I've tried to figure out what is so insidious about Senator McCain's stubborn support for the misbegotten war in Iraq. I've tried to figure out why -- as the father of a Marine who fought in that war, and as an ardent supporter of our military who believes in the justified use of force (say, in Afghanistan after 9/11), and as a former lifelong Republican, and as a former McCain supporter -- I now find myself so revolted by McCain.
It's this: McCain has changed for the worse since 2000, because defending a lie leads to bigger lies. McCain, like Bush, is now resorting to fiction: We're in Iraq "to fight al Qaeda."
The newly diminished McCain also suffers by comparison because in Senator Obama we have a real alternative, the most inspiring person to run for the presidency in my lifetime, not to mention someone who (unlike McCain and Clinton) was right about -- and told the truth about -- the Iraq war from the start. Obama is the authentic pro-military candidate, not McCain.
(Disclosure: In the 2000 Republican primaries I went on various conservative and religious talk radio shows to root for McCain against Bush and later McCain wrote an endorsement for a book I coauthored AWOL-The Unexcused Absence Of America's Upper Classes From Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country)
The war was initially justified by the faulty claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that he would use them on us. Even at the time that contingency seemed remote. It turned out to be a lie. The real reason (if you want to call it that!) that we went to war was because a very silly little man -- Bush -- wanted to appear big, tough and in charge and revenge 9/11 by hitting an "easy" target to teach "those people" a lesson, even though Iraq had nothing to do with the attack on America.
There is no other reason. But instead of acknowledging this and telling the truth McCain is rehashing the Bush lie: We are in Iraq to "fight al Qaeda!"
McCain knows that al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before we opened the door to them. McCain also knows that being in Iraq has put our actual war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan in jeopardy. So what is McCain's new, improved updated "reason" we are in Iraq?
The reason for continuing the war is that... we are at war! We're still fighting in Iraq... because we're still fighting in Iraq. That's it!
This way lies madness.
McCain has changed from talking about the war to being defined by it, from telling a lie to becoming the lie. And the Bush/McCain lie matters. If McCain becomes president his lies will get many more of our men and women in uniform killed. His lies will wreck our economy as our national debt goes stratospheric. McCain's lies will send our standing in the world to a new low. They will also invite more terrorist attacks on our country by further weakening and distracting our military.
McCain knows perfectly well that who we are fighting in Iraq is a disparate enemy united only in their hatred of the United States, ranging from Shiite militias to homegrown Sunni resistance, with a sprinkling of foreign terrorists who have come into Iraq under cover of the chaos we created. He knows we unleashed the civil war that he now says is yet another new "reason" we must stay in Iraq, to "avoid a bloodbath."
McCain knows he is lying but he thinks it is for the greater good to do so because otherwise we will "lose" Iraq. McCain rates pride of arms ahead of national good. He is not the first failed American leader to do this.
McCain is ready to do what Robert McNamara describes in his book on Vietnam: continue a war for political reasons after he knows it is lost. Measuring "victory," against our originally stated aims for going in, has become impossible because those aims have changed again and again. How can a war be "won" when no one can even identify what "winning" means and/or when that definition keeps changing?
The reason McCain is willing to knowingly lie about the war in Iraq is this: McCain worships at the shrine of military sacrifice for its own sake.
McCain's is the religion that turned the First World War into a needless bloodbath, because no one would admit a mistake and "honor" had to be served. It is the religion of old soldiers who send young men to die. And it is (or should be) un-American. It is also the religion that searches for "who lost" Vietnam, or Korea and now, Iraq.
As Frank Gruber writes:
It all boils down to the phrase "Who lost... (fill in the blank).
It started with China. Someone "lost" it when Mao's Communists overthrew the corrupt and ineffectual Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek... At about the same time that the Republicans were looking for who lost China, they were blaming Franklin Roosevelt for the 'loss' of Eastern Europe to Russia... All this 'losing' provided the rationale for Republican attacks on Democrats as being 'soft on Communism.'
Fast-forward 20 years to the lost cause of my generation: Who lost Vietnam? It was the same dynamic...
And now, Iraq.
You can feel it in the spin from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, but it's quite explicit in everything that John McCain says about Iraq. We can have victory in Iraq if we don't 'lose' it, notwithstanding that there is no evidence that the U.S. military can occupy or impose our will on the country...
In a McCain presidency the United States faces disaster. The new Bush/McCain, as opposed to the old "straight talker" MccCain/McCain, will turn eight years of Bush/Cheney into twelve to sixteen years. This is something our country might not survive economically, politically or in terms of our standing in the world.
Sixteen years of Bush/McCain risks our military capability. Our overstretched military will become our ruined military. This will be an open invitation to our enemies. McCain's America will be a weakened America at risk and with fewer friends than ever.
The fact that McCain has -- in the course of one campaign -- turned from an honorable American legend into a compromised shill for the far right, the religious crazies, the neoconservatives, the warmongers and corporate America -- he even wants to lower corporate taxes in wartime while the middle and working class serve and die! -- is astonishingly sad. Some future Shakespeare will write the play about McCain's tragic fall.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of "CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back"