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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

McCain's The New W: Larry King Interview Shows It

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No wonder John McCain's always dodging questions with a quip or a chummy remark: His ideas for the Presidency aren't very different from the current occupant's. He's another affable personality who's willing to be molded by the same cabal that controls today's White House. In other words, he's the new Bush. As Exhibit A, consider his remarks the other night on Larry King.

McCain thinks our "diplomacy" in the Middle East is fine. He wouldn't do anything differently. Oh, he still likes the idea of invading Iraq, too. His main criticism there? We don't have enough troops committed.

Hey, the guy's likable enough. I saw W. work a room once and he seemed likable, too. Unfortunately for McCain, next time around people are going to demand competence, too. With his support for the Iraq war and now for our atrocious handling of the Lebanese incursion, he's demonstrating he's not qualified to be President.

McCain's King interview followed his false claim that al-Maliki had "condemned Hesbollah." His comments on Lebanon and Iraq could have been spoken by Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld.

And hey - did he bitch-slap Colin Powell? As Warner Wolf would say, "let's go to the tape" - or in this case, excerpts from the transcript - and splice in a little "straight talk" as needed:

KING: A little while ago I spoke with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and I began by asking him if this war is really necessary and what he thinks it's all about.

MCCAIN: You know I think what it's really all about, Larry, is an extension of the war on terror.

Come again? Coherent thinkers from both the right and left agree that "war on terror" is a misnomer. Terror is a tactic, not an enemy. This description of the Israeli bombings- so popular with Bushites - is an attempt to suppress any debate of the issue by using bromides. Don't forget, that the war in Iraq was sold as "an extension of the war on terror," too.

I do not believe Hezbollah would have attacked into Israel without the encouragement of the Iranians.

This is misleading. Hezbollah seized two soldiers (whether they were in Israel or Lebanon is disputed)*, but did not "attack into Israel" until the assaults began. It's also a non sequitur: whether or not it's true, what bearing does it have on an attack that has primarily targeted civilians?

So, I view it as an extension of this war against radical Islamic extremism which we're going to be involved in for a long, long, time.

McCain's smoking the neocon talcum here. This incursion is a strategically wrongheaded as the invasion of Iraq (which McCain also continues to support). Neither he nor the Administration have demonstrated how flattening buildings and killing civilians in southern Lebanon will aid the war against radical Islam. The 1982 invasion backfired and created more enemies for Israel. Why would it work now?

KING: Senator, Tom Friedman, a very bright op-ed columnist in The New York Times says today, "Wonder what planet" -- "One wonders what planet Secretary of State Rice landed on from thinking she can build an international force to take charge in south Lebanon without going to Damascus and trying to bring the Syrians onboard." How do you respond to that?

MCCAIN: Well, there's nobody I have more respect for than Tom Friedman. In this case, there's plenty of ways to communicate with the Syrians.

This is essentially an incoherent response. This action is making Syria's position stronger in the Arab world, not weaker. More to the point: Is killing people an acceptable form of "communication"? And what exactly is being "communicated" - that "you're next"? Then why not bomb Syria?

Remember the Syrians were never adequately punished for their assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri ...

So let me get this straight: You're going to punish the Syrians for killing Lebanon's Prime Minister - by killing Lebanese? How does that make sense? Isn't that a little like punishing Cubans for Kennedy's assassination by killing ... Americans?

... and they have been helping ... terrorists in Iraq ...

Then why has Mr. al-Maliki condemned the Israelis? After all, isn't he fighting "terrorists" (by your definition) in Iraq? The war you support put al-Maliki into power, Sen. McCain - so why don't you just ask him why he opposes these attacks?

In all due respect to Tom Friedman, I think there are lots of ways to communicate and Teheran is where most of this is emanating from ...

Wait - I thought we were "communicating" with Syria. Now we're communicating with Iran by killing these Lebanese? (And where is the data to suggest that "most of this is emanating from" Iran?)

... Now, if the Lebanese people want Hezbollah as a political force I guess that's their choice but for Hezbollah to control parts of their country without the consent of the Lebanese people is something that untenable and the threat that they continue to face as far -- that they continue to present to the state of Israel.

Here, the Senator makes the startling claim that the Israeli bombardment is somehow a liberation exercise to free the Lebanese people from unwanted Hezbollah domination. He then descends into incoherence, which is apparently as common with McCain as it is with W. In one tortured sentence, the "threat they face" becomes "the threat they continue to present" - "they" apparently referring to the civilian population of Lebanon.

Here is McCain on Iraq:

KING: The United States is sending more troops to Iraq. What do you think?

MCCAIN: I think it's necessary. I think it was necessary a long, long time ago. I think one of the biggest mistakes we made that we've paid a very heavy price for was not having enough boots on the ground. I said that three years ago.

That is, he thinks the war was still a good idea. We just need a couple hundred thousand more troops and everything will be fine.

Now to Powell.

KING: What do you think of the idea of a special envoy to the whole region? ... Would your friend, Colin Powell, be a good choice for that?

MCCAIN: He'd be an excellent choice for that. He knows the region. He has the trust and respect of the people in the region. I think he deserves a rest so he probably wouldn't be too happy that I'm recommending him.

KING: Do you think he will be a factor again on the American scene?

MCCAIN: I believe that he remains one of the most respected Americans in our nation today (wait - is that a 'Mafia kiss'?) and I am absolutely convinced that Colin Powell will continue to serve this nation. When we go down to the old soldier's home and blow the cavalry charge, he'll be the first one at the gate.

Remember Sen. Straight Talk's implication that John Murtha was getting too old to make the tough decisions? Isn't he saying now that Colin Powell "needs a rest" and should be down in "the old soldier's home?" Is there another way to read this?

We close with Sen. McCain killing a viewer's hopes that he would bring fresh thinking to the Presidency.

KING: We have an e-mail for you, Senator ... "Larry, I would like to ask Senator McCain if there is any hope that, if he were president, he would take a new approach to securing peace in the Middle East?" What would you do differently?

MCCAIN: I'm not sure, Larry, and for me to articulate something different obviously might be a criticism and I'm not sure right now that I'd like to criticize this administration because I think they're doing the very best they can.

The email author's vain hopes - fueled by a media all too ready to coronate McCain as "Maverick in Chief" - are quickly dashed. He would not take "a new approach to securing peace in the Middle East." And if you continue doing the same things,you're going to get the same results.

That should be the Democrats' campaign slogan if McCain is the GOP candidate in 2008.

A Night Light

*UPDATE: I originally wrote that the soldiers were seized on "disputed ground." It is more precise to say that it's unclear whether they were in Israel or Lebanon at the time. The Israeli government says they were in Israel, an assertion that is contradicted by stories like this Associated Press report.