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               THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                  February 4, 2008
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The Madness of John McCain 
- by Justin Raimondo in The Amercian Conservative 

John McCain's reputation as a maverick is no recent 
contrivance. The senator first captured the media spotlight 
in September 1983, not long after he'd been elected to his 
first term in the House, when he voted against President 
Reagan's decision to put American troops in Lebanon as 
part of a multinational "peacekeeping" force. One of 27 
Republicans to break with the White House, the freshman 
McCain made a floor speech that reads as if it might have 
been written yesterday—by Ron Paul: 

 The fundamental question is: What is the United States' 
 interest in Lebanon? It is said we are there to keep the 
 peace. I ask, what peace? It is said we are there to aid 
 the government. I ask, what government? It is said we are 
 there to stabilize the region. I ask, how can the U.S. 
 presence stabilize the region?... The longer we stay in 
 Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will 
 be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there 
 in the first place. 

 What can we expect if we withdraw from Lebanon? The same 
 as will happen if we stay. I acknowledge that the level 
 of fighting will increase if we leave. I regretfully 
 acknowledge that many innocent civilians will be hurt. 
 But I firmly believe this will happen in any event. 

Now insert "Iraq" where McCain said "Lebanon." It's as if 
McCain the Younger foresaw our present predicament and 
taunted his future incarnation, showing that wisdom doesn't 
necessarily come with age. 

In sketching out McCain's political career alongside a time-
line of American interventions abroad, one comes, at last, 
to a turning point. But his course was set much earlier, 
in his first visible venture into the realm of national-
security issues at the time of the Lebanese events: 
Reagan's request for U.S. troops and the subsequent attack 
on the Beirut marine barracks, where 241 military personnel 
were killed. This vaulted McCain to national attention. 
His initial opposition to the administration's resolution 
authorizing the sending of troops was picked up by the 
media, and he basked in the spotlight. As he put it in his 
memoir, Worth the Fighting For: 

 It [his vote against the resolution] caught the attention 
 of the Washington press corps, who tend to notice acts of 
 political independence from unexpected quarters. My press 
 secretary, Torie Clarke, began receiving interview 
 requests from national print and broadcast media. Because 
 of my POW experience, I had always enjoyed a little more 
 celebrity than is usually accorded freshmen, but not so 
 much that my views were solicited or even taken seriously 
 by the national media. Now I was debating Lebanon on 
 programs like the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and in the pages 
 of the New York Times and the Washington Post. I was 
 gratified by the attention and eager for more. 

On the strength of his prescient skepticism of U.S. inter-
vention in a Middle Eastern nation known for its fierce 
sectarian passions, McCain's star burned bright. U.S. News 
& World Report lauded him as a "Republican on the rise," 
while on the other side of the culture-chasm, Rolling 
Stone hailed the Arizonan for his dissenting voice on an 
important foreign policy issue. His reputation was made 
as that straight-talking, idiosyncratic, interesting 
Republican congressman from the Southwest, a version of 
Barry Goldwater the liberal media could like—and would 
come to love. 

Not yet, however: there was a dark interregnum during which 
McCain and the media were at odds. There were shouting 
matches between the voluble senator and reporters over the 
"Keating Five" scandal and his wife's struggle with drugs. 
But this adversarial relationship turned a corner, in 1991, 
when the first Gulf War erupted. McCain reflected in his 
memoir, "As self-interested as this sounds, I was relieved 
when Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August of that year gave 
reporters some other reason to talk to me and something 
else to report." 

His position on that war was not the reflexive inter-
ventionism we have come to expect from him but a more 
thoughtful approach, as cited in the New York Times of 
Aug. 19, 1990: "If you get involved in a major ground 
war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode 
significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot 
even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood 
for Iraqi blood." 

McCain preferred to use air power to keep Saddam Hussein 
out of Saudi Arabia, rather than introducing ground troops, 
and opposed the call that went out from the more militant 
neoconservatives that U.S. troops, having freed Kuwait 
from Saddam's clutches, should push on to Baghdad. 

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What changed his foreign-policy purview, however, was the 
Kosovo War. Again he played the maverick role for all it 
was worth, taking up the cudgels against many in his own 
party. But this time, he was on the side of intervention. 

Monday, April 5, 1999, was a busy day for McCain: Larry 
King, Charlie Rose, Catherine Crier, two appearances on 
MSNBC, another two on CNBC, capped by an interview on ABC's 
"Nightline." The next morning, he was up early for Don 
Imus. "We've turned down far more than we've accepted," 
McCain enthused. It was "all McCain, all the time," as one 
Republican strategist put it to the Washington Post, and 
it sure wasn't hurting his presidential campaign. 

"When I urged the president of the United States not to 
rule out the option of ground forces, then I also assumed 
responsibility for what may be the loss of young Americans' 
lives," averred McCain. "I don't know how it affects my 
campaign. But I've basically put my campaign on hold to 
some degree." 

This was disingenuous, at best. Far from putting his 
campaign on hold, his newfound visibility gave it a shot 
in the arm, and political operatives in both parties 
saluted the pragmatism of his stance. "He looks president-
ial at a time when many Republicans don't believe the 
current president does," said Whit Ayres, an Atlanta-based 
GOP pollster. "He's where the country is," added Mark 
Mellman, a Democratic pollster. "Americans certainly like 
to win and they don’t like politicians sniping in the 
corner when the question is whether we're going to win it." 

"We're in it, and we've gotta win it!" McCain repeated end-
lessly as he berated his "isolationist" fellow Republicans 
and demanded that they get behind the president and support 
the war. Yet his support was framed by a critique of the 
handling of the conflict that disdained Clinton's alleged 
timidity in taking steps to ensure a victory. 

Three weeks after hostilities began, McCain delivered a 
speech to the Center for Strategic and International 
Studies in which he declared that American intervention 
in the Balkans had been effectively stymied: "I think it 
is safe to assume that no one, including me, anticipated 
the speed with which Serbia would defeat our objectives 
in Kosovo, and the scope of that defeat." While conceding, 
"yes, the war is only three weeks old, and yes, NATO can 
and probably will prevail in this conflict with what is, 
after all, a considerably inferior adversary," he warned 
"victory will not be hastened by pretending that things 
have just gone swimmingly." 

According to McCain, there were two big problems with the 
conduct of the war: first, "an excessively restricted air 
campaign that sought the impossible goal of avoiding war 
while waging one. The second is the repeated declarations 
from the president, vice president, and other senior 
officials that NATO would refrain from using ground troops 
even if the air campaign failed. These two mistakes were 
made in what almost seemed willful ignorance of every 
lesson we learned in Vietnam." 

We were, he warned, in danger of "losing" to the Serbian 
army—with its outdated equipment and complete lack of an 
air force—if we failed to launch air strikes that were 
"massive, strategic and sustained." Furthermore, "no 
infrastructure targets should have been off limits"—
factories, water plants, hospitals, schools, markets, 
whatever. Yes, "we all grieve over civilian casualties 
as well as our own losses," but "they are unavoidable." 

But all of this was eminently avoidable, as critics of 
the war—including many of McCain's fellow Republicans 
in Congress—pointed out at the time. The war itself was 
unnecessary. The U.S. was never threatened by the Serbs, 
and the trumped-up charge of "genocide" was egregious 
overstatement. Aside from that, the conflict lasted 
little more than 11 weeks, and, contra McCain, the U.S. 
was never in danger of losing. A "massive" bombing 
campaign would have accomplished little aside from 
inflicting untold suffering on innocent civilians and 
incurring the everlasting enmity of the Serbian people—
and of decent people everywhere. 

Yet McCain was persistent in demanding that the situation 
called for American "boots on the ground"—a phrase that, 
if you Google it, you'll discover what might be called 
the McCain Panacea. To hear McCain tell it, there is 
apparently no crisis anywhere in the world that cannot 
be resolved by the presence of U.S. armed forces. This 
full-throated, high-handed interventionism is a long way 
from the hard-headed realism of the young congressman who 
challenged the disastrous decision to send peacekeepers 
to Lebanon by asking, "What peace?" 

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It is impossible to know what is in McCain's heart. There 
may be a purely ideological explanation for his changing 
viewpoint. But what seems to account for his evolution from 
realism to hopped-up interventionism is nothing more than 
sheer ambition. This was the case in 1983, when he defied 
the Reagan administration over sending U.S. soldiers to die 
at the hands of a Beirut suicide bomber, and in 1999, when 
the cry went up to take on Slobodan Milosevic. He was 
positioning himself against his own party, while staking 
out a distinctive stance independent of the Democrats. 
It was, in short, an instance of a presidential candidate 
maneuvering himself to increase his appeal to the 
electorate—and, most importantly, the media. 

The brace of arguments McCain made in his CSIS speech in 
support of the Kosovo War didn't hold together at the time—
and fares even worse in retrospect. According to McCain, 
the Serbs threatened "our global credibility and the long-
term viability of the Atlantic Alliance"—the former because 
two successive presidents had warned Milosevic against 
committing "aggression" against Kosovo, and failure to 
act would embolden other "rogue states" to defy American 
edicts. Yet McCain's reasoning is circular: according to 
him, our government's edicts must be obeyed because they 
are, by definition, non-negotiable—even by Americans. A 
certain course, once taken, must be pursued to the bitter 
end, even if it acts against our long-term interests. 
McCain's worldview, which admits no possibility of error, 
is undiluted hubris. 

The illogic of McCain's interventionism is further under-
scored by his appeal to "the long-term viability of the 
NATO alliance." With the implosion of the Communist empire 
a decade earlier, the original rationale for the creation 
of the alliance vanished. Was the unnatural perpetuation 
of an outmoded alliance really worth the lives of 5,000 
Serbs, mostly civilians? 

McCain's arguments are so facile that one can hardly 
believe they are held with any degree of sincerity. There 
has to be something else involved, and a hint of this was 
revealed in the opening of his CSIS address, thanking his 
sponsors "for so graciously providing me a forum to share 
a few thoughts on the crisis in the Balkans. I've been 
having a terrible time finding media opportunities to get 
my views out, so I appreciate your help." 

One can well imagine the appreciative laughter, albeit 
tinged with an undertone of nervous uncertainty at the 
sight of someone who gets far too much pleasure out of 
being in the spotlight. Such narcissism, unseemly in 
anyone, is especially unbefitting in a president, yet 
it is key to understanding McCain's evolution from 
conventional Republican realist to relentless 
interventionist. 

During the 1990s, he earned the attention and adulation of 
the media by supporting a war most journalists approved 
of and doing so more consistently and vociferously than 
even the Clinton administration. He's pursuing the same 
strategy now that we're in Iraq. While the media has 
largely turned against this particular war, McCain's 
criticism of Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration's 
handling of the war has won him plaudits and given him 
credit as the "real" author of the surge. 

If opportunism married to an inflated ego birthed his 
persona as the Ares of America's political pantheon, then 
this psycho-political pathology soon found expression as 
a full-blown delusional system. By 1999, in defense of 
Clinton's war, McCain was declaring, "I think the United 
States should inaugurate a 21st-century policy inter-
pretation of the Reagan Doctrine, call it rogue state 
rollback, in which we politically and materially support 
indigenous forces within and outside of rogue states to 
overthrow regimes that threaten our interests and values." 

In 2006, McCain traveled to Tskhimvali, in the disputed 
region South Ossetia, where pro-Russian citizens want to 
secede from the former Soviet republic of Georgia and 
seek union with Russia. After his visit, he concluded: 

 I think that the attitude there is best described by what 
 you see by driving in [to Tskhinvali]: a very large 
 billboard with a picture of Vladimir Putin on it, which 
 says 'Vladimir Putin Our President.' I do not believe 
 that Vladimir Putin is now, or ever should be, the 
 president of sovereign Georgian soil. 

Imagine if the British, annoyed by American encroachments 
in Texas, had sent a member of Parliament to denounce the 
defenders of the Alamo. That, at any rate, is how the South 
Ossetians think of it. And what American interests or 
values are at stake in that dirt-poor, war-torn corner of 
the Caucasus? What American values are reflected in the 
Mafia-like "democratic" government of today's Kosovo, 
where Orthodox churches are burnt-out ruins and the few 
remaining Serbs are under siege? 

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In the warmonger sweepstakes now taking place among the 
major GOP presidential contenders, John McCain out-
demagogued even Rudy Giuliani, whose studied belligerence 
seems narrowly centered on the Middle East. McCain's enmity 
is universal: if he were president, in addition to taking 
on the Arabs and the Persians, we'd soon be at loggerheads 
with the Russians. The G-8, he says, should be "a club of 
leading market democracies: It should include Brazil and 
India but exclude Russia." Putin's Russia, he claims, is 
"revanchist" and surely qualifies as one of those "rogue 
states" that "threaten our values." If we take him at his 
word, President McCain would launch a campaign for "regime 
change" in Moscow, just as we did in Iraq. 

Prefiguring the revolutionary Jacobinism of Bush's second 
inaugural address, which proclaimed the goal of U.S. 
foreign policy to be "ending tyranny in our world," McCain 
was straining at the bit to launch a global crusade while 
George W. Bush was still touting the virtues of a more 
"humble foreign policy." Neither time nor bitter experience 
has mitigated his militancy. 

Other politicians were transformed by 9/11. McCain was 
unleashed. His strategy of "rogue state rollback" was 
exactly what the neoconservatives in the Bush admini-
stration had in mind, and yet, ever mindful to somehow 
stand out from the pack while still going along with 
the program, the senator took umbrage at Rumsfeld's 
apparent unwillingness to chew up the U.S. military in 
an endless occupation. He publicly dissented from the 
"light footprint" strategy championed by the Department 
of Defense. More troops, more force, more of everything—
that is McCain's solution to every problem in our newly 
conquered province. 

Rumsfeld became increasingly un-popular not only with the 
American people—the abrasive defense secretary saw his 
poll numbers dropping to 34 percent from 39 percent in May 
2004, as McCain and Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf took aim—but 
also with the media, which had grown tired of him. In the 
bitter winter of 2001, when the War Party was riding high, 
the Philadelphia Inquirer had enthused, "No doubt about 
it, Donald Rumsfeld is a stud muffin." As Rumsfeld's cachet 
faded, McCain felt safe in attacking him, and, after 
Rumsfeld had resigned, declaring him "one of the worst 
secretaries of defense in history." As the war itself 
became more unpopular, McCain managed a feat of triang-
ulation of Clintonian proportions, posing simultaneously 
as a war critic and a super hawk. 

He was unrelenting in his criticism of the Bush admini-
stration, even as he pledged to carry its foreign policy 
forward: he continued to denounce the "tragic mismanage-
ment" of the war, while hailing the surge—and strongly 
implying that the Bush White House had plagiarized his 
views. With the war enjoying the support of about a quarter 
of the American people, however, it was necessary to frame 
a narrative that would deflect the disadvantages of a pro-
war position, while enhancing his image as a straight-
shooter who doesn't care about polls and just tells it 
like it is. 

But "straight talk" has increasingly turned to reckless 
talk: on the campaign trail, he was caught on video singing 
"Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara Ann"—not 
one of his better moments. With his presidential campaign 
in the doldrums, and Giuliani and the rest of the 
Republican pack stealing much of his thunder, a new 
extremism seemed to possess him: in answer to repeated 
questions from one antiwar voter, McCain told a town-hall 
meeting in Derry, New Hampshire that the United States 
could stay in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years" and that 
"would be fine with me... as long as Americans aren't 
being killed or injured" in any great numbers, as in Korea. 

Yet the longer we stay in Iraq, the more hostility is 
directed at American soldiers. The majority of Iraqis now 
believe attacks on our troops are justified, a far cry from 
McCain's prewar prediction that it is "more likely that 
antipathy toward the United States in the Islamic world 
might diminish amid the demonstrations of jubilant Iraqis 
celebrating the end of a regime that has few equals in its 
ruthlessness." 

McCain isn't bothered by the failure of his prediction, 
just as the absence of WMD in Iraq didn't phase him in 
the least. He is an actor following a script that was 
written years ago and cannot be altered because of mere 
facts: he is McCain the Conqueror, the fearless war hero, 
the commander in chief who will lead us to victory and 
stay in Iraq, as he told Mother Jones magazine, for "a 
thousand years, a million years" because American grit 
will tame those obstreperous Iraqis, just as we tamed 
the Koreans, the Bosnians, the Japanese, and the rest. 

With the extreme rhetoric appearing to work, an emboldened 
McCain recently told a crowd of supporters in Florida: 
"It's a tough war we're in. It's not going to be over 
right away. There's going to be other wars. I'm sorry to 
tell you, there’s going to be other wars. We will never 
surrender, but there will be other wars." 

If McCain finally makes it to the White House, the U.S. 
will surely start new wars, and not just in the Middle 
East. With the world as his stage, the persona McCain 
has created—given visible expression by what Camille 
Paglia trenchantly described as "the over-intense eyes 
of Howard Hughes and the clenched, humorless jaw line 
of Nurse Diesel (from Mel Brooks’ Hitchcock parody, 
High Anxiety)"—will have every opportunity to act out 
his fantasies of soldierly greatness. 

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