McCain evolved from reluctant warrior to interventionist





Republican presidential hopeful John McCain fixed his sights on Saddam Hussein long before President Bush sent the U.S. military to oust the Iraqi dictator in March 2003.

Four years earlier, the Arizona senator told a Kansas State University audience that Saddam was amassing illicit weapons, and that the U.S. should arm opposition groups to overthrow him, along with North Korea's leaders and other "odious regimes."

Saddam, however, no longer had any chemical, biological or nuclear arms programs. Covert U.S. efforts to oust him had all failed because the Iraqi opposition was riddled with feuds and Iraqi spies, and because the exiles whom McCain favored — led by Ahmad Chalabi, a purveyor of bogus intelligence on Iraq who also had ties to Iran — had virtually no followers in Iraq.

For years, McCain repeated the same assertions about Iraq's weapons programs and ties to terrorism that the Bush administration later used to make its case for invading Iraq. Today, he insists that the war was right and that last year's surge of additional troops to Iraq has put the U.S. "on the road to victory" there.

Although he's cultivated a maverick image, McCain's fixation with Iraq, and with regime change more generally, is squarely in step with his party's neoconservatives, many of whom now work for his campaign.

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