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Friday, September 21

Tribute to John McCain

On Wednesday Pundita avoided news sources until I knew the vote must have been cast. I wanted to learn from Dan Riehl how it went because I knew he would announce it right. I clicked to his blog and there it was:
Webb Amendment Fails
Awww ...

The Senate just voted 56 to 44 on Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) amendment “requiring that active-duty troops and units have at least equal time at home as the length of their previous tour overseas.” The bill failed to garner the 60 votes needed to move forward.
When I saw the "Awww" I burst into laughter -- my way to avoid shedding tears of relief.

It was over, for a time. The rest of the amendments to halt the war would stall. After months of unremitting tension and suspense, John McCain's side had won a major battle. There would be more congressional battles over the US presence in Iraq but for a few months I could take deep breaths again.

Readers who have been with this blog for years will be surprised to learn that Pundita cried, "It's Vietnam all over again!" two months before Ted Kennedy said the same thing in public in April 2004.

I knew there were key differences between the two conflicts but there was the same mind-bending disconnect between what you could see of the war and what the US military was saying about it.

Unless you were there, watching the Vietnam War unfold before your eyes, you can't imagine what it felt like, even if you've read books on the subject and seen the same news footage that Americans saw at the time. The media had become a powerful force in the war, mercilessly revealing the vast gulf between what reason could accept and what it was asked to accept about the progress of the war. By early 2004 that aspect of the Vietnam War was repeating itself in Iraq to anyone who remembered Vietnam.

I lost it after the Abu Ghraib prison tortures hit the news. I clambered out of numbing shock by forcing myself to think in the manner of someone on a long, forced march. I wouldn't be able to keep following the war, much less support it, unless I substituted hope with resolve.

I also realized that from Vietnam forward, all wars conducted by free nations would have be fought with the media playing a huge role in battles. Yet unlike Vietnam, the United States could not walk away from Iraq without suffering severe consequences. So we had no choice but learn to fight under a microscope that was often very distorted.

That was the frame of mind in which I started the Pundita blog. Yet beneath the resolve boiled the same feelings that plunged me into despair about Abu Ghraib. I'll tell you how I've kept on keel since then: every day, when I take in all the bad news about Iraq, I tell myself, "There is worse ahead, so wait until that news before you break down."

But things eventually got so bad in Iraq that my resolve might have failed me. Then John McCain forcefully confronted Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush. McCain refused to back down in the face of overwhelming criticism, and plowed ahead with a resolve that shamed my effort. He fought for a new war strategy with the certainty that the only alternative was crushing defeat.

I thought, 'The least I can do is support his plan with all my heart.'

Then came the worst disagreements among Americans about Iraq, which revealed another mind-bending situation. Several in the military were against deploying more troops. They were against mounting a counterinsurgency. They had decided that America must accept a limited victory in Iraq, as if the triumph of chaos and bloodshed in Iraq had nothing to do with the United States. Many congressionals from both sides of the political aisle, and many in the media and academia lined up behind this view.

Even more eerie, many who considered McCain's plan wanted assurance that it would lead to clear victory for the US. It was as if they demanded to know the outcome of a journey before embarking.

There are no guarantees in life, only the fact that you must do everything within your power to resist defeat. How terribly symmetrical that a man who survived as a prisoner of war in Vietnam is teaching fellow Americans this lesson about the effort in Iraq.
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