I got to watch Senator John McCain on Meet The Press this morning, and I have to say that I'm seriously disappointed in him!
Tim Russert continues to remember that he is a journalist and not a BushCo hack, although he still could stand to improve some. The questions he asked of Senator McCain were legitimate considering the current events being discussed.
The first question was interersting, considering that McCain isn't exactly Bush's best-friend-on-a-leash in the Senate: What should Bush tell the American people about Iraq?
McCain suggested that Bush state clearly that Iraq is a tough struggle and that we will do what's necessary to succeed. "We must not fail in our efforts, for the benefits would be enormous." He suggested that with the installation of democracy, extremist religious movements will die out in its favor. This would require the expansion of US presence and an increase in troop strength.
When Russert asked if Iraq was proving to be more of a problem than expected, McCain tended to agree. He repeated that more troops would be needed, and this expansion would require making some tough choices. He mentioned cancelling programs for new fighter planes costing $350 million each, and maybe also ending the Boeing tanker deal. He also suggested that the Pentagon needs revamping. "Our priority should be on succeeding in Iraq."
Russert then asked if increasing the deficit was an option. McCain said that more money was going to be required, reiterating that tough choices were going to be necessary. Remembering that Lyndon Johnson was accused of having a 'Guns and Butter' policy during Vietnam, he suggested that today there is a 'Guns and Pork' policy, specifically citing the construction of 'Bridges to Nowhere' in Alaska.
McCain also brought up Alan Greenspan's recent statement that Social Security benefits would need to be cut to keep the deficit from growing. "What politician is going to vote for that?" he asked.
Russert asked if the tax cuts should be postponed. McCain said that they should - for the wealthiest. He had voted against the cuts because they were so slanted to the rich. The cuts aimed at the middle class should go through as planned.
Russert then asked about the 'Mission Accomplished' scene on the USS Lincoln - was it premature? McCain said no, the major fighting was finished, the conflict is now an insurgency (I fail to understand the distinction!). He did state that the crew of the carrier had no say in what banners get put up. (He would know. He served on a carrier as a pilot during Vietnam, and his grandfather was in command of the US Navy carriers during WWII.)
McCain suggests that the American people should be given the truth about Iraq. "The American people are not uninformed," he declared, insisting that they will support any effort as long as they understand what the stakes are.
What should Bush do? "I don't think he needs to address the nation, but he might hold a press conference."
Russert quoted Paul Bremer's claim (he was interviewed just before McCain came on) that only a few thousand Iraqis were opposing the 'installation of freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people'. How do we know this is accurate? McCain didn't really answer the question, but instead recited the 'ends justify the means' mantra so often heard from BushCo.
He did say that once the Iraqi insurgents know that America is in Iraq to stay, things would quiet down.
Can you imagine British General Gage saying such a thing during the occupation of Boston in 1776-8? Just how right would he have been? Iraq will prove no different.
Russert asked if the American people should be prepared to face additional casualties. McCain said yes, noting that our troops are prepared to make the sacrifice necessary for 'the noblest of causes.' (Would that it were so at the top.)
Russert then asked if the Iraqi people would choose to have an extremist Muslim state like Iran. McCain felt that Iraq was too urbane for such a choice, noting (I think correctly) that if given a free choice, Iranians would oust the mullahs tomorrow. He also claimed that Sistani has more support than Sadr (this remains to be seen), and declared again that things will settle once the Iraqis know America isn't going to leave, that they will submit to American governance.
The subject of the draft came up. McCain felt that a draft wasn't likely, that military sevice should be one option among others for Americans to serve, bringing up an incentive plan he had introduced which would give Americans $1000 per month of service once 18 months were served whether in the military or Peace Corps or Americorps, etc. A draft wouldn't work, because 'as we all know, not everyone is going to serve with a draft.'
Did the administration underestimate the resistance? Yes. He stated that after he visited Iraq and talked with the troops, he came back and told the adminstration that more troops would be needed, and because this wasn't heard we are now paying a heavy price. He brought up MacArthur's comment after Inchon that the Chinese wouldn't enter the Korean conflict, using it as an example that things don't always go as planned, which is why wars are usually avoided. 'Mistakes are going to be made. The thing to do is to fix them.'
Russert then showed a tape of Colin Powell addressing the UN about evidence of Iraqi WMD capabilities, using that as a contrast to a recent LA Times article which presented evidence that the administration based all of their evidence on the testimony of an Iraqi defector, since identified as the brother of a top Chalabi aide. He also showed a Chalabi quote, in which Chalabi says that it doesn't matter what was said before, the Americans are in Baghdad and Saddam is out.
When asked "Why should the administration have depended on this one defector?", McCain reiterated the 'end justifies the means" mantra. Once he got past that, however, he did state that the president needs good intelligence to make decisions. Our intelligence process needs review, and that the 9/11 commission is going to come up with ways to fix this system.
Russert brought up that Chalabi is still being given over $3.5 million a year - "For what?" he asked. McCain dissembled.
What if North Korea and Iran were to become bigger problems. Would Bush be believed if he spoke to the American people? McCain felt that he would, but in the wake of the 9/11 commission, there would be more questions. He repeated that the intelligence services needed a reorganization.
Russert introduced the now-declassified August 6 PDB, asking if it was as historical as Condi Rice claimed. McCain felt that it was mostly accurate, and that it should have raised more alarm at the time. (Lisa Myers later said that she felt that the 'alarming' parts were 'understated'.) McCain felt that the administration, Congress, the intelligence agencies, even the media, all share part of the responsibility for the terrorist threat not being taken more seriously. "Al Qaeda is to be blamed for 9/11," he declared. He also felt that Rice did a good job before the 9/11 commission in presenting the adminstration's case.
Russert decided to end on a light note. He presented some quotes from Democrats close to the Kerry campaign suggesting that McCain would be the best choice Kerry could make for a running mate. "Will you be John F. Kerry's VP?" McCain responded, "What part of 'NO!' does anyone not understand?" He declared that under no circumstances will he run for VP, not even as a Republican. He would remain a Senator where he would have some influence over policy. He supports Bush for a second term, and feels he deserves it.
Russert reverted to recent form by trying to score a cheap shot on John F. Kerry. "Is George Bush a better man than John F. Kerry?" he asked.
McCain, to his credit, didn't rise to the bait. He said that he respected Kerry, that they were friends, and that with a 51-49 senate one has to work across the aisle to get anything passed.
After a few platitutinal comments about courage and what it means, the interview ended.
After seeing this performance of McCain's, it would behoove the Kerry people to get realistic and forget about a dream ticket of Kerry/McCain. It ain't gonna happen. Better they get serious about finding a good choice from among the other candidates, or from someone not yet considered who would be a good addition to the ticket. While some of the polls show John F. Kerry with a good lead this weekend, it's still a long way to November. And despite all of our wishes to the contrary, Bush still has a lot of support in this country and still has the potential to win, especially if John F. Kerry doesn't get back on the ball and take the campaign where it needs to go - forcefully!