The Media and John McCain: How Someone Always Wrong Is Always on TV

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 9: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks during a forum with Arizona Veterans over mismanagement at the Phoenix VA
PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 9: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks during a forum with Arizona Veterans over mismanagement at the Phoenix VA May 9, 2014 at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)

Last month, Jon Stewart challenged John McCain to a "Wrong Off," betting that all the times Senator McCain has been wrong about, well, anything, far outnumbers the times Stewart has been proven wrong.

I thought about that, when John McCain was on a Sunday talk show last weekend (State of the Union on CNN), this time as some kind of supposed expert on Iraq. The network, as pretty much all the other networks have, gave him an unfettered block of TV time to criticize the president, and lay out what he would do.


The number of times that Senator McCain hasn't just been wrong, but deadly wrong, on matters of our security is nearly impossible to count.

Maybe the DC fishbowl has convinced itself that Senator McCain has been prescient. Well, I'm here to give them a quick education, because many of us who have served in the these conflicts are less convinced.


In the leadup to the Iraq war, Senator McCain told anyone who would listen that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Among many, many others, the 9/11 Commission found that not to be true.

Senator McCain said he, like Dick Cheney, thought we would be welcomed as liberators. Of course, we now look back at that warm welcome -- over 4,400 dead American troops, tens of thousands upon tens of thousands wounded. In Iraq in 2003 it became apparent quickly there were no WMD on the ground, a complete error in judgement.

After seeing that he was so, so wrong on Iraq, you think people would stop asking him about it. Or, you would think Senator McCain would slip out the back door. But, nope. He kept talking....


Instead of saying, "Wow, John McCain was wrong on Iraq. Let's not ask him about the disaster it is turning in to," everyone in DC apparently had collective amnesia, and turned to Senator McCain as a legitimate opinion on what to do.

Having screwed up badly in supporting the launch of a war in Iraq, John McCain didn't quit. He didn't just support the idea of surge of troops in Iraq -- he wrote the Senate resolution in support of it.

That resolution stated that a surge of troops would help the Iraqis meet all sorts of benchmarks -- from disarming militias, to creating a power sharing government, to settling and splitting oil revenues. Of course, that didn't happen, as I, and others, predicted, when we opposed the surge. The reason was simple -- the surge was a "shaping operation." It might set conditions for success by providing greater security, but the definitive endstate -- the true goal of the surge -- fell to Iraqi political leaders, who were nowhere near ready to settle their differences.

And, here we are today. The surge failed at doing what Senator McCain predicted it would. Iraq still doesn't make all groups feel inclusive (which has led to Sunnis letting ISIS get as far as it has). There is no settlement on oil revenues. Sunnis have been isolated by the Maliki government. All the surge did was keep the cork on the bottle, but all of the underlying issues remained, to the point that we now have to send special forces back into Iraq.


Now having messed up badly, twice, but like some kind of Svengali, Senator McCain continued to make Washington insiders think he knew what he was talking about.

And so, Senator McCain got quoted as saying that President Obama ending the war in Iraq would be "viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime." Never mind that US troops left Iraq under an agreement signed by George W Bush. Never mind that the Iraqi government wouldn't extend immunity to US troops. And never mind that disobeying the wishes of a sovereign democracy our troops died trying to set up was asking us to leave.

In fact, launching the war itself was the biggest strategic victory that Iran had seen in a long time, as Saddam Hussein was, for a long time, the biggest thorn in their side. He was replaced by Nouri al-Maliki, who was so friendly to Iran that he held on to power only because Tehran helped create a governing coalition, even though his political party didn't win the most seats in Parliament.

The irony, of course, is that, because the surge failed to bring about the unity that Senator McCain said it would, we're now talking with Iran, and on their side, as we protect Iraq from the ISIS offensive. Oh, also, ISIS is made up of many of the same insurgents who killed our troops in Iraq, under the name al Qaeda in Iraq. That brings us to...


As far back as 2012, John McCain was advocating the arming of Syrian rebels. And he continued that call through 2013 and beyond. For some reason, folks in Washington paid attention to that. Here, John McCain was advocating arming the same folks who killed American troops.

He even went to Syria and took a picture with them.

And so, we sent small arms over to Syria. And what happened?

A particular segment of the rebels -- ISIS -- consolidated a bunch of the territory in Syria, including oil wells, using some of those arms. This allowed them funding, and an extended campaign across Syria and into Iraq, raiding the Iraqi Army of its American-made vehicles and weapons - military equipment that was only there because of Senator McCain's support for an invasion of Iraq in the first place.

In many ways, all the moves that Senator McCain supported allowed ISIS to form and grow. There is no organized insurgency in Syria. Rebels fight with rebels who fight with rebels. There was no possible course of action that would have allowed moderate rebels to fight ISIS. That is simply the words of something afraid to admit their opinions on Syria have let to chaos in Iraq.


Senator John McCain, not seeing his surge in Iraq had failed, couldn't wait to get started on a new surge, in 2010, this time in Afghanistan.

Senator McCain said we would see signs of success in Afghanistan in just 18 months. He said it wasn't even as tough as Iraq.

How'd that work out? Our own military has determined that the surge in Afghanistan was a failure. The Afghan military simply will be unable to hold all the terrain we recovered during the surge once we depart.


Is there any region that Senator McCain doesn't want to invade or send arms to? In 2011, Senator McCain advocated sending arms and training to Libyan rebels. He promised that, if we did, we'd see "the beginning of a peaceful and inclusive transition to democracy that will benefit all Libyans.

And so, we sent arms. They were captured by extremists. Northern Mali was completely destabilized, which to that point had been a strong example of a West African democracy.

Amid all the failure, as Libya devolved, Senator McCain maintained that he actually had wanted US led airstrikes in Libya, all along, and the country was only falling apart because President Obama agreed to NATO air strikes, not US-led airstrikes.

And today? How's all that "beginning of a peaceful and inclusive transition to democracy that will benefit all Libyans" going?

Yeah, about as well as the time we were welcomed as liberators to Iraq.


It isn't just foreign affairs that John McCain is wrong about. For whatever reason, Washington, DC considers McCain an expert on the military. And so, when every veterans group supported a new GI Bill, for the 21st century, Senator McCain opposed it, and Washington media all flocked around him to hear what he had to say.

Senator McCain stated that a more generous GI Bill would lead to a mass exodus of noncommissioned officers, who would quit on the military, to go to college.

The truth is, retention has not become an issue, since the new GI Bill was passed, over Senator McCain's bloviating.

The irony of it is that there actually was a retention problem -- before the passage of the new GI Bill. Young officers were leaving quickly. Most of the reason behind that was connected to the war in Iraq. So, in a way, John McCain was responsible for the kind of exodus of young officers that he wrongly feared would happen under the GI Bill.


Perhaps no issue got Senator McCain more worked up, and more obstinate than dropping the ban on gays openly serving in the military.

It will lead to a mass exodus of troops who won't want to serve alongside gay servicemembers! It will lead to adverse effect on battle readiness and effectiveness! I was in Iraq in 2011 when the law changed. Not a single thing changed on the ground and none of that happened.

This list could go on, and on, and on. Does anyone have a 100 percent success record in making predictions? Of course not. Anyone who has been on TV will make declarations that end up not being right -- myself included.

But, perhaps there is no one who does it more consistently, and on the biggest issues, than Senator John McCain.

And yet, he's been on Sunday shows 10 times this year, already. He was on 25 times, last year. He continues to be the darling of the inside-DC media.

So far, in 2014, public confidence in news media is at a record low. I can't blame Senator McCain for all of that. But his constant appearances on our airwaves as some kind of "expert," certainly isn't helping.

Update: A petition to the Sunday shows, asking them to stop inviting Senator McCain on has been launched, right here.