August 27, 2008
One of my favorite conservative columnists recently started a column with the words, “Back before the Republican Party was saddled with John McCain as its nominee…” How was the Republican Party “saddled” with him when more Republicans voted for him than for anyone else running in the Republican primaries and caucuses?
I was one of those who voted for John McCain in the California primary—and did it with enthusiasm. As someone who is as conservative as the columnist, of course I have had disagreements with Senator McCain on some issues, but all the issues of disagreement are secondary to winning the war in which our nation’s survival is at stake, as well as the survival of civilization as we know it. I am convinced that John McCain was born to be commander in chief in this war. Foreign policy and the military are in his blood. That is not true of the Democrats’ choice.
Early in 1961, President Kennedy invited former Vice President Nixon to the Oval Office to discuss world affairs. Former Vice President Nixon was seated on a lounge chair while President Kennedy was pacing the floor as they discussed Cuba, Berlin, the Congo, Laos, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the U.N. President Kennedy stopped pacing and said to former Vice President Nixon, “This is the stuff of presidents! I mean, who cares if the minimum wage is $1.15 or $1.25?” He meant, of course, that the minimum wage “is the stuff” of Congresses.
Voters, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, generally believe that presidents establish both foreign and domestic policies. They don’t. Presidents can advocate domestic policies but Congresses generally decide them. President Clinton advocated National Health Care. The Congress killed that one. President George W. Bush (43) advocated Social Security Reform and Immigration Reform. The Congress killed both of them. It is different when it comes to foreign affairs. Clinton sent our armed forces to Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo. Bush sent our armed forces to Afghanistan and Iraq. Throughout our entire U.S. history our Congresses have only committed five declarations of war, while there have been some 234 foreign military engagements ordered by presidents with or without congressional approval. Since World War II, with little exception, no matter the domestic policy pursuits of presidents, it has been foreign affairs that have taken center-stage of their administrations from the atom bomb to the Korean War to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Vietnam and Cambodia to the Iranian Hostage Crisis to “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev!” to the liberation of Kuwait.
On April 10, 1975 President Ford made an impassioned plea to a Joint Session of the Congress to give the funds for aid we had promised South Vietnam in the Paris Peace Accords of January 27, 1973. The Congress refused. One week after President Ford’s rejected plea, Cambodia fell, and before the end of the month South Vietnam fell. Shortly after that I asked former President Nixon what he would have done had he still been president with the imminent surrender of Cambodia and South Vietnam while Congress denied the funds to prevent those surrenders. He answered, “I would have bombed the blazes out of Hanoi and Haiphong.” Then he added, “I would have been impeached but so what? We would have saved millions of Southeast Asian lives.” In short, presidents are commanders in chief.
In 2004, John McCain publicly advocated sending a surge of more troops to Iraq. He stuck with it until his surge was implemented by the president last year. Whether it is remembered or not, it was not that Senator McCain only supported the surge; he was the author of that policy.
When I hear the recitation of issues that are used against John McCain by any conservative, I can’t help but answer that we are in a war against those who announce their objective is, “Death to America!” They mean it. Wars are either won or lost. If we lose, then all the second-tier issues will be decided for us by an Ayatollah, an Imam, or a Mullah.
The primary season is long-since over and the luxury of 2008’s inter-party debates should be history. John McCain does not need to reach out to us. We need to reach out to him. He ran. He won. He is our candidate while the Democrats are “saddled” with Obama.
Without the base of a political party solidly behind their candidate, the party’s candidate loses and the opposition’s candidate wins. As a conservative, as a Republican and most of all as an American, I believe there is no contest in determining who is most capable of leading the United States: John McCain. His mind, his heart and his blood are filled with the stuff of presidents.
Bruce Herschensohn is currently teaching a graduate course at Pepperdine University on U.S. Foreign Policy, is author of the new book, “Above Empyrean,” and is a recognized media figure on all things political.