McCain: It’s ‘Immaterial’ Whether Al Qaeda Was In Iraq Before U.S. Invasion

In his major foreign policy address today, McCain promised to listen to the “wisdom and knowledge” of others when making foreign policy decisions. To underscore his point, he quoted the Declaration of Independence’s statement of “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Watch it:


Interestingly, it seems that, at least as far as McCain was concerned, this “respect” did not extend to overwhelming worldwide opinion in 2003, which was strongly against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (Nor does it apparently extend now to the opinions of McCain’s fellow Americans, a majority of whom oppose the Iraq war and believe it should never have been fought.)

During a press conference call today after the speech, McCain’s foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann was asked about disconnect between the “respect to the opinions of mankind” and McCain’s heedless support for the invasion of Iraq. Scheunemann simply replied that McCain was “interested in looking forward, not backward.”

McCain expressed similar sentiment in the speech, in reference to the fact that Al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq before the U.S. invaded and occupied the country:

Whether they [Al Qaeda] were there [in Iraq] before is immaterial, al Qaeda is in Iraq now, as it is in the borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Somalia, and in Indonesia. If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, as various factions of Sunni and Shi’a have yet to move beyond their ancient hatreds, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda. Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions. I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values.

It’s understandable that this is a conversation that McCain does not want to have, but it is certainly not immaterial whether al Qaeda was in Iraq before the U.S. invaded. On the contrary, it is essential to understanding why the Iraq invasion was a bad foreign policy decision born of poor judgment and a lack of real knowledge and understanding of the region.

Almost all of the things that McCain predicts will result from a U.S. withdrawal have, in fact, occurred as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq: Al Qaeda survived in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and then entered Iraq to provoke sectarian tensions), and tens of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives in a civil war in which Iraq’s neighbors have come to the aid of their favored factions.

The reckless and ill-considered invasion of Iraq has turned out to be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values, and much of the next president’s term will be concerned with trying to clean up that mess. John McCain doesn’t really seem to grasp how that mess was made, or that the mess even exists.