10/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Explosive GQ Piece: McCain Tried To Upend al-Maliki Government

An explosive piece in GQ Magazine alleges that in July 2007, John McCain urged President Bush to cut off its ties with the al-Maliki government in Iraq, a move meant to spur reform but one that had the potential to undermine the fragile governing body upon which McCain currently rests such high hopes.

"It suddenly seemed that the efforts of the surge might be for naught," the magazine reports. "And so, shortly after returning from Iraq, McCain and [Sen. Lindsey] Graham visited President Bush at the White House. According to three individuals with knowledge of the July 11 conversation, the pair advised Bush to cut all ties with al-Maliki unless he showed immediate signs of engagement. Such a move on Bush's part would be tantamount to encouraging a coup against Iraq's first democratically elected prime minister, but McCain and Graham saw the situation as a desperate one. We've got a military strategy that's working, they told the president. And it's being undercut by an Iraqi government that's dysfunctional.

"The revelation, which comes as part of a Robert Draper piece entitled "Prisoner of War," sheds new light on the Republican nominee's positions on the Iraq War. It also will likely lead to questions and possibly concerns about McCain's disposition on matters of war and foreign policy.

In addition to the al-Maliki move, Draper reports that on "August 19, 2003, less than four months after President Bush's mission accomplished speech," McCain suggested that the United States military "shoot the looters" who were disrupting the fragile calm of the newly liberated country. As excerpted from the GQ story:

"You've got to shoot the looters," said McCain, suggesting a forceful way to bring the chaos under control. That blunt comment startled several members of the delegation. But McCain, who more than anyone else in the room had championed the war, mostly showed surprising deference to [then Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul] Bremer. The CPA administrator, recalls [Former Congressman Jim] Kolbe, "was very smooth, and the people there had the view that he was on top of things." When he explained his controversial decisions to disband the Iraqi army and de-Baathify the Iraqi government--policies now widely viewed as having fueled the insurgency--McCain did not voice skepticism. Despite years of agitating for Saddam's removal, he had given little thought to what a post-invasion Iraq would look like--beyond vague expectations of "demonstrations of jubilant Iraqis" as he'd penned in a New York Times op-ed just five months earlier. "He assumed," says a close associate, "that Bremer, being on the ground as the president's superenvoy, had a plan."

Drapper's piece confirms many of the statements McCain has made on the campaign trail. For instance, the author reports that the Senator's incessant insistence on having more U.S. troops deployed to the field earned him the nickname within the White House "Johnny one note - more troops, more troops, more troops." That same White House, the piece goes on to note, didn't turn to McCain for advice on the war, because it was transparent what his strategy would be.

In addition, the GQ piece details some of the opinions that McCain's Democratic colleagues in the Senate had of his war proposals. After Iraqi elections in December 2005, for instance, Joseph Biden, now Barack Obama's vice presidential candidate, reportedly derided McCain's optimistic take on the vote as pure "pabulum." Biden and Lindsey Graham, the magazine reports, shared concern that both McCain and Bush weren't acknowledging the inherent fragility (and growing sectarian violence) within the country.

Sen. Russ Feingold, meanwhile, reportedly expressed bewilderment over McCain's insistence that more troops be added to the theater.

"Feingold was perplexed that his colleague remained committed to maintaining, and even growing, an occupying force when some respected military minds believed such a force was only stoking the insurgency.

"It's so ironic," he would say, "because John on these trips is reading military history, and the conversations on the plane are very substantive, and he frequently refers to other situations. He said to me once, 'You need to see The Battle of Algiers.' Which is about the disaster that the French went through with an insurgency. I felt like saying, 'Yeah, that's what I' m talking about!"

Read the whole piece here.