FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

McCain Against the World

Photo Source DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0

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 International Security, determined the surge “was insufficient to explain 2007’s sudden reversal in fortunes,” since “local conditions that will not necessarily recur elsewhere” were “essential” to its success. “These findings suggest caution for Afghanistan, in particular,” they warned. Others drew darker conclusions. Steven Simon, in Foreign Affairs, wrote that the strategy enflamed “the three forces that have traditionally threatened the stability of Middle Eastern states: tribalism, warlordism, and sectarianism.”

But these matters lay beyond McCain’s field of attention. So did other developments: the million slaughtered; the millions more displaced; the linked plagues of cancer, soaring infant mortality and congenital birth defects in bomb-crippled Fallujah and Basra. One scholar judged the U.S. occupation “the biggest cultural disaster since the descendants of Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad in 1258.” McCain helped visit this nightmare on Iraq.

His decisions haunt Yemen as well. “Thank God for the Saudis,” he proclaimed, insisting it was “not true” their bombings took out Yemeni civilians, that U.S. legislators were “crazy” trying to bar Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. In reality, the Saudis in Yemen have “killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes, tortured detainees, raped civilians and used child soldiers as young as 8—actions that may amount to war crimes,” the UN concluded.

Again: “tortured detainees.” Contrary to eulogies saturating the news, McCain struck no principled stance against torture, and in fact supported, many times, groups infamous for their appalling treatment of hostages. He personally paid the Contras, for example, who counted as members “major and systematic violators of the most basic standards of the laws of armed conflict.” A congressional inquiry learned they “raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children,” that they “burned, dismembered, blinded or beheaded” their victims.

He later endorsed the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), the Iranian opposition group. “I thank you for being an example, an example to the whole world,” McCain told its leader. Human Rights Watch (HRW), reporting on MEK, discussed “abuses ranging from detention and persecution of ordinary members wishing to leave the organization, to lengthy solitary confinements, severe beatings, and torture of dissident members.”

Then McCain rejected “the push to investigate and possibly prosecute Bush administration officials who crafted the legal basis for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ such as waterboarding,” citing the “need to move forward.” The ACLU,  Amnesty International, and HRW were just some of the critics condemning this stance.

That latter outfit also censured John Negroponte, McCain’s choice for U.S. Ambassador to the UN. Negroponte’s Honduran tenure (1981-85) coincided with state-backed “abduction, torture, and murder of scores of people,” as “millions of dollars of U.S. military aid” flowed into the country.

Reagan-era policies, like those Negroponte administered, helped spur Central American migration to the U.S. Many seeking refuge here confronted, more and more over the years, a border that “promotes the death of migrants,” a boundary that channels them onto lethal desert paths. This weaponized line was one of McCain’s great causes: he called again and again for more Border Patrol agents and National Guard troops to police southern Arizona; for enhanced surveillance and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to monitor the zone; for “double-layer fencing at needed locations.”

McCain’s border priorities also lay bare his alleged environmentalism. He co-sponsored the Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act, which imperiled “a vast, 10-million-acre area of Arizona without any remotely corresponding border-security benefits.” A related proposal was “the most direct assault on national parks ever to be advanced at any level in any Congress in U.S. history,” the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees believed.

There were other signs of his reverence for nature: McCain dismissed as “extremely disappointing” Obama’s Keystone XL pipeline rejection. He praised Trump for working to dismantle the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule, a move savaged as a “reckless attack on our waters and health.” And he lauded Scott Pruitt’s Clean Power Plan rollback, deemed “a boon to the coal industry.”

This ersatz maverick—who voted with George W. Bush 95% of the time, with Trump 83% of the time—left a clear legacy. Unmoored from reality, unmoved by the pain his policies caused: that was John McCain.

More articles by:

Nick Alexandrov lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He can be reached at: nicholas.alexandrov@gmail.com

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail