The dog of war

    John McCain, exercising his customary wisdom, insisted yesterday that we should remain calm about Libya. He said that we should first determine who the rebels really are before we make them our new best friends, and that we should wisely refrain from hurling ourselves headlong into yet another reckless military adventure, unleashing the dogs of war…April Fool!Seriously, folks: On the long list of things to be thankful for, the top entry may well be the fact that John McCain did not become President of the United States.Say what you will about Barack Obama’s foreign policy stewardship, we can at least breathe a sigh of relief that we weren’t saddled with a guy whose impetuous first instinct is to storm around the world with guns blazing. Voters in 2008 dealt McCain the worst Republican defeat since 1964 in part because they sensed he would not be cool in a crisis; for that perception, he had himself to blame. In the summer of ’08, when Russia tangled militarily with the former Soviet state of Georgia, McCain instantly chose up sides and declared, “I know I speak for every American when I say…’Today, we are all Georgians.'”Uh no, we were not all Georgians. The situation over there was highly complicated, the two countries had long been provoking each other – but for McCain, it was all black and white. He’s still the same way about Vietnam (if we’d only been more military aggressive, we would’ve “won”), and Iraq (if we’d only invaded with more troops, we would’ve “won”)…as he is now, predictably, with respect to Libya.McCain was in full hawk mode yesterday during a Senate committee standoff with Pentagon chief Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Michael Mullen, faulting both men for being insufficiently macho. Whereas Gates suggested that America should refrain from widening the war in Libya, and refrain from arming the rebels without first finding out who the heck they were, McCain insisted that America should be throwing its weight around, flexing its “unique offensive capabilities” and taking “every necessary and appropriate action” to weaponize the rebels.I half-expected McCain to declare, “We are all Libyan rebels.”Wouldn’t it be prudent to first determine whether some of these rebels have links to al Qaeda? There has been conflicting intelligence about that. The CIA has reportedly dispatched field agents to Libya, to find out whether the rebels are our kind of people – that alone speaks volumes about our current cluelessness – and Gates himself said at the hearing yesterday that the rebels opposing Moammar Gadhafi are “disparate, disaggregated.” Gates said they are as well organized as “a pickup ballgame.” Basically, “we don’t know very much about the opposition.”McCain dwells in a simpler world. If Gadhafi is bad, then the rebels must be good. If Gadhafi is a notorious tyrant, then the rebels surely must be curling up at night with Thomas Jefferson’s writings, the major league baseball schedule, and recipes for American apple pie. All told, McCain warned yesterday, our failure to speedily arm the rebels and force regime change “would be a profound mistake with potentially disastrous consequences.”The big irony, however, is that the McCain of 2011 is at odds with the McCain of 2009. Less than two years ago, McCain visited Libya and lauded Gadhafi for his diplomacy; in McCain’s words at the time, “ties between the United States and Libya have taken a remarkable and positive turn in recent years.” He also discussed the possibility of shipping Gadhafi some military equipment. McCain even sent out a tweet: “Late evening with Col. Gadhafi at his ‘ranch’ in Libya – interesting meeting with an interesting man.”This might seem surprising, but it’s important to remember that McCain – despite his war-hawk predictability – is also a politician of notoriously flexible convictions. Given his long track record of flip-flops on immigration reform, campaign finance reform, tobacco industry reform, torture, abortion, ethanol, tax cuts for the rich, and so much more, it’s hardly surprising that he would go gunning for Gadhafi so soon after making nice.In fact, the Sunday morning talk shows are so weary of McCain’s knee-jerk militarism and flip-flop proclivities, that they have all decided not to book him anymore…April Fool!The bookers (for whatever inexplicable reason) would never dream of stiffing their favorite guest. Alas, John McCain is clearly a critic-proof phenomenon, something we are apparently doomed to put up with forever, like bad traffic, spring snow, and Charlie Sheen.

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