John McCain's 'Swiftboat' Problem

Arthur Bruzzone

April 15, 2006

The 2008 Presidential race will test the American voter.  It will be a vicious wide open primary for both parties, not withstanding the Senator Hillary Clinton' supposed lock on the nomination   For, Senator John McCain, who has increasingly gained media attention, there could be trouble ahead - his own Swiftboat problem.

In the end, voters in the primaries will judge whether the win-ability of the front runners outweigh the negatives. 

John McCain's challenge began sometime ago.  It has to do with questions about his treatment as a Vietnam POW, his collaboration, if any, and the more outrageous charge  -- that he was converted by his interrogators into contemporary Manchurian candidate. Like John Kerry unsuccessful presidential run in 2004, he will be attacked by a number of fellow POW's and at least one veteran's group.

However, even his early critics grudgingly respect his endurance as a POW. Former POW Mike Benge was a civilian POW in Vietnam from 1968-73, and held in South Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos and North Viet Nam.  He spent 27 months in solitary confinement.  To the question of whether John McCain was a war hero, he responded, "no he is just a survivor like the rest of us. I respect John for the pain and suffering he went through as a POW. I respect John, as I do the other POWs, for surviving the depravity of incarceration by the brutal communist Vietnamese. 

And whether McCain  is a hero because he made the moral choice not to take an early release?  "No, John McCain is not a hero for doing this for he was just following orders from the Senior Ranking Officers (SROs) in the camp. John was doing no more, nor no less, that every service person does several times each day. He was just following orders."

Not normal 'orders', of course. McCain was offered early release because his father was Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., the soon-to-be commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific including those fighting in Vietnam.  He refused.  Several of his fellow POW's claim he was given preferential treatment.   But, McCain was held in isolation for most of his confinement.  Their charges are unsubstantiated. 

What is important here is that websites like Ted Sampley's U.S. Veteran Dispatch are already taking dead aim on John McCain.  The Democrat attack machine certainly is aware of the charges made by Sampley's site. But, they'll have to be cautious.  While several of McCain's fellow POW's have questioned both his loyalty and treatment during captivity, the majority of his POW's recognize the simple fact that John McCain was offered early release by his captors and refused. 

More importantly, John McCain learned an important lesson during his captivity.   It has far reaching importance in evaluating him as a potential Commander-in-Chief.  When President Nixon ordered the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi and its surroundings, conditions changed for the POW's.  "We were fully aware that the only way that we were ever going to get out was for our Government to turn the screws on Hanoi.. We were cheering and the "gooks" didn't like that at all, but we did give a damn about that. It was obvious to us that negotiation was not going to settle the problem." 

Several weeks later, the enemy began serious negotiations that led to an agreement (which was later broken.)

Charges will be raised during the 2008 presidential campaign.  But it's unlikely it will have the same effect on presidential candidate John McCain as the Swiftboat attack on John Kerry. 

More important, John McCain and his fellow POW's owe their release to a hard line policy in dealing with a brutal enemy.  They learned, in the most personal way, that to defeat and enemy you must use power when negotiations are ineffective or impossible. It's also the most effective way to bring home your prisoners of war.

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