McCain's Comments on Rumsfeld Miss the Mark

John McCain is hitting the campaign trail, and he's doing so with a predictable thud.

On Monday, the ever-eager-to-settle-a-score senator appeared in South Carolina and pronounced Donald Rumsfeld one of the worst defense secretaries ever. He went on to elaborate, "We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy, and I regret it enormously."

Substantively, McCain's critique might not be entirely without merit. Still, his commentary bears the typical McCain signatures of being childishly hostile and simplistic.

In truth, Rumsfeld's management of the war in Iraq was magnificent. In three short weeks, Rumsfeld's Pentagon toppled a hostile regime that had menaced world peace for decades.

If Rumsfeld stumbled, it wasn't in managing the war but in managing the peace. After the three weeks that led to Saddam's fall, the American government collectively made several errors that have left a lasting mark on both our country and Iraq.

Yet it is not at all clear how many of these disastrous mistakes were part of Donald Rumsfeld's portfolio. Paul Bremer, the witless wannabe viceroy who implemented a ruinous "De-Baathification" policy that crippled Iraqi society, was part of Colin Powell's shop at Foggy Bottom.

Who the decider was that decided not to secure the Iranian and Syrian borders remains unclear, but there's little to suggest that Rumsfeld was the culprit.

Merits (or lack thereof) aside, McCain's broadside against Rumsfeld is politically ill-advised. If the Senator had for some perverse reason been hatching a plan to remind the Republican base of what a nuisance he's been the Last seven years, he could scarcely have executed a more effective maneuver.

As a man, John McCain almost universally has the respect of Republicans. His biography is unique and powerful. But my co-blogger Hugh Hewitt long ago coined the shorthand for Sen. McCain that defines him perfectly for most conservatives. In Hugh's formulation, John McCain is a great man, a bad Senator and an awful Republican.

Dean Barnett is a columnist for and blogs daily at

Throughout the Bush administration, McCain has seemingly delighted in sticking his thumb in the GOP's collective eye whenever the chance has presented itself. At times, McCain's antics were merely maddening such as when the senator took obvious pleasure in grandstanding over Abu Ghraib.

At other times, the senator's actions did considerable damage. His midwifing of the campaign finance "reform" that bears his name, McCain/Feingold, brought unacceptable and (in the opinion of most conservatives) unconstitutional limits to political free speech.

There was always a nagging sense among Republicans that the senator devoted much of his time and energy to courting the praise of the media. The media loved McCain's bipartisan endeavors with the Senate's most liberal members; conservatives less so.

There may be something about suffering an electoral defeat at the hands of George W. Bush that drives the vanquished to have the politician's equivalent of an emotional breakdown.

Although it's hard to remember now, not too long ago Al Gore was routinely derided for being a boring, staid and utterly pedestrian politician. Only after losing to Bush did he become a ranting, bloated symbol of the angry left.

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