Thursday, May 22, 2008

Evaluating McCain’s Vietnam “Experience”

Jason’s comment on my Wednesday post got me thinking a little more about McCain’s biography—most specifically the Vietnam War part—and what role it should play in the 2008 battle for the White House. . . and what was going to be a one-sentence response grew into something more like a post of its own.

First, the comment:

McCain will absolutely say anything to be elected, but I did find interest in Bai's piece. Not so much for the psychoanalyzing as for the Vietnam question.

For whatever reason, McCain believe[s] we could have and should have won Vietnam by committing more troops. That's a very interesting question to start debating right now, with the parallels with Iraq so obvious. Yet, I feel, lots of portions of America don't really want to ask that question. It brings up an era many would like to forget. Very interesting indeed.

Indeed. Therefore, my response:

That McCain thinks we could have "won" the Vietnam War is not only ignorant, it's dangerous.

Many questions were asked about Vietnam throughout the '70's and '80's. There are lots of good books (Karnow, Halberstam, and Shawcross come to mind), with lots of good insights, and they all tell us that we didn't just fight incorrectly, we fought for the wrong reasons.

Was there a way to "win" in Vietnam? I suppose we could have talked with Ho when he first turned to the US—and he did turn FIRST to the US—for help fighting a repressive colonial occupier. Short of that, there is no right answer.

I feel the right is forcing us to re-debate Vietnam history as a rehearsal for the eventual rewrite of Bush's Iraqi incursion. Imagine, even now, asking the "how could we have won Iraq" question.

The only answer is by not invading in the first place. That McCain still does not understand this makes for a bad omen when considering how or whether he would end the Iraq fiasco, and is a scary indication of just how terrible McCain might be at handling other foreign challenges.

I think the most interesting tidbit in the Bai piece—and I touched upon this the other day—was the revelation, of sorts, that "Mr. Experience" actually decided how to handle a crisis from what he read in a few books, and not from some special lesson learned at the Hanoi Hilton.

I am not against psychobiography—I have read some good ones—but I would want to look at the total of McCain's life experiences. Having been in a POW camp or in the jungle doesn't by itself predict how a veteran/lawmaker sees Iraq (take Bob Kerrey, for instance, an Iraq hawk that witnessed the worst of the Vietnam war firsthand during two tours as a Navy SEAL).

When I look at McCain's life, I see the son and grandson of very successful men who goes into the family business and quickly finds he's just not as smart and not as good at it. He then spends the rest of his life trying to one-up Daddy to prove his worth.

Sound familiar?

(cross-posted on guy2k and The Seminal)

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Blogger guy2k said...

In flipping through some of those fine, older works on Vietnam, I came across this in the forward to David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest:

"For anyone who aspires to a position of national leadership, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, this book should be mandatory reading. And anyone who feels a need, as a confused former prisoner of war once felt the need, for insights into how a great and good nation can lose a war and see its worthy purposes and principles destroyed by self-delusion can do no better than to read and reread David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest."

Who wrote that forward? As you might have guessed from the personal reference, it was Senator John McCain.

Very interesting, indeed.

7:15 AM  

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