Another Perspective

What “Other Wars”?

Let's have more straight talk from Sen. McCain.

By 1.31.08

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When Senator John McCain was campaigning in the Sunshine State, he repeated several times the main reason Floridians should vote for him. "There's going to be other wars," he warned, and he was the man for this dangerous moment.

One would assume a statement like that would pique the interest of most citizens. This, evidently, was not the case among his opponents, newsmen, or anyone involved in the GOP primary.

No one really put it to him, "Senator McCain, what 'other wars' are you talking about?"

Note the plural: It means that the Arizona senator has in mind something beyond a possible action against Iran, which the president and several candidates have mulled from time to time. Or does it mean something else?

Maybe he is using "other wars" as shorthand for ad hoc strikes against terrorists camps or concentrations of bad guys around the world. Or maybe not.

Assuming the senator was thinking primarily of the challenge of Islamic jihadism, the phrase might indicate other wars being waged against -- fill in the blank -- Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, or other countries yet unnamed.

We simply don't know, which is troubling. Presidential campaigns, especially Republican primary campaigns, should fully explore the dead serious issues facing the nation. And war and peace rank right up at there at the top of that list.

Yet there has been barely a ripple, not even the mildest curiosity within the ranks of the Republican Party as to the meaning of Senator McCain's Delphic pronouncement of more wars to come.

IT'S POSSIBLE THAT the majority of Republican primary voters simply assume "other wars" are in our future and find Senator McCain's statements to be unexceptional. I find that hard to believe, but, if true, it would be unfortunate for several reasons.

First, assuming more wars are in our future, wouldn't it be prudent to fully discuss the ends and means of such undertakings, which never turn out quite as planned?

What are the inevitable and difficult trade-offs necessary to carry out such expeditions? The nation is actively engaged in two wars right now, neither of which is close to a tidy resolution.

The second reason for airing the question of future wars against whomever Senator McCain has in mind is this: We should learn from the mistakes and the successes of the not-so-distant past.

What would we do differently? What might we have not done at all? What previous efforts would we emulate? And does strategic success flow from tactical success, if what we want to do is win over Muslim and Arab cultures?

Remember, in Vietnam, the U.S. won every major battle with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, but lost the war for reasons unrelated to battlefield effectiveness.

Finally, there's the partisan reason. Republican candidates should talk through this question now because Democrats will most certainly raise this issue in the general election.

Senator McCain, if he is the presumptive leader in the primary race, would benefit from addressing the question now, in a relatively friendly venue, rather than later, in a full-blown general election campaign.

Straight talk now would ensure an honest and forthright consideration of the grave consequences of waging other future wars, in terms of security, blood, and treasure.

If Senator McCain makes the case effectively, he will strengthen his hand if he wins the White House. If he doesn't, well, we must all take our chances.

These are simply the reflections of a father of two Army wives whose husbands are heading off to Iraq this year, albeit in non-combatant roles, leaving them and their children behind.

This war has come home, so to speak, and I would sure like to know what other wars are being contemplated by the senator from Arizona.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.