How quickly he forgets

HOW QUICKLY HE FORGETS…. I really have retired my ongoing count of John McCain’s Sunday show appearances. I’m sure folks have gotten the point — Sunday show bookers continue to be obsessed with McCain, and they shouldn’t be.

With that in mind, I won’t mention that the senator has made five Sunday show appearances over the last six weeks, on top of the near-constant appearances over the last two years. And I also won’t mention how ridiculous this is. Wouldn’t dream of it.

I will, however, mention that it was interesting to hear McCain, who’s demanded a military confrontation with Libya’s Moammar Qadhafi, complain this morning that President Obama didn’t give the senator what he wanted quickly enough.

Earlier action, the senator said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” would have been more effective in weakening the grip of the controversial leader, who’s deployed his forces against rebelling civilians.

“He waited too long, there is no doubt in my mind about it,” McCain said of the president. “But now, it is what it is. And we need, now, to support him and the efforts that our military are going to make. And I regret that it didn’t — we didn’t act much more quickly, and we could have.”

This may be one of the more amusing McCain quotes in a while. To paraphrase, “We should all support the president at this important time, but first I’d like to whine just a little more about the timing on his efforts.”

The often-confused senator went on to tell CNN “a no-fly zone is not enough,” and that McCain wants an even more expansive U.S. military assault against Libya. Try not to be surprised.

As a substantive matter, McCain, whose track record of consistent and striking failures leaves him with no meaningful credibility, is complaining about the only part of this military effort that’s actually reassuring — the methodical steps the administration took to participate in a legitimate international coalition. The senator may not care about such niceties, but “waiting” made it possible for the Arab League and the United Nations to endorse the very actions McCain wanted to see.

But it’s also worth noting the larger political context. It’s easy to forget, but during the Bush era, Republicans, including McCain, repeated certain talking points over and over again: there’s one Commander in Chief and one Secretary of Defense, not 535. When the president orders U.S. troops to engage a foreign foe, it’s not the job of politicians on Capitol Hill to run to the cameras to second guess every White House decision. Indeed, questioning the national security judgment of the president during a war necessarily emboldens our enemies and needlessly divides the country during a delicate time.

At least, that’s what we were told during the previous administration, when the very notion of dissent during military engagement was enough to have one’s patriotism called into question.

In this case, U.S. forces started using force not quite 24 hours ago, and McCain is already telling a national (and international) television audience that he’s unhappy with the particulars.

For the record, I have no problem whatsoever with McCain and others raising questions about the administration’s policy, which obviously deserves intense scrutiny and debate. We’re no longer hearing the talking points from the Bush era, and that’s a healthy development, not only for the quality of the discourse, but for the idea of dissent itself.

Given the source this morning, however, it’s worth noting that if we were playing by 2003 rules, and the senator were a Democrat, we’d spend the next several months asking “which side” McCain is on.

And as long as we’re on the subject, I’m reminded of a Frank Rich column from a while back, noting McCain’s record of being consistently wrong about what’s alleged to be his signature issue.

To appreciate this crowd’s spotless record of failure, consider its noisiest standard-bearer, John McCain. He made every wrong judgment call that could be made after 9/11. It’s not just that he echoed the Bush administration’s constant innuendos that Iraq collaborated with Al Qaeda’s attack on America. Or that he hyped the faulty W.M.D. evidence to the hysterical extreme of fingering Iraq for the anthrax attacks in Washington. Or that he promised we would win the Iraq war “easily.” Or that he predicted that the Sunnis and the Shiites would “probably get along” in post-Saddam Iraq because there was “not a history of clashes” between them.

What’s more mortifying still is that McCain was just as wrong about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He routinely minimized or dismissed the growing threats in both countries over the past six years, lest they draw American resources away from his pet crusade in Iraq.

Two years after 9/11 he was claiming that we could “in the long term” somehow “muddle through” in Afghanistan. (He now has the chutzpah to accuse President Obama of wanting to “muddle through” there.) Even after the insurgency accelerated in Afghanistan in 2005, McCain was still bragging about the “remarkable success” of that prematurely abandoned war. In 2007, some 15 months after the Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf signed a phony “truce” ceding territory on the Afghanistan border to terrorists, McCain gave Musharraf a thumb’s up. As a presidential candidate in the summer of 2008, McCain cared so little about Afghanistan it didn’t even merit a mention among the national security planks on his campaign Web site.

He takes no responsibility for any of this. Asked by Katie Couric last week about our failures in Afghanistan, McCain spoke as if he were an innocent bystander: “I think the reason why we didn’t do a better job on Afghanistan is our attention — either rightly or wrongly — was on Iraq.” As Tonto says to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

Along with his tribunes in Congress and the punditocracy, Wrong-Way McCain still presumes to give America its marching orders. With his Senate brethren in the Three Amigos, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, he took to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page to assert that “we have no choice” but to go all-in on Afghanistan — rightly or wrongly, presumably — just as we had in Iraq. Why? “The U.S. walked away from Afghanistan once before, following the Soviet collapse,” they wrote. “The result was 9/11. We must not make that mistake again.”

This shameless argument assumes — perhaps correctly — that no one in this country remembers anything.

That was in September 2009, and yet here we are, with Wrong-Way McCain still confident enough in his comically flawed judgment to keep giving America its marching orders.

The fact that anyone takes him seriously at all reflects widespread amnesia.