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Shame on McCain, He's Sold His Soul



Shame on McCain, He's Sold His Soul

by Thomas F. Schaller


John McCain has now become a useful accomplice to an accomplished user.

It's sad to see it, but the senator from Arizona who built his reputation as a straight-talker seems quite content to be used by the President as a political weapon to help fight three Bush-Cheney campaign battles.

First, McCain is being invoked to suggest that John Edwards was somehow John Kerry's second vice presidential choice (after McCain), even though Bush flirted in 2000 with the idea of adding McCain to his own ticket. The senator is also being portrayed as a election-year substitute for Dick Cheney, because the Vice President who is actually running opposite John Edwards on this fall's ballot has negatives so high that he's become a liability to the President.

Taken together, what's ironic and sad about using McCain for these two ends is that the Bush team is claiming McCain was Kerry's first choice at the same moment they're projecting the image of a Bush-McCain '04 ticket that will never appear on any ballot.

The Shinseki Waver & the Falluja Flinch

Let's forgive McCain these first two transgressions, for loyalty-driven partisan politics often requires former opponents to make nice later. Kerry was critical of Edwards, and vice-versa, during the primaries only a few months before their mutual admiration road trip began this week.

But McCain is also being invoked to fight a third battle of triage, namely, as a tourniquet to help stem the declining public perception that Bush is a strong leader on defense and terrorism. In clips from a McCain speech broadcast in a new Bush-Cheney campaign ad, the Senator applauds the President for leading with "moral clarity," adding that Bush "has not wavered, he has not flinched."

Pardon me? McCain cannot believe that Bush has never flinched nor wavered, because very recently the Arizona senator was the single most prominent Republican hammering Bush for not sending to Iraq the number of troops General Eric Shinseki, then the Army Chief of Staff, warned would be necessary. Even if it were not initially apparently that Shinseki was right, the facts on the ground inevitably proved that the general knew exactly what he was talking about.

Yet Bush first tried to scale back troops to around 115,000, and is now invoking desperate military provisions to maintain and even ramp up troop counts by keeping soldiers on duty longer – and even calling some personnel out of retirement. You can call that adapting, but by not preparing and investing properly from the start, what Bush is really doing is wavering.

Nor should we forget that the President balked in Falluja. The April retreat made the June 28 "handover" of that city meaningless: One cannot hand over something that is very much out of hand. Despite typical Administration claims of victory, in failing to suppress the Falluja insurgency the President showed a lack of political will. In short, he flinched.

Almost daily there are reminders of the consequences of the President's big flinch. Yesterday, Dexter Filkins reported in the New York Times that Falluja is becoming a terrorist haven:

"American and Iraqi officials say that a decision in April to pull back American forces from Falluja inadvertently created a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents there. But officials are reluctant to send American troops back into the city for fear of touching off another uprising." (Emphasis mine.)

Despite all the misplaced Vietnam analogies, the Falluja episode reminds us that failure in Iraq is more likely to create another Afghanistan-style terrorist swamp. That we haven't cleaned up the existing Afghanistan is appalling enough; to permit another haven to emerge and potentially spread out from Falluja is inexcusable.

Straight balk express

John McCain became a star and moral hero in American politics because he showed the guts to give Americans "straight-talk" – whether that news was good or bad, and whatever the partisan or political consequences.

By allowing himself to be used by the Bush-Cheney campaign, McCain imperils that hard-earned reputation. And you have to wonder if, as he thunders away about the President's moral clarity, the morally unclear neocons aren't just laughing at him behind his back.

Sorry, Senator, but you went rather quickly from straight talk to shameless balk. You wavered and flinched, too.

  Thomas F. Schaller executive editor  is assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and co-author of a forthcoming book from SUNY Press on black state legislators. He has published academic articles in Constitutional Political Economy, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Public Choice, and Publius. In addition to various radio and television appearances, he has written op-eds for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,, and The American Prospect online, and is the political writer for Baltimore magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of North Carolina.

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