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Making Sense of Senator McCain's New Dance

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On a website called "My Way News," this passage about McCain and his shifting positions on the war appears:

The potential 2008 presidential candidate and staunch war supporter issued a statement explaining his position after his headline-grabbing comments criticizing the Bush administration.

"I have never intended my concern that the American people be fully informed about the conduct and consequences of the war to indicate any lessening of my support for our mission there," McCain said in the statement.

He complained in an appearance Tuesday about major mistakes by the administration, such as underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices necessary. The comment prompted criticism from the right and left that McCain was flip-flopping, contradicting his backing for Bush's policy.

"Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I'm just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be," the Arizona senator said.

Which leads me to ask the question: are you saying that back in 2003, if you knew that this Iraq venture was going to be as "difficult" as it now so clearly is, you would still advocate plunging ahead with this "mission"?

It seems to me that no one in his right might, looking at the costs and benefits of this Iraq venture could say that the benefits outweigh the costs. The problem is not that the administration failed to tell us how difficult this task would be, because unless you were not in your right mind you would never have advocated this Iraq "mission" knowing that it would result in strengthening our adversaries in Iran and besmirching the image of the United States around the world, at the tune of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions (or even trillions) of dollars.

The problem is that the mission has become an unmitigated disaster. Either it was inherently a disastrous decision to launch this war of choice, or it became this huge disaster because it was so terribly botched by the Bushites (with their arrogant refusal to listen to good counsel and their rigid inability to see that reality was proving their understanding inadequate even when it was becoming clear to much of the rest of the world).

Either way --inherently bad decision, or botched job, or both-- it reflects badly on the Bushites.

But, for reasons of politics, you don't want to be criticizing the Bushites for creating what's likely America's worst catastrophe for this country in tw0 centuries of diplomatic and military activity-- a more unadulterated catastrophe in many ways than even Vietnam.

So you pretend it's not a catastrophe. Just a matter of the Bushites having to have given America a suitably Churchillian "blood, sweat, toil, and tears" speech. Just a matter of PR-- nothing wrong with the product itself.

But then, too, of course, this product --the Iraq war-- is one to which you've thoroughly wed yourself, helping to prop it up even as the disgrace and dishonesty and bungling have manifested themselves. So you're trying to protect your own credentials as a serious judge of political-military affairs, too. Right?

But most of all, we've already seen how much of your soul you've sold to court the president's base and his key supporters. And so you're trying to do the dance of distancing yourself from the president on the war while avoiding saying what's really true. Hence the absurd notion that the problem is just the need to have told the American people what a disaster they were going to get in exchange for falling for the lies the administration sold about why this war was necessary.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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