Investigative journalist Bob Parry talks about McCain, his defense of Bush/Cheney and Iraq war


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to our ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention. Joining us now is Robert Parry. He’s a renowned investigative journalist who in the 1980s broke many of the Iran-Contra Scandal stories. He’s also the author of four books, including Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. Thanks for joining us, Bob.

ROBERT PARRY, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, thanks for having me.

JAY: Bob’s in Washington. Bob, John McCain is called “the maverick.” He’s doing quite a bit to try to distance himself now from George Bush, practically—not practically—effectively didn’t even allow him into the convention, with some help of a big storm. But in fact, over the last eight years, McCain has come to the rescue many times for this administration and supported it at critical junctures. First, tell us a little bit about the Bush-Cheney years. I know you’ve been writing a lot about the argument for impeachment. So tell us just what it is John McCain’s been defending.

PARRY: Well, basically, the Bush-Cheney administration began in the most controversial way we’ve seen in modern American history, when Al Gore won the popular vote, then was denied the White House. And we later found out that they actually probably would have won the vote in Florida if all the legally cast ballots had been allowed to be counted. So you have this administration coming in under that kind of a cloud. You then had 9/11 occur. And so many of the ideas that the conservative movement actually had on the shelf for many, many years, going back to the 1980s—ideas about an all-powerful president, ideas about expanding American power abroad—suddenly were in reach. There was broad popular support for a very vigorous reaction to the 9/11 attacks, and John McCain was very much part of that. He was one of the earliest people, going back to 2001, urging not really that much of a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda; he was almost more concerned immediately about going after Iraq and then expanding American power in sort of that east-of-Suez operation in the Middle East. So you had him pushing very early on to turn American attention to Iraq. He made jokes about it; he talked about it in many ways. In early 2002, in February 2002, he gave a speech in Germany in which he effectively laid out the agenda for going to war with Iraq and for making that the central point in this whole movement after 9/11, even though, as we now know and people really believed then in the US intelligence community, that there was little or no connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda. So you had McCain pushing for that very premature pivot from Afghanistan to Iraq.

JAY: First of all, we know most of the reasons for going to war, at least as stated, turned out to be fabrication. And we also know there’s been many cases of what people think is a quite severe abuse of power by the administration. FISA is an example and other kinds of presidential orders. But McCain the maverick, has he ever opposed any of this abuse of power? Because he has had a reputation of someone willing to critique the Republicans on civil liberties issues.

PARRY: Well, he hasn’t been very much of a force in that regard. He did object to some of the torture procedures that the Bush-Cheney administration had been practicing. He himself had undergone mistreatment during the Vietnam War as a prisoner of war, so he had a certain personal stake there. But even when he pushed through an amendment toward the end of the Republican control of Congress that would have essentially barred torture and mistreatment of prisoners. President Bush attached a signing statement, which in effect said, “I won’t follow this rule,” that “I have under the Constitution, as we interpret here, I can do whatever I want.” And McCain didn’t really challenge that. So much of his supposed rebellion or maverick status has been somewhat of a myth and certainly overstated. He has, as he’s put it himself, voted with President Bush more than 90 percent of the time. So the maverick image is something that he dusts off, pulls out, and wears when it’s suitable; but when it’s not, when he’s trying to appeal to the Republican base as he was during the primaries, he puts it away and presents himself much more as a traditional Republican who was a big defender of George Bush.

JAY: Now, he has around him advisors like Randy Scheunemann and James Woolsey that seem to be, at least ideologically, very close to the same people that Cheney had around him. What kind of relationship is there between McCain and Cheney?

PARRY: Well, I think they have very much of a similar outlook. Now, I’m not sure how personally close they are. They certainly have worked together over the years. Cheney, as you recall, was a member of Congress in the 1980s and played a very important role in defending the Reagan administration as it began testing out the waters, this idea of an expansion of the power of the presidency. A lot of what this goes back to was, of course, the period of the ’70s when the Vietnam War was lost and Watergate drives Nixon from office. In a way, McCain has never quite gotten over the whole Vietnam experience, more so than perhaps anyone else in Washington. Obviously he experienced it in a very harsh way, being a prisoner of war. But he saw people who opposed the war as sort of traitors. He never really wanted to give up on Vietnam; he never wanted to pull the troops out. So he has been part of that effort we saw develop in the late ’70s and through the ’80s to essentially rewrite the history of Vietnam, which was to make it a noble enterprise that was something that the American government should have seen through, that people in Congress and American citizens who demonstrated against it were essentially traitors. And that sort of harshness, that sort of bitterness, has been very much part of McCain’s makeup and Cheney’s. Bush sort of absorbed it in a different way, since he was not nearly as directly involved in some of this back in the 1970s and the ’80s. But what you have there is a combination of people who really want to re-fight those old Vietnam battles, and they see it in Iraq. So that’s one of the reasons he and McCain, Cheney, and Bush are so adamant about, essentially, winning, being victorious in Iraq, even though it’s very difficult to define what victory might be.

JAY: Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Bob Parry.

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