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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Taibbi: Why Did John McCain Continue to Support War?

And why has the rest of America never come to terms with the defining crimes of our age?

By Matt Taibbi

McCain was not, generally speaking, a man of strong beliefs. One of the most honest things he ever said was that he didn’t run for president to enact reforms or out of some “grand sense of patriotism,” but simply because “it had become my ambition to be president.” If anything, he often seemed bored by domestic issues, and was even famous after a fashion for “reaching across the aisle” on matters like campaign finance.

But he did have one unshakeable conviction: Wherever America had a foreign policy problem, the solution was always to bomb the fuck out of someone.

Long before he became a symbol of anti-Trumpism (despite having contributed significantly to the Trump phenomenon by unleashing Sarah Palin on national politics in 2008), McCain defied the mainstream GOP to support Bill Clinton’s air strikes in Kosovo. McCain wanted to go even further to a ground invasion, if necessary.

People forget, but it was this episode that first elevated McCain to media-icon status as an elected official. “We’ve turned down more than we’ve accepted,” he said in 1999, speaking about interview requests. “Five times as much.”

From that point on, he was the torchbearer for the purest bipartisan value that exists in Washington: military interventionism. He never saw an invasion he didn’t support, and it’s sadly fitting that the last piece of legislation to bear his name was a massive military spending hike that scored the rare trifecta of support from mainstream Democrats, Republicans and Donald Trump.

We leave smoldering ash-piles around the world, and instead of wondering why we’re hated in those places, we keep thinking it’s football and we’ll just call the right plays the next game. “We’ll get ‘em next time” became our official foreign policy, and McCain was long ago elevated as chief spokesperson.

McCain never changed his mind about Vietnam, in particular, and it colored his opinion of every war that followed. Here’s what McCain wrote in 2003, months into the invasion of Iraq:

We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight, because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting and because we limited the tools at our disposal.

McCain added that Iraqis had less chance to “win” because they “do not enjoy the kind of sanctuary North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos provided.”

Between 1963 and 1974, we dropped two million tons of ordnance on Laos — not North Vietnam, but Laos — which works out to “a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours per day, for nine years.”

The death toll from that one country is said to be 70,000 (50,000 during the war, 20,000 who died later from unexploded bombs). Similar operations in North Vietnam are said to have killed 182,000 civilians, and estimates about bombing deaths in Cambodia range from 30,000 to 150,000.

Add another 400,000 maimed and an additional 500,000 gruesome birth defects chalked up to the use of Agent Orange, and you start to get a sense of the scale of civilian suffering caused by our invasion of Indochina.

I bring this up because the McCain view of what happened there — that we “lost” in Vietnam only because we were “limited” to, say, 2 million tons of bombs and 580,000 air missions in places like Laos — continues to this day to be a mainstream belief.

That concept represents one side of the acceptable spectrum of opinion, in which the Ann Coulters of the world insist we are only ever held back by liberals and reporters and other such traitors, who were/are “rooting for the enemy.”

Read the rest at Rolling Stone.

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