McCain has not learned the lessons he should have taken from his war experience in Vietnam and still favors military action over persistent and skillful diplomacy. His outdated war experience is not relevant to today's threats. A Vietnam combat legend and fellow prisoners have challenged his POW story he often tells on the campaign trail. McCain’s associates will confirm that he is unpredictable, has difficulty controlling his temper and is trigger happy. He has eroded his own trustworthiness by the precipitous way he promoted war in Iraq (see "John McCain in Crisis") and by conducting a dishonest presidential campaign. Serious questions arise as to McCain’s fitness to be Commander-in-Chief.
Favors Military Action Over Diplomacy
McCain declines to consider aggressive diplomacy either to eventually end the occupation in Iraq or to disarm the Iranian threat. Many experts urge that we return to diplomacy -- including our Defense Secretary and Joint Chief’s Chairman, and members of the Baker/Hamilton Commission. In fact, General Petraeus said "you have to talk to enemies" – that’s how he helped reduce the violence in Iraq. Former Republican Secretary of State James Baker put it this way:
"Diplomacy involves talking to your enemies. You don’t reward your enemies necessarily by talking to them if you are tough and you know what you are doing."
Our progress in disarming nuclear capabilities of countries like Libya, Russia and North Korea shows that persistent diplomacy does work. These negotiations have succeeded or made progress, even though two of the adversaries were on our terrorism list.
By disavowing diplomacy or demanding pre-conditions for top level meetings, McCain would bring us closer to war. If he is elected president and attacks Iran, that country will undoubtedly retaliate against our closest ally in the region – Israel – and shut down oil shipping in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian people would unite against us as would much of the Muslim world. There would be increased terrorism in the Mideast and perhaps here. Oil prices would skyrocket, our economy would even worsen and a nuclear war might breakout. To avoid such a colossal disaster, we need a deeply thoughtful Commander-in-Chief with unusually sound judgment.
By insisting on war in Iraq, McCain and Bush produced a Shiite-run government favorable to Iran. The Saudi King complained bitterly to our administration that the U.S. "has handed Iraq to Iran on a golden platter". Iran’s influence on Iraq will continue, no matter what we do or how long we stay in Iraq. We might as well accept this fact and use skillful diplomacy to help stabilize the region and rebuild war-torn Iraq.
Military Service Not Relevant
Military service always has been an important part of McCain’s family’s history. His naval service was heavily influenced by two famous 4-star admirals -- his father and grandfather. During high school and at the Naval Academy, McCain developed a reputation for being rebellious, insolent, sullen and slovenly, and for being a spoiled brat. He jumped the wall at the Academy, partied constantly and earned many demerits for conduct violations. He escaped expulsion twice. He needed help from top students to pass Academy tests. He graduated 894th of the 899 members in his class. McCain somehow received a much sought-after assignment to flight school. He continued his rebellious ways during and after flight school and gambled a lot. He became at best an average pilot and over his career had four accidents, three of which destroyed airplanes.
His behavior undercut his credibility as a naval officer and his career was going nowhere. In 1967, almost ten years after graduation and despite a poor flight record, he managed to get assigned to an aircraft carrier near Vietnam. He flew bombing missions, got shot down over Hanoi and was severely injured. He served most of the war in prison.
Within two weeks, McCain was quoted in the Vietnamese press as saying that the war was "moving to the advantage of North Vietnam and the United States appears to be isolated". He named his ship, the number of raids he had flown, his squadron number and the target of his final raid. Subjected to solitary confinement and physical torture, McCain later wrote and taped war crime confessions for Vietnam propaganda purposes. He confessed to such things as bombing innocent women and children. According to Mark Salter, his closest aide and regular co-author, McCain said, "Other guys had it a lot worse. I think they took it easier on me because of who my dad was". The Vietnamese called him the "crown prince."
McCain’s father was in command of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. While the war was still underway, McCain’s captors offered him early release ahead of dozens of other prisoners. He declined. When he tells this story on the campaign trail, he omits that he would have been required to make disloyal statements such as accusing the U.S. of being criminal. This would have violated the military code of conduct and risked both court-martial and an end to McCain’s career.
Colonel David Hackworth was a military legend with 78 combat awards in the Vietnam and Korean wars. He wrote that, according to three POW sources, the top U.S. Commander at the Hanoi prison had ordered McCain to turn down the release offer and he "just followed orders". He questioned whether McCain is a genuine war hero or "the creation of a very slick publicity campaign that plays on flag, duty, honor and country". According to a fellow POW and former Academy classmate, numerous other POWs refused the same offer made to McCain. Another fellow POW, Colonel John Dramesi, was brutally tortured, refused to talk and tried two daring escapes. Both he and the POW former classmate said McCain was just like the other 600 prisoners and did nothing unusual.
After the war McCain went on to command a large Navy aircraft training squadron. He ended his career as a Captain and the Navy’s liaison with the Senate. He never experienced leadership and command responsibilities that remotely approximated the career path of his father or grandfather. McCain’s wartime experience, dating back some 40 years, is not relevant to today’s most vital threats of international terrorism and nuclear weapons. His naval records have not been fully disclosed to the public. All he has to do is sign Standard Form 180 authorizing the Navy to release the information. Why has he not done so?
Long time associates say McCain reacts impulsively and unpredictably. He is known to have a short fuse – a hair trigger temper. He reportedly has had fits of anger with fellow senators and others who disagree with him. According to former Republican Senator Bob Smith, McCain’s "volcanic temper has repeatedly led to explosive alterations with colleagues and constituents alike", and he has few friends. Republican Senator Thad Cochran said McCain is "erratic" and "hotheaded" and "the thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine." Senator Pete Domenici, also a Republican, told Newsweek that "I decided I didn’t want this guy anywhere near a trigger." Senator Harkin said there have been times "when he’s just exploded." McCain has abused other Senators with terms like "chicken-s--", "f – you", "stupid", f – jerk" and "asshole."
Reportedly some 30 government and military officials have attested to McCain’s temper with illustration like uncontrollable, hothead, deep anger, hostility, volatile, bellicose and knee jerk responses. Years ago a group of POW/MIA family members tried to speak to McCain about legislation he was amending that would make it more difficult for them to find their lost, loved ones. A relative of a missing-in-action Air Force Colonel said:
"He went from a smiling, congenial, happy face to a beet red, totally enraged face in an instant", she said, "I have never seen a senator act in this way."
McCain refused to respond and burst through the group, causing one person to hit a wall and pushing aside another person in a wheelchair. Several members of the group reported the incident to the Capitol Police and filed complaints with the Ethics Committee, but nothing was done.
McCain has eroded his trustworthiness by breaking his promise to the American people to hold a respectful campaign based on the issues. Pressured by lower poll numbers and overshadowed by his rival’s popularity, he hired a new manager -- a disciple of Carl Rove and an expert in the politics of personal destruction. The new campaign proceeded to misrepresent his rival’s positions, attack his patriotism, mock his popularity and accuse him of being a traitor and of being indifferent to wounded American soldiers. By one count, McCain had lied about his rival 22 times through the end of July. Through September and mid- October, the McCain campaign equaled that number with lies and reckless statements on such things as kindergarten sex, bridge to nowhere, lipstick pig, palling around with terrorists, denying babies medical care and raising taxes on small business. Then, at mid-October, his campaign sunk even lower by leveling guilt by association attacks (McCarthyism) and fomenting hate speech by working crowds into frenzy. Joe Klein of Time Magazine concluded:
"John McCain has raised serious questions about whether he has the character to lead the nation. He has defaced his beloved military code of honor. He has run a dirty campaign."
McCain’s politics have been so deceptive that even Carl Rove himself has denounced them, saying that the campaign ads go too far and fail the truth test. McCain seems to overlook the fact that if the public cannot believe him now, how can they believe him as Commander-in-Chief?
Fitness in Crisis
If elected, will McCain in time of crisis be thoughtful, cool and consult with others, or will he shoot from the hip? Will he be able to handle disagreements with his own cabinet members or with key advisors or with leaders of his opposition party? What will he do when confronted by strong leaders of foreign countries? Will he have the wisdom, judgment and temperament to make the difficult decisions on matters of war and peace or will he base decisions on unreliable information? Are his solutions to world problems too militaristic or will he use America’s superpower with restraint? Will he comprehend the limits of military power?
Will McCain admit and correct errors in a timely manner? Will he be stable enough to take on the toughest job in the world or will our nation constantly be at risk? Will he take what we’ve learned from Afghanistan and Iraq and create a smart and innovative strategy to diminish the ever present threats of international terrorism? Will he aggressively seek to remove the threat of nuclear weapons and support total disarmament of these unacceptable weapons? Will he improve our image around the world so that we can work effectively with the international community? Will taking the low road to the White House be a preview of things to come and cost McCain the goodwill needed to govern and be a respected world leader?