October 31, 2001

Mad bomber McCain: Will he ever shut up?

War is hell – and, thanks to Senator John McCain, it has just gotten a little more hellish. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, this angry embittered man has launched an effort to undermine the war effort, one that will no doubt be far more effective than the Lilliputian efforts of peaceniks. "War," he intones, "is a miserable business." Let us "shed a tear," he opines, "and then get on with the business of killing our enemies as quickly as we can, and as ruthlessly as we must." It was Camille Paglia who perceptively remarked that the all-seeing TV cameras have "exposed McCain over time as a seething nest of proto-fascist impulses," and the same happens when he puts pen to paper, only more so.


Here McCain exposes himself as a moral monster who positively revels in the prospect of innocent blood being spilled. Oh yes, we are supposed to "shed a tear" – a single tear, mind you – over all that has been lost in the march to war, but then we must go on about our business, which McCain describes as "ruthless." How he loves that word: he used it twice in his WSJ op-ed, and more during his Sunday morning [October 28] talk show appearances, of which there were all too many. That's the unpleasant sight that awaited us Sunday morning: him aggressively thrusting out that self-consciously militant chin, and composing his face in a semblance of rectitude. Ruthless! Or is that clueless?


Ah yes, war is indeed "a miserable business," as McCain says, but this one is made all the more so by McCain and his fellow McCainiacs, who are now frothing at the mouth and barking that we must abandon all "half-measures" and start carpet-bombing Afghanistan. Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough to keep American power away from its enemies – according to McCain, the US is practically god-like in its military prowess, and "yet our enemies harbor doubts that America will use force with a firm determination to achieve our ends, that we will use all force necessary to achieve unconditional victory. We need to persuade them otherwise, immediately." Oh? And how does McCain know this? Does he have a direct line to the Taliban, is he a mind-reader who can detect Osama's thoughts way on the other side of the world? Such a view of the US is unlikely in those, such as Bin Laden, who condemn America as the "Great Satan" and the chief perpetrator of evil in the world.


How does the Taliban know of this apparent reluctance to unleash our full military potential – unless McCain uses every forum at his disposal to so inform them? Loose lips sink ships, Senator – but, then again, you already knew that, didn't you?


By all means shed a tear, says Mad John McCain, but let us not hesitate to "ruthlessly" slaughter innocent civilians. Or, as he puts it:

"We cannot allow the Taliban safe refuge among the civilian population. We must destroy them, wherever they hide. That will surely increase the terrible danger facing noncombatants, a regrettable but necessary fact of war. But it will also shorten the days they must suffer war's cruel reality."


Having thrown all morality to the winds of unlimited war, one can only wonder why Mad John stops at merely suggesting the carpet-bombing of Afghanistan. By his mad logic, we ought to immediately launch a nuclear attack that would literally incinerate Al Qaeda – and, incidentally, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. But, hey, we have to be "ruthless" – don't we? Indeed, some nut-ball general did suggest this, and now a powerful American Senator is implying it. Surely this settles, for all time, the question of McCain's fitness for the Oval Office – and raises once again the long-simmering question of his mental stability.


A peculiar sub-theme of McCain's appeal to bloodlust is the idea that war and diplomacy must conflict. "We cannot fight this war from the air alone," he avers. "We cannot fight it without casualties. And we cannot fight it without risking unintended damage to humanitarian and political interests." Say, what? War, as the saying goes, is the continuation of politics by other means. So a war that damages the political and diplomatic interests of the US in the region is, by definition, self-defeating. A war that destabilizes, say, Pakistan, and delivers it to the Bin Ladenites, could hardly serve any purely military purpose – especially considering that a fundamentalist revolution would give Al Qaeda a nuclear capability.


Thank God John McCain lost the Republican presidential primary: with this hebephrenic nutball in charge, much of the Middle East would have been a radioactive wasteland shortly after 9/11. Can't you just see and, worst of all, hear President McCain addressing the nation, solemnly intoning all the reasons we had to nuke Kabul, his red face seething with barely-controlled rage?


Forget about the Arab world, says McCain: they all hate us, anyway, is the unspoken addendum. They hate us, not because we occupy their holy places and keep the settler-colony of Israel afloat, but due to the behavior of "America's purported friends in the region," who have "allowed" the bad guys to freely "sow hatred of us throughout the Islamic world." The repressive regimes of the region, which we regularly denounce as un-democratic, are not, in McCain's view, repressive enough. While this is no more sinister than the Bushian foreign policy which supports Middle East tyrants against their own people, McCain's more "idealistic" interventionism is entirely untethered from such mundane practical considerations:

"Should the conduct of our war incidentally help inflame that hatred it may indeed increase the threat to regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere whose stability is a strategic interest of the United States. But that threat will be infinitely greater should we fail in our mission or delay victory by one day longer than necessary."

What kind of a "victory" would it be if we captured Kabul – but lost the entire Middle East, from Istanbul to Riyadh, to Bin Laden? Truly a Pyrrhic one. This idea, which is just plain crazy, defines the madness at the core of Mad John McCain: for, in his view, the loss of the Middle East is a small matter compared to his own pure devotion to the abstract idea of Victory. And here is where ideology begins to blend seamlessly into psychopathology….


For McCain, who aspires to be a popular demagogue on the strength of the war issue, "there is no substitute for victory" – and yet victory, in his lexicon, has a unique meaning. It requires not the achievement of certain political objectives (the eradication of Bin Ladenism), but some vague emotional catharsis that seems perilously close to pure vengeance. McCain's war is being conducted, not to further American interests in the region, but to further his own political interests on the home front. Some of my regular readers may remember all those rumors that McLoser was going to bolt the GOP and form his own "centrist" third party, and it may happen yet. Back then [June 11, 2001], I ventured that the main planks of the McCainiac Party seem to be three in number: conscription ("national service"), conquest, and "reform," this last meaning the federalization and centralization of power on the home front. It is an agenda that flourishes in wartime, as irrational and emotionally satisfying as equating "victory" with vengeance wreaked on the innocent. McCain in 2004? You can bet on it…


It is ironic, at the very least, that McCain seems to speak for those who claim that "politicians" lost the Vietnam war, not the military, and if only the latter had been allowed to run it their way, without politicizing the conduct of the war, defeat might have been averted. But now here is McCain, the politician, trying to run another war single-handedly, a would-be Napoleon second-guessing the Pentagon in a very public manner:

"We have been sparing in the amount of ordnance we have dropped on the Taliban front lines. We have not yet employed B-2s and B-52s, the most destructive weapons in our airborne arsenal, against them. We shouldn't fight this war in increments. The Taliban and their terrorist allies are indeed tough fighters. They'll need to experience a more impressive display of American firepower before they contemplate surrender."


He also wants us to unconditionally back the ragtag coalition of pro-Iranian tribes, petty warlords, and ordinary brigands who call themselves the "Northern Alliance" – a gang whose rule after the Russians were driven out was so brutal that the Taliban seemed tolerable in comparison. Oh, but remember now: we must be ruthless.


How Mad John dearly wants to be Commander-in-chief, so much so that he is perfectly willing to undermine the authority and declared war aims of the real Commander-in-chief in order to call attention to himself. Never mind Susan Sontag, or that Canadian "feminist" who declared that America, as the root of all evil, basically got what it deserved on 9/11. The real fifth columnists in this war are the hawks, led by the opportunist McCain, who don't really care about getting Bin Laden, and have a whole other agenda.


As an alleged war hero – albeit one whose dark past may not have been fully exhumed – McCain at least has some standing to conduct his own military campaign from the sidelines. But how do we explain the strategic dictums of Field Marshal Bill Kristol, as expostulated in this morning's [October 30] Washington Post? As Morris Wanchuk recently pointed out on Lucianne Goldberg's site, "Kristol's brave exploits during the Viet Nam War – he wore a Spiro Agnew sweatshirt at Harvard." That doesn't stop this dime-store Clausewitz from proffering his advice: failure to take Kabul before winter would be a "disaster," and, like his hero, McCain, he clearly means to do it with American troops on the ground. And that's not all: Iraq is also in Kristol's sights, and only an immediate attack would satisfy him. What is really striking, however, is his rage at the direction the anthrax investigation has taken. Any conclusion that doesn't fit his preordained view of the facts is, in his view, monstrous:

"And what signal do we send when our law enforcement and intelligence agencies desperately try to convince the press that, as Saturday's Washington Post headline put it, ‘FBI and CIA Suspect Domestic Extremists; Officials Doubt Any Links to Bin Laden'? Really? Was someone unrelated to bin Laden's people ready to mail anthrax spores immediately after Sept. 11 just for the fun and chaos of it?"


Never mind the facts, as they emerge, not least of all the scientific evidence which shows that this is a variety of anthrax that a graduate student could have whipped up in his basement. How dare the FBI contradict the editorial policy of the Weekly Standard! Besides being an amateur Field Marshal, little Billy Kristol, being a real Boy Wonder, is also a kind of Sherlock Holmes. The FBI, the scientists, all of whom have access to information unknown to the rest of us – who are they to contradict Kristol? Good God, the insufferable arrogance of this pompous little man is apparently limitless!


This open disappointment – and even anger – at the administration's conclusion that the anthrax attack is the work of amateurs, and that mass death is probably not in the cards, is downright bizarre. On the Insensitivity Scale, Kristol's remarks rank up there with the comment by some AOL executive that the 9/11 atrocity was "good for the Internet." Yes, a different conclusion on the part of the FBI would have been good for the War Party – but very very bad for the rest of us. Not that Kristol gives a rat's ass about that….


"At some point," the Field Marshal smugly concludes, "the president surely will insist his administration change its strategy, and get about winning the war. Better sooner than later." In other words: us neocons will get to Bush eventually by relentlessly exerting pressure, including a threat to split the Republican party and the nation in wartime – so he might as well give in now, before he is subjected to a humiliating defeat. Let us hope Bush gives Kristol and his ilk the answer they deserve.


Well, then, what about this hurry to send in the ground forces? How, the War Party wants to know, can we vanquish Al Qaeda, and wipe out the terrorists, without sending US troops into Afghanistan? The answer is not at all obvious, until one realizes that this will never be accomplished by assaulting the enemy from the south. The consequences for Pakistan, and the subsequent unraveling of the whole region, would not be worth the price of such a dubious "victory." What is needed is another kind of strategy for this "new war" of ours, and that is what might be called the Northern strategy. Let me briefly explain…


The other day I was watching Crossfire, and Robert Novak was firing some awfully good questions at two proponents of the war, Frank Gaffney, who represented the "Bush is doing fine" position, and some big-mouthed ex-military man, a self-styled "expert" who, roughly, took the McCainiac widen-the-war position. The latter kept insisting, like Kristol, that we need to unleash the ground troops before winter sets in, and Gaffney kept insisting that the Northern Alliance could be our troops on the ground. Novak turned a skeptical eye on Gaffney, and said "Everybody knows the Northern Alliance can't win against the Taliban." Gaffney looked uncomfortable and could only emit a few inarticulate noises in feeble protest. That's when it dawned on me: why not give Afghanistan back to the Russians?


The Russians are now our great allies, and have pledged to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in the "war on terrorism" – so why not take them up on it? We fought a long war against the Soviets, of course, to "liberate" Afghanistan – and look where it got us! We created our own strain of Franken-terrorism, as the veterans of the anti-Soviet campaign (including Osama) went on to found the core of Al Qaeda and turn on us. Vladimir Putin has been fighting these guys in Chechnya all along, so why not use his experience to our military advantage? What we need to do is invite the Russians to re-invade Afghanistan, to re-fight their own equivalent of the Vietnam war, and, this time, help them to win it. That should restore their national sense of self-esteem – and help us get rid of the terrorists without putting large numbers of our own troops at risk. That's why I was thrilled to read the news that "the US and United Kingdom will turn to Russia as the primary provider of ground troops in the Afghan campaign," and was positively thrilled to note that "Moscow is preparing to mobilize up to 1 million soldiers for the invasion and occupation." Now, my heart sank when I saw where the report was from – Debka.com, the notoriously hyperbolic "news" site whose name is a byword for the farfetched – but, hey, a stopped clock is right twice a day, and, in any case, we can always hope.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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