John McCain, Iraq War Critic?

Even the thoughtful blogs on the left (see Carpetbagger Report, Think Progress, TPM) are lampooning John McCain’s assertion on CNN that he was the “greatest critic” of the IRaq war.

It’s entertaining, in that I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years. I came back from my first trip to Iraq and said, This is going to fail. We’ve got to change the strategy to the one we’re using now. But life isn’t fair.

But McCain isn’t casting himself as an opponent of the war but rather as a critic of the way it has been carried out. In that regard, his credentials are rather strong.

  • House Backs McCain on Detainees, Defying Bush [“In an unusual bipartisan rebuke to the Bush administration, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly endorsed Senator John McCain’s measure to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners in American custody anywhere in the world.”] — Dec 15, 2005

Now, whether all this constitutes being the greatest critic is a fair question. But certainly, he has been a persistent critic of the way the war has been fought almost from the beginning. He was the key leader in fighting against torture and abusive treatment of detainees, a key voice for more troops, and for a radical overhaul of the strategy. All as early as 2003, soon after the first signs of serious trouble.

He’s earned the right, I think, to call himself a “critic” by any traditional measure.

Steve Benen lays out his own definition:

Did you:

    * endorse the invasion?

    * buy into the Cheney vision of a quick, easy-to-resolve conflict?

    * support the administration’s position on every piece of Iraq legislation since 2002?

    * consistently support the status quo? (”I’m confident we’re on the right course” — McCain, March 7, 2004)

    * endorse the escalation policy?

    * oppose any and all measures to include timelines, scheduled withdrawals, or enforced benchmarks?

The answers, in McCain’s case, are: Yes, No, No, No, Yes, and Yes.

McCain believes in the goals for which the war is being fought and thinks losing would be a catastrophe. But he’s been leading the charge to do something other than “stay the course” for years.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.