Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another encounter of the press with St. McCain

Here's another manifestation of the collapse of our political press, a phenemenon that indeed (with timely assistance from the Supreme Court's Scalia Five) put Dick Cheney in charge of American foreign policy, helped him start the Iraq War, and do lots more damage besides.

Chris Matthews' favorite man-crush John "100 Years War" McCain attracted some more attention for saying on Wednesday that getting American troops out of Iraq was "not that important" to him. Even Josh Marshall (Ex Post McCaino TPM 06/11/08) treated it as a "gotcha" moment.

But are any reporters ever going to ask McCain what he means when he talks about reducing American casualties in Iraq while the troops are still there? In the short run, I don't see many possibilities. "Standing up" that fabled Iraqi army would be one. But that ain't happened yet, and I wouldn't bet big sums on it happening sooner than five years minimum. Buying off local warlords to not shoot at US troops would help. We've actually been doing some of that. But that strategy was the real core of Rummy's "Afghanistan model". And that war just keeps escalating.

What the military always thinks they can do to control US casualties in the field are two things above all: rely more on firepower (heavy artillery), and intensify the air war. My guess is that McCain intends to do a lot of the latter and maybe a lot of the former, too. That means dropping many more 500- and 2000-lb. bombs in Iraqi cities, almost every one of which probably kills one or more civilian noncombatants. In other words, I expect McCain to try to escalate with air power under the delusion that it will "win" the war and, in the shorter run, reduce American casualties.

He's also operating under one of the favorite delusions of air power zealots that American casualties and only American casualties drive public opposition to war. And, if every voter was as dumb as your average Big Pundit, that might be true. But fortunately the average voter hasn't descended to that level.

Reporters need to be doing a lot more than playing "gotcha" with stories like this.

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