Does McCain’s Military Experience Translate to Presidency?
Howard Fineman assesses John McCain’s strengths:
We are in the midst of a slow-motion war, and McCain is a warrior. He knows the world, its dangers and wonders; he knows the military, its powers and its limitations. He knows Washington. He has a big campaign organization, and substantive knowledge of most every issue.
Ezra Klein is weary of seeing this conventional wisdom repeated:
The individuals asserting it almost universally agree that Iraq is a quagmire and the war a historic mistake — but they don’t seem to notice that McCain not only supported it, but supported it more enthusiastically than virtually any other prominent figure in the country, and that his full-throated advocacy of a catastrophic invasion should probably be taken into account when evaluating his judgment and knowledge.
Matt Yglesias agrees, adding, “I see no evidence whatsoever that McCain believes the military has any limitations.”
These are interesting points. At first blush, Fineman’s comments would seem unassailable.
- McCain is nearly 71 years old
- He’s the son and grandson of 4-star admirals
- He graduated from the United States Naval Academy
- He served in Vietnam
- He spent five years getting tortured in a Vietnamese POW camp
- He rose to the rank of Captain (0-6)
- He’s served twenty years in the Senate
- He’s making his second presidential run
Surely, that more than qualifies him as a worldly man who knows war and Washington.
Does any of that mean he’ll make a great commander-in-chief? Nope. Our greatest wartime presidents, Lincoln and FDR, had much less military experience. Lincoln’s counterpart, Jefferson Davis, had a superb resume and made bad decision after bad decision.
Was McCain’s judgment on the Iraq War wrong? It’s hard to say for sure, really. The war has gone badly but, then again, he wasn’t running it. And he has steadfastly been in favor of a much bigger ground force presence. He wanted Rumsfeld and company gone long before they left. He’s been right on torture. It’s conceivable — and more importantly, unfalsifiable — that things would be much different had McCain been president.
Perhaps Ezra and Matt are right that McCain thinks everything can be solved if only we use enough force. Still, a man who’s been through what he has surely understands as well as anyone the perils of war. Then again, he might be one of those who think the lessons of Vietnam is “don’t tie the military’s hands” and “send more troops.” If so, his experience has not served him well.