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HOW BUSH IS WIPING OUT McCAIN

by Alexander Cockburn

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McCain, the Man Who Would Be Bush

Amid these very bad weeks for Republican John McCain's hopes for victory in November, the cruelest blow of all is surely that President George Bush has plainly decided to let McCain sink, without even pretending to toss a life belt to his fellow Republican.

Two mean-spirited men by nature, Bush and McCain have never liked each other much, and this natural animosity was fanned by the vicious nomination fights of 2000, when Bush routed McCain with salvoes of slurs, including one about a black "love child" supposedly disfiguring the senator's escutcheon. Both are now in poor political shape, with contradictory strategies for rehabbing their fortunes.

The president is saddled with an approval rating bumping along in the 20s. Each day he is served another platter of contemptuous stories about "the worst presidency of modern times," the lack of any enduring "legacy," the approaching Democratic landslide that will put the Republicans in the wilderness for at least two terms.


For his part, McCain trails Obama, according to most polls. He flails wildly, whining that it's Obama's fault that the price of oil is bankrupting Americans. He is cursed with misfortune. A scheduled photo-op flight to an oil rig to call for more offshore drilling had to be cancelled because of a tropical storm. His plea for more refineries had to compete with news reports of a catastrophic oil spill on the Mississippi. Supposedly versed in foreign affairs, he refers to "Czechoslovakia" and the "Iraq-Pakistan border."

Reporters with McCain realize gloomily that their candidate may not be leading them into a coveted slot in the White House press corps. So their reports get splenetic and morose, in distinction to the ecstatic bulletins from Obama's campaign planes.

Aside from the race factor most definitely not to be underestimated -- his last best hope had always been a steady pounding of the war drum against Iran. Then he could strut about on the poop deck as a man seasoned in the grim business of putting Americans in harm's way, in contrast to his wimpish opponent.

And indeed, all through the first half of this year, the drum rolls were unceasing. But then, halfway through July, to McCain' mortification, they stopped. Suddenly, the air has fragrant with talk of a possible new dawn in relations between the United States and Iran. Bush sent a senior State Department official, William Burns, to join Washington's allies at a negotiating table with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator (though Burns was told to keep his own mouth shut).

In step with this shocking demonstration of sanity, the White House made no serious attempt to upend Obama's trip to Iraq or excessively ridicule the harmonies from the Democratic candidate and Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki on schedules for U.S. withdrawal. Indeed, noises that could be construed as acceptance of an accelerated schedule emanated from the White House.

If it had so desired, the White House could easily have made Obama's trip extremely uncomfortable. All it would have taken was something such as a provocative overflight of Teheran, with subsequent flexing of muscles.

As final testimony to the disaster for the McCain campaign of Obama's trip to Iraq, the floundering Republican candidate managed to shoehorn himself into talk about a rate of withdrawal from Iraq a good deal brisker than the 100 years of occupation he was talking about in the spring, or even the 2013 deadline he subsequently settled on.

The fact is that the peace lobby in Washington has scored another victory over the war party, just as it did with the joint assessment of the intelligence services last year that war on Iran was a rotten idea. This time, wiser heads than Dick Cheney's have acknowledged the fact that the price rises for fuel are savaging an already weak economy and tottering credit system. War on Iran would be the coup de grace.

At the Republican convention in St. Paul at the start of September, Bush will deliver a speech on the first day. Of course he could use it as a trumpet blast, draping the warrior's mantle around McCain's venerable shoulders. But it's more likely now that Bush will announce yet again, "Mission Accomplished." What does that leave McCain with, against the candidate of hope and change?


© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   July 31, 2008   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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