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Will John McCain Flip-Flop on Gitmo?

With the expected announcement of the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, a Republican-driven hysteria is virtually guaranteed. That’s as empty as it is uninteresting. What’s interesting is whether the Republicans’ 2008 presidential nominee and national security elder statesman, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), joins in the action.

McCain, recall, has long advocated shuttering the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Back on the 2008 campaign trail, he said bluntly, “I believe we should close Guantanamo,” as the United States’ “great power does not mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want.” Spoken like a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Indeed, he praised President Obama’s January order to close the facility, and said on Larry King’s chat show that closing it was the “easy part.”

But as McCain has struggled to maintain relevance within his caucus, his positions have softened considerably. In May, he co-authored a mushy op-ed with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that danced around the Guantanamo closure and put out guidelines for what detention policies going forward should look like. With big-megaphone members of the conservative movement deciding that they’ll oppose the Guantanamo closure, it remains to be seen whether McCain will play the maverick role he enjoys or knuckle under to the likes of Liz Cheney. The Arizona senator is also facing a potentially tough primary challenge from the right next year, which could factor into his decision-making process. Whichever way McCain goes will be barometrically significant: either he stands firm and tells the right to stop its juvenile demagoguery; or he caves in and reveals himself to be as callow and spineless as many on the left long argued.

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