John McCain is an American hero. We honor his sacrifice. But this is not a qualification for a deep understanding of foreign policy. In fact, McCain’s understanding of the world immediately disqualifies him for being president.
During a CBS interview with Katie Couric, John McCain said, inaccurately, that the surge strategy in Iraq was responsible for the much-touted “Anbar Awakening,” in which Sunni sheiks turned against Al Qaeda, helping in turn to reduce violence in the country. Ilan Goldbenberg said that, “It’s a real misunderstanding of what has happened in Iraq over the past year.” The record firmly establishes the opposite, as reported by Spencer Ackerman and Goldenberg: instead of being caused by the surge, the key signs of the Anbar Awakening occurred not only before that strategy was implemented, but before it was ever conceived.
Traveling in Jordan, McCain said several times that Iran, a predominantly Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, Al-Qaeda. Officials have said that Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq. When pressed, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, intervened and informed the Republican presidential hopeful that the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.
And if this is not enough, McCain said that Iraq was the first major conflict after 9/11. Somehow Afghanistan is not on his radar, following the position—and actions—of the Bush Administration, as devised by Rumsfeld who never saw Afghanistan as a valuable “asset.” Afghanistan is now a mess, used, according to Seymour M. Hersh, “Preparing the Battlefield,” “to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan.”
These are more than gaffes. Given the time elapsed between them and that McCain touts his expertise on all things Iraq and foreign policy in general, what this suggests is a profound lack of knowledge, understanding and insight. The dark side of American political history taints his worldview.
The picture is more frightening. John McCain’s key advisor on Iraq is Henry Kissinger. Christopher Hitchens, in “The Case Against Henry Kissinger,” back in March 2001, writing for Harpers Magazine, outlined a case for legal prosecution of Kissinger “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”
“Thus, I might have mentioned Kissinger’s recruitment and betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds who were falsely encouraged by him to take up arms against Saddam Hussein in 1972-75,” Hitchens tells us, “and who were then abandoned to extermination on their hillsides when Saddam Hussein made a diplomatic deal with the Shah of Iran, and who were deliberately lied to as well as abandoned.”
Hitchens also informs us that, “The conclusions of the report by Congressman Otis Pike still make shocking reading and reveal on Kissinger’s part a callous indifference to human life and human rights.”
The Pike Committee Report was suppressed, following a 246 to 124 vote in the House not to release it. Unending pressure came from the White House. Dick Cheney, rising through the ranks, first joining the staff of Donald Rumsfeld, was then Assistant to the President under Gerald Ford. The future was being devised.
Arguably we began our descent towards the post-America America with the murders of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and when we entered the Vietnam nightmare. The only thing that we learned from this darkest period of our history is that, following Nixon’s lead, the highest office needs to be more Machiavellian, merciless.
The Dark Angel born from Nixon and Kissinger is Cheney. The nation changed then—and we’ve not recovered. Thus began our unraveling. Bush and McCain are merely accolades of these dark forces—they don’t know better.
The Bush Administration will be defined in history as the last breath of this dark and foreboding period, the last gasp of a wildly ambitious and violent period.
It is amazing, though not surprising, that Obama’s visits to the Middle East, South East Asia and Europe, in some circles, is being critiqued with cynical reason. Cynicism is the dominant operating mode in contemporary culture. This is voiced most emphatically when hope is in the air, when the changes we’ve undergone become increasingly more visible and when the American people begin to embrace these changes and are willing and able to put their shoulders to the wheel.
Peter Sloterdijk, in his Critique of Cynical Reason, states that “Cynicism is enlightened false consciousness. It is that modernized, unhappy consciousness, on which enlightenment has labored both successfully and unsuccessfully.” It is what prompts conservative writer David Brooks, in “Playing Innocent Abroad,” his critique of Obama’s Germany visit, to suggest that “The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more.” This is cynicism to the core and a lack of understanding—or denial—of the historical evolution of the darkest period of American history and how Americans everywhere, and people throughout the world, are asking for a sign of hope.
Our hard choice is not that hard at all: do we continue with the methods, systems and policies that have evolved from secrecy, the violation of human rights, and violence, particularly when waged against the innocent, or do we embrace a rhetoric that is hopeful, promising and designed to ask us to collaborate and cooperate?
Two types of people will vote for John McCain. Those that when they look into a mirror will repress the reality that the Bush Administration—and McCain—decided that bending the Constitution and lying to the American public was a means to a political end, the legacy of Nixon. And those that will vote for McCain because they believe that the world is ours for the taking, and it is our right, as it has been all along, to conquer and take for the lifestyle we live, the legacy of Kissinger, Rumsfeld and Cheney.
Everywhere Obama traveled, the hunger of the people is for reconciliation. Reconciliation cannot begin unless we, the American people, take control of this election and hold the deliverer of the most hopeful message accountable for his promises. Only then will we be able to face our sins; only then will we be able to begin the difficult journey towards reconciliation.