Sen. John McCain reminds us of the cowboy pilot in the 1964 Stanley Kubrick movie (“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”), who jumped on a nuclear warhead and rode it whooping and hollering as it plummeted to doom.

Like Major Kong, the delusional B-52 pilot in “Dr. Strangelove,” McCain has jumped onto President Bush’s disastrous Iraq war policy and is looking to ride it up to the White House. But for the American and Iraqi people, that’s exactly the wrong direction.

This past week, the Bush administration’s Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker once again tried to sell Congress and the public on staying in Iraq open-endedly — no deadlines, no timetables.

Posturing at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, McCain seemed to be reading from Bush’s cue cards, blithely speaking about “building on successes” even as news reports showed armed attacks in Iraq more than doubled in the past month. How out of touch can he get?

By contrast, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, reflecting the overwhelming end-the-war sentiment of the American public, declined to drink the McCain Kool-Aid. The two Democratic presidential candidates took the opportunity to emphasize that they would promptly begin bringing our troops home. For the American and Iraqi people, that’s the right direction. If you want to end the war, work your heart out to win a landslide victory for this direction in November. It’s clear that this is now the essential starting point.

But there’s something else. The one deadline Petraeus and Crocker did talk about was a July timetable to seal a backdoor deal with Iraqi leaders that would lock in U.S. military, political and economic “presence” in Iraq for decades to come. Bush officials insist this would be just an “agreement.” Because it is not a treaty, they claim, there is no constitutional requirement for Senate “advise and consent.”

Fearing a Democratic victory, the current administration wants to help its oil buddies and hobble the next administration with this long-term stealth commitment of American troops and funds. Stopping this is an important, urgent battle in which everyone ought to get involved.

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