Wednesday February 13, 2013

Alden Graves

Does anyone remember a television show called "That Was the Week That Was"? It was a pointed political commentary/satire that ran in the early 1960s, so I’m sure that any fond recollections will occur to what now must be a dwindling few. Every week the current follies and foibles of Washington were held up for scrutiny with the intent of evoking a laugh from an audience sick to death of Washington’s follies and foibles.

Not an awful lot has changed in the half century that has passed and Jon Stewart is doing pretty much the same thing today.

The odd thing about Mr. Stewart’s show is that, for all of its irreverence and disrespect for our authority titans, "The Daily Show" has emerged as one of the more dependable news outlets on television. It shouldn’t be so surprising. Brian Williams deserves his $15 million a year salary just for keeping a straight face while he is reciting the day’s events. But it says something about America when one of our most reliable sources for news is broadcast on Comedy Central.

Consider: At a recent confirmation hearing, the Armed Services Committee took Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, to task for his skepticism of the so-called "surge" during the war in Iraq. The surge has assumed a place of reverence among those who choose to see an empty glass as being half full and just dare anyone to suggest otherwise. The tactic, announced by George W. Bush in 2007 under the picturesque name of "The Grand Way Forward," deployed 20,000 more American troops into Iraq, stationing most of them in vulnerable positions in urban areas in an effort to curb sectarian violence. Even those in favor of the strategy warned that the cost in casualties would be high. They were right.

The suggestion that skepticism was in order back in 2007 evidently still grates on our country’s most tirelessly self-promoting symbol of military might and invincibility. Senator John McCain hails from the grand state of Arizona, along with Norman Bates, Jan Brewer, Sheriff Joe, and other characters best avoided.

Given what we now know, it seems incredible that people didn’t evince some amount of skepticism when Mr. Bush made a comment about the weather. Having contributed to the administration’s enthusiasm for involving the country in another foreign war, Sen. McCain was also a big booster for the surge after W.’s "Mission Accomplished" speech proved a bit premature.

Sen. McCain seems to think that history has already vindicated him, which possibly points out the danger of putting too much faith in textbooks that have been approved by the Texas Board of Education. History’s Vindication, for politicians, is kind of like that last minute phone call from the governor reprieving a convict who is being strapped into the chair. It doesn’t hurt to keep hoping until the first jolt hits and politicians are notoriously skilled at dodging the jolt . Of course, the fly in the senator’s self-serving ointment is the troubling fact that, regardless of whether the surge in itself was a success or not - and many still maintain that the price was not worth whatever transitory gain came from it - the deployment still has to be regarded within the overall context of what was probably the worst foreign policy debacle in the country’s history, a gigantic mistake that we are still attempting to extricate ourselves from today.

Touting the success of the surge is a little like Mitt Romney claiming victory because he handled one of the debates fairly well.

That fact seemed to be lost on Sen. McCain, huffy and insulted in all his best Mr. Bluster posture. The clear insinuation hurled at Mr. Hagel was that he was somehow remiss in his duty as a loyal American to even express doubt about squandering more troops in the bottomless morass that Bush and his neocon advisors created. Small matter to McCain that the sectarian violence the surge was designed to quash still rages in Iraq and it probably will be raging 200 years from today. You would almost think it would be the last thing he would want to discuss. It is a shame that Mr. Hagel was not allowed to ask Sen. McCain if, in retrospect, he thought launching a preemptive war in the Middle East was a wise decision in the first place, but Hagel’s cowed and dodgy answer to McCain’s petulant question indicated a hesitancy, even in 2013, to cast any official dispersions upon the war.

Sen. McCain never got around to asking the defense secretary nominee any questions that might pertain to the world today opting instead, as conservatives seem wont to do, to immerse himself and his audience in the perceived glories of yesterday. The pressing issues of proposed cuts in the defense budget, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and the use of drones to wreak our remote control retribution all went unasked and unanswered so Mr. McCain could usher the Armed Services Committee on a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.

If it isn’t prime material for "That Was the Week That Was," I don’t know what is.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist and reviewer.