Even as the Iraq war claims yet another casualty, in the form of Sen. John McCain, another Republican sets himself up for political destruction by insisting that America should persist in this unpopular enterprise. McCain, once hailed as his party's all-but-inevitable nominee for the presidency, is near the end, out of money and firing senior members of his campaign staff, who retaliate by denigrating those left on the sinking ship.




It's been obvious for months that the path to the White House in 2008 does not lie in endorsing Bush's disastrous enterprise. Yet McCain did so and is now having to pay the bill, voyaging to Iraq and insinuating from inside a vast security cordon, his venerable torso encased in body armor, that it was as safe to stroll around Baghdad and its suburbs as Phoenix, in his home state of Arizona. Most Americans scoffed with incredulity at this claim, one so obviously at odds with reality that some developed the view that McCain was setting the stage for a sudden turnaround on the war in the fall, saying that though he'd given Bush every chance, quitting time was here.




But, as so often in life, complex explanations from the pages of Machiavelli are no match for the bray of confident miscalculation. Flag-wagging isn't a vote-getter this campaign season, at least yet. Most Americans don't like the war, want the troops out, will vote for politicians who promise to get them home and punish those who don't. John McCain's treasury is empty. Money is flowing into the campaign accounts of the libertarian Republic peace candidate, Ron Paul, a remote outsider whose polling numbers shoot up on the rare occasions he can shoulder his way into the Republican debates.




Now, undeterred by McCain's impending political extinction as a the prime pro-war candidate, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is seizing the battle standard from the senator's stricken hand. Giuliani named his list of foreign policy advisers last week. This is an important political ritual, whereby political commentators can run their eyes down the list and assess at a glance what sort of headway the candidate is making in winning the support of the political establishment. Giuliani's list was heavily freighted with pro-war types, including the apex neo-con, Norman Podhoretz.




No candidate tossing the name Podhoretz into the laptops of the press corps, is aiming at the peace vote. Podhoretz is former editor of the American Jewish Committee's Commentary magazine, the neocons' in-house journal. He's been touting war on Islam and pretty much everywhere on the planet else barring Israel ever since the mid-'70s, when he worried that America would quit its support for Israel just as it slunk out of Vietnam.




He denounced the Democrats as pro-Arab, pro-gay, pro-terror pinkoes and stumped for Reagan. His wife, Midge Decter, became a moving spirit in the Committee on the Present Danger, his so-in-law Elliot Abrams went to work for Reagan, plead guilty to lying to Congress about the U.S. role in the Reagan-era shuttle of arms and money, labeled the Iran-Contras scandal. These days Elliot in the Bush White House and Norman is now at Giuliani's elbow.







Given their track record it's not implausible to argue, as many do, that by attacking Iran at some point in the coming months Bush and Cheney will try to revive their administration's fortunes and the presently abysmal prospects of Republican candidates &

not just the presidential candidate &

in the 2008 elections. Even though the ordinary folk are not enthused, there's considerable bipartisan support for such an attack among the political elites. The powerful Israel lobby has been publicly pushing for it for over a year. Sen. Joseph Lieberman recently put up a resolution in Congress stigmatizing Iran as the prime instigator of the deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq and such supposed Democratic liberals as California's two senators &

Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer &

voted for it.




So Giuliani &

now vying with Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts for the front-runner's spot on the Republican side for the presidential nomination &

is staking his future on the war option, even as McCain's bier is hauled from the field. It's a posture that plays well in New York and Washington, but probably not in the hinterlands of New Hampshire and Iowa, where Giuliani will have first to make his mark.




Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through . To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .