate story of McCain’s horrible policies, on Iraq and virtually every other issue.
(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)