During the presidential campaign, a lot of us looked back through Senator John McCain's personal and professional history and found that McCain devoted much of his life to screwing up. Let's not revisit the crashed planes and the crashed banks. Let's just agree with the implications of Frank Rich's tale of McCain's and his fellow hawks', Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, latest clamoring for more war: these are hardly the people we should be listening to.
From invading the wrong country to insisting eight years later that we keep our military in the latest wrong country, they've done nothing right. Professional experience appears to have taught them little. Their knowledge of geopolitics and war is minimal at best.
As for John McCain -- someone who's been through some of the worst treatment war can deal out -- he's amazingly callous about putting others in the same, purposeless situation.
To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.
What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.
Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.
Ever noticed how Katie Couric is in the picture when candidates say really dumb things? Well, she was there again.
Asked by Katie Couric last week about our failures in Afghanistan, McCain spoke as if he were an innocent bystander: “I think the reason why we didn’t do a better job on Afghanistan is our attention — either rightly or wrongly — was on Iraq.” As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”
The same crowd that drew us into Iraq when we should have focused on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan now wants us to focus on Afghanistan while Al Qaeda is in Pakistan. "When the day comes for them to anoint Pakistan as the central front," Rich predicts, "it will be proof positive that Al Qaeda has consolidated its hold on Somalia and Yemen."
How many planes did McCain crash before winding up in a North Vietnamese prison? How many expensive McCain failures do we have to put up with this time before the controls are taken away from him?
Some will rise to John McCain's defense ... yet again. They should probably read David Finkel's book about the surge in Iraq, "Good Soldiers." It was given an admiring review by Michiko Kakutani in the Times last week. Here's an excerpt.
There’s Duncan Crookston, 19, who loses both legs, his right arm, his left hand, his ears, nose and eyelids, and who survives multiple surgeries, only to die months later of an infection with his mother and his 19-year-old wife by his side. And there’s Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann, “regarded as one of the best soldiers in the battalion,” who carried a wounded comrade down three flights of stairs, but is unable to forget the carnage and the horror. After three deployments to Iraq, Mr. Finkel writes, Sergeant Schumann’s “war had become unbearable”: his thoughts turn suicidal, he receives a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and is evacuated on a medical helicopter for the injured and the dead.
It is Mr. Finkel’s accomplishment in this harrowing book that he not only depicts what the Iraq war is like for the soldiers of the 2-16 — 14 of whom die — but also the incalculable ways in which the war bends (or in some cases warps) the remaining arc of their lives. He captures the sense of comradeship the men develop among themselves. And he also captures the difficulty many of the soldiers feel in trying to adapt to ordinary life back home in the States, and the larger disconnect they continue to feel between the war that politicians and generals discussed and the war that they knew firsthand.
This isn't about "noble war" that airhead hawks have in mind when they sign off on legislation. This is the enforced martyrdom of informed and intelligent young men and women who are fully aware of who placed them in the middle of a nightmare and who have no scruples about keeping them there.
“In the United States, the news was all macro rather than micro,” Mr. Finkel writes. The soldiers he talked to wondered how all the Republicans and Democrats they saw debating the war on television could speak with such certainty about whether the surge was working and whether Iraq was on a path toward self-sustainability. It was clear to them, Mr. Finkel observes, that most of these politicians “had never been to Iraq, and even if they had, it was probably for what the soldiers dismissively referred to as the windshield tour: corkscrew in, hear from a general or two, get in a Humvee, see a market surrounded by new blast walls, get a commemorative coin, corkscrew out.”
To politicians, generals and commentators, the war was “about things more strategic, more political, more policy-driven.” To the soldiers of the 2-16, war would always be “about specific acts of bravery and tragedy. The firefight in Fedaliyah — that was the war. Three dead inside a fireball on Predators — what else could a war be?”
We have to ask -- and we do as again and again -- what is the substance of the policy which puts soldiers on the front? Once againwe turn away, aghast but without effective action, when we face the horror that casus belli is politics and money, not peace and security.