The dead-on military man
by Dover Bitch

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh warns us all that the demise of John McCain's dream of leading our troops into another glorious war as Commander in Chief is a grave sign that America is not listening to experienced "military men."

In early November 2003, at a time when Fred Dalton Thompson was playing a tough D.A. on "Law and Order," John McCain was cross-examining Donald Rumsfeld for real on Capitol Hill. It was still very early into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but the as-yet-unacknowledged (by Rummy, that is) insurgency was already out of control. Alone among his fellow GOP senators, McCain blasted Rumsfeld for not putting enough U.S. troops on the ground, and for resorting too soon to "Iraqification"—that is, transferring security to ill-prepared Iraqi forces. In an extraordinarily blunt speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that grim autumn, McCain warned that ultimately Iraq could become another Vietnam "if we lose popular support in the United States."

The next day, the secretary of Defense asked McCain to breakfast. "I read your speech," harrumphed Rumsfeld (that "must have been an enjoyable experience for him," McCain later joked to me). Then Rummy patiently explained to his fellow Republican why he and his top civilian brass (Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and the usual crowd of incompetents) would continue to do things the same way. They "believed there was no need for additional troops," McCain later related. McCain had already realized that Rumsfeld was a lost cause. The real question, the senator suggested to me back then, was whether George W. Bush himself would push Rummy to make changes. "I’d like to see the president fully engaged,” McCain said. Bush needed to be on top of “more details of what’s going on."

As we now know nearly four years later, McCain was dead on in his analysis of what went wrong in Iraq. Right down to the need for Bush to get engaged and fire Rumsfeld. McCain was so right that, among military experts today, the emerging conventional wisdom about Bush’s current "surge" is that if it had occurred back then—when McCain wanted it and the political will existed in this country to support it for the necessary number of years—it might well have succeeded. Now even McCain’s fellow Republicans, frightened of the polls and Bush’s Nixonian level of unpopularity, are insisting on success in an impossible nine months (by September, that is). That’s a benchmark Gen. David Petraeus and others in the Iraq command realize is simply untenable. The disparity between the timelines in Washington and Baghdad is now so huge that failure is all but foreordained.

Oh yeah, and Fred Dalton Thompson is still acting on TV, having abandoned Washington for Hollywood five years ago, in the middle of the biggest national crisis since Vietnam. Presumably Thompson will keep acting until he announces for president, which some politicos think will instantly make him the front runner in a field that apparently no longer has room for John McCain. Thompson is, after all, a very good actor—an even better one, many say, than Ronald Reagan was.

And that points up a sad fact of political life in Washington. Americans can’t get enough of praising our military men and women in public—the people who actually know something about war. But we no longer want to elect them president. In a national culture besotted with TV "reality" shows, no one seems able to tell what reality is any more. We saw that in 2004 when two draft dodgers—Bush and Dick Cheney—brazenly painted a Silver Star winner, John Kerry, as fatally soft on war. We’re seeing the same dynamic play out again now.

I'll give Hirsh points for pointing out what a sham of a candidate Fred Thompson is. He also gets another point for calling out Bush and Cheney for the draft-dodging chickenhawks they are.

But the premise of this article is absurd. We are not "seeing the same dynamic play out again now." Not even close. Nobody is fabricating anything about McCain's war record to smear him. If anything, the fabrication is coming from Hirsh in defense of McCain, whom he credits for being "dead on in his analysis."

Hirsh is conveniently forgetting that McCain was the surge's biggest proponent in October 2006:

Republican Sen. John McCain, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, said Friday the United States should send another 20,000 troops to Iraq.

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain said increasing U.S. forces would require expanding the standing Army and Marine Corps - a step the Bush administration has resisted. He also reiterated his opposition to a hasty U.S. withdrawal.

Reporters asked him to elaborate on his statement last week in Iowa that more combat troops are needed in Iraq to quell a "classic insurgency."

"Another 20,000 troops in Iraq, but that means expanding the Army and the Marine Corps," he said.

"It's not just a set number."

Bush announced his "surge" about two months later, just what McCain said he wanted. Digby picks it up from there:

Bush called his bluff and John Edwards very astutely immediately began calling it The McCain Escalation Doctrine.

He's since tried to distance himself from Bush by saying that he really meant 30,000 or that Bush wasn't honest about the situation on the ground or that we need benchmarks.

But Bush got this plan from him, not the other way around. It's his baby.

I hope that we can keep the press focused on this. They love them some St. John and are always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Looks like they still are. In fact, one really has to wonder where the love affair comes from. It's not simply that McCain is a "military man" with gravitas. Consider Hirsh's appearance on CNN in November 2005:

ANDERSON COOPER: Mike Hirsh, did the Republicans make a mistake -- mistake tactically in doing this tonight?

MICHAEL HIRSH, "NEWSWEEK": Probably they did.

But, I mean, this is an exercise in irrelevance in my view for other reasons, mainly because the plans are going forward by the Pentagon and the White House for a mid-2006 drawdown, dramatic drawdown. The political military strategy's going forward.

I mean, I think what most of the country is missing here, as they watch Congress, you know, take each other on is that, in fact, there's a strategy for getting out of Iraq. I think this added political pressure will probably make a little bit of difference, perhaps in, you know, telling the White House that it has to go ahead with the strategy.

But there's no question that 2006 is going to be the key year for drawing down troops.

COOPER: Well, just today, Mike, we learned that a top U.S. general has submitted a troop withdrawal plan. It basically calls for U.S. troops -- it's been submitted to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He has not signed it at this point, but this is a plan by a U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, basically calls for brigade-sized withdrawals in 2006, depending on a number of considerations being met inside Iraq, in terms of Iraqi troops level.

Is that a significant document, do you think?


I mean, this is one of a series of plans we have been hearing about since before the summer. There was a little back-and-forth between the Defense Department and the White House over this. Casey had alluded to a dramatic drawdown last spring. He was slapped down by President Bush, who didn't want to give out any kind of a timetable.

But, nonetheless, these plans are there. Those of us who cover the Pentagon have heard about them. And, you know, I think that, no matter what, if things -- if conditions remain just as they are now, they will go forward. You will have a trained-up Iraqi force holding some of these areas that they're clearing, clearing out of insurgents, and you will have a current force of, you know, 140,000 or so nearly halved perhaps by mid-2006.

If you can, for a moment, forget about how painfully wrong Hirsh was about everything there, notice that he pointed out the military was calling for troop reductions in Iraq with a "series of plans." You would think that a "military man" who has been "dead on in his analysis" with regards to Iraq would also be on board with the drawdown scripted by top generals in the Pentagon.

Unless of course that man is John McCain. Here's McCain the following day, Nov. 12, 2005, on Meet Tim Russert [UPDATE: I pulled the wrong quote. Please see my correction for the proper example of McCain's pro-surge sentiments in November 2005]:

I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.


We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months.

Hirsh says McCain's floundering campaign shows that America can't tell what reality is anymore. If they could figure out how to take the Washington beltway perspective and put it in a pill, it would be the most potent hallucinogen every created.