OK, McCain, what does “victory” mean?

John McCain has got to stop this Al Qaeda crap. First all, it’s crap and he knows it. That grand left-wing Commite pinko organizaiton The Pentagon and all those “commanders on the ground” that the Bush Administration is so fond of quoting generally agree that the home-grown Al Qaeda in Iraq is perhaps 2% of the insurgents (and only loosely connected — more for PR purposes than anything else — with the bin Laden Al Qaeda).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do kind of, sort of like John McCain overall. (I certainly don’t want him to be President, but that’s a different set of issues). I admire his courage while a prisoner of the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam war and his loyalty to his fellow prisoners, even at his own personal safety. He’s lapsed a bit lately on the terror question (the recent vote in the Senate), but overall he’s been steadfast in the belief that the United States should not be torturing those captured, whether actual “prisoners of war” or mere “enemy combatants.” He’s lately been reiterating that under a McCain administration, there will be torture. Good for him. For one thing, he knows that torture seldom works, or produces useless information. He seems far less an ideologue than Bush and Cheney are and more willing to work with Democrats in the interests of the country.

It’s kind of telling, though, that McCain recently made the gaffe (not for the first time, either) of stating that Iran was involved in training Al Qaeda extremists in Iraq. McCain was quick to acknowledge that, of course, the Shiite Iranians were not more likely to be training the Sunni Al Qaeda guerillas than Condi Rice is likely to be voting for Obama for President.

McCain have been saying over and over that “my friends, we are winning in Iraq,” and that if we leave, we will have “surrendered.” Which beings up the questions: winning what exactly? And surrender to whom? We seem to have tamped down the violence in Iraq by a combination of a “[America] cop on every corner” and paying off the extremists to not fight. This seems tenuous at best, and likely to last only as long as we keep at least the level of troops in Iraq that we currently have. This approach is not popular with the vast majority of the American people, to say the least.

One of the reasons cited for not beginning to withdraw from Iraq is that “Al Qaeda will claim victory.” Someone needs to point John McCain (via the newfangled Internet thing) to some of the numerous Al Qaeda websites. They already are claiming “victory” over the US in Iraq. They will continue to claim victory, regardless of what actually happens on the ground in Iraq. Osama bin Laden has been claiming credit and/or victory for all sorts of things in the years he has been releasing manifestos and videos; it’s unlikely that an American “victory” in Iraq is going to change that.

The more fundamental question is: do we allow Al Qaeda’s publicity machine to determine American foreign policy? As some have pointed out, America isn’t much of a superpower if we can be cowed into fear by a guy living in a cave with a satellite dish and a web site.

What McCain is doing is continuing the Bush/Cheney tactics of linking the attacks of 9/11 with the Iraq war. In an article on military deserters seeking asylum in Canada, the NY Times noted that many of the vets “signed up thinking that Iraq was responsible for the attacks of September 11th.” I wonder where they got that idea from? There is some justification to the assertion that a McCain presidency would be the “third Bush term.”

Perhaps McCain really believes what he says. This is, after all, a candidate who has said kind things about his rivals of both parties, and who generally has been conducting a “respectful campaign of differences.” But there just this nagging suspicion that the desire to be President has overtaken the desire to be right.

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