Why mince words? The relationship between Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Ranking Member John McCain and outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey was at best dysfunctional and at worse poisonous.

And like so many — too many? — unpalatable aspects of US foreign policy over the last dozen years, much of the discord is rooted in Mesopotamia. To be exact: Iraq.

Here's how I reported McCain's comments to reporters last October after he and Dempsey had yet another tense back-and-forth during a public hearing:

"Former Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was particularly perturbed that Dempsey told a Senate panel that Obama's plan to use the rebels to fight [the Islamic State group] inside Syria did not include strikes against Bashar al-Assad's air defense systems.

" 'He might have credibility with some,' McCain told reporters just before a seven-week congressional recess began, 'but that's not with me.' "

John T. Bennett

Photo Credit: Mike Morones

McCain, the Senate's "maverick," has told reporters several times that his beef with Dempsey is mostly about his views on Syria. But the two were on opposite sides of one of the country's most divisive foreign policy decisions of the 21st century: the 2006 Iraq surge.

"Actually, Gen. Dempsey, you and I went through this in 2006, when I said that it wasn't succeeding and that we had to have a surge and that only a surge could succeed in reversing the tide of battle, and you disagreed with me then," McCain roared at the Joint Chiefs chairman in October. "Way back then.

"And I think history shows that those of us who supported the surge were right," McCain said, "and people like you, who didn't think we need a surge, were wrong."

McCain seemed buoyant last week when discussing Dempsey's exit and the likely easy entrance of Gen. Joseph Dunford, now the commandant of the Marine Corps, nominated last week by the president to succeed Dempsey.

"In addition to his leadership of the Marine Corps, Gen. Dunford's exemplary service in Iraq and Afghanistan makes him a strong choice as we confront threats to stability and peace in both countries and throughout the region," said the SASC chairman, who will oversee the confirmation process of "Fightin' Joe."

Each time McCain and Dempsey clash, all things Iraq are dredged up anew. Dempsey's coming retirement will move the country farther from the George W. Bush administration's Iraq war.

Whether or not one still supports the rationale behind the conflict is moot. But it is undeniable that the outcome brought few strategic gains and created much ill will at home and abroad.

It's widely held that the sooner the United States can finally put its Iraq mission in the past, the better.

But if the relationship between Dunford and McCain — who's showing no signs of leaving the Senate — is a fraction better than the Dempsey-McCain dynamic, it's a step closer.