The Elephant in the Elephants’ Room

Presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his supporters love to boast about McCain’s military service. “He’s a war hero. He was held captive and tortured for 5+ years in Viet Nam.” Quotes similar to this are used as the primary evidence of his ability to lead the nation, or at least a nation at war.

“The ability to strategize effectively to bring about peace while minimizing the loss of human life … is not miraculously bestowed upon all those held in captivity.”

I am not so brazen as to discount either his service or his stamina. But it’s pretty easy to discount this attempted linkage between his military service and his readiness to lead the nation. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the mainstream media have not dared to question this linkage because they risk being misinterpreted as questioning his patriotism.

Military service in and of itself (and, in particular, being held captive) does not qualify one to be President or, by extension, Commander in Chief. The ability to strategize effectively to bring about peace while minimizing the loss of human life is a primary qualification. This qualification is not miraculously bestowed upon all those held in captivity. If that were the case, we could argue that Gitmo is creating the world leaders of tomorrow.

There are those who posit — and I tend to agree — that being held in captivity is instead a disqualifier for the nation’s highest position. It’s virtually impossible to escape lasting psychological damage from the type of captivity and torture that McCain endured. (There’s a special irony in the fact that our 43rd President’s policies have made it highly unlikely that the thousands of returning Iraq War veterans with PTSD and other emotional and mental problems will ever have sufficient mental health services provided for them. Do you suppose they take some comfort in the fact that a Presidential candidate shares something in common with them?)

It’s not a very long dotted line that connects his captivity to his outbursts of rage. With the kinds of pressures a President faces on a daily basis, do we dare risk electing a President who may make decisions out of anger instead of rational thinking?

The dotted line is perhaps not so direct or obvious between McCain’s Viet Nam experiences and his myopic approach to his campaign. Whatever the source of his campaign strategy, McCain is largely a single-issue candidate. He himself has chosen to make the Iraq war the centerpiece of his campaign. While he may dabble in discussions of other matters, he always comes back the favorite song in his songbook: war.

Moveover, McCain seems to be among the millions of Americans who don’t make a distinction between American history and military history. Indeed, the two are sometimes difficult to separate because generation upon generation of American men (and now women) have gone off to one war or other. War is a giant part of the American identity. The prevailing mindset is that we must somehow prove our individual and collective worth by being engaged in and winning wars. Consequently, we find ourselves cast in the role of the world’s policemen. In that role, we’re damned if we intervene and we’re damned if we don’t.

Our next president will be faced with the challenge of changing not only the world’s perception but the reality of the U.S.-military-as-global-police-force. How on earth will McCain’s perspective meet that challenge? McCain’s own war experience was in the nation’s previously most misguided war, and yet he, like so many other Republicans, have yet even to admit that Viet Nam was almost as much of a mistake as the current Iraq fiasco. To expect McCain to meet or even address this objective is like shopping for groceries at a lumberyard.

Let’s face some facts. The vast majority of the nation is opposed to the war. People are tired of having our young men and women sent off to this ill-conceived and poorly-executed venture in Iraq. People are tired of seeing our national debt escalate and our spending power dwindle. People are really tired of all other aspects of our government being hobbled because of inordinate defense spending.

John McCain is simply not capable of addressing the needs, desires, and — dare I say — hopes of America.