McCain shows Cameron the price of power

Insightful column by Andrew Sullivan on Dave Cameron’s new friend — and conference speaker — John McCain.

Last weekend turned into a pivotal moment in his [McCain’s] career. For the past four years he has fought the Bush administration’s attempt to authorise interrogative abuse of military detainees. As a victim of torture himself McCain’s credentials for this fight were enormous. And, to his credit, his legislative efforts have indeed put a stop to the widespread abuse that has occurred in the regular military since the winter of 2001.

But he wants to win the Republican nomination; and Karl Rove, Bush’s political guru, has decided that the only way to rescue the mid-term elections is to run on who can be tough enough on terror suspects. If McCain had refused to compromise over torture he would have essentially been destroying the Republican game plan for retaining Congress. So Bush called him out.

The deal they struck was simple: Bush wouldn’t formally renege on Geneva and wouldn’t formally authorise waterboarding, hypothermia and other horrors.

But he was given legislative leeway to decide what to do with terror suspects (including waterboarding and hypothermia) and had authority to train an elite squad of CIA “coercive interrogators” for the purpose. His civilian officials would also be given complete legal impunity for possible war crimes committed in the past.

What did McCain get in return? Some cynics in Washington say the answer is simple: the nomination. And McCain has been doing his best to recruit many Bush loyalists. Did McCain sell his soul for power? That’s what his sharpest critics would say.


The Tories will cheer him this week. He is certainly much more congenial to the party of David Cameron than Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. But McCain is also a symbol, along with Bill Clinton, of how power is never without its costs. One day Cameron may have the opportunity to share their pain.