As a onetime prisoner of war during Vietnam and decorated Navy officer, Sen. John McCain has based much of his political persona on his staunch support for the military and his consummate credibility on national security.McCain's been known as a maverick, which is certainly an apt characterization with regards to Iraq. Pushing for a big troop surge now is bucking public opinion trends showing increasing weariness with the war.
But as the Arizona Republican prepares to mount a White House campaign, he is putting those military bona fides on the line — aggressively backing an unpopular plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at a time that other presidential hopefuls are steering clear of the war or calling for troop reductions.
President Bush is expected this week to announce a plan to send at least 20,000 additional troops to try to halt sectarian violence and bring security to Baghdad — a move widely perceived as an all-but-final push to avert failure in Iraq.
Besides Bush, no politician has more to lose than McCain, the presumed GOP front-runner in 2008 and the plan's biggest backer in Congress.Now that Bush is pursuing the McCain approach, the senator could soon find himself defending the policy to a war-weary public in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key election states where surveys show voters are fed up with rising U.S. casualties.
McCain readily admits that the new strategy is likely to result in even more violence — setting up a paradox for him as he strives to succeed an unpopular fellow Republican in the White House by backing an escalation of the very war that has plunged Bush's approval rating to near-record lows.
Democrats can barely contain their eagerness for McCain to take the blame for a plan that seems to contradict the antiwar message of the 2006 midterm election that stripped Republicans of their once-solid congressional majorities. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, went out of his way recently to describe the troop increase as the "McCain doctrine."
McCain shows no interest in shedding that label.
"If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I'm willing to pay that price gladly," McCain said Friday after an appearance at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, where he said the surge "must be substantial and it must be sustained."
His presidential aspirations, he added, "pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation's security."
McCain's calculation is the latest sign that the Iraq war is likely to dominate the 2008 race, just as it overshadowed the elections of 2004 and 2006. But it also shows that McCain, perhaps the best-positioned of any candidate to win the presidency in wartime, is willing to bet it all on a gamble that voters will reward his resolve, as they did for Bush in 2004, rather than punish him, as they did to GOP candidates in November.
The article goes on to note that McCain's at odds with members of his own party, like fellow GOP presidential aspirants Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback. On the Democratic side, top prospects are distancing themselves from the war in a slavish effort to hue to the 2006 midterm election antiwar mandate. John Edwards, for one, has backed off from his initial vote in favor of the Iraq War, calling his decision to support the deployment a mistake.