McCain, Circa 2003

There's yet to be a solid, point-by-point effort to expose John McCain's pre-2003 views on Iraq, when (along with his neocon advisers and cheerleaders) he led the charge to Baghdad. Barack Obama, so concerned about how to end the war in Iraq, seems to have forgotten the importance of questioning how it began, especially McCain's pernicious role.

In today's Times, under the headline "Broad Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of a McCain Doctrine," appears a sketchy but useful reminder of McCain's pre-2003 irrational exuberance for war. (As a broader piece on McCain's so-called "doctrine," the article falls flat. There are better pieces on that score, including two authored by yours truly for The Nation, one published in 1999 and the second earlier this year.)

Here's the lede of the Times piece, showing McCain in full jingoistic, damn-the-torpedos mode:

Senator John McCain arrived late at his Senate office on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, just after the first plane hit the World Trade Center. "This is war," he murmured to his aides. The sound of scrambling fighter planes rattled the windows, sending a tremor of panic through the room.

Within hours, Mr. McCain, the Vietnam War hero and famed straight talker of the 2000 Republican primary, had taken on a new role: the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against Al Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria.

"There is a system out there or network, and that network is going to have to be attacked," Mr. McCain said the next morning on ABC News. "It isn't just Afghanistan," he added, on MSNBC. "I don't think if you got bin Laden tomorrow that the threat has disappeared," he said on CBS, pointing toward other countries in the Middle East.

Within a month he made clear his priority. "Very obviously Iraq is the first country," he declared on CNN. By Jan. 2, Mr. McCain was on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, yelling to a crowd of sailors and airmen: "Next up, Baghdad!"

As the Times notes, "While pushing to take on Saddam Hussein, Mr. McCain also made arguments and statements that he may no longer wish to recall." It adds:

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.) He urged support for the later-discredited Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi's opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, and echoed some of its suspect accusations in the national media. And he advanced misleading assertions not only about Mr. Hussein's supposed weapons programs but also about his possible ties to international terrorists, Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks.

McCain had adopted the neocon doctrine of rogue-state rollback, and he hammered away at that after 9/11

arguing that the United States should go on the offensive as a warning to any other country that might condone such an attack. "These networks are well-embedded in some of these countries," Mr. McCain said on Sept. 12, listing Iraq, Iran and Syria as potential targets of United States pressure. "We're going to have to prove to them that we are very serious, and the price that they will pay will not only be for punishment but also deterrence."

So much for McCain's good judgment. It's wrong even to imply that McCain's disjointed thoughts amount to a doctrine, unless that doctine is: "Kill them all!" The Times also references McCain's near-psychotic readiness to blame Iraq even for the 2001 anthrax attacks, concerning which he said on TV: "Some of this anthrax may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq."

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