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NYT’s Roger Cohen: On Iraq, McCain Is ‘Less Wrong Than Most,’ ‘Too Honorable To Dismiss’

“Nobody’s been right all the time on Iraq, but Senator John McCain has been less wrong than most,” writes the New York Times’ Roger Cohen — a self-proclaimed “liberal interventionist” — in a column titled, “A Center Called McCain.”

Cohen derives his argument straight from McCain’s talking points. McCain is “flesh and blood” and “straight-talking and “tends to defy categorization,” in Cohen’s words.

Instead of substantively examining McCain’s record, Cohen glosses over it. He claims that “McCain has scored points for being consistent and forthright on the war.” But McCain’s record shows how dishonest he has been with the public. In 2003, he proclaimed:

“I believe, Katie, that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” [NBC, 3/20/03]

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Months later, McCain quietly tried to clear himself from blame:

“The whole situation was underestimated by the administration and, frankly, the military, as well.” [MSNBC, 2/25/04]

Cohen writes of McCain, “He knew a bungled war when he saw one and pressed early for increased force levels.” Indeed, McCain was an early advocate of the escalation, but he has shown a tragic inability to understand the complexities of Iraq:

“We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad. We may have to take out buildings, but we’re not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies.” [CNN, 9/29/02]

“There’s not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along.” [MSNBC, 4/23/03]

“Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.” [The Hill, 12/8/05]

Slate’s Jack Shafer said that Cohen’s writing on foreign policy “establishes new standards for the aggressive pursuit of the trite.” Matt Yglesias adds, “On the Cohen standard, by contrast, if we take any bad situation and just render it very chaotic that counts as a good idea.”

It is this attitude that makes Roger Cohen even more wrong that most.