McCain still stands behind Pyrrhic war

Despite mounting evidence from within the Bush administration, John McCain rebuffs any suggestions by the media that he admitted the Iraq war was an error in judgment, both strategically and ethically.

At this late stage, the misjudgment of many members of the government that has resulted in this embroiled conflict is no longer salient. The matter for discussion is the true cost of the Iraq War. Even if it proves to be beneficial for the Iraqi people, at least in the short term, at what cost will it be to the American people?

A similar discourse was being entertained by King Pyrrhus of Epirus in the 3rd century B.C. who managed to defeat the Romans in two epic battles in the years 279 and 280. To the misfortune of Pyrrhus, they were tenuous victories, at best, having the effect of leaving his army virtually impotent after losing the majority of his men to the Roman army. The Greek historian Plutarch would later report Pyrrhus as saying, “Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone.”

To most Americans the facts of the Iraq war are well-known, yet at the same time, largely distant from the mind. We hear figures, we hear names on the radio and we see the pictures flash on the TV screen every day. We recognize the number 4,000 has come to signify the number of troops who have fallen in the five years since the war began.

The number 30,000 is known to be the number of those injured. $550 billion is the amount representing what the conflict has cost the U.S., and by extension, taxpayers. $200 billion is the long-term cost per year. Yet many of us, understandably, find these figures to be an abstract concept. Perhaps it is because we have never, and will never, meet any of those who died in service. Yet these people are our neighbors, our co-workers and our cousins.

Needless to say, those who supported the war in 2003 out of desire rather than necessity, particularly Congress, knew the costs this endeavor would present to us and they knew the sacrifices in public programs and daily services associated with the expenditure of the war. Starting with George W. Bush’s State of the Union address on January 29, 2003, the administration estimated the entire cost of the war would be about $50 billion.

However, by the time Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on “Meet the Press” on March 16, 2003, just days before the invasion, cost statistics had already risen twofold with Cheney telling Tim Russert, “every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.”

McCain also appeared publicly in support of the war, feeling estimates at the time were reasonable. Yet for him, these cost estimates were irrelevant since he was at the forefront of the war movement after the invasion of Afghanistan. With costs having now quintupled, he still considers them justifiable.

Unfortunately, the soaring costs and the precious lives of our troops are only the beginning of what we have lost in this conflict. When Congress reauthorized the PATRIOT Act and with it a wiretap provision that gave the federal government the authority to conduct roving wiretaps and to access business records without warrants, America sat back. And McCain stood up, but only to give it his unconditional support. Then the question of giving detainees at Guantanamo Bay legal rights arose and McCain sat down, refusing to recognize the universality of human rights as laid down in our very own Declaration of Independence and cemented by our Bill of Rights.

Then, when it came to supporting our very own troops, the hundreds of thousands he lobbied to send into harm’s way, he has consistently voted against them. Not just once, but repeatedly since the war began he has voted against calling them home, giving them longer breaks between deployments, shorter tours, higher pay and better health care and equipment. To this day, many of our troops still have to buy their own body armor, an essential element in patrolling the streets of Iraq, one that has been denied by McCain. The men and women whom he hails for their bravery and vital importance in this war of choice he also refuses to support.

So, then, what could be said about the true cost of the war? From where McCain stands, he can claim victory on nearly every issue related to the war. The war itself was waged, the surge was authorized, we Americans are being spied on, prisoners are being held without charge or legal rights, troops are being neglected . the list goes on, getting longer presumably by the day. Enter Pyrrhus. In his time, he was willing to sacrifice nearly his entire army for his own victory then move onto another battle only to lose nearly his entire army again.

Today, McCain does not preside over an army, but he does take responsibility for the country by means of his congressional powers. And it seems that in every personal victory he has achieved regarding the Iraq war, the American people have lost. For each of his personal victories he is willing to sacrifice the lives, liberties, pursuits of happiness and fortunes of his very people.

And through all of this there is one large gulf that exists between McCain and his historical counterpart: awareness. While both are willing to sacrifice others for their own victories, recall what Pyrrhus said about his: “Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone.”

Such a light at the end of the tunnel does not seem to exist in the mindset of McCain, who, when asked in June when the U.S. should begin its withdrawal, responded dismissively, “That’s not too important.” So long as he is victorious he will continue to seize victory. And although Pyrrhus may have risen and fallen millennia ago, his words can still caution us nevertheless about McCain: Another such victory and we are undone.