John Sidney McCain III is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. He was the Republican nominee for president in the 2008 United States election. McCain followed his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, into the United States Navy, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He became a naval aviator, flying ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, he nearly lost his life in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, badly injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war until 1973. McCain experienced episodes of torture, and refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation offer. His war wounds left him with lifelong physical limitations.
He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1981, moved to Arizona, and entered politics. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, he served two terms, and was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, winning re-election easily in 1992, 1998, and 2004. While generally adhering to conservative principles, McCain at times has had a media reputation as a "maverick" for having disagreed with his party. After being investigated and largely exonerated in a political influence scandal of the 1980s as a member of the Keating Five, he made campaign finance reform one of his signature concerns, which eventually led to the passage of the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002. He is also known for his work towards restoring diplomatic relations with Vietnam in the 1990s, and for his belief that the war in Iraq should be fought to a successful conclusion. McCain has chaired the Senate Commerce Committee, has opposed spending that he considered to be pork barrel, and played a key role in alleviating a crisis over judicial nominations.
McCain ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, but lost a heated primary contest to George W. Bush. He secured the nomination in 2008 after coming back from early reversals, but lost to Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the general election.
John McCain: I think the big difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that after we lost and withdrew from Vietnam, they didn’t wanna follow us home. I think it’s very clear if you read Bin Laden’s, ..., or ..., these other people, they wanna follow us home. They view Iraq as a stepping stone to America. So the dimensions of the conflict have changed dramatically. It’s eerie in a way. Some of the comparisons of the early stages of the Vietnam War and the strategy that was used in the Rumsfeld strategy, they were both failed strategies and they were very similar. And so on the ground that’s a little but eerie.
It was called “Search and Destroy”. In Vietnam they went out and killed bad guys and came back to base. That was what Rumsfeld was . . . strategy was doing before. Then we got General Abrams as the head of the military in Vietnam. And they went out and they . . . went out and they secured areas, and they stayed, and they allowed the normal life to begin. That’s the same thing that happened . . . that ... strategy in Vietnam under . . . in Iraq under General Petraeus. We go out, and we secure an area, and we patrol all the time with Iraqi military and we don’t leave. It caused an upsurge in casualties. They are now coming way back down because the strategy is succeeding. That happened with General Abrams too. In the Vietnam War, the people ran out of patience and demanded that we do nothing else, even though our troops had already withdrawn from Vietnam. In this war, the question is, “Will the Baghdad clock and the Washington clock be the same?” And that’s not clear to me, although we had beaten back the Democrats’ efforts to set the date for withdrawal a short a time ago as last week.
I think the other part, though, that is most heartening to me is America is very divided about this war; but none of us are divided in our support of the men and women who are serving in uniform. And unfortunately in the Vietnam War, it wasn’t like that. So I’m proud not only of these young men and woman who are serving because of the best of America; but I’m proud of America in that we are supporting these young men and women no matter how we feel about the war and whether it’s right or wrong. And I think it’s . . . It’s something that is very, very important, and one that I can’t tell you how much I appreciate.
Recorded on: 11/20/07