Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 4, 2014.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

A legend in his own mind

The only thing worse than a policymaker who’s nearly always wrong is a misguided policymaker who falsely believes he’s always right. Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, reflecting on the credibility he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) still pretend to enjoy.
McCain said that Paul, Rubio and Cruz all come to him for foreign policy advice and that he’s not surprised that Republicans still lean on him for his views. McCain said his advice is still popular among Republicans because lawmakers are looking to be led by “who’s highly regarded” – and that means the two amigos.
 
“We have had long experience and haven’t been wrong,” McCain said.
I honestly had every intention of avoiding McCain content for a while, but seeing the Arizona Republican boast about his track record and credibility is a bit too much to take.
 
Two weeks ago, for example, McCain complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.” He then suggested the detainees were “responsible for 9/11,” which didn’t make any sense.
 
Soon after, the senator told a national television audience, “We had literally no casualties there in Iraq during the last period after the surge was over.” That’s ridiculously untrue.
 
McCain then argued that militants holding prisoners don’t kill Americans, followed by the senator leaving policy briefings before they’re done so he can repeat false talking points for the cameras.
 
McCain then demanded that the suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack in Benghazi be brought to Guantanamo Bay, telling reporters, “It’s where we put terrorists when we apprehend them.” In reality, (a) that’s not even close to being true; (b) sending Abu Khattala to the detention facility probably wouldn’t be legal, and (c) McCain doesn’t seem to remember his own position, which is that the Guantanamo prison be closed.
 
McCain is convinced he hasn’t “been wrong”? These are just the more notable mistakes from the last two weeks.
 
The senator’s track record is all the more appalling when considered in its entirety. As Rachel noted on the show a couple of days ago, following another round of McCain interviews on U.S. policy in Iraq, “Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq, in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that. He was wrong about Saddam having weapons. He was wrong about how long the war would take. He was wrong about how big the war would be. He famously said that as far as he was concerned, he thought that maybe Saddam sent the anthrax attacks. John McCain was wrong about whether there might ever be any trouble between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq.”
 
What’s more, following up on a post from last week, our pals at “All in with Chris Hayes” did a nice job last night pulling together some of the evidence documenting how wrong McCain has been about U.S. policy in Iraq.
Of course, this is a small sampling. I’m also reminded of this Frank Rich piece from 2009.

[McCain] made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this.

Let’s also not forget this Maddow Show segment from November 2012, in which Rachel explained, “Even if you’re just in Congress, even if you’re just the opposition, you need to know what you’re talking about. You need to have a basic level of competence. And doing what John McCain says is not a reasonable substitution for basic competence on this subject. Pick somebody else.”
Remember, there are two main angles here. The first is that McCain’s track record on his signature issue is genuinely atrocious. But the second is that McCain remains absolutely convinced of his own self-righteous credibility. When he boasts that he and his closest ally “haven’t been wrong,” this isn’t the punchline to a ridiculous joke; he actually means it.
 
Dana Milbank asked this morning whether anyone is still listening to McCain. It’s tempting to also ask why anyone should.
 

Foreign Policy, Iraq and John McCain

A legend in his own mind