Michael Hirsh ponders whether McCain might be right about a foreign policy issue. He then helpfully reminds us that this isn’t very likely:
McCain does not dispute this interpretation. “I came out of the Vietnam War convinced that frankly we could have won, and we had it won,” he says now. “Just as I believed we had the Iraq conflict won after the surge—and for which I sacrificed everything, including my presidential ambitions, that it would succeed.”
In other words, McCain hasn’t just been wrong about Iraq. He has been stubbornly, willfully deluded about both of the biggest foreign policy blunders of the last fifty years. Like the mythology surrounding the “surge” itself, the fantasy that the U.S. had the Vietnam and Iraq wars won is what people feel compelled to believe because accepting the alternative is too unpleasant. Pretending that the U.S. “won” in Iraq or believing that the “surge” wasn’t a failure on its own terms might provide some necessary political cover for war supporters that don’t want to admit that they endorsed a disastrous policy, but we shouldn’t take it seriously as a description of what happened. Maybe Hirsh’s profile is supposed to make us think that McCain isn’t the reflexive, unthinking interventionist that we know him to be, but it just confirms that his judgment can’t be trusted.
That extends to his views on Syria and Iraq today. For instance, he has described ISIS’ advances in Iraq as an “existential threat” to the United States. Whether he believes this to be true or is just engaging in alarmist rhetoric, McCain is absolutely wrong about this. As horrible as the group is, and as dangerous as it is to Iraqis, it doesn’t pose anything like an “existential threat” to the U.S. If he is that wrong about judging the nature of the threat, why should we heed his recommendations on how to combat it? Unfortunately, this is typical for McCain: he grossly exaggerates threats to the U.S., expansively defines U.S. interests such that he sees them under attack almost everywhere, and then insists on aggressive measures to counter the threats that he has blown out of all proportion. On Syria, McCain is on record praising the role of the Saudis and Qataris in backing Islamist anti-regime forces there. ISIS in its current form is one of the by-products of this meddling by U.S. clients that McCain considered so praiseworthy. This is also typical of McCain’s record: cheering for whatever forces happen to oppose a particular targeted regime, no matter who they are or what their real goals may be. It should be obvious by now that the U.S. is not well-served by this brand of short-sighted, unthinking hawkishness.