(Also, on a somewhat related note, I didn’t go over the Area Votes in Congress last week because only the Senate was in session, and the only two bills passed were on stem cell research and something else having to do with fetal cell tissue that was supposed to be some kind of a compromise; I’ll plan to get to the latest on that this week.)
Back Channels It's a matter of honor
John McCain raises the bar for discussion of Iraq.
By Kevin Ferris
Inquirer Commentary Page Editor
John McCain's speech last week about the war on terror may not win him the White House. And it's too soon to tell whether the strategy he's endorsed can turn things around in Iraq.
But the speech, at the Virginia Military Institute, raises the bar for discussion of the war by presidential candidates. Not because of his assessment of progress being made, or his outline of the consequences of failure, or even his attack on the war's critics. Those were all on point and eloquent.Says you, of course (and I wonder if his words were as "on point and elouquent" as those spoken during that ridiculous Iraq photo-op of his on April Fools' Day, appropriately enough?).
What sets McCain apart is simply how he frames the debate: as a matter of honor. Coming from a war hero with 50 years of service to his country, that makes a huge difference.Oh, here we go. Cue the fight song, Hollywood war movie footage and the rockets red glare, OK?
No, I’m not trying to cheapen patriotic heroism by that last sentence; anyway, McCain, by his relentless, shameless pandering to the right (whether it’s Jerry Falwell and Liberty University noted in the video at the end, Alabama Governor Bob Riley on Martin Luther King Day of all occasions – Riley being a member of an organization that excluded African Americans – or McCain’s unflinching support for Dubya’s denial of due process to “enemy combatants”…and yes, Ferris, this is actually a bad thing) has already done that better than I ever could.
At VMI, he spoke of Gen. David Petraeus' honor to lead troops who show such "courage and resolve." The duty of finding a way forward that "best honors their sacrifices." Most important, he explained why he was obligated to give the current strategy a chance to succeed: "To do otherwise would be contrary to the interests of my country and dishonorable."And of course, Ferris here is referring to “the surge”; you know, that thing in Iraq that Petraeus discussed at a Republican caucus, in which the Repugs expressed lukewarm support at best and Petraeus promised results by August, and some of the “moderate Repugs” said in response that if it didn’t succeed, they would “pull the plug.”
By the way, smooth move to discuss this without the benefit of input from the Dems, General (because, as we know, the Dems are the only ones who play politics with the lives of our soldiers, right – snark).
Honor is a recurring theme in McCain's writings and speeches.I wonder how much “honor” McCain felt when he broke the law he helped originate with the great Russ Feingold of Wisconsin by helping to raise some “soft money” for Adjutant General Stan Spears of South Carolina?
When he accepted a Profile in Courage Award in 1999 for backing campaign-finance reform, which hadn't yet passed, he spoke of the importance of honor in his life.
"When I was a young man," McCain said, "and all glory was self-glory, I responded aggressively and often irresponsibly to anyone who questioned my honor. I still remember how zealously a boy would attend the needs of his self-respect.Concerning McCain’s own sense of honor, I would ask that you consider this Common Dreams article by James Carroll (written before there even was an Iraq war or 9/11), particularly the following…
"But as I grew older, and the challenges to my self-respect became more varied and difficult, I was surprised to discover that while my sense of honor had matured, its defense mattered even more to me than it did when I believed that honor was such a frail thing that any empty challenge could threaten it."
Over time, he said, he had learned "to dread dishonor above all other injuries."
McCain as the beloved icon of personal honor has reinforced a general American reluctance to face the national dishonor of American war-making, and he himself shows little or no ability to think deeply on this most crucial subject. That is why McCain's responses to contemporary questions of military policy, from Kosovo to the Missile Defense Shield, are so shockingly hawkish, far more appropriate to a young fighter jock than to a would-be statesman. He is an icon of escalation.Back to Ferris...
He supported campaign-finance reform because it was a way to restore honor to a process that the public viewed as tainted by the relentless pursuit of money.I think another stain on McCain’s honor would be his involvement with rogue financier Charles Keating in the ‘80s (noted here), who almost single-handedly destroyed the savings and loan institutions in this country (remember the S&Ls?). To be fair to McCain, though, he was a minor player in that mess relative to Alan Cranston and Dennis DiConcini of the Senate, for example, and I honestly believe there was a time when he sought to redeem himself over that mess, though he’s gone horribly off course on a whole range of other issues since then, most notably Iraq of course.
"I believe public service is an honorable profession," McCain said. "I believed that when I entered the Naval Academy at 17, and I believe it still. . . . But the people whom I serve believe that the means by which I came to office corrupt me. That shames me. Their contempt is a stain upon my honor, and I cannot live with it."
In his books, McCain writes about trying to measure up to what he learned from his father and grandfather, both admirals, and from the men with whom he served in Vietnam, especially his fellow POWs.He will find that he should have done so, because the majority of the American people, quite rightly, have had enough (57 percent is pretty decisive to me).
In Character Is Destiny, he tells how Americans were tortured for military information, for details about one another, for statements against their country or their mission. If they would just speak, they were told, the pain would stop - and no one would know they had talked.
McCain writes, "But the men I had the honor of serving with always had the same response. I will know. I will know.
"That, dear reader, is good character. And I hope it is your destiny, your choice, your achievement, to hear the voice in your own heart, when you face hard decisions in your life, to hear it say to you, again and again, until it drowns out every other thought: I will know. I will know. I will know."
Perhaps McCain heard that voice as he prepared his VMI speech. He could have bowed to the polls, backed away from this administration and its war. He didn't.
And by the way, as long as Ferris and his ilk are building up Dubya’s Majorly Fracked Up Iraq War as some sort of noble cause, it would be nice if these apologists could communicate exactly what it is that our fine service people are supposed to be doing over there.
Working so the Iraqi’s can “stand up and then we’ll stand down” or something like that? Not going to happen. Trying to wall off Baghdad by religious/ethnic groups? Zero on that also.
Our people are trying to keep from getting killed from an ever-more-emboldened insurgency while the Sunnis and the Shi’ites beat the hell out of each other. And it would be nice if Iran and Syria would actually try to help stop it – regardless of the rationale for this failed war, it is their area of the world, after all – but I guess they’re more concerned with making us look bad than trying to police themselves.
That figures perfectly, and that mindset is something that certainly was understood by the previous administration, and (but for some highly inglorious moments) Colin Powell early in this one.
Instead, he countered the withdrawal wave engulfing Congress. He warned of the results of failure for Iraq, the region, and the United States. He pointed out the "first glimmers of progress" from the troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy - though "the hour is late and . . . we should have no illusion that success is certain." He blasted Democrats for their cynicism, their cheers while voting to endorse defeat, and their refusal "to offer an alternative strategy that has some relationship to reality."Speaking of “some relationship to reality,” I don’t know what Ferris means by the Democrats’ “cheers while voting to endorse defeat.” Is he being literal, metaphorical, or typically delusional? Is this something like the graffiti supposedly painted on the Capitol steps by antiwar protesters?
Ferris’ trademark is to spout partisan generalizations and cast unsubstantiated aspersions at every opportunity, so all of this is typical.
"Responsible political leaders - statesmen - do not add to the burdens our troops carry," he said.Speaking of “the burden our troops carry,” here’s more…
Granted, McCain is a politician, and his goal for 2009 is clear. But on this topic, neither polls nor ambition have led him to embrace dishonor.“And thaaa hoooooome oooofff thaaa braaaaa-aavvve!”
He may not become president, but, along the way, he'll set the standard for an honorable debate.
I hope McCain at least extends to Ferris the courtesy of a “reach-around” for this one.
And by the way, here’s more honorable “straight talk” from St. McCain.
Update 4/23: Gosh, where is my head at these days? I failed to include Senator Honor and Virtue's musical number yesterday...