Thursday, April 12, 2007

McCain Commands Admiration With Principled Stand

Sen. John McCain's speech yesterday before the military cadets at VMI will, I believe, be remembered and honored when the history of this period is written. Just as Winston Churchill was excoriated as a warmonger when he made his speech, on Oct. 5, 1938, on the Munich Agreement, only to be revered later when everything he warned of came to pass.

We must "take our stand for freedom as in the olden time," Churchill concluded in his great address to Parliament.

So stands McCain. In warning of the calamities to come should the war in Iraq be lost, and in calling on the nation to be steadfast, McCain has put the nation's interest above that of his own transitory political fortunes. It is reminiscent, as New York Times columnist David Brooks notes this morning, of the heroic resistance that McCain made to his North Vietnamese interrogators when he was a prisoner in the Vietnam war.

The stakes today are much greater than Vietnam. A virulent fascism, seeking to arm itself with nuclear weapons, is sweeping over the Middle East and North Africa, and threatening Europe and the United States. The greatest battle is going on in Iraq, where U.S. armed forces are engaged in a bitter and protracted war against those who in Al Qaeda and other Muslim fundamentalist organizations would spread their brand of barbarism throughout the world. At the same time, weak-kneed p0liticians in Washington grow discouraged. They are willing to give up the fight in Iraq in the vain hope that the enemy would then let us alone. They are today's parallel to Neville Chamberlain and others who, in the 1930s, sought "peace in our time" by throwing over Czechoslovakia, only to see Hitler, less than a year later, launch an aggressive war that killed more than 50 million.

It is in this context that McCain's speech yesterday was given.

The Arizona senator declared, "I understand the frustration caused by our mistakes in this war. I sympathize with the fatigue of the American people. But I also know the toll a lost war takes on an army and a country. It (the Iraq war) is the right road. It is necessary and just."

McCain said of the recent Congressional votes for a timed withdrawal, "Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the late votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat?Surrender?"

But, as he asserted, the Democratic stands can lead to "disaster for the United States of America...What their motives might be, I can't ascertain. I do know what these actions will cause."

If the war is lost, McCain said, "We would face a terrible choice: watch the region burn, the price of oil escalate dramatically, and our economy decline, watch the terrorists establish new base camps, or send American troops back to Iraq, with the odds against our success much worse than they are today."

It was the NYT columnist, Brooks, who best captured the moment of this prophetic speech.

"McCain has been gradually sliding in the polls, and he has responded not by panicking, or by changing, but by surrendering himself to the fates," Brooks wrote. "He's had a wonderful life, he feels, and if he is not president, it will be no tragedy. At first I thought he was making preemptive excuses for a possible defeat, but after observing him closely I concluded this is a fatalism that Navy fliers must often adopt as they go into combat.

"And there's a stubbornness about him, now, too, which was not evident on the Straight Talk Express. The atmosphere is much harsher toward him, and you can see the hardness he must have used to resist his Vietnamese jailers."

McCain views the war as an epic, Brooks writes, and believes "he has a duty...to support the strategy he still believes in, and perhaps ward off the worse cataclysm that would come from chaos and early withdrawal."

And, finally Brooks says of McCain, "He's been consistent and steady these past few years, while others have flickered. He's been offended by Democrats who laughed and celebrated during the passage of withdrawal legislation. Yesterday he criticized them in a way that was harsh but thoroughly considered.

"But in the long run, his embrace of Iraq may not hurt him as much as now appears. In 10 months, this election won't be about the surge, it will be about the hydra-headed crisis roiling the Middle East. The candidate who is the most substantive, most mature and most consistent will begin to look more attractive and more necessary."

Nineteen months after Lady Astor screamed "Nonsense" as Churchill spoke, and most of the rest of the Parliament cheered her, the King called Churchill to become Prime Minister.

I've quoted both McCain and Brooks at length today, because I believe their words are historic. In the calamitous months and years to come, we will be glad these men stood for their principles.

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