John McCain’s Military Background, Strong Point or Weak Point?
Now that we know that John McCain is almost certainly going to be the Republican candidate, I thought it might be a good idea to examine his claims that he would be the best “Commander in Chief”, on the basis of his time in service as well as his time in the Senate.
He boasts that he headed the largest Air Force squadron in the country while he served in Viet-Nam. The problem with that claim, as it pertains to the Presidency, is that all his decisions in that position were tactical in nature and had no bearing on the kinds of strategic decisions he will be asked to make as President. He had to follow orders from many levels of command above him, whereas, even for George Bush, there was only one higher authority that he could turn to.
McCain’s five-plus years in captivity showed tremendous courage and loyalty, particularly when you consider that he could have been released, but refused because he would not leave the others behind. To his further credit, he also learned the lesson that torture is wrong and that this country should never engage in it. While his feelings on this are commendable, there is, sad to say, no guarantee that he would stick with that position under pressure from his Party. Notice the way Lindsey Graham has changed his position, which was, at one time, was as strong as McCain’s.
While valid excuses can be made for having voted to give the President authority to use force against Iraq, when the original vote was cast in October or November 2002, (The original purpose was to scare Saddam enough that he would let the inspectors back in and give them unfettered access to any site they wished to inspect. This worked. They did get in, and did have unfettered access.) there was no excuse for not putting up a major fight against actually invading.
John McCain’s strategic judgment on that score was completely wrong, as was the judgment of all the major newspapers in the country, after Colin Powell’s U.N. speech on February 5, 2003.
By the time the invasion began, we knew that
• There was no attempt to purchase yellow cake from Niger,
• The aluminum tubes could not have been used for centrifuges,
• Information on the mobile chemical labs had come from an informant that was completely unreliable,
• Information about training for the use of chemical weapons had come from someone named “curveball”, who was known to be a drunk and a prevaricator.
• There was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 and there was no meeting in Prague.
• The inspectors had been in country for about 3 months, during which time, according to Hans Blix, they had conducted 700 inspections of 500 locations without finding anything. They then asked the CIA to give them the locations where the CIA “knew” there were facilities, or stockpiles, etc. They CIA gave the inspection team the list and 36 additional inspections were completed, before the US told the inspectors to get out because the invasion was about to begin. They had not found anything in these inspections either.
I knew of most of these things and surely McCain knew, or should have known about them also. I don’t believe there is any question, that had he known, he would have invaded anyway.
He justifies the invasion by the fact that we got rid of a terrible dictator, who use chemical weapons during the Iran war and used them on his own people, as well. What we easily forget, however, is that we provided Saddam with those weapons during his war with Iran, when he was on our side.
The justification is rather weak, anyway. One of the things that John McCain did not learn while in service , but that most higher ranking officers do learn, is that you only go to war as a last resort and that a “preventive war” is not the same as a preemptive war.
The term “preventive war” is an oxymoron. You cannot prevent war by making war. The war against Iraq was not a preemptive war because Iraq did not present a threat to the United States or Iraq’s neighbors.
Although the recent surge, which McCain strongly supported, but which is also a change in tactics, not strategy, has led to a reduction in violence, we are only losing one American a day rather than two or three, it has not led to reconciliation among the parties, an oil agreement, workable debathification, or anything else that would stabilize the country. Surely, what we have accomplished, does not justify almost 4,000 Americans killed, so far, 30,000 wounded, probably in excess of 100,000 Iraqis killed and 2 million Iraqis displaced within their country and up to 2.5 million displaced out of their country, where they are living in refugee camps. (As a percentage of their population, that would be equivalent of the United States having 50,000,000 refugees out of our country). What is McCain’s plan for taking care of them, if and when they decide to come home? Now that would be strategic planning.
With all this, I almost forgot the near trillion dollars we will have spent, before this is all over and the fact that we are stretching our military to the breaking point, in the opinion of just about every general, but not John McCain. In the meanwhile, we also seem to have almost forgotten about Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden.
This leads to another flaw in his background and experience. Although he has negotiated with Democrats in the Senate, he has little experience negotiating with a potential enemy. His attitude toward Iran, even if he said it jokingly, was bomb, bomb, bomb. But as an Air Force squadron leader, this is what he would have learned.
At any rate, what McCain believes are his strong points are really not that at all. I hope, that because he has done some heroic things in his life, his Democratic opponent will not be afraid to point out the flaws in his logic.