Friday, August 05, 2005

McCain's Credibility on Iraq

So Paul Begala, along with just about every other pundit, thinks that John McCain has tremendous "credibility" when it comes to Iraq. See our previous post. While McCain has "the same substantive position" on the Iraq War as President Bush, the public believes that Bush "misled us going into the war" and has "calibrated too far over to the happy-talk side of things." By contrast, McCain takes the view that "this is very tough, it's bloody, it's awful, but we're in it and we've got to win it."

So, before the war, Bush misled us.

How about McCain. Here’s the straight-talking Senator in September of 2002 on how easy the fighting would be:

. . . in 1991 there were some very well informed strategists and tacticians who said that there would be thousands of body bags, I did not believe it at the time. It's clear that Saddam Hussein is much weaker than he was in 1991. Look, we're going to send young men and women into harm's way and that is always a great danger, but I can't believe there is an Iraqi soldier who will be willing to die for Saddam Hussein, particularly since he will know that our objective is to remove Saddam Hussein from power. [snip] I don't believe it's going to be nearly the size and scope that it was in 1991.

Deaths of U.S. military personnel in Gulf War I: 148 battle deaths, 145 nonbattle deaths
Deaths of U.S. military personnel in Gulf War II: 1,404 battle deaths, 412 nonbattle deaths

And in February 2003 on Saddaam’s weapons of mass destruction and support for al Qaeda:
Proponents of containment claim that Iraq is in a "box." But it is a box with no lid, no bottom, and whose sides are falling out. Within this box are definitive footprints of germ, chemical and nuclear programs, and from it has come blood money for Palestinian terrorists, and support for the international terrorism of Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam. And as he has done before, at a time of his choosing, Saddam Hussein will spring, like a jack-in-the-box, to reign devastation on his people and his neighbors, a devastation against which the daily curse of living in the shadow of his terror will pale.
And in March of 2003, on Hardball, predicting easy going in post-war Iraq:

MATTHEWS: Are you one of those who holds up an optimistic view of the post-war scene? Do you believe that the people of Iraq or at least a large number of them will treat us as liberators?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: And you think the Arab world will come to a grudging recognition that what we did was necessary? I mean by that the modern Arab leaders, the people
that we have to deal with.

MCCAIN: Not only that, they'll be relieved that he's not in the neighborhood because he has invaded his neighbors on several occasions.

Hmm. Doesn’t seem to me that McCain’s pre-war statements are much different from the President’s. If President Bush can be accused of misleading the nation into war, surely the same could be said of Senator McCain.

How about after the war? Here a case can be made that McCain has been more willing to confront the problems of the occupation. He has asserted, beginning in August of 2003, that we do not have sufficient troops in Iraq to maintain and he has spoken out about the failures at Abu Ghraib. But McCain is not exceptional in being a war hawk who has been critical of the administration’s performance on the war. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Richard Lugar, and Chuck Hagel arguably have all been more pointed in their criticisms than McCain, and all were more measured in their enthusiasm about going to war than McCain. But somehow McCain is usually the example that comes up when liberal pundits are looking for a shining example of a credible hawk. And of course those who warned of the unwisdom of the war to begin with get no credit at all.

Our punditocracy loves McCain, and praise him to the skies for the most ordinary statements. Here’s Chris Matthews sucking up on Hardball back on March 12, 2003. McCain was expressing some common sense about future U.S. relations with France.

MCCAIN: . . . . after the Iraqi conflict is over, it's going to be in all our interests to start working together again because there's just too many challenges. North Korea, Iran...


MCCAIN: You saw recently the Iranian nuclear build-up that they're...

MATTHEWS: You're a man of vision, Senator. You can see ahead of this mess.

McCain’s perspective certainly is sensible– it’s in our interest to work with our allies. But is it visionary? Is it exceptional? Isn’t it easy to imagine President Bush or John Kerry or Al Gore saying the same thing? Would Matthews call them visionary if they did?