To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.
What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.
Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.
The key to understanding McCain’s strategic “thought” is that he loves war. Whichever war the United States of America seems mostly likely to start on any given day is the war he wants to start. Whichever war the United States of America seems mostly likely to escalate on any given day is the war he wants to escalate. The entire rest of his erstwhile worldview will just revolve around that. In the mid-nineties, he wanted to start a war against North Korea. In 1999, he wanted a land invasion of Serbia. But in 2002, he viewed North Korea’s nuclear program as no big deal (and certainly wasn’t mentioning the need to invade Serbia) because that might distract from the goal of invading Iraq. In 2006, he downplayed problems in Afghanistan to further his goal of sending more troops to Iraq. But now Afghanistan’s in the spotlight so we need to send troops there. But just last summer, he thought we needed to intervene in the war between Russia and Georgia.
It’s a consistent point of view in the sense that no matter the question, McCain’s answer is always “more war” but it doesn’t reflect any kind of coherent theory about national priorities or strategic issues. You never see people from the American Friends Service Committee brought on TV to talk about Afghanistan policy. But pacifists have a much stronger case to make on behalf of their approach than does the “all war all the time” crowd that continues to be treated by the media as possessed of vast credibility on these matters.