I agree with Glenn Greenwald that the US media cannot let go of the myth that John McCain’s years in the US Senate and his frequent trips to Iraq make him an "expert" on Iraq and foreign affairs. Washington pundits excuse his repeated "misstatements" confusing Shia with Sunnis, al Qaeda with Iran, while Fox News ominously calls this astonishing ignorance a "senior moment."
Yet almost every day, McCain says something that shows his "expertise" is nothing more than ideology divorced from the actual facts. Consider only McCain’s statements yesterday on Iraq:
CHULA VISTA, Calif. (AP) — Fresh off his eighth Iraq visit, Sen. John McCain declared Monday that "we are succeeding" and said he wouldn’t change course — even as the U.S. death toll rose to 4,000 and the war entered its sixth year.
To underscore his view of the stakes in Iraq, the certain Republican presidential nominee twice referenced a recent audio tape from Osama bin Laden in which the al-Qaida leader urged followers to join the al-Qaida fight in Iraq and called the country "the greatest opportunity and the biggest task."
"For the first time, I have seen Osama bin Laden and General (David) Petraeus in agreement, and, that is, a central battleground in the battle against al-Qaida is in Iraq today. And that’s what bin Laden was saying and that’s what General Petraeus is saying and that’s what I’m saying, my friends," McCain said.
"And my Democrat opponents who want to pull out of Iraq refuse to understand what’s being said and what’s happening — and that is the central battleground is Iraq in this struggle against radical Islamic extremism," he added. McCain also said Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were naive and "dead wrong" to want to withdraw troops.
McCain claims that Petraeus and OBL agree with him that the war in Iraq is the "central front" in the war against terror, but is that true? Last September Petraeus ducked Senator Warner’s question about whether the fight in Iraq is making us safer, because he probably believes, as most sentient observers do, that if you view the problem primarily as a military confrontation between the US and AQ, the central fight against al Qaeda is not in Iraq but in Afghanistan/Pakistan. The experts in our intelligence community have said that repeatedly.
Petraeus and staff may speak of al Qaeda as a main "enemy" in Iraq, but they acknowledge that US forces also battle other Sunni groups as well as various Shia militia, especially Sadr’s Mahdi Army, elements of which are battling the US and Iraq Army today. But claiming a group calling itself "al Qaeda in Iraq" is part of the "enemy" in Iraq is not the same as claiming that Iraq is the "central front" in the war on al Qaeda or radical extremism.
As for OBL, the latest tapes attributed to him are not saying what McCain is claiming either. Instead, they’re saying Iraq is "the greatest opportunity." No kidding. Anyone with an ounce of sense would see the US quagmire in Iraq as an opportunity for those who wish us harm to continue damaging US interests and its military, but without risking the al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Indeed, using Iraq as a diversion for gullible Americans is in OBL’s interests. The more plausible interpretation is that OBL is cynically inviting outraged young Sunnis from Saudi Arabia. etc, to go fight the Americans in Iraq, a strategy that hurts us but costs him nothing. To borrow Norman Schwartzkopf’s phrase from the first Gulf war, OBL is probably saying "we gotcha."
The only people who, like McCain, call Iraq the "central front" are Bush, Cheney, Lieberman and other neocon idiots who made the mistake of urging America to invade a country with no links to 9/11, al Qaeda or Obsama bin Ladin and that posed no danger to US strategic interests. Meanwhile, the White House is considering a "pause" in troop withdrawals, arguing they may need 140,000 US troops bogged down in Iraq indefinitely with no exit strategy (Lindsay Graham notwithstanding).
So where’s the expertise? Where’s the wisdom that flows from experience? Yesterday’s statements are just more proof that far from being an wise "expert" on foreign policy, John McCain views the world through a distorted ideological lens. Like Bush, he either doesn’t understand the strategic forces at work or has chosen to misrepresent them to the American people.
And that’s exactly how you get 4000 US soldiers killed and five years later your President is still desperately trying to convince their families they did not die in vain.