McCain: Obama repeating Vietnam mistakes ‘Why he hasn’t learned from Iraq … confounds me.’



McCain: Obama repeating Vietnam mistakes

‘Why he hasn’t learned from Iraq … confounds me.’


Navy Lt. Cdr. John McCain

Navy Lt. Cdr. John McCain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As WND spoke with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about his new book, it became clear that American military history – from astonishing battlefield valor by soldiers to stunning incompetence and betrayal by government leaders – is repeating itself.

“13 Soldiers, A Personal History of Americans at War,” co-authored by the former presidential candidate and celebrated POW, and his aide of 18 years, Mark Salter, proved to be riveting, extremely well-written and instructive for anyone from history buff to commander in chief.

The book profiles 13 individuals who served in American’s major conflicts and provides numerous lessons for posterity that are relevant today, especially in the Mideast, as U.S.military strategists have often vowed “no more Vietnams,” yet seem to repeat history.

Not merely a collection of biographies, “13 Soldiers” uses a technique that is both instructive and engrossing by placing the stories of the warriors within the context of their battles and wars, bringing history lessons to life with page-turning tales of heroism, hardship and self-sacrifice.

McCain told WND he and Salter tried to depict what war was all about but also what heroes were all about, because sometimes war histories don’t appreciate the human aspect.

“We tried to give a cross-section of people ranging from outright genuine heroes (such as the late Petty Officer) Mike “Mickey” Monsoor, the Navy SEAL (awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars for repeatedly saving the lives of comrades in ‘the most dangerous city on Earth, Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province’ in 2006, including falling on a grenade) a man of incredible heroism and sacrifice, to people like (Civil War and Mexican-American War veteran) Samuel Chamberlain, who was a bit of a rogue who enjoyed writing about his romantic conquests,” the senator told WND.

He also enjoyed telling the tales of “someone like Charles Black, an African-American in the days of slavery on ships at sea where every individual was vital to the survival of the ship,” who still suffered discrimination during his service in the War of 1812, although it was lessened by the sailors’ mutual dependence.

The authors also profiled one of McCain’s favorites, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who fought in the Civil War, a war which, McCain noted, was America’s bloodiest.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

“We watched him change as he went through the war. Finally, at the end, you see he was forever shaped by his experience by war. We point out how he would use an ammunition box as a lunch box as he went to court,” the senator told WND.

Sometimes the warriors’ heroic sacrifices were imposed by the American government, as was the case of the obscure and unsung hero of the Revolutionary War, the poorly clothed, ill-equipped, always-starving, rarely shoed and even more rarely paid Joseph Plumb Martin, who became a soldier at age 15.

The authors recount how Martin escaped the worst of the brutal winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, after a fortuitous assignment to a foraging party, only to endure the full force of the even harsher winter the following year at Morristown, New Jersey, where he was reduced to eating tree bark.

In his autobiography, Martin recalled envying a squirrel he watched die of starvation.

“He got rid of his misery soon. He did not live to starve piecemeal six or seven years,” the soldier wrote.

Despite Martin’s bitter complaint of “starving for an ungrateful people,” and his resentment toward a Congress described by McCain and Salter as “insensible to the situation,” the authors depict the soldiers having a “patriotism supported by the rarest of resolves: they would not betray their country’s cause even when they believed their country had betrayed them.”

martinjosephplu2WND asked McCain if he saw a parallel to morale in America’s armed forces today, with recent downsizing and defunding.

In hushed tones, the senator replied: “That’s a valid point because it’s clear these people (revolutionary soldiers) were literally starved, thousands of them starved to death. Today, we have the ability to feed, to arm, to equip, train a professional military that’s probably the most capable on earth. Yet, we see, in my view, almost a betrayal of them, because the sequester is now harming not only their ability, but their morale.”

Drawing upon the lessons of history, he added: “You know, right now, captains and majors in the U.S. army serving in Afghanistan are receiving (pink slips) and being involuntarily separated from the U.S. Army. It’s a very, very bad thing. We saw this happen in the Vietnam war. It took a real reinvigoration by Ronald Reagan to restore our capabilities. And I am afraid we are seeing that, to some degree, again.”

McCain described how the current situation in Iraq was also hurting morale.

“Just a few days ago, I was campaigning in Louisiana with a candidate there and a young man came up to me and said, ‘Senator McCain, I was a Marine in the second battle of Fallujah.’ That was during the surge under Gen. Petraeus; it was the bloodiest fight of the whole Iraq conflict. We lost 86 Marines and soldiers, and 400 were wounded. He said to me, ‘Four of the guys in my platoon were killed. Tell me, Senator McCain, the black flag of ISIS is flying over Fallujah. What do I tell my friends’ mothers?’ That’s pretty tough to respond to.”

WND observed the conversation must have hit McCain personally in a number of ways, especially as was he was such a strong proponent of the surge that eventually sealed the victory in Iraq, asking if he thought the U.S. was seeing that country and Afghanistan go the way of Vietnam.

“I am afraid, in some respects, we are,” he said. “And I am concerned that if we pull everybody out of Afghanistan without leaving a stabilizing force, we’ll see the same movie we’re now seeing in Iraq. Why the president hasn’t learned from the experience of the complete withdrawal from Iraq and how it applies to Afghanistan confounds me.”

McCain also suggested President Obama was repeating mistakes made in Vietnam during the current air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria by employing constraining rules of engagement.

ISIS massacre in Iraq

ISIS massacre in Iraq

In his book, the former pilot recounted how the rules of engagement in Vietnam “seemed perversely designed to lower the risk of enemy casualties by increasing the risk to American pilots.”

“With so many more valuable targets off limits, pilots were asked to hit the same things over and over again,” he would wrote.

The former Navy pilot described being given a target in June of 1967 that “had already been hit 27 times.”

“Hardly any structures were still standing; it was basically a rubble heap.”

McCain drew a comparison to the current airstrikes.

“A lot of those buildings you saw on television blowing up, they were empty buildings. Why not? (laughs) If you were ISIS would you stay there? Or melt into the populated areas where you know the enemy is not going to strike you.”

McCain ridiculed “the so-called air war against ISIS.”

“We warned ISIS a week ahead of time that we’re going to strike. I’m told, I’ll find out when I get back to Washington, that the process of approval of a target strike is very similar to that of the Vietnam war, where the targets were decided in the White House in the situation room. I think in some ways we are seeing a replay of that war.”

Did he think the airstrikes were just for show?

“Not so much just for show. Kind of a misguided and, really, abysmally ignorant perspective on the fundamentals of warfare. You go in and you hit the enemy hard, fast and strong and then you do what’s necessary to prevail.”

How did the former POW rate Obama as a commander in chief?

“He’s got the same kind of team around him that Lyndon Johnson had around him. There’s just no doubt about it. This latest thing, trying to work with the Iranians against ISIS – the same people that are arming (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad, the same people who brought in Hezbollah to change the equation on the battlefield. And providing Assad with the weapons and barrel bombs to slaughter the Free Syrian Army.”

Expressing incredulity, the senator summed-up: “And they’re telling young Syrians we’re going to train them in Saudi Arabia and send them into that? That’s a degree of immorality that is stunning.”

WND asked McCain is he thought it was too late to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and what would likely come from negotiations led by the Obama administration.

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard celebrate long-range missile launch

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard celebrate long-range missile launch

“I am afraid they’re giving away the store,” he said. “They are delusional, thinking somehow the Iranians would work with us toward any common goal like that. This is a nation that has orchestrated acts of terror throughout the Middle East and the world. Assad was on his way out when they came in and brought in 5,000 Hezbollah from Lebanon and began training their troops, sending in the Revolutionary Guard, flying in plane load after plane load of weapons. And now, we’re supposed to assume that they will help us? And that we have a common goal? They may want to get rid of ISIS, but their ultimate objective is to keep Assad in power and keep slaughtering the FSA (Free Syrian Army).”

McCain took it a step further, bemoaning what an agreement with the Iranians would mean to the fighters the U.S. wants to battle ISIS.

“Weapons flown in from, and people trained by, the Iranians are going to be trying to kill you. I don’t understand how we could morally justify such a thing. And while we’re trying to get them to fight ISIS, meanwhile, Assad has intensified his air attacks against the FSA. That’s just not morally defensible.”

If the U.S will not use ground troops to fight jihadis, what did McCain think of using them to fight Ebola in West Africa?

In measured tones, he offered: “I think that if we are there to construct facilities, I think that’s OK. Whenever you send people into that kind of environment, you’d better be damn sure that they’re safe. I hope that’s the case. I’m looking right now at the New York Times, which says was there was a greater exposure in the Iraq war to chemical weapons than was known – 600 U.S. troops exposed to such weapons – and that was what, 10 years ago? So, I worry about that.”

It was such concern and admiration for the American troops that compelled McCain and Salter to write “13 Soldiers.”

Monica Lin Brown

Monica Lin Brown

“I hope that people learn from it that it’s not just conflicts that should have our attention, but also the people who fought in it who were responsible for the winning or losing, and the various effects it had on them and their lives. The common thread, I think throughout it all, whether a scoundrel like Samuel Chamberlain or a medic like Monica Lin Brown (a front-line medic in Afghanistan who risked her life to save others in an ambush), who is a genuine American hero, is they all had something in common and that is they were wiling to serve and sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.”

WND asked McCain how people who are captured and survive horrendous experiences come back from war resembling something whole.

“Well, I think it all depends, to some degree, on the nature of the experience,” he said. “I was blessed with strong leadership. We were able, through tapping on the walls, to maintain our chain of command. Our senior ranking officers, people like (Air Force Col.) Bud Day and (Army Brig. Gen.) Robinson Risner, (Rear Adm.) Jerry Denton and others who inspired us and kept us together, even though the Vietnamese knew very well that if they could isolate us, which they tried for years, our resistance would be much lessened. They wanted us to provide a propaganda vehicle like condemning the U.S. for war crimes, confessions, you know, all that kind of stuff.

“We resisted and, frankly, I think many of my friends, and I, came out stronger – much stronger than when we went in. Much better. We emerged, I think, as far better citizens and far stronger individuals. That wasn’t the case with all, clearly. Obviously there are some who suffered mental problems. But the vast majority of my friends I was with came out with a greater appreciation for what it’s like to be an American. The freedom that many of take for granted – that many of us, before we became prisoners, took for granted. I think in some ways it’s a trial by fire. You are brought down to the basics, and you (learn you can) not only survive an experience like that but come out a much stronger and better person. And I am grateful for every single day.”

“13 Soldiers, A Personal History of Americans at War,” 384 pages, was published by Simon and Schuster Nov. 11 and is already an Amazon bestseller.

Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth