In January 1998, John McCain signed the now infamous open letter to President Bill Clinton cooked up by the neo-conservative "Project for a New American Century" (PNAC). The letter urged the president to take unilateral military action against Iraq. McCain and his neo-con brethren were literally cheerleading for the United States to attack and overthrow the government of Iraq long before George W. Bush stole the 2000 election.
The PNAC letter drips with contempt for the United Nations and for international law. Among the other warmongers and neo-colonialists who signed it were Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, William Kristol, and Zalmay Khalilzad. "The only acceptable strategy," the letter states, "is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction." What's more, these self-appointed foreign policy gurus wrote: "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council." Hence, years before 9-11, McCain and his ideological soul mates had fully-engorged stiffies for bombing and invading a sovereign state that was never really a "threat" to the United States.
We've heard a lot about McCain's alleged tactical criticisms of the war and his disagreements with his good friend and fellow PNAC member Don Rumsfeld about the nuts and bolts of invading and occupying Iraq. But we've heard nary a peep about McCain's former association with the single most influential organization that brought us the war in the first place, PNAC. Bush peppered PNACers throughout his foreign policy apparatus and they were calling for attacking Iraq the day George W. Bush was inaugurated. In the first distressing moments after the September 11 attacks, according to former terrorism czar Richard Clarke and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were searching for ways to pin the blame on Saddam Hussein as a pretext for the invasion they lusted for. McCain did his part in the Senate to sell the American people on the false idea that launching a war in Iraq would be relatively easy, short, and wouldn't cost very much, at the same time his fellow PNACers Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld, and the rest were using their pieces of the bully pulpit to deceive the American people into supporting this murderous imperial endeavor.
It must have seemed really sweet to them at the time. Cheney's cronies at Halliburton and KBR and Blackwater and other white-collar criminal enterprises would make a killing on war contracts; the oil conglomerates connected to Bush and Cheney could position themselves to rip off Iraq's oil; and the United States could fulfill the role PNAC had laid out for it as the world's sole remaining "superpower" by controlling the "grand prize" of Middle East oil. The neo-cons, with their close ties to the Likud Party in Israel, also knew that Israel would benefit from the smashing of a secular Arab nationalist state that might be a problem for Israel in the future. Taking out Saddam would be a blow to Arab nationalism generally. It was going to be an obscenely lucrative business deal and they were all going to make a helluva lot of money! Even Karl Rove got piece of the action by milking the war politically in pursuit of his wet dream of a permanent Republican majority. God Bless America!
And John McCain was with these jackals all along. Please go to Youtube or pick up a copy of the DVD Leading to War and watch the ceremony in October 2002 when Bush signed the resolution authorizing him to invade and occupy Iraq. The first guy Bush shakes hands with is John McCain and McCain flashes his affection to the president in the form of his now familiar wink of an eye. I've seen that footage many times and I cannot help but think that the subtext for the whole goddamned war was that these guys and their campaign donors were going to make a lot of money on the contracts and grease the wheels of the Republican juggernaut. Watch the clip yourselves -- I report, you decide.
Also, what really galls me is that John McCain twists and distorts "history" just like Bush does. Recently he's been talking up his support for the "status of force" (SOF) agreement the Bush administration is trying to shove down the throat of the Iraqi government. It calls for an open-ended U.S. troop presence, 58 permanent military bases, legal immunity for all U.S. personnel, and sweetheart deals for U.S. oil conglomerates. Even the malleable Maliki government in Baghdad is resisting this neo-colonial arrangement that would strip Iraq of sovereignty. But McCain compares this status of force agreement to the ones the United States negotiated with Japan and Germany and South Korea. Maybe one of McCain's neo-con foreign policy "experts" -- James Woolsey perhaps? -- could please advise their candidate that his historical comparisons are bogus. Let's keep the record straight: The United States did not launch an unprovoked war of choice against Japan and Germany or South Korea, bomb them, invade them, overthrow their governments, occupy them, imprison thousands of their citizens, and then demand under military force that they sign SOFs with the U.S. The Iraq War is completely different than what existed in Japan, Germany, or South Korea. Whenever McCain makes this phony "historical" argument he should be called on it forcefully. I don't know any credible historian who would make this kind of miserable, self-serving, and wrong historical analogy. Why should McCain get away with it?
So, in conclusion, John McCain cannot hold up his tepid tactical criticisms of the now disgraced Rumsfeld as evidence of his lack of support for the Iraq war. He was for the war even before Bush was president. He calls himself a war "hero," (which I suppose he is if you think dropping bombs on a Vietnamese city is "heroic"), but being a "hero" does not make one a foreign policy expert. And his judgment on Iraq has shown that he learned all of the wrong lessons from his Vietnam experience. I will be writing more about McCain and the Vietnam War in future posts.