Awash in the blood of 4,000 U.S. soldiers and at least 1,000,000 Iraqi men, women and children, Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain returned from a trip to Iraq and declared "we are succeeding."
This is the same man who, just a year ago, proclaimed great progress towards peace in Iraq, and proved his point by exploring a popular Shorja marketplace. Yes, surrounded by 100 U.S. soldiers, with rooftop snipers keeping watch and helicopters hovering overhead, Mr. McCain was able to freely walk about the closed marketplace.
During his most recent speech on the topic he further said: "We’re succeeding. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve seen the facts on the ground." Similar, one might think, to the facts he saw a year ago from behind his bullet-proof vest.
It is somewhat telling that Mr. McCain said he doesn’t "care what anybody says." One recalls President Bush, prior to the invasion of Iraq, comparing the crowd of millions of people opposing it to a focus group. He too, it seems, didn’t ‘care what anybody’ said, and look where it got us all.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain is prone to nonsensical statements. During this same speech, he commented as follows: "I don’t think I would change the strategy now unless General Petraeus recommended it. I think he’s trusted by the American people, the president and by me. And General Petraeus again showed me facts on the ground where the surge is succeeding." One wonders what indicators the good senator has seen to demonstrate that U.S. citizens trust Mr. Petraeus. Perhaps it is their approval level of his boss, Mr. Bush, which is hovering somewhere around 30%.
The fact that 901 U.S. soldiers died in 2007, the highest number of U.S. military casualties in any year since the start of the war, and coming in the year that began with the much-vaunted ‘surge,’ was not something Mr. McCain saw fit to discuss. But he did offer his listeners a clear picture of how a McCain presidency would handle the war. When asked if he would offer the world a new strategy, he said this: "I’m offering them the record of having objected strenuously to a failed strategy for nearly four years. That I argued against and fought against and said that the secretary of defense of my own party, and my own president, I had no confidence in. That’s how far I went in advocating the new strategy that is succeeding." For Mr. McCain, as for Mr. Bush, an escalation of the war is a ‘new’ strategy.
The senator was not exactly clear in what ‘we’ are ‘succeeding’ in; he made some mention of Osama bin Laden, still on the loose seven years and two wars after 9/11, and summoned, Bush-style, the specter of al-Qaida somehow gaining control of Iraq and using it as headquarters to destroy the U.S. He neglected to mention that al-Qaida had little or no presence in Iraq prior to the U.S. destruction of the central government of that nation.
One must attempt to glean from Mr. McCain’s vague platitudes what ‘success’ in Iraq means to him. The most powerful country in the world running roughshod over a third world nation, depriving its people of basic services, killing them by the hundreds of thousands, all with an eye to stealing their oil could possible qualify as ‘success’ for Mr. McCain. No thought of the individual, basic human dignity of the U.S.’s victims, no idea of self-governance enters into his twisted equation.
He also did not mention the deaths of 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens, or the destruction of their nation. The flight of over 2,000,000 Iraqis from their homes as a direct result of the U.S. invasion and occupation was also not discussed. He did, of course, mention the U.S. soldiers suffering and dying in Iraq, but side-stepped any comment on the deaths of 4,000 of them. Said he: "I’ve commented on hundreds of occasions of the sacrifice the great and brave young Americans have made in Iraq and elsewhere in the world in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism." No political speech, by a member of either party, is complete without summoning up the hardships of dedicated soldiers, doing their best in an immoral, imperial war. Discussing the former seems, for some inexplicable reason, to help people forget the latter.
Mr. McCain’s recent trip to the Middle East and Europe was supposed to have highlighted his international expertise, and shown him as ‘presidential.’ Yet the response at home can not have been highly positive, since he is increasingly morphing into the unpopular Mr. Bush, and the reaction abroad could not have been much better as he hopped about various nations where Mr. Bush and the U.S. are hated and resented.
The choice to be offered to the American voter in November is clear, even with the selection of the Democratic nominee still in question. Mr. McCain, the Republican standard-bearer, offers the U.S. and the world more of the same: imperial war, death, carnage. Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton timidly suggest change: withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but how and when remain important questions. There is not much difference between the latter two and Mr. McCain, but at least Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton talk of change, whereas Mr. McCain wants to emulate President Bush’s tired, used and useless mantra of ‘stay the course.’
What it will take to end U.S. involvement in Iraq can best be suggested by history: ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam only came about as a result of an overwhelming people’s movement that even the imperial president at the time could no longer ignore. Unless and until the country sees a rebirth of that movement, Senators McCain, Obama and Clinton will continue to dance around the truth while Americans and Iraqis die in unspeakable numbers.