05/22/2006 03:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Five Civil Questions for Mark Salter and John McCain

Mr. Salter,

In a recent comment on the Huffington Post, you expressed your deep unhappiness about the recent events at
the New School commencement. You stated Jean Rohe's remarks were "an
act of vanity," and said she and other New School students may in the
future become ashamed of their actions.

By way of contrast, you wrote that Sen. John McCain believes "we owe
each other our respect." In his address at
the New School
, he spoke about the importance of civility. And of
course his website is called Straight Talk America.

I agree with Sen. McCain and yourself on the importance of mutual
respect, civility, and straight talk. They are important at all
times, but particularly at this difficult moment in our country's

Therefore, in the interest of advancing honest, civil dialogue even
on contentious issues, I ask that you forward these questions to Sen.
McCain and arrange for him to answer them fully and candidly.

As you'll see, these are inquiries about basic aspects of his
political perspective. Without excusing the behavior of the hecklers
at the New School commencement, I believe they acted out of
frustration with our political system--a frustration I share. This
frustration stems from the way prominent political figures (including
but certainly not limited to Sen. McCain) are rarely even asked
fundamental questions such as this, much less answer them forthrightly.

Many Americans are deeply cynical about politicians. I'm certain most
readers of this will assume you and Sen. McCain will simply ignore
this--or at best, respond with obfuscation.

I very much hope you'll seize this opportunity to prove them wrong.
While I acknowledge these questions may be uncomfortable, I believe
they're completely legitimate, and that in fact American democracy
depends on the willingness of politicians to answer such inquiries.
This is particularly the case when the questions have to do, as these
do, with matters of live and death. (Also, while there's no
particular reason you should care about my political views, if you
have any questions for me I'm more than happy to answer them.)

1. Sen. McCain supported the Iraq war, and still believes it was
justified. In a piece called "Despite Everything, the Right War," href="
fuseaction=Newscenter.ViewOpEd&Content_id=1294">he wrote "even if
Saddam had forever abandoned his WMD ambitions, it was still right to
topple the dictator."

My first question is this: did Sen. McCain ever make this case in
the build up to war in 2002 and 2003--that is, that it was irrelevant
whether or not Saddam had or would ever get WMD?

2. The main reason Sen. McCain has given for his belief it was right
to invade Iraq in the absence of WMD is Saddam's brutality against
Iraqis, which he's compared to Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Saddam's worst actions against his own people took place during the
eighties before the invasion of Kuwait, when he was an ally of the
United States. Sen. McCain was elected to Congress in 1982, and then
to the Senate in 1986.

Did Sen. McCain speak out about Saddam's most horrible crimes
during this period--that is, while they were actually in progress?

3. The Reagan and first Bush administrations gave Saddam critical
financial, political, and strategic support, even though they knew he
was using chemical weapons against Iranians and his own people. In
April, 1990, Republican Senator Alan Simpson (a close friend of Dick
Cheney, who was then Secretary of Defense) met with Saddam and href="">told him his
problem lay "with the Western media and not with the U.S.
government." Sen. Simpson also called the media "haughty and pampered." Just four
weeks before this meeting, Saddam had executed Farzad Bazoft, a journalist with the British paper The Observer.

Again, Sen. McCain has compared Saddam's actions to those of
Hitler. What would he say about politicians who offered comparable
support to Hitler during the Holocaust? Does he believe the same
should be said about Reagan, Bush Sr., and Simpson?

4. In 1995, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law Hussein Kamel defected from
Iraq to Jordan. Kamel had supervised Iraq's WMD programs before the
Gulf War in 1991. After his defection, Kamel told the CIA that Iraq
had not been honest about its pre-Gulf War programs. However, he also told us Iraq had no remaining WMD and that its nuclear weapons program
had ended four years previously. We now know everything Kamel said
was accurate.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and
Secretary of State Powell all referred to Kamel in the build up to war.
However, none of them told Americans that Kamel said Iraq had nothing.

Why does Sen. McCain believe Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell all
left this out?

Also, Sen. McCain served on the commission investigating the
intelligence failure regarding WMD and Iraq. The commission's report
mentions Kamel repeatedly, but never refers to his statements that Iraq
was disarmed.

Why does the report fail to mention this?

5. My last question has to do with domestic policy. Sen. McCain is a
vocal supporter of President Bush's proposals to privatize Social
Security. While touring the country speaking about Social Security
with President Bush last year, Sen. McCain made many statements such
as this one:

"Some of our friends, who are opposing this idea, say,
'Oh, you don't have to worry until 2042.' We wait until 2042, when we
stop paying people Social Security?"

This is not accurate. There will never be a time when the government
simply stops paying people Social Security. In fact, according to the
projections of the Social Security Administration (to which Sen.
McCain was referring), in 2042 Social Security will with no changes
be able to pay recipients more than retirees receive today. The only
question is whether without changes Social Security will be able to
pay benefits even higher than that.

This is one of the most basic facts there is about the Social
Security debate. With all respect, it's certainly something a senator
should be expected to know, particularly if he's proposing
significant alterations to the program.

Was Sen. McCain unaware what he was saying was false? If so, and
he genuinely didn't know this basic aspect of how Social Security
functions, will he apologize for not being informed before speaking
out so strongly on this issue?

Thanks in advance to both you and Sen. McCain for addressing these
questions. Again, I emphasize my genuine commitment to civil
dialogue. I look forward to your response.