McCain Has Never Failed (to Be Wrong) on Iraq

McCain Has Never Failed (to Be Wrong) on Iraq

McCain Has Never Failed (to Be Wrong) on Iraq


Last fall was a great time for official optimism when it came to Iraq. The military "metrics" looked ever better and, as had happened at crucial moments in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, Bush administration and military statements turned practically peachy with the blush of "success." Progress was announced (repeatedly). Corners were once again about to be turned. Tipping points were on the absolute verge of being reached. "I’ve never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we’ve made in Iraq," effused Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, late that October. Lt. Col. Val Keaveny, 3rd Batallion, 509th infantry, offered this over-the-top mixed metaphor: "[Iraqis] are fed up with fear. Once they hit that tipping point, they’re fed up, they come to realize we truly do provide them better hope for the future. What we’re seeing now is the beginning of a snowball." That same month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, citing a butcher in the suburbs of Baghdad who had seen his business rise from selling one sheep a week to one a day, said: "I don’t want to overly state it… but it’s starting to happen."

And then there was George W. Bush, the man who, in November 2005, more than two and a half years after he ordered the invasion of Iraq, launched his "strategy for victory in Iraq" with a speech, wielding the word "victory" 15 times and who, in January 2007, launched his "new way forward in Iraq" (aka his "surge" strategy) in an address to the nation in which he used "victory" a mere two times. On November 2, 2007, the President offered this bit of good cheer to a gathering of 1,300 soldiers graduating from basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and likely headed for Iraq (or Afghanistan): "Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society."

To celebrate that return to normalcy and, undoubtedly, all the corners so far turned and points tipped, the U.S. military has, in the last two months, fired at least 200 Hellfire missiles into the Iraqi capital, according to the Washington Post, most of them into Sadr City, the vast, heavily populated Shiite slum in east Baghdad. ("Just six" had been used in Baghdad in the previous three months.) Perhaps it was on the basis of such celebrations of normalcy that Senator John McCain recently promised Americans victory in Iraq in a mere four and a half years. He even offered a likely date: January 2013. Something to look forward to.

It takes an expert, of course, to make sense of these repeated demonstrations of Washingtonian and military expertise. Fortunately, had two experts lurking in the wings, Christopher Cerf and former Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky of the eminently respected and respectable Institute of Expertology. They have recently produced a rollicking ride through Bush administration expertise–a compendium of the quotes that launched a thousand ships and that you simply can’t believe anyone actually said. Its title: Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak. It seemed the right moment to let them loose on the McCain record on Iraq.

And so, in "McCain (Mis)Speaks," they offer us a range of classic statements from the Senator: "I believe… that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators." (2003); "This conflict is… going to be relatively short." (2003); "Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war." (2004)–not to speak of all those times when McCain definitively predicted that "the next three to six months will be critical."

In fairness to the Senator, who, in his own estimation, has been "the greatest critic of the initial four years" of the war in Iraq, they contextualize his comments, surrounding them with such illuminating companions as Douglas Feith’s "This month will be a political turning point for Iraq" (July 7, 2003) and President Bush’s "A turning point will come two weeks from today" (June 16, 2004).


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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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