The contrast could not have been more apparent. On Monday, February 18, 2013, MSNBC aired a program, Hubris, about how the Bush Administration used dishonesty and deceit to lead the United States into a useless and fruitless nine-year war against Iraq. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has persistently stood by the supposed wisdom of the policy, to the point that he has relentlessly berated former friend and colleague, Defense Secretary-Nominee Chuck Hagel, for expressing reservations about the wisdom of the war.
Earlier in the day, McCain was once again criticizing the Obama Administration for what he calls a cover-up of the facts with regard to the September 11, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
There’s a fundamental problem with McCain criticizing Benghazi while standing by Iraq. The facts are simply less clear with regard to Benghazi than Iraq. What happened on a dark evening in the desert of Western Libya is difficult to piece together, particularly when the four individuals who most likely would have best known what happened were the unfortunate victims of the violence and lost their lives.
As Hubris so clearly points out, the plans to invade actually began on the afternoon of the September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The planning carried late into 2002, when Congress overwhelmingly voted to give carte blanche powers to the Bush Administration to proceed into Iraq. It continued until the actual invasion of Iraq. That’s eighteen months in which public officials, the media, and the public could engage in critical thinking about the proposed war.
John McCain has chosen to call the Benghazi situation a cover-up, when we probably never will know with much certainty what happened that night. The most significant item that we know is that McCain and has fellow Republicans refused to provide the State Department with necessary funds to protect the consulate in Benghazi, as well as dozens of other American outposts in foreign countries.
While many other American leaders including Senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry joined McCain in offering the blank check to President Bush in 2002, they have largely acknowledged their mistakes and proffered that they will never again be hoodwinked, as they were by the Bush Administration. No such words from Senator McCain.
Much to Senator McCain’s credit, he has a remarkable war record, which includes over five years of being held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam during the Vietnam conflict. His bravery in protecting himself as well as his fellow prisoners is renowned. The pain and suffering that he endured is unimaginable to most people. It is for this reason that so many people are willing to cut John McCain slack in whatever he does, because of the enormous price he has paid on behalf of his country.
It takes us back to a fundamental tenet of conflict resolutions: “Be hard on the problem and soft on the person.” As nasty towards others as John McCain can be, it is frequently difficult for progressives to respond with their own nastiness because (a) progressives are simply nicer and more civil, and (b) they empathize with John McCain. The key is to be tough on the particular problems or issues; not on Senator McCain or anyone else, if possible.
For a variety of reasons, it’s very painful to hear John McCain pontificate. Maybe he should follow the steps of the current pontiff and retire early. He deserves the break, and quite frankly, we could deserve a break from the frustration that we experience in trying to figure out what’s really going on with John McCain.