If Americans want to continue the Iraq War, then Sen. John McCain - the apparent Republican presidential candidate and relentless hawk - is their man.
It seems McCain was not kidding when he said the U.S. might have to remain in Iraq for 100 years.
At a town meeting in New Hampshire, McCain was told that President Bush had indicated the possibility of U.S. forces staying in Iraq for 50 years.
"Make it a hundred," McCain responded.
Presumably McCain means that still would be with a volunteer U.S. Army because even the "straight talking" senator would not dare to suggest that a military draft would be needed to carry out his grand imperialist plan for Iraq. Not if he wants to get elected.
Meantime, Bush is no longer keeping up his charade of party neutrality. In an interview last Sunday with Fox News, Bush described McCain as a "true conservative," who is in lockstep with him on a strong defense, against abortion rights and in favor of making Bush's tax cuts permanent, with the biggest cuts for the richest.
While apparently endorsing McCain as his successor, Bush also cautioned that McCain needed to shore up his standing with GOP conservatives. In other words, Bush is hoping for a third term through a proxy.
McCain has shown some heresy with the conservative wing of the GOP by displaying leniency toward illegal immigrants. He also went against the conservative grain by sponsoring legislation intended to reform campaign finance.
The right-wingers in the party - especially the hard-line radio talk-show commentators like Rush Limbaugh - have lashed out harshly against McCain for his apostasy. But these critics have no other place to go.
After losing the nomination to Bush in the 2000 race for the presidential nomination, McCain has devoted a lot of time to wooing evangelicals and pandering to the far right in his party. Early on, he made amends with the late Jerry Falwell and delivered a commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.
In his earlier campaign for the presidency, he had denounced the evangelicals as "agents of intolerance."
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," seems to be the motto of the ambitious McCain.
Citing McCain's statement that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for 100 years, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has indicated that if she is elected she would seek a much quicker withdrawal. Both Clinton and her rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., are all over the place when it comes to their preferred timing to pullout U.S. forces from Iraq.
Clinton's Senate votes to attack Iraq and to fund the war have become her albatross. She needs to clarify her position.
McCain is on the same page with Bush in foreign policy. He supported the "surge" of sending 30,000 more troops to reinforce the occupation of Iraq.
And he has denounced colleagues who want to bring the troops home as raising the "white flag" of surrender.
He also supports the total U.S. commitment to Israel and proposes to intensify U.S. aid and technology to give Israel a "qualitative edge" over the beleaguered occupied Palestinians.
He also warns that Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons clearly poses an unacceptable risk."
He parts company with Bush on torture, having suffered for five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
Stressing his conservative credentials, McCain says he is against federal farm subsidies and against "big-government-mandated health care."
He also opposed the new Medicare prescription-drug law, claiming it saddles the taxpayers with hugely expensive entitlement programs.
McCain is trying to bend over backward to prove to the GOP that he is the leader who can win the independent vote and continue the party's occupancy of the White House.
But with Bush's unpopularity in the polls, is the president a help or a hindrance to McCain's bid for the White House?
Helen Thomas can be reached at hthomas@hearst dc.com.
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