John McCain and the Cold, Heartless World of Op-Eds


McCainjpg.jpgJohn McCain and I have something in common: we have both tried recently, and failed, to get op-eds picked up by major newspapers. But I daresay McCain’s snub from the New York Times two days ago is a bit more important to the average Washington Note reader. The Times refused to run McCain’s submission lauding Iraq’s progress and criticizing rival Barack Obama, after running a piece on Iraq authored by Obama last week.
The Times’ reasons for not running the op-ed were, on the whole, fair. McCain’s piece, which can be found here, is essentially an attack piece on Obama, and as such is not a substantive policy statement. Still, there are two parts of the speech that require special attention.
The first is a general observation; throughout the piece, McCain focuses on security. He mentions the role played by American troops and the new counterinsurgency strategy for the drop in violence in Iraq, the “Sons of Iraq” now fighting nominally for Iraq’s government against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the steady but fragile progress of the Iraqi Army, and the continued danger from terrorists and “Shiite extremists” if we leave too early.
Yet McCain devotes only one sentence to political progress, in which he points to a recent US Embassy report saying that Iraq has met 15 of 18 congressional benchmarks, an argument that I have disputed before on this blog. But setting that disagreement aside, the piece shows McCain’s focus on security, without paying much attention to the political realm.

President Bush said when introducing the surge that it was meant to give Iraq’s political leaders “breathing space” for political reconciliation. But the fault of McCain’s editorial is that it only deals with half of the equation; it operates on the assumption that with security, political reconciliation will automatically follow. Yet this is not true, and increased security leaves Iraq with major issues that even the American Embassy report acknowledged; the lack of a law governing Iraq’s oil industry, immense corruption within the Iraqi police force, and most importantly, the disarming or integration into the Iraqi security forces of sectarian militias (including the Sons of Iraq).
My second issue with McCain’s argument is his belief in the efficacy of our current counterinsurgency strategy. He writes that:

I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

There is a clear contradiction in this statement. Certain tactics of the surge have worked to significantly lower violence, especially the support for the Sons of Iraq and other local militias. However, the strategic outcome of the surge cannot be determined now–it is dependent on whether or not McCain’s stated goal of a pluralistic, democratic and free Iraq emerges after our occupation of Iraq has ended.
Yet as McCain writes, the gains of the surge are reversible and “extremists supported by Al Qaeda or Iran could stage a comeback” if US troops are pulled out too soon. If the gains are so fragile, how can it be said that Gen. Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency plan is proven?
Further, in Afghanistan we have roughly a fourth of the number of American and international troops than in Iraq. They cover a larger country than Iraq, with a small educated class, no recently functioning central government, and an enemy that has a ready safe haven and is increasing the tempo of its operations. It would be difficult to imagine the same strategy working perfectly in Afghanistan, even if it successfully pacifies Iraq.
Both Obama and McCain have failed to specify how they would change policy toward Afghanistan besides sending more troops, and this is a gross and unacceptable deficiency in both campaign platforms. But John McCain should take his own advice, and not rewrite the history of the Iraq war as an unqualified success before it is even finished.
–Andrew Lebovich


18 comments on “John McCain and the Cold, Heartless World of Op-Eds

  1. Paul Norheim says:

    kotzabasis, if your claims made any sense, I may have admired
    your stubbornness. I doubt that even George W. Bush,
    Wolfowitz, Perle and Feith walk around still believing in some
    smoking gun in Iraq (WMD) or connections to the 9.11 plotters
    (the Praha-meeting). The only exception I can think of among
    the war-on-terror plotters is Dick Cheney.
    We live in very different worlds, kotzabasis, and not only in a
    geographical sense. I tend to be more afraid of car accidents,
    malaria and cigarets (I`m a smoker) than terrorists or islamists;
    and statistics confirm my fears.
    I don´t see the world basically as a dualistic struggle between
    good and evil forces (though there are plenty of good and evil
    forces around). And if some powerful men decided to risk the
    fragile order and relative stability and peace of the world in an
    effort to eliminate “terrorism” or islamists once and for all, I
    would consider that as an unforgivable act of foolishness.
    Bush and Cheney will soon leave the White House. But do not
    despair, kotzabasis: there`s still plenty of room for madness
    and Ahabs, for horror and endgames. Afghanistan is a trap.
    Brzezinski knew that when he manipulated the Russians to
    attack the country in 1980: he wanted to give them “their
    Vietnam”. But Afghanistan is not Vietnam, and may even
    represent something much worse for America, NATO forces, and
    big parts of the world. Add Pakistan into this “war on terror” in
    much more involved ways, as Obama seems willing to do, and
    you may get your apocalyptic dreams fulfilled.
    Yeah, our little dispute was probably a waste of time for both of
    us. But I wish you a happy, rich and peaceful life in retirement
    in Australia.


  2. kotzabasis says:

    Paul Norheim
    At least you are adept in making improvizations to your merry-go-round childishly fatuous argument. No connection with al-Qaeda? If you had read the complete report of the National Intelligence Estimate you would have seen ample evidence for that connection. But it’s obvious that you FELL for the media’s ‘catchall’ misleading headline of “No Smoking Gun,” in regards to the connection.
    Adieu my dear friend.


  3. Paul Norheim says:

    And your man, your dear Captein Ahab aka McCain, sometimes
    believes that Iran is training and supporting al Quaeda. These
    guys are capable of connecting just about anything to 9.11.


  4. Paul Norheim says:

    Perhaps I should mention a second example from the long list of
    nasty things done under the cover of “the war on terror”?
    What about the decision to invade Iraq?
    But then, who knows? Perhaps you were among those who
    believed, and still believe, that there was a connection between
    Saddam and al Quaeda?


  5. kotzabasis says:

    Paul Norheim
    I had a feeling that you would be eating your eggs like a toddler.Do you seriously consider that it was the “unlimited power to the president to define who is an enemy”, and NOT the limitless portentous and great threat that defined “the enemy” in the aftermath of 9/11?” And which 90 per cent of Americans acknowledged as the enemy being in Afghanistan when they supported the Bush administration in its invasion of that country?
    And was the latter decision emanating from a nascent dictatorship?
    The transition you are witnessing from a “democratic republic” to an “extremely powerful dictatorship” is a simulacrum, rising from the copious well of your fantasies, not reality.


  6. Paul Norheim says:

    Nasty things?
    I`ll just mention one here – probably the worst of all those
    nasty things: more or less unlimited power to the president to
    define who is an enemy, where to fight the enemy and which
    methods to use against the enemy, due to extraordinary
    If these circumstances, this state of emergency, defined
    broadly as a “War on terrorism”, may take generations to
    overcome, (Rumsfeld and Cheney hinted to that, among others),
    we are witnessing a transition from a democratic republic, one
    of the greatest achievements in modern history, to a simple, but
    extremely powerful dictatorship.
    Many of the other nasty things can be regarded as mere
    consequences of such a transition. You can pick up any
    mainstream newspaper at almost any day and inform yourself
    about them.


  7. kotzabasis says:

    Paul Norheim
    “Camouflage for a lot of other nasty things.” Dare to name those nasty things instead of leaving them in a state of obfuscation. Or are you concerned that if you spelt them out they would be so ludicrous that they would stick like egg on your face and you would need a nanny to clean them up.
    All of us are afflicted with “obsessions,” some of them positive and others negative, as we are all made by the dicta of human nature. Einstein had his magnum obsession with science, and you yourself have your own mini obsession from which you cannot liberate yourself, intellectual jugglery. McCain was making the no less “profane allusion” to the long BENIGN occupation of Japan that led the latter to democracy and unparalleled economic prosperity within a short time. His view had no relation at all to the nefarious purpose which you continue to adhere to his quote of 100 years long war that so many of your intellectual cognates over the Atlantic attempted to accuse him with.


  8. Arun says:

    Eric Margolis is a Taliban apologist. E.g., he wrote that the Taliban were justified in going after girls’ schools because the schools were infiltrated by Communists. He ignores the fact that the US asked the Taliban for Osama bin Laden to be expelled to a country where he could be extradited 30 times before 9/11; and only mentions what happened after 9/11, when the Taliban sang the song they had sung 30 times previously, and this time the US did not accept it.
    I would not take anything Margolis says seriously, even if by chance it happens to be right.


  9. Bartolo says:

    Afghanistan is a trap, at least in the sense that since progressives have been saying for six years that Bush dropped the ball by diverting the military from Afghanistan to Iraq, now attention must be paid to the former.
    Old Osama must be smiling; after luring us into Iraq, we are being drawn ever deeper into Afghanistan, a place of broken dreams for the West.


  10. Paul Norheim says:

    twenty years ago a close friend of mine interviewed Harold
    Bloom for a Norwegian literary magazine we made at that time,
    and I`ve always admired Bloom since then. But I certainly would
    not recommend applying his great literary insights directly to
    geo-politics. The metaphor is great in an existential and literary
    sense. In a political context, and especially in world politics –
    connecting it to the “war on terrorism” – it has disastrous
    consequences. Thus my profane allusion to your sun glasses.
    I`ve seen you applying quotes from the great ironical author
    Robert Musil in similar ways, and I don`t find it appropriate or
    wise to do so.
    You`ve supported the current US governments war on terror for
    a long time, and you seem to share Bush`s and Cheney`s
    approach to terrorism: it`s that White Whale Captain Ahab was
    so obsessed with, and requires generations to conquer. I don`t
    share that opinion and obsession, and believe that this long war
    serves as a camouflage for a lot of other nasty things. McCain
    may not share that view, but he recently said that the Iraqi
    occupation may last for 100 years. That`s three generations.


  11. kotzabasis says:

    Paul Norheim
    It’s the great American literary Shakespearean scholar Harold Bloom who has depicted Captain Ahab as the “spirit of America-that would strike the sun if it insulted him,” which is his quote and his metaphor. Obviously you are not an aficionado of great metaphors and you gratuitously pass your misty “sunglasses” to others so they will not see them and appreciate their literary power.
    Are al-Qaeda, the Taliban and its sundry affiliates after 9/11 an invented enemy to you? In what cuckoo land are you living? And why do you have to encase part of your argument in a big lie by implying that McCain said we have to fight this war for generations. Haven’t you got a modicum of amour propre for yourself?


  12. Paul Norheim says:

    Kotzabasis, I seriously doubt that there is any point in arguing
    with someone who, in a comment on the coming US elections,
    compares John McCain to the obsessed Melville character
    Captain Ahab – meant as a complement from an admiring fan!
    …as you`ve done recently on your blog:
    “It’s for all the above reasons that the November election will be
    a test match whether the hard ball of politics will be pitched by
    the weak hands of a florid flashy political amateur, by the
    populist spin-change of Obama, or by the firm hands of the
    principled experienced politician McCain who embodies
    Melville’s Captain Ahab’s spirit–which is the spirit of America–
    that would strike the sun if it insulted him, as McCaine did from
    his cell in Vietnam.”
    I would certainly not say that the spirit of Captain Ahab is “the
    spirit of America”, as you claim. To me it seems like a lot of
    Americans are tired of a war that make no sense to them.
    However, your (Australian, I believe) voice is similar to the voice
    and mentality you see among some Americans, obsessed with
    enemies, even willing to invent enemies if they did not exist.
    Thus my reply to one of your points, which you share with some
    hopeful optimists who want to end this war, as well as some
    people as obsessed as Captain Ahab with searching for and
    fighting “the enemy”, and who want this war to last for
    It`s weird to listen to all those who are sure that the “surge” is
    a success. Currently, there is absolutely no way to know
    whether this is a success, or a tactical retreat, regrouping,
    waiting for better opportunities, etc…
    Petraeus has two enemies: 1) the insurgents, 2) time – i.e. the
    lack of patience among Americans and some politicians in
    Washington DC. The insurgents have one enemy: the Americans.
    They have time on their side.
    We`ll have to wait a year or two before we know anything for
    sure about the effects and results of the “surge”. And we`ll have
    to wait several decades before we know the real outcome of this
    mess started by Bush, Cheney and the rest of them.
    And frankly, Kotzabasis, striking the sun does not seem to be
    such a good idea. Even if you feel insulted by it, I would suggest
    a change of sunglasses. You should really stop using those that
    filter the world into threatening shapes and psychedelic colors
    that you`ve been wearing lately.


  13. kotzabasis says:

    Andrew Lebovich continues to ruminate on his doubts about the surge and on General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency plan. He states, “The strategic outcome of the surge cannot be determined now” as it depends on the establishment of a democratic Iraq “after our occupation…has ended.” And if the gains of the surge are so fragile and can be lost with a resurgence of al Qaeda how can one say that “Petraeus’s counterinsurgency plan is proven?” He is also concerned about the “Sons of Iraq and other local militias’ being integrated “into the Iraqi security forces” and some of the corrupt practices of the Iraqi government.
    Starting in reverse of his concerns, it’s decal like clear that he has not learned anything from the mistakes of the Bush administration when in toto disbanded the Iraq army instead of integrating it in the new army of the Interim government that would have forestalled the future insurgency. The Maliki government is integrating the Sons of Iraq and other militias and hence effectively disarming them instead of letting them hibernate until a possible next round of violence. Lebovich also is oblivious of the fact that corruption affects all governments that have not as yet found their point of stability and their members have a strong proclivity to get as much as they can from an assumed short term in office. However, with the stabilization of the government, as it seems to be happening now in Iraq, corruption can no longer be a stable staple feeding the mouths of corrupt officials.
    As to the gains emanating from the surge, Lebovich apparently is unaware that one may have a perfect investment plan that will give one immense gains but if one “misinvests” or squanders these gains in half baked enterprises one is bound to lose them. This however does not impugn or diminish in any way the perfection of the original investment plan. And Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy falls in this category. The danger lies in squandering these gains, as McCain correctly says, before they reach their stated goal, i.e., a democratic Iraq.
    Lastly, Lebovich does not perceive that even the most successful of counterinsurgency strategies can only be effective in a different geopolitical milieu if they make the necessary improvisations and modalities in the new context of their implementation. And this elementary principle applies in Afghanistan.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I read both pieces before I was aware that the Times had refused to run the McCain commentary. At least, I assume it was the commentary the Times refused to print. They were on the OP page of one of the central Cal papers, the “Bakersfield Californian”. Although I was unaware of the Times refusal to run McCain’s piece, and their reasoning, I was struck by how Obama’s piece discussed policy, and McCain’s piece seemed to be just one more divisive bit of bullshit swiftboating and exageration about the “success” of the so-called “surge”.
    I am dissappointed that the NYTs apparently doesn’t believe their readership is intelligent enough to see the dichotomy between the two pieces, and draw their own conclusions as to the motives behind the two pieces, and their respective veracity. McCain is exhibiting the kind of slimeball politics we have come to expect from these pieces of shit. Why not just print it, and let the readers see what he’s made of?
    I see a commentor, above, trying to claim a “liberal bias” on the part of the NYTimes. Thats laughable. If the NYTimes was anything other than just another flattened roll of toilet paper, they would be telling the American people the TRUTH about how Bush has bought a temporary lapse in the violence in Iraq, instead of selling this “successs of the surge” propaganda. The fact that The NYTimes may be showing some bias towards Obama, (and I’m not exactly buyin’ that premise), should actually concern the Obama supportors, because this is the same rag that sold you the Iraq war, and has kissed Bush’s ass for eight years now by selling you a bunch of fearmongering monkey shit.


  15. Bill Kiehl says:

    “The Times’ reasons for not running the op-ed were, on the
    whole, fair.” I could not agree with this statement. Since when
    does a newspaper dictate the content or tone of an Op Ed. I
    would not allow them to dictate to me and certainly Senator
    McCain has the right to have his views reported in the NYT
    unvarnished. This is an terrible example of liberal bias and the
    Times should apologize to Mr. McCain and run the piece for the
    “McCain’s piece,… is essentially an attack piece on Obama, and
    as such is not a substantive policy statement.” Now you are
    showing your own bias. If Obama’s attacks on Bush’s Iraq policy
    are “substantive” policy statements, then why aren’t McCain’s
    attacks on Obama’s policy prescriptions “substantive” as well?
    You do your readers a disservice with such broad brush criticism
    of one candidate while favoring the other.


  16. Mr.Murder says:

    Afghanistan appears to agree with US venture interests re:pipeline deals, so they get the troop increase.
    This is a big hint to Iraq. Obama and McCain both got the memo.


  17. PeterG says:

    While Obama’s news conferences, appearances, and general statements on the World stage (during this trip) have been impressive, some very knowledgeable Middle East experts feel that he needs to modify his approach to Afghanistan. See, for example, Juan Cole today in Salon “Obama is saying the wrong things about Afghanistan”, and Eric Margolis on July 21 in his blog, “OBAMA, THE DEMOCRATIC ‘WAR PRESIDENT’.


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