A Turning Point For John McCain  

Posted by Big Gav in

TomDispatch has a look at the history of "turning points" in Iraq and the sorry record of John McCain in both supporting the war and failing miserably to predict its course.

At first, we were impressed by the senator's statements in Republican primary debates about how he had actually opposed the Bush administration's conduct of the war from the start. As he told CNN's Kiran Chetry, in August of 2007, "I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three-and-a half years."

Well, having dug into those missing years a bit, here, for the record, is what we found to be Senator McCain's typical responses to some of the key questions posed above:

How would American troops be greeted?: "I believe… that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators." (March 20, 2003)

Did Saddam Hussein have a nuclear program that posed an imminent threat to the United States?: "Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon." (October 10, 2002)

Will a war with Iraq be long or short?: "This conflict is… going to be relatively short." (March 23, 2003)

How is the war going?: "I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical." (September 10, 2003)

How is it going (almost two months later, from the war's "greatest critic")? "I think the initial phases of [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise." (October 31, 2003)

Is this war really necessary?: "Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war." (August 30, 2004)

How is it going? (Recurring question for the war's "greatest critic"): "We will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year." (December 4, 2005)

Will the President's "surge" of troops into Baghdad and surrounding areas that the senator had been calling for finally make the difference?: "We can know fairly well [whether the surge is working] in a few months." (February 4, 2007)

In April 2007, accompanied by several members of Congress, Senator McCain made a surprise visit to Baghdad to assess the surge, had a "stroll" through a market in the Iraqi capital, and then held a news conference where he discussed what he found: "Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I've been here many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport. Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today. The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here today."

The next evening, NBC's Nightly News provided further details on that "stroll." The Senator and Congressmen were accompanied by "100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead." (In addition, the network said, still photographs provided by the military revealed that McCain and his colleagues had been wearing body armor during their entire stroll.)

Reality check: Five months later, on September 12, 2007, McCain again observed that "the next six months are going to be critical."

Six months later, McCain claimed that the U.S. had finally reached a genuine turning point in Iraq and that his faith in the surge was (once again) vindicated. On March 17, 2008, he reported: "We are succeeding. And we can succeed and American casualties overall are way down. That is in direct contradiction to predictions made by the Democrats and particularly Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. I will be glad to stake my campaign on the fact that this has succeeded and the American people appreciate it."

Well, we at the Institute of Expertology appreciate it, too, and we are, of course, pleased to record the Senator's ever-renewable faith in this latest turning point. As scrupulous scholars, however, we do feel compelled to add that the Senator is not the first to detect such a turning point. Indeed on July 7, 2003, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith said: "This month will be a political turning point for Iraq."

On November 6, 2003, President Bush observed: "We've reached another great turning point..." On June 16, 2004, President Bush claimed: "A turning point will come two weeks from today."

That same day the Montreal Gazette headlined an editorial by neoconservative columnist Max Boot: "Despite the Negative Reaction by Much of the Media, U.S. Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point." On February 2, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated: "On January 30th in Iraq, the world witnessed an important moment in the global struggle against tyranny, a moment that historians might one day call a major turning point." On March 7, 2005 William Kristol wrote: "[T]he Iraqi election of January 30, 2005... will turn out to have been a genuine turning point."

On December 18, as that year ended, Vice President Cheney, while conceding that "the level of violence has continued," assured ABC News: "I do believe that when we look back on this period of time, 2005 will have been the turning point..."

The Institute continued to record turning points in remarkable numbers in 2006, and 2007, but perhaps in 2008 the surge will, indeed, turn out to be the turning point to end all turning points. After all, Senator McCain has staked his campaign on it.

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