In his militarist lust he was near lunacy; his ignorance: profound; he was, in many respects, conventional—numbingly conventional—on Washington’s global role. That was John McCain.
This was a man who, post-9/11, promoted measures expected to boost foreign terrorism. “Within hours” of that morning’s carnage, he made himself “leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against Al Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan,” to countries—like Iraq—with no Qaeda ties, where revenge, really, would be aggression. On CNN, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, on “Face the Nation” he pushed for assaulting Iraq, stressing the “need to keep telling the American people” about Saddam’s menace, to keep “frightening and scaring them every day.”
Later, as hopes shattered for quick success in Iraq on Washington’s terms—the only terms concerning McCain—he started “calling for the deployment of at least another division,” growing “more strident in his advocacy of escalation” with time. More young soldiers had to go to Baghdad, many to die. These troops became “the surge,” to McCain a triumph, proof of his acute thinking, his wartime sagacity. “The surge has succeeded,” he declared in 2008, claiming it showed how Washington could win in Afghanistan.
Relevant scholarship reveals these claims were, if we’re polite, dubious, if not: bullshit. Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey A. Friedman and Jacob N. Shapiro, in…