11/16/2006 11:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Like McCain's Candor, Not His Opinion

Last week on "Meet the Press," the presumptive front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did something rare in today's political discourse -- he told the unpopular truth.

Host Tim Russert pointed out the painfully obvious fact that McCain's position to send additional troops into Iraq was, according to the latest Newsweek poll, opposed in some form by 82 percent of the people. Not only did McCain stand by his position, he attempted to honorably defend it.

"I believe that a lot of Americans trust my judgment on issues such as this because of the experience and background that I have," McCain said. He added, "I can only do what I think is best for these young men and women who are in the military. To do otherwise would be immoral and dishonorable."

It is rare to find a politician who would take a stand that is opposed by so many, especially one contemplating the Oval Office. For this, McCain should be commended. But his valor notwithstanding, McCain is dead wrong about sending in more troops.

McCain's proposal calls for sending 20,000 additional troops, raising the U.S. commitment to roughly 170,000, leaving them some 330,000 short of what most military experts believe would be needed to regain control of Iraq. What's more, Gen. John Abizaid suggested to McCain during the congressional hearings yesterday that an increase to the current troop level would only add to the current crisis.

That being said, there is a lesson to be learned from McCain that individuals on both sides of the congressional aisle -- and the White House -- should learn. And fast.

Stop politicizing the war. Please, no more nuance positions from prospective presidential candidates stating: "If I knew then what I know now, and if my dog hadn't ate my homework, it's quite possible that I may have come to a different conclusion and changed my vote."

As everyone waits for the Iraq Study Group report as if it were an E.F. Hutton commercial or manna from heaven, the president is already sending messages that he's open for change. But it is important that "people making suggestions recognize that the best military options depend upon conditions on the ground."

Don't the president's remarks have that hamster-on-the-wheel feeling? Any proposal that he disagrees with can be deflected with the old "conditions on the ground" misdirection. Each day that elected officials wait for the vaunted Iraq Study Group report is another day that some young person is in harm's way.

Bush, who staked his entire presidency on Iraq, now sees the distinct possibility that he may go down as one of the all-time great failed presidents -- possibly south of Truman and Nixon when he leaves office in terms of approval ratings.

But the political posturing is not limited to the president. Some Republicans are eagerly waiting for the adoption of a Democratic proposal on Iraq -- like Sen. Carl Levin's (D-Mich.) proposal of a nonbinding Senate resolution to notify the Iraqi government of troop withdrawals in four to six months -- so that this mess can become their war. Some Democrats are trying to find the magic elixir that will allow their previous supporting votes and their current opposition to somehow appear other than what they are: political and pathetic.

With the president's "crusade" all but a fait accompli, America's best hope to bring this madness to an end lies with several Republican and Democratic senators who now understand that they must guide this sinking ship back to the harbor in spite of the president's rhetoric to the contrary. Hence the importance of the midterm election results.

It is easy to read whatever into the midterm elections, especially if you're on the losing end. Make no mistake, the election was primarily about three issues: Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq.

At least McCain was honest about his plan, wrong as it may be.

But what all parties must face is that it was immoral to invade, it will be immoral to leave given Iraq's current state, and it is immoral to stay. Moreover, any proposal that attempts to cling to the nonexistent reality that we can get out of Iraq with our moral credibility intact becomes complicit in the immorality.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. E-mail him at or leave a message at (510) 208-6417. Send a letter to the editor to