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babylonsister Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-01-08 07:16 AM
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Mark Benjamin: McCain's Vietnam obsession

McCain's Vietnam obsession

The former POW's Senate career has been marked by his outspoken determination never to repeat Vietnam mistakes. So why does he support the Iraq war?

By Mark Benjamin

April 1, 2008 | WASHINGTON -- In a major national security speech delivered last week, John McCain invoked his experience in Vietnam to explain his support for a significant U.S. troop presence in Iraq for as long as it takes to prevent a wider catastrophe in the region. "I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are," the former POW said in an address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. "But I know, too, that we must pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later."

But the truth is that it's always about Vietnam for John McCain. He has invoked avoiding the mistakes of Vietnam with a sort of religious fervor in every important debate about dispatching U.S. troops since he first entered Congress in 1983. As he put it in an Aug. 18, 1999, speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he studies "every prospective conflict for the shadow of Vietnam." In fact, a look at his record shows that he subjects every major foreign-policy decision to a Vietnam-derived test similar to the famed Powell doctrine, a test summed up by the McCain quote, "We're in it, now we must win it."

So entrenched are those lessons that McCain sounds, at times, like he wishes they could be applied retroactively. "We lost in Vietnam because we lost the will to fight, because we did not understand the nature of the war we were fighting, and because we limited the tools at our disposal," McCain said at a speech on Iraq at the Council on Foreign Relations on Nov. 5, 2003. And for that reason, it might be advisable to take him at his word when he says he'll stay in Iraq for 100 years. Whether Vietnam is the prism through which he judges national security decisions, or the rationale he uses to explain whatever position he decides to take -- and even if the lessons he says he's learned from Vietnam often seem contradictory -- he has applied his Vietnam test to Iraq and come up with the decision to stay.

Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was one of the first to get widespread credit for boiling down Vietnam-like lessons into a short, never-again recipe. But most often cited is Weinberger's former senior military assistant, Colin Powell, who in 1991 as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff articulated what has become known as the Powell Doctrine. Powell, who served in Vietnam, created a series of questions that need to be answered in the affirmative before the commitment of U.S. ground forces. Though Powell himself never codified the questions on any single written document, they are generally agreed to consist of the following:

* Is there a vital national security interest at stake?
* Is there a clear and attainable goal?
* Have nonviolent efforts been exhausted?
* Is there a viable exit strategy?
* Do the American people support action?
* Is there broad international support?

more... /
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