Thursday, June 12, 2008

McCain's hidden military background

Michael Gerson writes the following today, praising the "McCain Miracle":
The personal miracle of McCain's presidential run is even more extraordinary. It is obvious -- and therefore often unstated -- that the journey from a 4-by-6-foot North Vietnamese cell to the 36-by-29-foot Oval Office would be unprecedented. It would be as though George Washington were captured by the British, who snapped his legs in a torture cell; or Ulysses Grant were nearly starved to death at Andersonville Prison; or Dwight Eisenhower had been interrogated and beaten by the Gestapo in a German stalag. All three, I imagine, would have been honorable, defiant and arrogant enough to survive. But McCain has proved it.
While, yes, it would be new to have a president who had been captured and tortured by the enemy, that's not really the point of what Gerson is trying to do here. What Gerson is trying to do is add to the aura of John McCain by comparing him not only to presidents who served, but to three military geniuses--all who achieved the rank of General of the Army (though Washington was awarded the honor posthumously)--who eventually went on to become president.

But that's a long damn stretch to compare McCain to these men.

Let me say, first, that I am not arguing that John McCain did not acquit himself heroically during his captivity, but there is a difference between being a heroic captive and a military genius. Gerson could have just as easily and more appropriately used John Tyler, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in his examples. After all, those men served in war at ranks more comparable to McCain's when he was captured. But Gerson and others are desperate to build up John McCain's faltering national security image, so the former Bush speechwriter with a penchant for lifting phrases and using religious allusions of near-shibboleth dimensions wants you to think of the true military greats when you think of McCain.

The truth is, very little is known about McCain's actual skills as a military thinker. We know that he graduated 894th out of 899 cadets and was a rambunctious junior officer, but went on to be a decent commanding officer, it seems. Much has been said about his service in numerous books, but I think that, if McCain wants to suggest that his military background should be seen as a qualifier to lead the country, he needs to truly open up and let us see his complete background, which he has not yet done.

Despite the fact the press has reported that the "Navy recently released McCain's military record," all we have actually seen from McCain's record is a collection of his award citations (pdf link), which amount to a tiny fraction of the documents which should be found in his complete record. Most importantly, the release left out all of John McCain's fitness reports, the documents in which McCain's superiors would characterize his service and his potential as an officer.

I am not suggesting that there is necessarily something untoward to be found in McCain's fitreps, but, when John Kerry used his military service as the cornerstone of his presidential pitch in 2004, Republicans demanded that he release his full military record, which he did, revealing excellent fitness reports during his time in the service. John McCain should do the same. At least then we could begin to judge whether he truly demonstrated exemplary military leadership and judgment outside of his experience in captivity.

If McCain wants to make his military career such a huge part of his campaign (and its clear that he does), we should be getting the full picture of his service. If the right thinks that Barack Obama's birth certificate is worth stamping their feet about, then they certainly shouldn't have a problem with McCain giving up documents which would shine more light on his character.

Regardless of whether he releases the rest of these documents or not, John McCain is no Dwight D. Eisenhower.


Anonymous news games said...

You're damn right when you say "Gerson and others are desperate to build up John McCain's faltering national security image" !

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