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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, October 20, 2006

John McCain unveils his Grand Plan for Victory in Iraq

(Updated below - Update II - Update III)

When pro-war advocates talk about Iraq these days, what they say is not only misguided and false, but almost always incoherent. In explaining why we ought to stay, they are reduced to a form of babbling that sounds almost adolescent -- like a petulant teenager who wishes so badly for something that they just stomp their feet and insist that they are going to have it. Here is the very serious, responsible, straight-talking national security guardian John McCain, "explaining" his view of Iraq to Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about an area where we‘ve all been involved, you especially, in talking about Iraq and how we can win this war or deal with it. You‘ve called, just in the last couple of days, for 100,000 more troops on top of the 140,000 we have as a compliment there.

When I read that on the clips this morning, I went to General Barry McCaffrey, whom you know so well, and he said we‘ve got only a total of 19 brigades that we could actually put into combat right now. We have 17 committed, two of those brigades to Afghanistan, 15 brigades already in Iraq. He says we simply don‘t have the capability to sustain another 100,000 troops in Iraq. You disagree?

MCCAIN: I said we need 100,000 more ...

MATTHEWS: Right.

MCCAIN: ...members of the Marines and the Army. We need additional troops there, but I think we need to expand the Army and the Marine Corps by 100,000 people.

MATTHEWS: More recruitment.

MCCAIN: I didn‘t say we need 100,000 -- more recruitment. And by the way, I‘m sure that people in this audience know the members—many members of the Iowa National Guard. They have served with courage, with bravery, with sacrifice and enormously wonderful performance. But it‘s a heavy strain on the Guard.

MATTHEWS: Would they please stand up? I know we have some here. Would the people of the National Guard of Iowa please just stand up nonofficially here? Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thank you for your service.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: Some of these young people have been to Afghanistan or Iraq two or three times already. We have put an enormous strain on them. They have performed magnificently, but we can‘t keep it up. We‘ve got to expand of the Marines. . . .

MATTHEWS: But why isn‘t it working? I mean, so few people here— we‘ve got a couple of thousand of young people here, and a very, very small percentage have expressed a commitment, even by standing here. Doesn‘t that mean we might have to think of the draft again?

MCCAIN: I don‘t think we need to think of the draft again because I don‘t think it makes sense in a whole variety of ways. But I guarantee you, if these young people felt that this nation was in a crisis and we asked them to serve, virtually every one of them would stand up because I have the greatest confidence in the young people of America.

So, to recap McCain's position: (1) in order to win in Iraq, we need to expand our military by 100,000 more troops; (2) we don't have anywhere near 100,000 troops to send to Iraq, and nobody suggests that we do; (3) a draft is absolutely unnecessary.

I don't think McCain even knows what to say about Iraq at this point -- the Straight Talker refuses admit that it was wrong because he was one of the loudest cheerleaders for it, but there are also plainly no viable options to change what is occurring -- so all he does is babble incoherently about it. As best I can tell, his position is that we need 100,000 more troops to win, and that young Americans one day are going to realize this and there will be a spontaneous and massive wave of volunteers eager to go to Iraq and fight in combat there because they will realize -- like McCain and the President do -- just how Very Important it is that we win.

So we'll just wait until that happens. But the first test of McCain's Grand Plan wasn't very auspicious. Matthews and McCain were appearing before an audience of college students at Iowa State University, and after McCain unveiled his grand serious Plan for Victory -- relying on spontaneous bursts of volunteers for combat in Iraq -- Matthews asked those in the audience who supported the war in Iraq to stand up. Large numbers of them bravely stood in support of the War. Matthews then asked those who plan to join the military to fight in Iraq to stand up. A tiny fraction of them did. Matthews then observed:

MATTHEWS: All you people standing up are planning to participate in the war in some way? Really? Everybody here.

MCCAIN: Thank you very much, my friends.

MATTHEWS: Because I asked a minute ago how many were going to join the military. I wonder what your participation would involve.

MCCAIN: Chris, your bias is starting to show. . . .

MATTHEWS: I want the people that are standing up. Somebody yell out why are you standing if you‘re not joining the military. OK, you were one of those. Keep going, anybody else? Of course, look at all the people in the back. I asked before if anybody was joining the military. And now you‘re standing up in support of the war but not in terms of a plan to actually participate in a war. I don‘t get the connection. Would somebody explain it?

McCain complained that Matthews' line of questioning meant that his "bias is starting to show." Apparently, if one demonstrates that McCain's Plan for Victory is based on absurd fantasy, that is "biased." A reporter should only sit by and heap praise on McCain as the responsible, serious Leader that he is.

So, John McCain's bold, straight-talking Plan for Victory in Iraq is to wait for Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Peter Beinert and Glenn Reynolds to realize how Western Civilization Hangs in the Balance in Iraq and that only more troops can save us. And once they realize that, they are going to stand up bravely and risk their lives in combat in Iraq -- waves and waves and waves of them -- and that will fortify our military presence there and we will win. Waiting for a big thunderbolt from the sky to strike down the Insurgents seems like a more probable and rational plan.

Advocating this war because one believed -- mistakenly -- that it would produce certain positive results imposes a certain level of culpability for what has happened. But continuing to advocate this war while knowing -- as McCain and so many like him do -- that (a) it is achieving nothing positive and (b) there are no viable and realistic options for achieving anything positive, places one in a different moral universe entirely.

John McCain's insistence that we're going to win in Iraq because the additional troops that we need to win are going to magically and spontaneously appear in a sudden outpouring of patriotic courage is a disgusting joke, but, as Americans have largely realized, that is what the Iraq war has become. Only the national media and the hardest-core Bush followers continue to cling to the fantasy that the people who brought us this disaster and continue to justify it with incoherence and fiction of this sort are the serious, responsible foreign policy leaders. Their foreign policy views are adolescent and completely incoherent - the very opposite of responsible and serious.

UPDATE: For an example of the serious, respopnsible, tough-on-national-security approach which the Republican Party is taking on Iraq, this is what GOP Senate nominee in Minnesota (and current GOP Congressman) Mark Kennedy said when asked about Iraq in an interview he did yesterday with John Hinderaker:

HINDERAKER: Let's talk about the war in Iraq. What's the difference between you and your opponent, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, when it comes to the war in Iraq?

KENNEDY: You know, I've been consistently focused on adapting to win - whatever it takes to make sure that we prevail against an emey that has stated that their goal is to - y'know - eliminate us from the face of the earth.

My opponent came out on Meet The Press and twice said that the approach should be a diplomatic and political solution - that we should negotate with people who would just as soon kill us as look at us. We need to make sure we prevail, but we can't just get there by wishing it would go away. We have to make sure we support our troops and do what is necessary to achieve victory.

HINDERAKER: How about the economy?

Does anyone even know what that means? Mark Kennedy's serious, responsible plan for winning in Iraq seems to amount to nothing more than this: "support our troops and do what is necessary to achieve victory." That answer -- which he has presumably formulated over the course of many months -- is basically the foreign policy equivalent of a junior high cheerleader squad. The Republican plan for Iraq is to keep things exactly as they are. That view can be characterized by many adjectives, but "serious" and "responsible" aren't among them.

* * * * * * *

This Monday, October 23, in Washington DC, the Center for American Progress is hosting a panel discussion on the Bush presidency and presidential powers, featuring myself and Sidney Blumethal. The event begins at 12:00 noon. Details are here. It is open to the public and attendence is free. Most of the discussion will entail interaction with attendees. C-SPAN coverage is possible, though not yet confirmed. Anyone in the DC area who would like to attend is encouraged to do so.

UPDATE II: Several people have argued in comments that my description of McCain's plan is not exactly what he advocated. As I made clear in the very first sentence of the post, and in numerous sentences after that, my principal criticism of McCain -- and of virtually everyone these days who claims that we should stay in Iraq but change course -- is that what they say is incoherent and always unclear. They are never specific about what we ought to do because there is no viable alternative, so they pretend to have a "plan" but -- like McCain -- only babble incoherently. I set forth my understanding of what McCain was saying because it seemed to be the only viable interpretation of his incoherent remarks (which is why I said: "As best I can tell, his position is . . .").

Despite my requesting that they do so multiple times, none of the people in comments claiming that my description of McCain's plan was inaccurate have said what his plan actually is (if it's not what I said it was). And as sfHeath documents in Comments, McCain's own website strongly suggests that my understanding of his "plan" is accurate (McCain on Iraq: "we must increase troop strength if we are to win this war . . . We must begin now to increase substantially the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps by at least 100,000"). Whatever else is true, McCain's plan depends upon adding 100,000 troops to our military, but he never says where those troops will come from. If he doesn't want to send those 100,000 troops to Iraq, what are they for? And what do they have to do with winning in Iraq? Nobody can tell what he means, which is the point.

Regardless of the numbers, McCain is clearly a proponent of adding additional troops to Iraq, but never says where we will get those troops either, what they will do, or how many we need (if, in fact, he isn't claiming -- as Matthews (and I) understood him to be -- that we need 100,000 troops in Iraq). Unveiling a plan for Victory in a disastrous war where nobody has any idea what you're actually advocating is not the behavior of a responsible or serious leader.

UPDATE III: C&L has the video of the entire exchange here, which is worth watching just to see how the bold, brave, patriotic war supporters instantaneously become much less bold and brave when Matthews asks them to stand if they intend to become part of McCain's wave of new volunteers.

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