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“A Legend In His Own Mind”: McCain Was Just As Wrong About Afghanistan And Pakistan

The only thing worse than a policymaker who’s nearly always wrong is a misguided policymaker who falsely believes he’s always right. Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, reflecting on the credibility he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) still pretend to enjoy.

McCain said that Paul, Rubio and Cruz all come to him for foreign policy advice and that he’s not surprised that Republicans still lean on him for his views. McCain said his advice is still popular among Republicans because lawmakers are looking to be led by “who’s highly regarded” – and that means the two amigos.

“We have had long experience and haven’t been wrong,” McCain said.

I honestly had every intention of avoiding McCain content for a while, but seeing the Arizona Republican boast about his track record and credibility is a bit too much to take.

Two weeks ago, for example, McCain complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.” He then suggested the detainees were “responsible for 9/11,” which didn’t make any sense.

Soon after, the senator told a national television audience, “We had literally no casualties there in Iraq during the last period after the surge was over.” That’s ridiculously untrue.

McCain then argued that militants holding prisoners don’t kill Americans, followed by the senator leaving policy briefings before they’re done so he can repeat false talking points for the cameras.

McCain then demanded that the suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack in Benghazi be brought to Guantanamo Bay, telling reporters, “It’s where we put terrorists when we apprehend them.” In reality, (a) that’s not even close to being true; (b) sending Abu Khattala to the detention facility probably wouldn’t be legal, and (c) McCain doesn’t seem to remember his own position, which is that the Guantanamo prison be closed.

McCain is convinced he hasn’t “been wrong”? These are just the more notable mistakes from the last two weeks.

The senator’s track record is all the more appalling when considered in its entirety. As Rachel noted on the show a couple of days ago, following another round of McCain interviews on U.S. policy in Iraq, “Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq, in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that. He was wrong about Saddam having weapons. He was wrong about how long the war would take. He was wrong about how big the war would be. He famously said that as far as he was concerned, he thought that maybe Saddam sent the anthrax attacks. John McCain was wrong about whether there might ever be any trouble between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq.”

What’s more, following up on a post from last week, our pals at “All in with Chris Hayes” did a nice job last night pulling together some of the evidence documenting how wrong McCain has been about U.S. policy in Iraq.

Of course, this is a small sampling. I’m also reminded of this Frank Rich piece from 2009.

[McCain] made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this.

Let’s also not forget this Maddow Show segment from November 2012, in which Rachel explained, “Even if you’re just in Congress, even if you’re just the opposition, you need to know what you’re talking about. You need to have a basic level of competence. And doing what John McCain says is not a reasonable substitution for basic competence on this subject. Pick somebody else.”

Remember, there are two main angles here. The first is that McCain’s track record on his signature issue is genuinely atrocious. But the second is that McCain remains absolutely convinced of his own self-righteous credibility. When he boasts that he and his closest ally “haven’t been wrong,” this isn’t the punchline to a ridiculous joke; he actually means it.

Dana Milbank asked this morning whether anyone is still listening to McCain. It’s tempting to also ask why anyone should.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 19, 2014

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Iraq War, John McCain | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“McCain Just Can’t Seem To Help Himself”: One Of These Days, The Beltway Will Stop Looking To McCain As An Expert

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran into a little trouble last week. The Republican senator, a little too eager to condemn the Obama White House, complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan a few months prior. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.”

Making matters slightly worse, the Arizona lawmaker, himself a former POW, complained to the media that he hadn’t learned anything from a classified briefing on Bowe Bergdahl’s release, neglecting to mention that he’d left in the middle of it.

Despite – or perhaps, because of – these embarrassments, McCain scored another Sunday-show invitation, where he somehow managed to add insult to injury.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday called the five Guantanamo detainees released in a prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11” and said he expects them to return to fighting against the U.S.

In context, looking at the full transcript, it’s hard to say whether McCain believes these five detainees were “responsible for 9/11” or whether he believes all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were “responsible for 9/11,” but either way, the senator is plainly wrong.

McCain added, in reference to the Bergdahl prisoner-swap, “I wouldn’t release these men, not these men. They were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release.”

That’s wrong, too. In fact, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay told msnbc’s Alex Witt over the weekend that at first he didn’t even recognize these detainees’ names. “To trade five of them for a U.S. service member, in my estimation, and I’m often critical of President [Barack] Obama, I think they struck a pretty good deal,” retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis said.

What’s more, just a few months ago, McCain personally endorsed the plan to transfer these exact same Taliban prisoners. When he says he wouldn’t have completed the swap for “these men,” he’s neglecting to mention that he’d already expressed public support for swapping “these men.”

And all of this led to the creme de la crème:

“I believe that there are other prisoners, some of whom we have already released, that we could have released that – in exchange,” McCain argued.

If someone could explain what this means, I’d appreciate it. Putting aside the fact that McCain already endorsed the plan to swap these exact same prisoners before he changed his mind and denied changing his mind, it’s not at all clear how U.S. officials could have swapped prisoners “whom we have already released.”

It’s tempting to think that, one of these days, the Beltway will stop looking to McCain as an expert on matters related to national security and the military, but I’ve been waiting for that day for quite a while. It never seems to arrive.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 9, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | John McCain, National Security, POW/MIA | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tantrums Don’t Change The Facts”: McCain Rejects Evidence, Accuses Critics Of ‘Lying’

Republican reversals on securing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have been jaw-dropping for much of the week. As we discussed yesterday, Republicans were happy about an American POW coming home; then they changed their minds. Republicans endorsed the prisoner swap itself; then they changed their minds. Republicans extended their thoughts and prayers to Bergdahl and his family; then they changed their minds. Republicans demanded that the Obama administration had a responsibility to do everything humanly possible to free this POW from his captors; then they changed their minds.

But perhaps no one has been quite as brazen in the flip-flop department as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s still treated as a credible figure on matters related to foreign policy and the military, despite his poor track record. The Arizona Republican expressed public support for the prisoner-swap, then did a 180-degree turn after President Obama pursued the course McCain endorsed.

Apparently, the senator is angry that his shameless flip-flop has been noticed.

“The details are unacceptable and for anyone to accuse me, therefore, of saying that I’d support any prisoner swap under any circumstances is lying,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“And the details are outrageous. They went to Qatar, where the Taliban has an office, and in a year they are going to be out and the deal is, like any other agreement, as I said, in the details,” McCain said on CNN, explaining his opposition to the swap. “I mean, it’s just totally unacceptable. These people would be back in the fight.”

It’s hard to know if McCain actually believes what he’s saying. Indeed, the senator has never been detail-oriented, so perhaps he doesn’t fully understand the nature of the recent criticism.

But in reality, as the New York Times’ editorial board noted today, McCain “switched positions for maximum political advantage” – as he’s done “so often in the past.”

The lawmaker can throw around words like “lying” if he chooses, but a closer look at the facts lead to only one conclusion.

As far back as 2011, the Obama administration was in talks with the Taliban about securing Bergdahl’s release, in exchange for five specific detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, who would then be transferred to Qatar. Members of Congress, including McCain, were aware of these talks and knew exactly which five Taliban prisoners would be included in the prisoner-swap.

In 2012, McCain was asked about this during a national television interview. Though he said he’d need all of the details, the senator said he “would support” the exchange.

And then the Obama administration made the exchange, at which point McCain condemned the exact same policy he’d already endorsed.

Indeed, perhaps unaware his own position, McCain has been quite unconstrained in denouncing the swap he used to support, calling it “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” At a classified briefing yesterday, the senator reportedly “walked out shortly after shouting at an official.”

Tantrums don’t change the facts.

What surprises me is McCain’s willingness to keep digging. His audacious reversal was uncovered on Tuesday, at which point the senator could have laid low so as to not draw attention to his shameless, knee-jerk opposition to an idea he supported. Indeed, I had no intention of returning to the subject, since it was so obvious that the Arizona Republican had contradicted himself.

But McCain can’t seem to help himself. Caught in a shameless reversal, he feels the need to lash out, making matters worse for no reason.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 6, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, John McCain, POW/MIA | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shrill Partisan Hackery”: The Right’s Unhinged Bergdahl Hypocrisy; The Ultimate Way To Savage Obama

Of course Republicans are going to compare the prisoner swap that won the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to Benghazi. They both start with B. It leads to their favorite words that start with I: investigation, and possibly impeachment.

The ridiculous Andrew McCarthy, flacking his new book making the case for Obama’s impeachment, of course finds more fodder in the prisoner transfer. Tuesday morning he was joined by Fox News “legal analyst” Andrew Napolitano and a man who couldn’t even hold on to a congressional seat for a second term, Allen West. The shift to Bergdahl reflects growing concern that the right’s Benghazi dishonesty isn’t working with voters. Even conservative analysts have chided colleagues for Benghazi overreach. Sure, Trey Gowdy will continue with his election year partisan witch hunt, but the right is wagering the Bergdahl story might hurt Obama more.

The anti-Bergdahl hysteria plays into six years of scurrilous insinuation that Obama is a secret Muslim who either supports or sympathizes with our enemies. Even “moderate” Mitt Romney, you’ll recall, claimed the president’s “first response” to the 2012 Benghazi attack “was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” This is just the latest chapter.

The partisan opportunism over the Bergdahl deal shouldn’t be surprising, but it is, a little bit. This wasn’t some wild radical idea of the Obama administration; it was driven by the Defense Department and signed on to by intelligence agencies. Although Congress is claiming it wasn’t given the requisite 30 days’ notice of a prisoner transfer (more on that later), this deal or something very much like it has been in the works for at least two years, with plenty of congressional consultation.

And plenty of partisan demagoguery: In 2012 the late Michael Hastings reported that the White House was warned by congressional Republicans that a possible deal for the five Taliban fighters would be political suicide in an election year – a “Willie Horton moment,” in the words of an official responsible for working with Congress on the deal. In the end, though, Hastings reported that even Sen. John McCain ultimately approved the deal; it fell apart when the Taliban balked.

Two years later, the right’s official talking points are mixed: Some critics focus on rumors (buttressed by Hastings’ own sympathetic reporting on Bergdahl) that he was a soldier disillusioned by the Afghan war who deserted his post. Wrong-way Bill Kristol has dismissed him as a deserter not worth rescuing, while Kristol’s most prominent contribution to politics, Sarah Palin, has been screeching on her Facebook wall about Bergdahl’s “horrid anti-American beliefs.”

But missing and captured soldiers have never had to undergo a character check before being rescued by their government. Should they now face trial by Bill Kristol before we decide whether to rescue them? Is Sarah Palin going to preside over a military death panel for captured soldiers suspected of inadequate dedication to the war effort?

Other Republicans accuse the president of breaking the long-standing rule against “negotiating with terrorists” to free hostages. They’re wrong on two counts: The U.S. has frequently negotiated with “terrorists,” to free hostages and for other reasons. President Carter negotiated with the Iranians who held Americans in the Tehran embassy in 1979, unsuccessfully. President Reagan famously traded arms to Iran for hostages. The entire surge in Iraq was predicated on negotiating with Sunni “terrorists” who had killed American soldiers to bring them into the government and stop sectarian violence.

Besides, this isn’t a terrorist-hostage situation, it’s a prisoner of war swap, and those are even more common: President Nixon freed some North Vietnamese prisoners at the same time former POW Sen. John McCain came home from Hanoi. Even hawkish Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last year. Such prisoner exchanges are particularly frequent when wars are winding down, as Ken Gude explains on Think Progress.

It’s true that Bergdahl was never officially categorized as a “prisoner of war,” since the Pentagon apparently stopped using that designation years ago. But he was defined as “missing/captured,” which is essentially the same thing. And while the Taliban fighters who were released were likewise not formally designated prisoners of war, either, because of the odd, formally undeclared status of the war with Afghanistan, that’s what they were. As President Obama said Tuesday morning, “This is what happens at the end of wars.” Imagine the outrage if the president brought the troops home from Afghanistan but left Bergdahl behind.

It’s shocking to see conservatives argue that the Taliban should have the final word on an American soldier’s fate, even if he’s accused of desertion. There’s already an Army inquiry into the conditions of Bergdahl’s disappearance. “Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” the Joint Chiefs chair Martin Dempsey said Monday night. Would John McCain, for instance, deny Bergdahl the right to military justice and leave his punishment to the Taliban?

Even some Democrats who had doubts about the 2012 Bergdahl release deal, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, support the exchange executed last weekend. “I support the president’s decision, particularly in light of Sgt. Bergdahl’s declining health. It demonstrates that America leaves no soldier behind,” she said in a statement. Former CIA director Leon Panetta opposed the earlier deal because he felt it didn’t do enough to prevent the five Taliban leaders from returning to combat; this deal holds them in Qatar for at least a year. Panetta also lauded the deal Monday night because of Bergdahl’s use to intelligence agencies.

It may be that the terms of the Bergdahl deal merit congressional investigation, particularly about whether Congress was sufficiently consulted on the deal. Partly because of the ongoing efforts to free Bergdahl, Congress agreed to reduce its own requirements for notification of Guantánamo releases. But Obama, in a signing statement, signaled he believed even the relaxed law tied his hands, arguing that the president needed the flexibility to act quickly in certain situations when negotiating a transfer of Guantánamo prisoners. Yes, it’s true that Obama and other Democrats criticized George W. Bush’s wanton use of signing statements. This one can be debated. But Republicans didn’t wail en masse over Bush’s signing statements or his national security secrecy the way they are doing now.

Congressional investigations are one thing; shrill partisan hackery is another. “There’s little that’s actually new here,” says Mitchell Reiss, a State Department official under President George W. Bush who also served as national security adviser to Mitt Romney. Reiss is right about the Bergdahl deal, but he’s wrong about the larger political atmosphere. What’s “new” here is a president who’s had his competence, his patriotism, even his very eligibility for office questioned from the outset.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, June 3, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Impeachment To Save Gitmo”: Republicans Getting Dangerously Close To Treating Liberalism As An Impeachable Offense

So today Sen. Lindsey Graham warned the White House that any additional releases of Gitmo prisoners without express congressional authorization could lead to the introduction of Articles of Impeachment.

Now one way to look at this threat is that Republicans are getting awfully free and easy with the I-word these days. If they aren’t thinking about impeaching Obama over Benghazi!, they’re thinking about impeaching him over the IRS “scandal,” or maybe his determination to implement the Affordable Care Act, or perhaps his promulgation of Clean Air Act regs. GOPers may think they’re being careful and clever by dropping the I-word without taking action, but the problem is their activist base is going to get irrepressibly excited by such talk, and then it’s 1998-99 all over again.

Another way to look at it is that Republicans are getting dangerously close to treating liberalism as an impeachable offense. Since they cannot quite make that case, they will latch onto any passing “scandal,” even if it’s not scandalous to anyone other than their own selves and such media figures as can be seduced into complicity with fantasies of becoming the Hero Journalists of Watergate.

In this particular case, though, Graham is indulging in some unacknowledged irony by threatening impeachment in order to protect the despicable symbol of a former president’s (and vice president’s) excesses. Even talking about removing a duly elected and re-elected president in order to save Gitmo is the kind of behavior that could expose the presumed bipartisan gang-leader from South Carolina for the ideological bully he truly is.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 4, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Impeachment, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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