President McCain declares war!

Following trip to meet rebels, 2008 election participant announces/demands U.S. intervention in Syria

Published June 14, 2013 1:30PM (EDT)

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ)              (Reuters/Samantha Sais)
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (Reuters/Samantha Sais)

Yesterday, President John McCain announced that the United States would be intervening militarily in the current Syrian civil war. Speaking on the Senate floor, as he often does despite his apparently being president, McCain announced what the president, him, had decided to do:

“The president also will announce that we will be assisting the Syrian rebels by providing them with weapons and other assistance. I applaud the president’s decision.”

Strangely, an administration official then told the Daily Beast's Josh Rogin that the U.S. wouldn't be arming the opposition.

“The president has made a decision to provide the Syrian opposition with military items that can increase their effectiveness on the ground, but at this point it does not include things like guns and bullets,” the official tells The Daily Beast.

Which is it? "Senator McCain heard that from reliable sources,” his spokesman told the Daily Beast. It appears that McCain was correct: The U.S. will be supplying the Syrian opposition with small arms.

First, President McCain took a secret state trip to Syria, to meet with the rebels. While he was there, he might've accidentally taken a picture of himself hanging out with two men responsible for kidnappings in Lebanon. Whoops! Picking the right good guys in foreign armed conflicts can be difficult.

Since his return, McCain has been taking direct calls from the leaders of the Free Syrian Army, and they have kept him appraised of the fighting. McCain, along with Vice President Lindsey Graham, has been using his "bully pulpit" to demand more U.S. support for the Syrian opposition, including training fighters directly and supplying them with more powerful arms, including anti-tank and anti-air weapons.

Actually, and thankfully, John McCain is not the president. If he were we'd be involved in something like 16 ground wars right now. But he is using his position as the senator everyone in the press listens to to goad the U.S. into actually getting involved in this war properly. He is doing this because he believes war to be the solution to all problems. McCain sees U.S. armed intervention as a magical force that will inevitably bring about the best possible outcome. McCain thinks this because he is a simplistic hawk. In any given foreign conflict, McCain thinks Doing Something is the right action, and Doing Something means an armed response, and the outcome will always necessarily have to be positive. Despite -- actually probably because of -- this magical thinking, he is treated, still, as an authority and a wise elder statesman by the political press. He is not treated like an old crank obsessed with war and unable to grasp the possible negative effects of conflict.

The American press in general has a bias toward "we must do something" arguments, whether they are uselessly vague or dangerously specific. The administration is never doing "enough." It becomes very easy to semi-accidentally begin pushing for full-scale war when war is always seen as the only possible response to any awful situation.

I for one have no clue what the United States should (or even can) do in Syria. That's not a great Sunday show talking point, unfortunately. "Every available option seems more likely than not to lead to years of death and misery" is not the sort of thing a politician is supposed to say. I do know that the national "debate" on the matter would instantly get a lot smarter if everyone stopped indulging McCain's world-leader fantasies.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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John Mccain Opening Shot Syria Syrian Civil War