Having recently completed an article on John McCain which will be in the next print edition of Political Affairs, I thought that, even with his very poor class standing at Annapolis, he was at least somewhat less ignorant about world affairs than George W. Bush. But his Monty Python moment on his visit the troops trip to Iraq, has disillusioned me.
After seven years of mass media descriptive commentaries about Shia and Sunni Muslim denominations he would know better. There has been no real analysis of the differences between the two, but at least Americans have been told over and over again that Iran is an overwhelming Shia denomination country, Iraq is a majority Shia country, Al Qaeda is an ultra right Sunni religious terrorists group. McCain could at least get that right without having to worry about being considered a liberal. But he didn't. Even with his sidekick Joe Lieberman trying to correct him (Lieberman may set a record by becoming the only man to run for the Vice Presidency of both major parties and lose both times) he continued to make his screwy statements about Al Qaeda using Iran as a base of operations.
Let me pretend that I am a media pundit and try to over analyze these dumb statements, in a way that I think will complement Tom Riggins intelligent last post, which ended with the words "twice a fool or someone out to deliberately mislead his audience."
It is possible that McCain is neither. He may be confusing his wars. He may be seeing Vietnam in Iraq. After all, the National Liberation Front was seen by both the right and the cold war liberal Democrats of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who escalated the war as "agents" and extensions of "North Vietnam," not as an indigenous force. Barry Goldwater, McCain's early political hero, talked about invading North Vietnam. Curtis Lemay, former crackpot commanding General of the Strategic Air Command (and character whom many believe was the inspiration for General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove talked of "bombing North Vietnam into the stone age" which he ran for Vice President on George Corley Wallace's pro Segregation racist presidential ticket in 1968 (McCain was a prisoner at the time in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, having been shot down in a bombing raid over Hanoi and was, given his subsequent statements, sympathetic to winning the war through bigger and better bombing raids). Now he may be dreaming of winning the Vietnam War at last by invading or at least "bombing Iran into the stone age."
After all, why be bothered with careful analyses of different political movements, ideologies, institutions, both secular and clerical. They only get in the way, as they did in the Vietnam War, where the differences between China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam on many issues, the history of imperialism in Vietnam, and the fictitious nature of the South Vietnamese state, were all beside the point. The U.S. had to win to keep the dominoes from falling to keep revolutionary Communist forces from sweeping through the "third world" and eventually threatening San Fransisco (before the religious right began to threaten San Francisco). And many of the policy planners who supported these notions were "the best and the brightest," the products of elite Ivy League schools and special think tank programs that the cold war created and funded generously , not a couple of academic losers like Bush and McCain.
Bush by the way trotted out some old cliches reminiscent of the Vietnam War (when he chose with help from family and powerful friends to defend Texas through the Texas Air National Guard, rather than be drafted to fight in Vietnam, since in those days the National Guard was still a domestic force) in proclaiming that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was and is right. To withdraw would be to intensify the threat of another World Trade Center attack on the U.S.
Neither Bush nor McCain seem capable it seems of understanding that Al Qaeda is in Iraq because of the U.S. invasion. That kind of thinking gets in the way of both the message and the policy. Al Qaeda was as the whole non Bush world knows (and most really did know at the time) violently opposed to the secular rightist Baath party dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and benefited the U.S. invasion, which enabled it to regroup and strengthen its relationship with its only real ally in the region, the Taliban forces now using as a base to attack the U.S. supported government in Afghanistan the areas of Pakistan in which, with CIA funding, were used by the forces to attack the Soviet supported Communist government in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Seeing that, meaning looking at simple facts, might mean that fixed ideas and the policies that emanate from them would have to be questioned. And that neither Bush nor McCain can do.
Realizing that the Al Qaeda group is also a fierce enemy of the clerical regime in Iran , as it is of all states in the Muslim world, secular or clerical, which do not bow to its clerical ideas, also gets in the way of the message and the policy, i.e., escalating the war in the region, which is frankly where I expect McCain would go if he became president.
Ignorance really is a kind of bliss for reactionaries. It isn't, as Tom says, ever inexcusable for them. Rather it is the excuse for their policies and the confirmation of their ideology. It enables them to, as fascism's "founding father," Benito Mussolini, once said to "think with your blood," to make military force the solution to all questions at home and abroad. If that is your beginning and your end, you engage in the same aggressive interventionist policies, making each intervention a justification for future interventions until counterforce catches up with you and the enemies you make unite to defeat your.
I am not calling McCain or even Bush a fascist but I am saying that the policies which they are identified with, feeding the military industrial complex at the expense of all others, supporting huge restrictions on traditional civil liberties in the name of an open ended "war against terrorism," even pursuing voter disenfranchisement and vote counting policies which have hugely undermined public confidence in U.S. elections, are policies which in the past have been associated with regimes which were or became open terroristic fascist dictatorships. These regimes have also not only brought endless war and unspeakable horrors to peoples who were their targets, but they have ended with the devastation of the societies in which they gained power.