“The biggest factor in a man’s ability to perform credibly as a prisoner of war is a strong belief in the correctness of his nation’s foreign policy,” presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain wrote in 1974 in a National War College essay recently dug up by the New York Times.
The paper is an interesting read in itself, and particularly intriguing in the context of this year’s presidential elections, because one of the shortcomings of McCain as a candidate is that he has consistently failed to follow his own recommendations.
As Robert Dujarric and Andy Zelleke point out in Christian Science Monitor, McCain has yet to explain the political objectives that justify keeping American soldiers in Iraq for years to come:
McCain may genuinely believe there is still a political objective, albeit a far more modest one than President Bush and the war’s supporters originally articulated, that can justify the sacrifice of still more American lives and treasure. But if he can’t do better than slogans such as ‘winning’ and ‘stability,’ it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that such an objective simply doesn’t exist. And in that case, we can add one more exorbitant cost to the war’s bill: the death of strategy.
It’s not that the foreign policy objectives are questionable (we’ll skip that discussion for now), it’s simply that they don’t exist. Just imagine what it must be like for a PFC somewhere in Baquba or Kirkuk to try to survive and complete a mission he has no chance to understand, because either the goal posts keep getting moved from “liberate the Middle East” to “provide neighborhood security” and back again, or the goals were never explained to him in the first place.
Also, once someone cares to look in the right direction, this will partly explain the high numbers of psychiatric casualties the U.S. has suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. Any military psychiatrist will tell you that a lack of clear objectives and dwindling political support for the war at home are major factors in the collapse of healthy fighting men.
McCain if anyone should know this, and I’m sure he does; Iraq just keeps slipping through his fingers.