Cole on (Mc)Cain

We’re perfectly content to see John Boy throw his Presidential bid into the toilet – good place for it. We’d like to see a whole pack of others do the same.

John McCain’s Iraq problem
By Juan Cole

His rosy statements about Iraq were aimed at GOP primary voters, but they suggest the would-be president doesn’t understand the war he’d be fighting.

April 9, 2007 | On Sunday, April 8, Sen. John McCain appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an attempt to do damage control. Pressed on his assertion, in a CNN interview last week, that Gen. David Petraeus goes about Baghdad in an unarmored Humvee, he admitted that he was wrong. “Of course I’m going to misspeak,” he observed, as though he could put the controversy behind him with weasel words. But he did not actually back off his recent sunny pronouncements about the situation in Iraq. “I believe we can succeed, and I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic.”

In the past two weeks, McCain has produced a trove of Iraq-related images and quotes that are sure to dog his faltering bid for the presidency. On March 26, during an interview with conservative radio host Bill Bennett, McCain said, “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.” The next day, he insisted to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Gen. Petraeus was driving around armorless. Then, on April 1, in an attempt to back up his words, McCain went on his infamous Baghdad shopping trip. The Internet was soon awash with mocking photos of McCain strolling blithely through the Shurja market in a Kevlar vest. On Sunday, “60 Minutes” ran footage of McCain dickering over a rug with a merchant, then pulled back to show the senator surrounded by heavily armed and armored U.S. troops, and also mentioned that attack helicopters were hovering overhead. In the past year, only the image of Israeli Minister of Defense Amir Peretz looking out on the battlefield through binoculars with the caps still over the lenses has made a politician look more foolish.

Any Republican running for president must face the fact that a year and a half out from November 2008, two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters still back President Bush on Iraq. Having been beaten by Bush in the primaries in 2000, McCain’s strategy now seems to be out-Bushing the competition by insisting that “things are getting better in Iraq.” He is targeting precisely those remaining voters who keep telling pollsters Bush is “doing a good job in Iraq.” But by reaching out to the faithful, McCain has exposed himself to ridicule from everybody else. Four years after the fall of Baghdad, he still doesn’t seem to understand the facts on the ground.

First of all, contra McCain, there is no evidence that things are getting better in Iraq. The Nouri al-Maliki government began implementing the U.S.-directed “surge” –what is known in Iraq as “the new security plan” — in late January. While deaths decreased in Baghdad itself, especially killings by sectarian death squads, other sorts of violence increased in the capital, including car bombings and mortar attacks. And the guerrillas, melting away before the expanded U.S. presence in the capital, simply did more killing in other places, especially to the north and west. Iraqi government officials admitted early last week that while in February, 1,806 persons were killed in political violence nationwide, in March the number rose to 2,078. Allowing for the greater number of days in March, the daily death toll still climbed slightly, from 64.5 deaths a day in February to 67 last month.

Horrific attacks continue in Iraq. On April 8, six U.S. troops died, four as a result of a roadside bomb in the violent Diyala province. In Ramadi on April 6, a truck bomber unleashed chlorine gas, killing 30 persons and wounding or sickening nearly 100. Dozens of Shiites have been kidnapped in the past week in regions around the capital, and many have since shown up dead. On April 7, there were at least five roadside bombings in Baghdad, several neighborhoods of the capital were hit with mortar or rocket fire, and the bodies of 12 people killed by sectarian death squads were discovered by police. In the city of Baquba, an hour northeast of the capital, 27 bodies were discovered on April 7, and in the northern Turkmen city of Tal Afar, trumpeted as a success story by George W. Bush, 11 corpses were found in the streets. And on April 2, the day after McCain’s photo op in Baghdad, some of the merchants from the largely Shiite market he had visited were murdered. They had gone north looking for work when they were ambushed and killed by Sunni Arab guerrillas.

The al-Maliki government still appears paralyzed politically. Its Cabinet approved a new oil law with provisions for fair revenue sharing among sectarian and ethnic groups, but the Parliament has balked at taking it up. There has been no practical movement in Parliament for revision of “de-Baathification” measures that resulted in the firing and marginalization of tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs who once belonged to the Arab nationalist Baath Party, but who otherwise have not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

The week before McCain asserted that Americans could walk around freely in some Baghdad neighborhoods, guerrillas had killed two Americans with a rocket attack on the Green Zone, the supposedly safe compound in downtown Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices. In the aftermath, the U.S. Embassy issued instructions that all personnel moving between buildings in the Green Zone were to wear combat helmets and other “personal protection equipment.” Most reporters covering Iraq can remember a time when U.S. government personnel in the Green Zone could lounge safely by the pool. A week after it became official that such sunbathing would have to be done in steel helmets and Kevlar vests, McCain chose to tell Bill Bennett how safe it was to take a walk in the Red Zone.

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