It was an extraordinary thing to watch John McCain hector Chuck Hagel over his judgment during the Iraq war during the confirmation hearing in Washington yesterday. It was a display of arrogance and cognitive dissonance reserved only for a select few ideologues in Washington’s major power circles. “Please tell me I was right about Iraq”, said the Arizona Senator after demanding a yes or no answer on whether the ‘surge’ in 2007 had worked. Hagel, who had vocally opposed George Bush’s surge, tried to explain to McCain that it was impossible to give a yes or no answer to an incredibly complex question and was continually cut off by the irate Senator. The two went back and forth for several minutes with neither man backing down. Hagel calmly swatted back McCain’s attempts to bully him and refused to be boxed into a rhetorical corner. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:
SEN. MCCAIN: Will you please answer the question? Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would
be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam? Were you correct or incorrect?
MR. HAGEL: My –
SEN. MCCAIN: Yes or no?
MR. HAGEL: My reference to the surge being both dangerous –
SEN. MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is, were you right or wrong? That’s a
pretty straightforward question.
MR. HAGEL: Well –
SEN. MCCAIN: I will — I would like to answer whether you were right or wrong, and then you are free to elaborate.
MR. HAGEL: Well, I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today.
And on and on it went until McCain relented and allowed Hagel to explain that in his view that, “The comment I made about the most dangerous foreign policy decision since Vietnam — was about not just the surge but the overall war of choice going into Iraq. That particular decision that was made on the surge, but more to the point, our war in Iraq, I think was the most fundamentally bad, dangerous decision since Vietnam.”
McCain huffed and puffed telling Hagel that “Your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether vote for your confirmation or not. I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.”
And thus McCain portrayed Hagel as an immoral politician who would have sacrificed American lives and the outcome of the war for his misguided beliefs.
Except it was McCain, one of the leading advocates of the disastrous war in Iraq, who is ultimately responsible for the death of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The ‘surge’ debate McCain sought with Hagel was not only a pathetic attempt to derail Hagel’s confirmation as Secretary of Defense, but a shameless effort to repaint the bloody war as a glorious success. McCain believes that by getting angry and shouting loud enough he can convince the public that black is white and red is blue. If McCain believes it hard enough, it must be true.
The ‘surge’ was a military push in response to the increasingly dire situation in Iraq in 2007 that was seeing a rising death toll and major breakdown of security. President Bush ordered the deployment of more than 20,000 soldiers into Iraq, five additional brigades, and extended the tour of most of the Army troops in country and many the Marines already country.
The immediate results of the surge are debatable, and it is unclear whether the push resulted in any tangible benefit. But that is not the point. Anyone vaguely connected to reality understands that the war itself was not only illegal, but a catastrophic strategic blunder that matches America’s involvement in Vietnam. Although Hagel voted initially to authorize the war, he was once of the first politicians to turn against it after realizing the entire premise was flawed and the execution beyond disastrous. McCain on the other hand, continued to shill for great involvement and unlimited funding regardless of cost in human life or money. As a result, over 4,409 Americans lost their lives, a further 31,928 wounded, well over 100,000 Iraqis died, and their country left in ruins. The toppling of Saddam led to a prolonged and bloody civil war and a giant power vacuum in the area that saw Iran become the dominant force in the region. All in all, it really could not have gone worse.
It can be argued that the surge had a positive effect when it was implemented, but only in the sense that it improved security momentarily. The trajectory was already set – Iraq was headed on a one way ticket to disaster, and while the surge may have slowed it down, it changed nothing in terms of where the country was ultimately going. While American troops left Iraq at the end of 2011, and the country is as fragile as ever with ethnic clashes and outbursts of violence occurring on a frequent basis. Iraq was essentially destroyed by the initial invasion and the ensuing civil war, and John McCain assisted in worsening the situation every step of the way. For him to argue otherwise is not only to deny reality, but to deny complicity in an atrocity. Chuck Hagel is as guilty as any of the other spineless politicians who voted for the war in the first place, but he at least acknowledged his mistake and attempted to put it right. Hagel opposed the surge because he knew it would only prolong an ultimately deadly situation. Despite McCain’s posturing and blustering, somewhere deep down he knows Hagel is right. But McCain, long stripped of any integrity is simply not decent enough to admit it.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.