Wednesday, May 16, 2007

John McCain Remains Firm on U.S. Support for Iraq

Last night Fox News held one of the GOP presidential debates -- one of the only early articles on the debates I found on Google was from National Public Radio, amazingly! Way over on the other side of the political spectrum, at Screw Politically Correct B.S., Jenn of the Jungle posted a humorous analysis covering the debate. She's hilariously hard on Senator Sam Brownback and former Virginia Govenor, James Gilmore, for example. But I disagreed with her on Senator John McCain. Jenn says :

Yawn... more drunken sailor jokes. He was stronger in this debate, but..... JOHN, RETIRE ALREADY!
I responded in the comments section:

Jenn: I taught last night and didn't see the debate. But I love your post -- especially your jabs at Brownback and Gilmore (very funny, you). But I don't think you give McCain enough credit. Again, I didn't see the debate, but he had an hour long interview on Russert's Meet the Press last Sunday, and he makes the case better than anyone in the GOP field for the cause in Iraq. I like that, and despite his other issues (including his age and his numerous more, let's say, "progressive" positions on the some of the issues), he's my guy until somebody better comes along.
I also passed along the transcripts from McCain's appearance on Meet the Press (click here). Russert began his series of questions with the situation in Iraq, and the exchange lasted about 20 minutes.

Russert asks about dwindling public support for the Iraq war, and McCain responds:

I think if we can show the American people some successes in Iraq and continue and expand on some of the successes we've already experienced in Anbar province and some neighborhoods in Baghdad, that I think Americans would--and if we do a better job, and that's people like me, of explaining the consequences of failure.

The consequences of failure, Tim, are that there would be chaos in the region. There's three--two million Sunni in Baghdad. The Iranians would continue to increase their influence, the Saudis would have to help the Sunni, the Kurds would want independence, the Turks will never stand for it. Some people say partition. You'd have to partition bedrooms in Baghdad because Sunni and Shia are, are married. This, this is a very, very difficult situation, but the consequences of failure, in my view, are unlike the Vietnam war where we could leave and come home and it was over, that these people will try to follow us home and the region will erupt to a point where we may have to come back or we will be compating-- combating what is now, to a large degree, al-Qaeda, although certainly other--many other factors of sectarian violence, in the region.
Russert asks McCain if "it was a good idea going into Iraq?"

You know, in hindsight, if we had exploited the initial success, which was shock and awe, and we succeeded, and we had done the right things after that, all of us would be applauding what we did. We didn't. It was terribly mismanaged. It was--I went over there very shortly after the initial victory and came back convinced that we didn't have enough troops on the ground, we were making the wrong decisions, and that Secretary Rumsfeld was badly mismanaging the conflict. And I spoke about it and complained for years. So, if we had succeeded and done the right thing after the initial military success, then all of us would be very happy that one of the most terrible, cruel dictators in history was removed from power. Now, because of our failures, obviously we have paid a very heavy price in American blood and treasure and a great sacrifice....

I think at the time, given the information we had. Every intelligence agency in the world, not just U.S., believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He had acquired and used them before. There was no doubt that he was going to acquire and use them if he could. The sanctions were breaking down. The Oil for Food scandal was in the billions of dollars. And, of course, at the time, given the information we had--hindsight is 20/20. If we'd have known we were going to experience the failures we experienced, obviously it would give us all pause. Yet the information and the knowledge and the situation at the time, I think that it was certainly justified.
Russert then asks McCain -- citing a Pentagon study that discounts al Qaeda operations in Iraq -- "Who's our enemy?"

Well, first of all, General Petraeus, the general on the ground, does not agree with that. Al-Qaeda is exploiting these sectarian differences. They are trying to orchestrate attacks on both Sunni and Shia, but--in order to spark this and increase this sectarian violence that's going on. Al-Qaeda is playing significantly. Now, are there problems with sectarian violence? Of course there is. Is there other problems, such as in Anbar Province where Sunnis are now combatting al-Qaeda? Are al-Qaeda being shoved out of Baghdad into areas outside of Baghdad? Yes. And are there problems in those areas?

Look, this is long and hard and difficult, and I've said it for a long time. And it's no last throes, it's no mission accomplished, it's no few dead-enders. It's long and hard and tough. We are experiencing some successes. Do we have to experience more? Yes. But to do what the Democrats want to do, and that's set a date for withdrawal, even those who opposed the war from the beginning don't think that that would lead to anything but an enormously challenging situation as a result.
Take a look at the whole transcript. As I noted in Jenn's comment thread cited above, McCain's got some issues, and these are causing his campaign problems. He's not loved by many conservatives, for one thing, because he's been an anti-establishment outsider, railing against the system, for most of his career (and especially in the 2000 presidential race); and the McCain-Feingold legislation is McCain's albatross in some conservative circles.

But more generally, McCain's a "big government" Republican. Matt Welch, who's assistant editor at the L.A. Times, has done some excellent writing on McCain's philosophy on government.
In a Reason Magazine article, Welch, noting that McCain is one of the biggest backers of the Bush surge policy, uses that as a jumping-off point to examine McCain's agenda on the scope of government:

Like almost every past McCain crusade, from fining Big Tobacco to drug-testing athletes to restricting political speech in the name of campaign finance reform, the surge involved an increase in the power of the federal government, particularly in the executive branch. Like many of his reform measures—identifying weapons pork, eliminating congressional airport perks, even banning torture—the escalation had as much to do with appearances (in this case, the appearance of continuing to project U.S. military strength rather than accept “defeat”) as it did with reality. And like the reputation-making actions of his heroes, including his father, his grandfather, and his political idol Teddy Roosevelt, the new Iraq strategy required yet another expansion of American military power to address what is, at least in part, a nonmilitary problem.
Welch goes on to list McCain's "12-Step Guide to Expanding Government" (which is inclusive!). Still, as I noted in Jenn's comments, McCain's consistently supported our fighting forces in Iraq. Until I see more steadfast firmnesss on the deployment from other GOP hopefuls, I'll support the McCain bid in 2008 (and remember, G.W. Bush ain't no small government conservative either, but I still love him).

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