Sunday, July 6, 2008

Not Eisenhower

The return of one of the Swiftboat Prevaricators to the commentariat was marked by the usual attempt to create a misimpression by association: in this case the association of McCain with Eisenhower. Sorry, but McCain is no Eisenhower even if that is the misimpression he has been trying to create as the cornerstone of his campaign.

Two differences stand out: Eisenhower had demonstrated outstanding leadership in an entire theater of combat and Eisenhower ran on the key platform issue that he would go to Korea and end that "war" through negotiation with a government we still do not recognize.

The first of these differences was what Gen. Clark was addressing when he said of McCain: "in the matters of national security policy-making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility." (Only the sound bite about being shot down made it onto the news thanks to the time limits of journalism and the work of the spinners.)

If you bring Eisenhower into the discussion, as one of the Prevaricators did, that level of executive command decision making would be the relevant measure. McCain has nothing of the sort, nor does he look good on other points of comparison. Eisenhower went to public schools, not a private prep school, and had to work several years before attending West Point. There he put that education to work, graduating in the top half of his class, not wasting it by ending up in the bottom 1% of the Naval Academy as McCain did. Oddly, this attack dog for McCain mentioned Truman's service and Kennedy's service, but left out the honorable service of GHW Bush, Gore, and Kerry as other people who should (if one were consistent) be trusted with better judgement than, say, GW Bush. But that did not stop him from attacking Kerry.

If you focus on the sound bite ("I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."), the relevant comparison is to GHW Bush or JF Kennedy. Neither effort was considered to be a particular qualification to be President at the time, as both men were judged by other times when they showed leadership and their positions during the campaign. [Was military service used as a reason for right wing voters to pick Kennedy over Nixon?] However, it should be noted that both men were less likely to get suckered into a risky conflict (occupying Iraq and attacking Cuba, respectively) by their military and civilian advisers precisely because of what they learned from their experiences in combat. Did McCain learn that torturing prisoners is always wrong, and that one should not trust claims by those running the prison that no torture took place? It seems not, given the pass he gave GW Bush on that issue.

As for Eisenhower's campaign promise, that looks a lot more like Obama's plan than McCain's. McCain has echoed GW Bush in questioning anyone who would negotiate with North Korea or Iran, even as Bush has negotiated a deal with North Korea that is not very different from the one Clinton had negotiated a decade earlier. Personally, I wonder if the sudden change in behavior in Iraq is a result of the possibility of Obama's election. Combined with the Bush administration's self-imposed December 2008 timetable for leaving Iraq (due to the UN mandate he requested), this may have opened their eyes to the need to take charge of their own future.

Certainly McCain's plan to balance the budget by winning the war in Iraq during his first year in office is sounding more like Nixon and Kissinger did when they decided to declare victory and get out of Vietnam than Eisenhower's approach to Korea. But, in his own way, that is also putting pressure on Iraq to get its political house in order.

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