Thomas: McCain has "guts" for demanding unfeasible troop surge


On Imus in the Morning, Newsweek's Evan Thomas characterized John McCain's proposal to increase troop levels in Baghdad for the purpose of gaining control of the security situation on the ground as "having the guts to send in ... more troops." Neither Thomas nor Don Imus noted serious questions about the feasibility of McCain's proposal.

On the December 11 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas characterized Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) proposal to increase troop levels in Baghdad for the purpose of gaining control of the security situation on the ground as "having the guts to send in ... more troops." Neither Thomas nor host Don Imus noted serious questions regarding the feasibility of McCain's proposal given the current strain on the U.S. military.

When CNN's Wolf Blitzer baselessly claimed that McCain's position was "a Profiles in Courage kind of statement," Media Matters for America noted that on the November 20 edition of NPR's Morning Edition, National Public Radio senior news analyst Cokie Roberts stated that McCain's plan is "a somewhat convenient position, because he can always say, 'No one tried to win the war the way that I suggested to win it," adding, "I think that this is a position that is useful for Senator McCain." She added that the military is unlikely to adopt McCain's proposal to increase the U.S. troop presence in Iraq by 20,000 because, she said, referring to a comment by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the "Army is so depleted." Additionally, as noted by Media Matters, McCain's plan to increase the number of troops has come under fire from conservative supporters of the war such as Frank Gaffney Jr., president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy. In an October 30 article, New York Sun staff reporter Josh Gerstein reported that Gaffney had argued that "McCain's approach was essentially unworkable." Gerstein quoted Gaffney as saying: "We'd be hard pressed to put 20,000 more people on the ground."

Additionally, as Media Matters has noted, General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, told McCain at a November 15 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he "met with every divisional commander" and asked them "if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?" Abizaid added that "they all said no."

Thomas also claimed that his impression of McCain is that he sees "McCain as doing what McCain thinks is right" and added that "more than other politicians, that has been his track record." However, in a May 21 interview on Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, McCain admitted to host Chris Wallace that he has "from time to time" done things "for political expediency," explaining that his 2000 decision to suggest that he supported South Carolina's decision to fly the Confederate flag above its statehouse was "an act of cowardice" because he did it so as not to "alienate a certain voting bloc."

From the December 11 broadcast of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: I wonder what McCain, what's his -- I mean --

THOMAS: Well, he's still for this last -- I mean, there is a school of thought that says we should "surge," as they put it, you know, take one last shot at Baghdad with 20,000 more troops. But Baker says, and I agree with this, that all the evidence is that whatever we do -- we can go in, and our Marines and soldiers -- Army soldiers can clear a place and kill a bunch of bad -- you know, wrongdoers, but then, what do you -- then what? Because the Iraqi army is not able to come in and keep peace and stability. So yeah, we could surge some forces. We could probably bring a measure of peace to Baghdad for a little while, and then it would all collapse again, so why -- you know, why sacrifice more young American men when it's just not working?

IMUS: There's a cynical view of McCain's position in the current issue, I hate to mention this, of Time magazine. Well, I don't hate to mention it, but I know it irritates you guys when I do, but, sort of -- maybe not you, but --

THOMAS: No, it doesn't irritate me.

IMUS: -- to indicate that this may be more about politics, McCain's view. Although McCain's -- somebody who works for him says, "No, it's what the senator believes."

THOMAS: Yeah, no, I believe the latter. Look, McCain is a politician for sure. And he can get away with calling for more troops because he himself suffered in the prison camp, so he's on a high -- a kind of moral high ground where he can call for more troops in a way that you or I could not. So, yeah, I mean -- he could be cynical, but I just -- that's not the way I read McCain. I read McCain as doing what McCain thinks is right. I mean, that's been -- more than other politicians, that has been his track record.

IMUS: He is kind of positioning himself, though, speaking about politics just for a second -- to try to win the nomination. And then, I guess, as they all do, then move back over toward the center and try to win the general election, is that --

THOMAS: Yeah, well, that's what's politics -- you have to do that. But look, McCain has been consistent. It's not like McCain has changed on this.

IMUS: Right.

THOMAS: He's always been a hawk. He's a hawk on everything. He's always a hawk on taking -- having the guts to send in troops or more troops. He was in Bosnia. This predates even Iraq. That's a consistent position for John McCain to take. I don't agree with it, but I don't think it's cynical.

From the May 21 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Aren't you trying to pull off a pretty tough political challenge here, some would say it's even threading the needle, to be, whether you want it or not, the front-runner for the nomination, but at the same time to be the straight-talking political maverick?

McCAIN: Well, first of all, I haven't decided whether to run or not, but more importantly --

WALLACE: We don't care whether you've decided or not, Senator.

McCAIN: -- more importantly, I've found in my life that when I do what I think is right -- for example, on the marriage amendment -- it always turns out in the end OK. When I do things for political expediency, which I have from time to time, it's always turned out poorly. For better or worse, I have a pretty good compass as to what my political philosophy and base and beliefs are, and I have to stick with them.

WALLACE: Give me an example, since you bring it up. What have you done? What would you admit you did for political expediency?

McCAIN: I went down to South Carolina and said that the flag that was flying over the state capitol, which was a Confederate flag, was -- that I shouldn't be involved in it, it was a state issue. It was an act of cowardice.

WALLACE: Act of cowardice on your part.

McCAIN: Yes.

WALLACE: And you did it because you thought, "This will help me in the South Carolina primary in 2000."

McCAIN: Yeah, sure, this won't alienate a certain voting bloc. And I lost anyway.

WALLACE: Well, so -- and how did you -- I mean, did you sit there -- because I know you're a man of strong opinions. How did you sit there and say "You know, I don't believe this, but I'm going to say it anyway"?

McCAIN: Oh, we're all gifted, no matter how principled we are, with the gift of rationalization. But I knew it was wrong at the time, but I rationalized it: Well, you know, I can use this as a way to avoid a political, you know, downside. And it was wrong.

WALLACE: And how do you know that if you were to run and become president that you wouldn't do that again?

McCAIN: Well, I've learned a lot of lessons in my life. I'm older than dirt. I've got more scars than Frankenstein, but I've learned a lot of things along the way. And that was a very strong lesson for me. And there have been other times in my life. But I can tell you that I know the difference between right and wrong.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Evan Thomas
Imus in the Morning
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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