A Bad Choice


Sen. John McCain, already confused about Sunnis and Shiites, now is confused about geography and recent history. Take it from a gray-hair, the guy is too old to be trusted with the presidency.

The press has been kind to McCain, not even reporting some of his gaffes, apparently on the grounds that "Well, he’s an old guy, so he’ll occasionally misspeak." On his last trip to the Middle East, he got his Sunnis and Shiites confused three times in one day. More recently, he referred to the Iraq-Pakistan border, which, of course, does not exist. Now trying to claim credit for the misnamed surge (actually, it was an escalation of troop levels), he’s got his history confused. He claimed the Sunni tribes’ decision to fight al-Qaida was part of the surge.

The Sunni tribes turned against al-Qaida before the extra troops were even authorized, much less had arrived. Incidentally, the sheik that McCain claimed we protected was assassinated. The presence of the extra troops can probably be credited with encouraging the Mahdi Army to stand down. That certainly contributed to a lessening of the violence.

As Sen. Barack Obama freely and publicly acknowledges, while the extra troops helped quell the violence, it was not the sole cause of the drop in violence, which is what McCain and some members of the press want Obama to say. One of the big flaws of American journalism today is the urge by many to play "gotcha" games over semantics.

As for McCain’s rhetoric, it’s pathetic. He demonstrates no sound knowledge of the Middle East or of any other part of the world. He showed bad judgment from the beginning by backing an invasion that was, lest we forget, illegal, unnecessary, horribly mismanaged, wasteful of American lives and treasure, justified with lies, and a strategic blunder of the first order. If that’s what people want in a commander in chief, then God have mercy on this country.

Forty years ago, McCain was shot down and made a prisoner of war. In refusing an early release, he acted with courage and honor. Being a fighter pilot and prisoner of war, however, does not qualify anyone to be president. One of our greatest fighter pilots who also went into politics is sitting in a federal prison for taking bribes. Some of the greatest fighter pilots of all time, measured by their number of kills, wore the uniforms of America’s enemies. Proficiency in arms has more to do with eyesight and reflexes than with strategic thinking and general knowledge of history and economics.

The presidency is a civilian job. The Founding Fathers included the duty of commander in chief precisely to ensure civilian domination of the military. The president seeks advice from his generals and admirals, but he is not bound by their advice. One should remember that our professional warriors are technicians whose vocation is killing people and destroying property. But they can kill and destroy only on the orders of the civilian president and the civilian Congress.

If we had a president who would slavishly do everything his generals suggested, then we would no longer have a civilian government but instead a military junta. The military people have only to concentrate on their mission. The president has to concentrate not only on the mission, but on the world at large, and on domestic problems and priorities. We don’t want idiot civilians making tactical decisions, as happened in the Vietnam War, but we also don’t want generals setting strategy and policy for the United States. The generals in Iraq are there because the civilian government sent them there. When the civilian government decides they should leave, then their duty will be to shut up and leave.

Harry Truman reminded Americans of that when he fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. MacArthur was a lot more famous than any general in Iraq or Washington, but he was insubordinate, and Truman canned him. That’s the duty of a commander in chief — to make sure the generals don’t forget that the boss is the civilian president.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.