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"Next Up, Baghdad" McCain Says He Would Have Opposed Iraq War as President

July 18, 2014

Back in 2010, Arizona Senator John McCain told surprised Americans that "I never considered myself a maverick." Now, the failed 2000 and 2008 GOP White House hopeful is telling an even bigger tall tale about the Iraq war he so vociferously supported. "You'll find this surprising," he told CNN's Jake Tapper about a would-have-been McCain presidency beginning in 2001, "but I think I would've been more reluctant to commit American troops."

Of course, McCain's born-again story on Iraq isn't a surprise, it's an outright lie. After all, even as the United States began military strikes in Afghanistan in the days after 9/11, he was already declaring "very obviously Iraq is the first country" America must attack next. That same October, McCain told Charlie Rose that the anthrax spores used in attacks in the U.S. "may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq." And in January 2002, fourteen months before the war he advocated against Saddam Hussein was launched, John McCain told American sailors and airmen aboard the USS Roosevelt, "Next up, Baghdad!"
You'd never know any of this watching the Maverick's miraculous performance on CNN:

"If presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way," McCain said of his vote to deploy troops in the country. "I respected and trusted the Secretary of State, Colin Powell. But it's obvious now, in retrospect, that Saddam Hussein - although he had used weapons of mass destruction - did not have the inventory that we seem to have evidence of. Which now looking back on it, with the benefit of hindsight, (the evidence) was very flimsy."
If he had been president, McCain said, "I think I would have challenged the evidence with greater scrutiny. I think that with my background with the military and knowledge of national security with these issues that I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time."

Of course, there is zero evidence to support any of McCain's revisionist history. He was not only an early cheerleader for the Iraq but, as the New York Times noted in August 2008:

He lauded the war planners he would later criticize, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. (Mr. McCain even volunteered that he would have given the same job to Mr. Cheney.)

And to be sure, John McCain swallowed every Bush administration talking point about Iraq, and has regurgitated them ever since.
Consider McCain's statements during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in January 2002, Senator McCain declared, "Next up, Baghdad!" That followed by three months McCain's baseless claim that the anthrax attacks that fall could have been the work of Saddam Hussein:

"I think we're doing fine [in Afghanistan]...I think we'll do fine. The second phase - if I could just make one, very quickly - the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don't have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may - and I emphasize may - have come from Iraq."

Or may not have come from Iraq. In any event, McCain insisted, the United States would make short work of Saddam's forces. As the Bush administration was making its case for war by warning of "the smoking gun that could come on the form of a mushroom cloud," McCain in the September 2002 assured Americans that "I am very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult" because "I cannot believe that there is an Iraqi soldier who is going to be willing to die for Saddam Hussein." (As for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress leader who joined President Bush for the 2003 State of the Union Address only to later be linked to Iran, McCain declared, "He's a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.") It's no wonder McCain told MSNBC's Christ Matthews on March 12, 2003 that American forces would "absolutely, absolutely" be greeted as liberators, a claim he repeated two weeks later:

"There's no doubt in my mind that we will prevail and there's no doubt in my mind, once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators."

As it turned out, not so much. The victory John McCain predicted in January 2003 would be "rapid, within about three weeks" did not come to pass. Two months after the invasion, he crowed that "we won a massive victory in a few weeks, and we did so with very limited loss of American and allied lives." As for the "Mission Accomplished" banner draped behind President Bush during his victory speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, McCain pushed back against those arguing the conflict was not over. As he responded to Neil Cavuto of Fox News on June 11, 2003, "Well, then why was there a banner that said mission accomplished on the aircraft carrier?"

"I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process, but the conflict -- the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished, and it's very appropriate."

Appropriate, that is, to mark the end of a just--and justifiable--war. One month before President Bush initiated his campaign of "shock and awe," McCain warned that Iraq had the "definitive footprints of germ, chemical and nuclear programs." On June 11, 2003, he was firm in his belief that Saddam's non-existent WMD would turn up:

"I remain confident that we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

But as the chaos and carnage of the Sunni insurgency spun out of control, John McCain began singing a different tune. With just weeks, he reversed his March 7, 2004 proclamation that "I'm confident we're on the right course." Instead, he pointed out in April, "Things go wrong in war. Mistakes happen." His confident pre-war prediction ("I think we could go in with much smaller numbers than we had to do in the past. But any military man worth his salt is going to have to prepare for any contingency, but I don't believe it's going to be nearly the size and scope that it was in 1991.") was gone, replaced in April 2004 by:

"I was there last August. I came back after talking with many, many people, and I was convinced we didn't have enough boots on the ground."

Despite the mounting U.S. casualties, McCain insisted that the victory he already declared won was just around the corner:

"I think we missed an opportunity during the first six months or so of our occupation of Iraq." (April 16, 2004.)
"We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months." (November 12, 2006.)
"My friends, the war will be over soon, the war for all intents and purposes although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years." (February 25, 2008.)

On that last point, John McCain was partially right. The sectarian conflict in Iraq that the U.S. helped temper by buying (or more accurately, renting) Sunni tribal leaders has exploded once again and shows no signs of being extinguished any time soon. And now, he insists, it all could have avoided by permanently deploying the U.S. troops President McCain would never have sent there.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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