The Al Qaeda takeover of Fallujah, where four American contractors were butchered and where U.S. Marines fought their bloodiest battle of the Iraq war, has spurred a furious response from Senator John McCain. "While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the Administration cannot escape its share of the blame," he said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Barack Obama, McCain declared of the man who vanquished him in 2008, "blew the whole thing" when the president "withdrew all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011." On Tuesday the Arizona Senator went even further, brushing off Vice President Joe Biden's outreach to the Prime Minister and other Iraqi leaders and suggesting it would fail "because al-Maliki doesn't have confidence in the vice president."

That is a pretty amazing statement for him to make. After all, back in 2007 John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other GOP urged President Bush to oust the elected Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

As you'll recall, the success of the 2007 U.S. surge in Iraq hinged on the American cultivation of Sunni tribal leaders in restive Anbar province already underway. The arming of 90,000 "Sons of Iraq" and the new alliance with the Sunni sheikhs helped turn the tide against Al Qaeda insurgents in the west. But McCain, Graham, and Georgia's Saxby Chambliss fretted that the entire Sunni Awakening" could be undone if the Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki didn't move quickly to seek political accommodation with the minority Sunni and Kurdish communities in Iraq. As Graham put it in November 2007:

"What would happen for me if there's no progress on reconciliation after the first of the year, I would be looking at ways to invest our money into groups that can deliver."
Please read below the fold for more of McCain's views on Iraq.

Chambliss was even more blunt, telling reporters "If we don't see positive results by the end of the year I think you'll probably see a strong message coming out of Congress calling for a change in administration."

But behind closed doors, writer Robert Draper reported in September 2008 that months earlier McCain had delivered a much harsher message about al-Maliki for President Bush:

It suddenly seemed that the efforts of the surge might be for naught. And so, shortly after returning from Iraq, McCain and Graham visited President Bush at the White House. According to three individuals with knowledge of the July 11 conversation, the pair advised Bush to cut all ties with al-Maliki unless he showed immediate signs of engagement. Such a move on Bush's part would be tantamount to encouraging a coup against Iraq's first democratically elected prime minister, but McCain and Graham saw the situation as a desperate one. We've got a military strategy that's working, they told the president. And it's being undercut by an Iraqi government that's dysfunctional.

Bush was sympathetic. He'd been giving al-Maliki pep talks for more than six months now, with little to show for the effort. But, he told the two senators, "Who's going to replace him?"

We don't have a good answer for that, they replied. But unless al-Maliki changes, we can't get there.

In the ensuing months, Prime Minister a-Maliki's performance improved in their eyes. "On a scale of one to ten, al-Maliki used to be a zero," Graham said in March 2008. "Now he's more like a four."

But even before American forces left Iraq in 2011 after the failure to secure a status of forces agreement including immunity for U.S. troops, the Shiite al-Maliki began to show Iraq's Sunnis the iron fist.

As the New York Times reported last week after a bloody firefight at the Anbar Province home of a prominent Sunni member of Parliament:

Hours later, angry protests erupted over what Sunnis viewed as another crackdown by the Shiite-led government that alienates them from the political process by equating all expressions of Sunni grievance as terrorism...

It was not the first time the government has targeted a prominent Sunni official. Two years ago, the government sought to arrest the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, on terror charges. He fled and now lives in Turkey. In Iraq, he has received several death sentences.

And last year, the government targeted the Sunni finance minister, Rafe al-Essawi, arresting 10 of his bodyguards.

Those tensions are complicating efforts to dislodge the ISIS fighters (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) who crossed over the border to seize Ramadi and Fallujah. As the Times explained on Sunday:
The fight in Falluja is complicated by the widespread disenchantment of Sunnis in Iraq toward the policies of the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Some armed tribesmen with little sympathy for Al Qaeda and its desire to set up a Sunni Islamic state in Iraq have now apparently decided that the government is their greater enemy.

Shifting and unclear alliances among the fighting groups in Falluja have made the situation there more uncertain at a moment when security officials in Baghdad have promised a decisive campaign to clear the province of insurgents. Many of the militants in Anbar are members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a Qaeda-affiliated group that is also among the fiercest combatants in the Syrian civil war.

Adding to the chaos Iran, like the United States, has offered to provide military aid to the al-Maliki government. The irony of overlapping Iranian and American interests in seeing the defeat of ISIS Al Qaeda fighters in Syria and Iraq, Iranian reform politician Mashallah Shamsolvaezin declared:
"We face the same enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
But in Iraq and Syria, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend. Which is why John McCain's years-long campaign to permanently station U.S. troops in Iraq was always so misguided. If President McCain had had his way, American forces would probably now be engaged on opposite sides in not one but two civil wars in neighboring Iraq and Syria. But as he put it in 2008:
"Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That's all fine."
Of course, U.S. troops serve to protect all of those nations—and American interests—from external threats. The notion that American forces in Iraq would project U.S. power rather than making them referees at best—and combatants at worse—in sectarian strife is absurd. As for the so-called Maverick who was wrong at almost every turn about the war in Iraq might put it, history will judge this would-have-been president's leadership with scorn and disdain, with "the scorn and disdain that it deserves."
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