For John McCain to suffer from complex psychological issues resulting from his Vietnam experience is understandable. He fought in that war, and was a tortured prisoner of the North Vietnamese for five years. In end, in his mind, we lost.
That is the accepted historical understanding of Vietnam. I think a case could be made that we lost the battle of Vietnam but won the war against communism in southeast Asia, in large part, because of that battle. But that is not the point of this post.
The point is that John McCain’s suffers from a debilitating neurosis as a result of his Vietnam experience. Neurosis is defined as:
a functional disorder in which feelings of anxiety, obsessional thoughts, and compulsive acts dominate the personality.
In attempting the frame the question of Iraq during the campaign, John McCain repeatedly states that he will “never surrender” and that by following his plan our troops will leave with “victory and honor.”
He also states that we are “winning” in Iraq. On the military front, he’ll get no argument from most people. Petraeus and the troops are winning in Iraq (I say they have won). The surge really has worked.
But his rhetoric raises an obvious contradiction. If we are winning, why compulsively repeat this business about never surrendering? And why obsess about victory and honor when they are so close at hand? The answer, McCain will say, is that we haven’t won yet.
But the question that arises then is this: If we haven’t won yet, when will we win? And why does only John McCain get to declare victory?
Sound neurotic? It is.
By continually snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, McCain is stripping the military of the praise and reward it rightfully deserves. Our troops have done a brilliant job in securing the country and creating the conditions for political compromise and reconciliation. Why not give them full credit?
It is because John McCain suffers from a syndrome (he’s not alone in this) that contrasts Iraq with Vietnam (and both wars with World War II).
What he has failed to grasp is that America is different than it was in 1968, and that America will not reject its soldiers, but will welcome them as heroes and thank them for a job well done. There is no reason to keep them there until Americans will respect them. We already do. John McCain is guarding against a forty year-old phantom.
Secondarily, he is waiting for a resolution that, unlike World War II, will never come. There will be no surrender from the Sunni extremists and Iranian-allied Shia. There will be no peace treaty on our terms and Marshall Plan for Iraq. Any reasonable person can see this. But John McCain is not reasonable. He is suffering from Vietnam syndrome and it puts our troops in danger.
The fact is, the Iraqi military is ready to stand up, so it is now time for America to stand down. Not on our knees, as John McCain would have it, but with pride, honor, and yes, John McCain, victory.
What happens after that? Well, that’s a political issue, and that battle was lost from the start by McCain, George W. Bush, and the rest of their neocon brethren. Don’t hold our troops hostage to your ideological dreams.
For John McCain, the best thing to do might be to seek psychological help. The Vietnam War is over. It would be a good thing for him and for us, if he came to that realization.