| July 19, 2016
Trump Had Evangelicals at "Hello"
As Donald Trump began steamrolling his Republican competition earlier this year, some evangelical leaders grew concerned. And why not? The formerly pro-choice real estate developer and casino mogul turned GOP frontrunner who once boasted of his dating conquests and personal Vietnam war against sexually transmitted diseases had become a poster child for the notion that marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid succession. Articles with titles like "10 reasons you can't be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump" and "Donald Trump is not the moral leader we need" started to appear. On the eve of the Iowa caucus, the National Review fretted about The Donald's steadfastness on abortion, same-sex marriage, poverty, and supposed religious liberty, warning:
[C]onservative Christians who seek to elevate someone who shares their principles and commitments should carefully consider Trump's biography before making their decision.
But if these evangelicals worried that their co-religionists were going to be left behind by Donald Trump, they needn't have. As a new Pew Research Center survey this week revealed, Trump is already outperforming Mitt Romney, John McCain and George W. Bush among white evangelical voters. His jaw-dropping 61-point margin over Democrat Hillary Clinton shows his success at speaking to their fears, if not their hopes. As it turns out, the born-again embrace of Trump's brand of nostalgic 1950's nationalism began when he first considered running for the White House five years ago.
He may be a Presbyterian who thinks Two Corinthians walked into a bar, but Donald Trump clearly commands the backing of white, born-again voters. As CNN reported, their support is motivated less by their love of God than their hatred of Hillary:
If the election were held today, 78% of white evangelical registered voters say they would vote for Trump, including about a third who "strongly" back his campaign. That number is higher than the 73% of white evangelicals who supported Romney at a similar point during the 2012 election...
The poll shows that a major factor in evangelicals choosing Trump is their opposition to Clinton. More white evangelicals -- 45% -- are choosing Trump in a vote against Clinton as opposed to the 30% who are for Trump.
Those numbers represent a major--and rapid--improvement from earlier this year. In January, a previous Pew poll "found nearly three-in-10 white evangelicals resistant to the idea of his candidacy, saying he would make a 'poor' or 'terrible' president." With Trump performing surprisingly well among evangelicals in the early primaries compared to Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dr. Ben Carson, Geoffrey Layman examined the 2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) Pilot Study and found that:
The key to understanding Trump's support among evangelicals is to realize that some evangelicals' commitment to the faith is shaky, too. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don't really go to church.
But it was already becoming clear five years ago that Trump's checkered past wouldn't be a barrier to evangelicals checking the box next to his name. In early 2011, just two years after switching to the Republican Party, the Donald began testing the waters for a 2012 run for the GOP nomination. By that March, the new face of the Birther movement was rewarded with a weekly Fox News segment called "Monday Mornings with Trump." Despite Trump's admission that he's "not a really good husband," David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) suggested he could nevertheless be a great choice for President:
Before you watch the Donald Trump's interview with Bill O'Reilly last night let me sum up the main points that Evangelicals might be interested in:
- He's opposed to gay marriage.
- He's pro-life.
- He says "There is a Muslim problem" in the World.
- He says, "There is a doubt as to whether or not (Barack Obama) was born here."
As it turns out, Brody was not alone. As he breathlessly reported at the time, Donald Trump was getting some serious attention from some of the biggest names in evangelical politics:
Ralph Reed, one of the top GOP strategists in the country and Chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition tells The Brody File, "There is a nascent and growing curiosity in the faith community about Trump. Evangelicals will like his pro-life and pro-marriage stances, combined with his business record and high-wattage celebrity all but guarantee he will get a close look from social conservatives as well as other Republican primary voters." Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council is curious to hear more as well. "Given Donald Trump's background in the gambling industry and his flamboyancy one would not think he would be a fit with Evangelical voters. However, given the wide open field of candidates, strong statements that Trump has recently made on core social issues combined with an overarching desire to see a new occupant in the White House, he may find support among social conservatives."
(Then as now, Ralph Reed was the perfect partner to proselytize for Trump. Like The Donald, the Christian Coalition's dirty trickster takes no prisoners, boasting in 1991:
"I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."
Along with his business buddy Jack Abramoff, Reed also enjoyed golf outings in Scotland. And like Trump, Reed made millions in the casino racket, playing one Native American tribe against the other. And while Donald Trump famously mocked Natives Americans during Congressional testimony, Abramoff and Reed exchanged emails branding their own clients "troglodytes" and "monkeys.")
As we fast forward to 2016, the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee has Perkins, Reed and many more evangelicals in his corner. As Reed told Trump at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Road to Majority Conference in June, "You don't need to quote scripture, just come and be yourself." As it turns out, The Art of the Deal author struck a mutually beneficial deal to make it possible. The policy agnostic Trump will do the evangelicals' bidding in exchange for their help in making his path to power possible. As white Christian America continues its demographic decline from 54 percent of the population in 2008 to just 45 percent now, the GOP's born-again brain trust is desperate for what The Donald has to offer.
Robert P. Jones, author of the new book, The End of White Christian America, explained the bargain. As Joan Walsh summed it up in The Nation:
[S]hockingly to many, white evangelicals gave a majority of their votes to a thrice-married libertine with little history of religious piety, Donald Trump. The answer, Jones told me in an interview, lies with one of PRRI's key research findings: Seventy-two percent of white evangelicals say the country has gotten worse since the 1950s. In a February piece in The Atlantic, Jones explained how the "Values Voters" of the last few decades have become "Nostalgia Voters" in the age of Obama, and Trump is the man they trust to restore the country's golden age. More than six in 10 white evangelicals believe discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against black people, PRRI has found; two-thirds think immigrants take jobs and drain tax dollars.
"They saw Cruz as fighting old-school culture wars, and they trust Trump to turn back the whole tide," Jones told me. Trump deftly combined three overlapping but separate GOP constituencies: the adherents to the old Southern strategy (with its Northern admirers), the Christian right, and the Tea Party. As the campaign began last year, many observers, including myself, thought those groups might fight among themselves; Trump found a way to unite them--around nostalgia for a better day, as well as around race.
Nostalgia around race, indeed. As the New York Times reported this week ("For whites sensing decline, Donald Trump unleashes words of resistance"):
In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump's name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans' public discussion of race.
Mr. Trump has attacked Mexicans as criminals. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants. He has wondered aloud why the United States is not "letting people in from Europe."
Most evangelical leaders seem to have no issue with that. James Dobson, perhaps previously best known for his crusade against SpongeBob Squarepants, claimed that Trump had been born-again. "If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn't have a clue about how believers think, talk and act." Dobson said, "All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death." As for Reed, he insists that all Trump needs to do is "emphasize the fact that he shares their views on certain core social, cultural and moral issues, life, marriage, support for the state of Israel, opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and support for religious liberty. He is good on every one of those."
And as their de facto agreement calls for, evangelicals are getting almost everything they want in the 2016 Republican platform. Tony Perkins is certainly pleased with the hardline abortion plank, as well as support for so-called "gay conversion therapy." Opposition to a two-state solution and an undivided Jerusalem, the position of white evangelical if not Jewish Americans, is central to the platform's plank of Israel. Liberty University President, the Reverend Jerry Falwell Jr., gushed over one of the platform's greatest gifts of all: Donald Trump's promise to repeal the "Johnson Amendment," which "changed the U.S. tax code to bar tax-exempt organizations such as churches and nonprofits from backing or opposing political candidates."
"This is going to create a revolution among Christian leaders, nonprofit universities, and nonprofits in general," Falwell, who endorsed Trump in January, said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The influential evangelical leader -- who took over Liberty following the 2007 death of his father, university founder Jerry Falwell Sr. -- said repeal of the law, which would require congressional action, would be "the biggest thing for evangelical Christians to come along in decades," asserting they have been "silenced by arcane rules" from exercising "political free speech."
For his part, Trump told evangelical leaders in June, "I think maybe that will be my greatest contribution to Christianity."
It is true, some big names, like Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and homeschooling pioneer Michael Farris, aren't happy that their fellow evangelicals sold their souls to the devil. But as the polling numbers show, their white followers have fallen in line, if not in love, with Donald Trump. And that, as the Associated Press recounted, is just their part of what is just another deal for The Donald:
"Almost every deal I have ever done has been at least partly for my ego," the billionaire declared in a 1995 New York Times opinion piece titled, "What My Ego Wants, My Ego Gets."
That's not all he said. "People need ego; whole nations need ego." And for Trump's ego, "the important thing is the getting, not the having." America's white evangelicals may be rapturous at the prospect of Donald Trump getting and having the White House. For most of the rest of us, that would be hell on earth.
| July 16, 2016
Donald Trump Fails the Commander-in-Chief Test
Thursday, July 14, represented Donald Trump's first test as the would-be commander-in-chief of the United States. He failed it badly. Facing the unexpected need to react to the carnage in Nice, France, on the eve of his vice-presidential announcement, Trump stumbled, froze, raged, and ultimately beclowned himself on a global stage. The man who would command America's armed forces couldn't keep a secret, waffled on his decision, and rushed to declare war on an unknown enemy.
Trump's first operation--selecting and announcing a running mate--revealed a complete lack of command, control and communications. After endlessly attacking Hillary Clinton over her email practices, the Trump Army couldn't keep The Donald's evangelically-blessed choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence secret for even 24 hours before the planned Friday morning unveiling. When the news leaked before Trump had even formally extended the offer to Pence and his fellow contenders, Trump decided to use the bloodbath in France as a smokescreen for his bungling. As Kelly O'Donnell reported for MSNBC, the supposedly tough-talking, $10 billion man moved his announcement event to Saturday not out of respect for the dead, but out of cowardice.
Continue reading at Daily Kos.
| July 11, 2016
Republicans Show How It's Done
They say the best defense is a good offense. As the GOP prepares for its convention in Cleveland, Republicans have little other choice. After all, the Party of Lincoln is about to officially crown the pathological liar, race-baiting bigot and parasite posing as a populist Donald Trump as its nominee for President of the United States. Voters in Ohio and around the country would do well to remember that many of the GOP's best and brightest are shunning the Buckeye State altogether rather be seen trying to defend the indefensible.
Which is why Republicans and their water carriers are launching an all-out attack on Secretary Hillary Clinton over her email practices at the State Department. When Rep. Trey Gowdy's $7 million Benghazi Committee finally wrapped up the eighth and final investigation to find no wrongdoing in the tragedy that claimed four Americans in Libya, the manufactured uproar over the Justice Department's conclusion that Clinton's ill-advised email server did not constitute a basis for criminal prosecution became the only arrow left in the Republican quiver.
So while Donald Trump baselessly accused Clinton of bribing Attorney General Loretta Lynch, his hit-man Carl Paladino tweeted, "Lynch Loretta Lynch." Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) demanded FBI Director and former Bush Deputy General James Comey explain to Congress why he refused to charge Secretary Clinton. On the op-ed pages, Bush torture enthusiasts Michael Mukasey and Marc Thiessen predictably produced bogus indictments of their own. And on TV, Mukasey's predecessor Alberto Gonzales, perhaps best-known for telling the Senate "I don't recall remembering that" about the Bush administration's U.S. Attorneys purge he oversaw, questioned Comey's "credibility and judgment."
But as the Party of Trump gets the band back together to smear Hillary Clinton, it's worth recalling just how effective this same cast of characters was on defense. After all, while suffering only a few prominent casualties like convicted felon Scooter Libby, the administration of Republican George W. Bush managed to survive 8 years of almost non-stop scandals. From its historic failure on 9/11, the manipulation of Iraq intelligence, the prosecutors purge and 22 million missing emails to the Abramoff affair, Plamegate, illicit NSA domestic surveillance and so much more, Team Bush weathered it all.
Here, then, is a look back at just 15 of the tactics Republicans used to get it done.
Continue reading at Daily Kos.
| July 8, 2016
President Trump Promises the Next Great Depression
In Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Republican White House hopeful Donald Trump delivered a blistering attack on U.S. trade policy. Unfortunately, he chose the wrong week to proclaim, "We Are Going To Make America Great Again For Everyone--Greater Than Ever Before." Just the day before, the deficit-hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB) offered just the latest analysis showing Trump's massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy would fuel $11.5 trillion in additional national debt over the next decade. That dire forecast arrived hot on the heels of a study by former John McCain adviser and current Hillary Clinton donor Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics which found that if all of Trump's proposed policies became reality "the U.S. economy would plunge back into recession, losing millions of jobs."
But as horrifying as the predicted numbers would be under President Trump--a long recession from 2018 through 2020, 3.5 million jobs lost, unemployment catapulting to 7.4 percent and the U.S. economy-shrinking by 2.4 percent--America's future could actually be much worse. That's because there's one other Trump pledge neither analysis took into account. As he explained it to Bob Woodward on March 31, Trump proclaimed he could eliminate the entire national debt "fairly quickly." Just how how quickly?
"Well, I would say over a period of eight years."
You read that right. To erase all of Uncle Sam's red ink current and projected by the end of his second term, President Donald Trump would have to slash federal spending by over 90 percent. (See chart above.) That's not just the budgetary equivalent of causing the sun to rise in the west or switching off gravity on Earth. Trump's ax would trigger a global economic calamity leaving Americans nostalgic for the Great Depression.
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Trump's is a superhighway constructed from bullshit. And it starts with upper-class tax cuts so large they make Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush look like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
During the Republican primaries, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimated the 10-year cost of the Trump tax plan at between $9.5 trillion and $12 trillion dollars. By cutting the top income tax rate from 39.6 to 25 percent, capping the dividend and capitals gains rate at 20 and allowing "pass-through" businesses and partnerships to pay only a 15 percent rate, Trump would deliver a huge payday to the top one percent of earners. Businesses, too, would benefit as the statutory corporate tax rate was slashed from 35 to 15 percent. (On top of that, the elimination of the estate tax, paid by less than a quarter of one percent of all fortunes, would on paper at least redirect billions of Trump's supposed $10 billion wealth from the United States Treasury to his heirs.) At the end of the day, the richest 0.1 percent of households--those earning at least $3.7 million a year--would on average pocket $1.3 million annually. As TPC concluded:
These are tectonic shifts in tax policy.
Tectonic shifts, too, for Uncle Sam's bottom line. As McClatchy reported on Tuesday:
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which analyzed the plans of all the main presidential candidates, found that Trump's plans would add $11.5 trillion over the next 10 years, causing the debt to rise to 127 percent of the gross domestic product by 2026. The plan of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, would also increase the national debt, but by less, adding $250 billion to the debt over a decade, bringing it to 87 percent of the GDP by 2026 -- which closely mirrors current projections.
And those current projections show the full extent of the red ink President Trump would have to mop-up over his two terms in office. According to the March 2016 forecast from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the next President will inherit a national debt of roughly $19.3 trillion dollars. Under the current baseline forecast--that is, no changes to today's federal policies--the federal government will run up an additional $6.7 trillion over the next years. (As the table at the top shows, spending is projected to exceed tax revenue by $38.9 trillion versus $32.2 trillion.) But on top of that $26 trillion in debt, President The Donald over his 8-year tenure would add yet another $9.2 trillion. (That figure is pro-rated from CRFB's 10 year-forecast.)
So to keep his promise, President Trump would have to eliminate $35.2 trillion in debt "over a period of 8 years." But to that from spending cuts alone would be virtually impossible: Trump would have to slash a mind-blowing 91 percent of all federal spending from 2017 through 2024.
Now, there are still two problems with fulfilling Trump's dangerous and contradictory promises for the government's budget, even for the most ardent of the "drown it in a bathtub" crowd. Assuming he could find a magic wand to make $35.3 trillion in spending disappear from a $38.9 trillion, 8-year budget, the U.S. economy would be a devastated hellscape if President Trump got anywhere close. As ThinkProgress pointed out when a balanced budget amendment was being kicked around Congress four years ago, even those comparatively modest cuts would produce an economic calamity on the scale of the Great Depression:
If the 2012 budget were balanced through spending cuts, those cuts would total about $1.5 trillion in 2012 alone, the analysis estimates. Those cuts would throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.
But President Trump would never get that far due to a second problem with his kamikaze cuts. Only about 30 percent of the federal budget is "discretionary," that is, subject to changing Congressional appropriations each year. The rest, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the national debt, is mandatory spending previously set into law by Congress and the President. In fiscal year 2016 which ends on September 30, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) forecasts that discretionary spending will reach $1.22 trillion dollars, or 31 percent of the $3.9 trillion total. Of those discretionary dollars, defense spending makes up $595 billion, or almost half. Everything else the federal government does--foreign aid, R&D, education, transportation, veterans' services, makes up the rest. So, even if President Trump wanted to commit national economic suicide, he would need Congress to go along and make it happen. Either way, The Donald would have to violate on of his other campaign promises: no cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Now, there are four Trump and his water-carriers will offer to explain away his utter defeat at the hands of basic math. The first is the latest variation on the old Republican "dynamic scoring" scam. In GOP mythology, the hemorrhaging from the United States Treasury will magically be cauterized by the extra economic growth incentivized by lower tax rates. But this isn't just a case of the last four decades of American history always failing to produce the massive "macroeconomic feedback" that Paul Ryan, Arthur Laffer and their ilk predict. As CRFB's resident deficit scold Maya MacGuineas summed it up:
For Trump, it would take 5.4 percent annual growth to stabilize the debt, and over 10 percent to balance the budget. For some context, we haven't had 5 percent growth since the late 60s and early 70s -- and back then we didn't have nearly as many people about to retire and leave the labor force.
But as a wide array of analysts across the political spectrum have warned, the U.S. would not experience explosive--and unprecedented--economic growth under a President Trump. Far from it. Even before his speech outside Pittsburgh this week, the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNBC all warned a crippling economic blowback from the trade war which would necessarily ensue from Trump's proposed 35 and 45 percent tariffs on Mexican and Chinese imports. An analysis prepared by Moody's Analytics found that:
They would, in fact, sock it to China and Mexico. Both would fall into recession, the model suggests, if Trump levied his proposed tariffs and those countries retaliated with tariffs of their own.
Unfortunately, the United States would fall into recession, too. Up to 4 million American workers would lose their jobs. Another 3 million jobs would not be created that otherwise would have been, had the country not fallen into a trade-induced downturn.
All of which destroys Trump's second defense of his comically calamitous budget. As he boasted to Woodward, tearing up existing U.S. trade deals will make it rain for the Treasury:
"The power is trade. Our deals are so bad...I'm renegotiating all of our deals, Bob. The big trade deals that we're doing so badly on. With China, $505 billion this year in trade. We're losing with everybody."
Leave aside for the moment that Trump has the number wrong (it's $366 billion) and that he appears to be confusing America's annual trade deficit with the federal budget deficit. As the overwhelming consensus of economists argue, Trump's draconian tariff barriers would reverse economic growth, cost millions of jobs and drive down federal tax collections. Far from reducing the national debt, Trump's program of protectionism would make it worse.
Which is why Donald "Orange Crash" Trump briefly flirted with a third defense of his hallucinogenic budget. President Trump will deal with his rapidly growing mountain of debt by simply refusing to pay it all back. "I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal," he explained in May, "And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can't lose." But as the New York Times pointed out to the very confused Mr. Trump:
Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent. The United States government is able to borrow money at very low interest rates because Treasury securities are regarded as a safe investment, and any cracks in investor confidence have a long history of costing American taxpayers a lot of money.
Experts also described Mr. Trump's proposal as fanciful, saying there was no reason to think America's creditors would accept anything less than 100 cents on the dollar, regardless of Mr. Trump's deal-making prowess.
"No one on the other side would pick up the phone if the secretary of the U.S. Treasury tried to make that call," said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP. "Why should they? They have a contract" requiring payment in full.
That's why Matthew Yglesias warned last month, "Donald Trump just threatened to cause an unprecedented global financial crisis." But you don't have to take his word for it--or mine. As now Speaker Paul Ryan put it before the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, "You can't not raise the debt ceiling." His predecessor, John Boehner, explained why:
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy."
Standard & Poor's certainly agreed during its Tea Party downgrade of the U.S. credit rating in the summer of 2011. After Republican debt ceiling hostage-taking hammered American job creation and consumer confidence, an astonished S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji warned:
"[P]eople in the political arena were even talking about a potential default. That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable. This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
No, it is not. And that's why Team Trump deploys its fourth and last line of defense whenever the would-be President scares the bejesus out of global financial markets. The Donald, they'll argue, either just didn't mean what he said or never said it at all. "People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt, and I mean, these people are crazy," Trump told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, OK?" As for that March promise to erase the national debt "over a period of 8 years," Trump insisted to Stephen Gandel of Fortune less than a month later that it never happened:
FORTUNE: You've said you plan to pay off the country's debt in 10 years. How's that possible?
TRUMP: No, I didn't say 10 years...
FORTUNE: How much of the debt could you pay off in 10 years?
TRUMP: You could pay off a percentage of it.
FORTUNE: What percentage?
TRUMP: It depends on how aggressive you want to be. I'd rather not be so aggressive.
The kindest interpretation of this and other similar episodes is that businessman, CEO and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump simply doesn't know anything about the federal budget and the U.S. economy. A more cynical reading is that Trump is a pathological liar, the most venal kind of profit-seeking con man. Judging from the polls, more and more people apparently believe both.
So, too, do more and more of his fellow tycoons. A recent survey of Fortune 500 CEO's found that the leaders of America's largest companies clearly prefer Democrat Hillary Clinton over The Donald by a 58 to 42 percent margin. They are joined by former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, now a Clinton supporter because "a Donald Trump presidency is unthinkable." (For his part, Trump now claims he never heard of Paulson.) And then there's Paul Singer, the Republican bag man who helped funnel tens of millions of dollars to Mitt Romney's Super PAC in 2012. As he put it to CNBC:
"I think if he [Trump] actually stuck to those policies and gets elected president, it's close to a guarantee of a global depression, widespread global depression."
Back in April, economists were surprised and confused by Donald Trump's prediction that the United States is headed for a "very massive recession." It most certainly is, but only if Donald J. Trump is elected President of the United States.
| July 6, 2016
McCain Blames Obama for Afghanistan War He Declared Won in 2003
Three weeks after he expanded the role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, President Obama on Wednesday he would maintain troops levels at 8,400 for the duration of his term. But to make sure the previously planned reduction to 5,500 did not take place, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) launched their own preemptive strikes against Obama in the run-up to today's announcement. But just days after declaring "Barack Obama is directly responsible" for the slaughter at an Orlando night club, McCain told a Pakistani television network that he blames President Obama for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
But if John McCain really wants to point fingers, he should look in the mirror. After all, it wasn't just that McCain was perhaps the most ardent supporter for redirecting U.S. military and intelligence assets from Afghanistan to the calamitous--and unnecessary--invasion of Iraq. As it turns out, by mid-2003 McCain was already declaring the war in Afghanistan won.
As ThinkProgress helpfully recalled, John McCain suffered from repeated bouts of premature emancipation starting in the spring of 2003:
"Nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America." [Hannity & Colmes, 4/10/03]
"The facts on the ground are we went to Afghanistan and we prevailed there." [Wolf Blitzer Reports, 4/1/04]
"Could I add, it was in Afghanistan, as well, there were many people who predicted that Afghanistan would not be a success. So far, it's a remarkable success." [CNN, 3/2/05]
"Afghanistan, we don't read about anymore, because it's succeeded." [Charlie Rose Show, 10/31/05]
Now in McCain's revisionist history, the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban magically un-succeeded in the intervening decade. And somehow, it's all America's fault under Barack Obama:
"I don't blame Ashraf Ghani. I blame the United States of America for not consolidating the gains that we made. And this president has this idea for the last eight years that if we pull out of conflicts, those conflicts end."
Of course, it was President Obama who tripled the U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan after President Bush's war on the cheap let Osama Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in December 2001 and his war in Iraq left the effort to aid the Karzai government in Kabul starved of men and resources. But the Maverick claimed as early November 2003 that diverting troops, equipment and intelligence assets to Iraq did not pose a threat to the fight against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies:
"I think Afghanistan is dicey...but I believe that if Karzai can make the progress that he is making, that in the long term we may muddle through in Afghanistan."
Presidential candidate McCain was still wrong almost five years later when he declared in April 2008 that "Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq." In sharp contrast, from almost the inception of his campaign Senator Barack Obama argued that the redirection of U.S. military assets from Afghanistan to Iraq meant that "the people who were responsible for murdering 3,000 Americans on 9/11 have not been brought to justice." In a June 2008 speech, Obama highlighted McCain's denial of this inescapable point:
"We had al Qaeda and the Taliban on the run back in 2002. But then we diverted military, intelligence, financial, and diplomatic resources to Iraq. And yet Senator McCain has said as recently as this April that, 'Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.' I think that just shows a dangerous misjudgment of the facts, and a stubborn determination to ignore the need to finish the fight in Afghanistan."
But you didn't have to take candidate Obama's word for it. You just needed to listen to Admiral Michael Mullen, at that time Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush. On the very day in July 2008 that 2,200 U.S Marines learned their tours in Afghanistan will be extended by 30 days, Mullen told reporters that the United States could only deploy more forces there by first drawing down from Iraq:
"I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq. Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there."
General David McKiernan, Stanley McChrystal's predecessor on the ground in Afghanistan, agreed with Mullen that the situation along the Pakistan frontier was "precarious and urgent." As McKiernan himself made clear, the only "way" was to get the troops from Iraq:
Finding those particular troops to supplement the 101st, however, depends on conditions and troop levels in Iraq, adds McKiernan, who took over the NATO command in June. "That's really a zero-sum decision."
Meanwhile, candidate Barack Obama wasn't just promising to ramp up the American effort in Afghanistan. He pledged that "if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights." In response to his call for unilateral U.S. strikes against Al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, Obama received only derision from GOP leaders, including President Bush and his 2008 and 2012 Republican opponents for the White House. As John McCain asked American voters at the time:
"Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan?"
Mercifully, voter wisely chose the candidate who would make good on his promise to capture of kill Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders then finding a safe haven in Pakistan. As for John McCain, he was the guy who boasted "I know how to win wars" and repeatedly pledged he would "follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell." Unless, of course, hell was in Pakistan.
As Obama prepares to exit the stage, the way forward in Afghanistan remains treacherous and unclear. Despite the massive increases in U.S. troop strength and resources, Afghanistan's unforgiving geography, complex ethnic and tribal tensions, historical weak central government and foreign meddling make the prospects for American "success" difficult under any scenario. That President Ashraf Ghani has a chance to prevent Afghanistan from completely collapsing into a failed state is in no part due to the counsel of John McCain. After all, as Osama Bin Laden and hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters were escaping Tora Bora to fight another day, John McCain was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. His message in January 2002?
"Next up, Baghdad!"