Sunday, February 10, 2008

McCain's view of war

Matt Welch, author of McCain: The Myth of the Maverick (2007) writes in McCain's homework Los Angeles Times 11/25/07 about a National War College thesis the Maverick wrote after he returned from capitivity in Vietnam, dated April 1974.

Oddly, Welch's op-ed piece doesn't give the title of the paper. But he does talk about the content. Welch has some biographically interesting things to say about how the Straight Talker apparently misremembered the National War College course when he talked about it later.

But I've been struck by how much the Maverick's position on the Iraq War - which is both vague and adamant, seemingly amounting to "never retreat, never surrender, never stop fighting, never leave" - seemed to be heavily influenced by "culture war" mythology about the Vietnam War. And what Welch says about McCain's 1974 paper provides some significant support for that idea. It at least suggests he had adopted a simplistic, Nixonian, view of the Vietnam War:

... [O]n the question of whether the war should have been fought, the only hint comes in McCain's scorn for the way it was waged. "Unconditional surrender," McCain laments, "has not been our stated objective since 1945." President Johnson, he complains, did not fight "to win."

If there is any truly contemporary echo in his War College paper, it's that U.S. troops cannot fight to the best of their abilities if they do not personally support the policies they're enforcing and if they do not have the support of the American people.

"The biggest factor in a man's ability to perform creditably as a prisoner of war is a strong belief in the correctness of his [nation's] foreign policy," he wrote. "It is [incumbent] upon the armed forces before sending its members to fight, and possibly die, to inform them as to the nature of the foreign policy and goals of the United States of America. ...

"A program of this nature could be construed as 'brainwashing' or 'thought control' and could be a target for a great deal of criticism. But if a program of this nature was well formulated and professionally executed it would be of inestimable value."

So McCain didn't necessarily attend the National War College to assess the wisdom of Vietnam. But he did reinforce a belief system that he's carried to the present day: If you must fight, fight to win, and keep explaining to the American people all along why the sacrifice is necessary. (my emphasis)
I've written before (Unconditional surrender in the Second World War 08/17/07) about how the Second World War policy of unconditional surrender grew out of the circumstances particular to that war and to the United Nations alliance of which the US was a part. Trying to apply it to a situation like the Iraq War is completely unrealistic.

It's true that people can change their views a lot in 34 years. McCain himself has "flip-flopped" on a number of issues in even more recent years. But the Vietnam War was and remains a key experience in his life and world view. And his current position appears to be consistent with the surprisingly simplistic view that this experienced military officer was expressing in 1974.

See also Matt Welch's The Unlikely Comeback of John McCain, Maverick Warmonger LA Weekly 01/30/08. There is also a video of Welch giving a very intriguing lecture on the bold Maverick at the libertarian Cato Institute.

The LA Weekly article deals with the weirdness of the affection for independent voters for the rightwing Straight Talker:

Here's the funny thing about independent voters: They still love John McCain, think he's a straight talker. No matter how many times he claims to run a positive-only campaign on the same day he releases an attack ad; no matter how many ways he violates the spirit of his own campaign-finance legislation (do yourself a favor and Google "The Reform Institute"); no matter how unconvincingly he stammers his way through wanting to make permanent the same tax cuts he eviscerated in 2001 and 2003; no matter how inaccurately he slimes Romney and others for insufficient support of "our troops"; no matter how many immigration bills bearing his name he now opposes; and no matter how many times he confesses to manipulative, ambition-driven lies in his own damned books, independents still come out for their maverick - 42 percent of them in open-primary South Carolina, and 39 percent in New Hampshire. (my emphasis)
I should note here that Welch is an editor of the libertarian Reason magazine. And some of his critical observations about McCain's politics are heavily flavored by the libertarian small-government utopianism (or idealism, if you prefer).

But Welch breaks the rules of the "press corps" by actually pointing to the misconduct of the press itself:

For many of us non-Republicans, that can seem like a perfectly good deal. After all, the enemy of Rush Limbaugh and Tom DeLay surely has a better chance of being my friend, right? Don't be so sure.

It's impossible to assess McCain accurately without first dealing with the fact that he's probably been the beneficiary of more flattering media attention than any national Republican in the past four decades. In the 1970s, he took R&R — the rest and recuperation allowed by the military for wartime soldiers — with legendary New York Times scribe R.W. "Johnny" Apple Jr. before he got shot down over Vietnam. He once asked the liberal Michael Lewis — author of more than 20,000 worshipful words on McCain — to move in with him. Rolling Stone contributor Paul Alexander wrote a McCain biography with the hagiographic title Man of the People, a strange moniker for a millionaire third-generation member of Navy royalty whose wife and mother are heiresses and who has spent most of his life within 30 miles of Capitol Hill. Newspaper endorsements — many featuring errors of fact — are gaining momentum: The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Daily News, The Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, and on and on.

As a direct result of his long media honeymoon, much of what we think we know about McCain is wrong. Exit-poll numbers out of the early states showed that McCain was doing especially well among primary voters who were antiwar. The numbers say something disturbing about our capacity to believe that independent antiwar voters are seriously considering a man who championed pre-emptive war three years before it ever occurred to George W. Bush, who personally told me that the U.S. share of defense spending — more than one-half of the world's total — was much too small, and who has demonstrated repeatedly these past weeks that he doesn't understand why any American would question the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq 100 years from now. (my emphasis)
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RoseCovered Glasses said...

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

Politicians make no difference.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see:

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