John McCain's Pro-War Stance on Iraq? Blame Nixon

A puzzling little piece goes after former POW John McCain for having the bad taste to praise Richard Nixon for improving the condition of POWs in North Vietnamese prison camps.

Reporter David Kirkpatrick squeezed one more piece out of his Sunday front-page account of John McCain's 1974 thesis on POWS in North Vietnam bypenning "The Nixon Factor" for "The Caucus" section of Thursday's Times.

The thrust of the 300-word piece is puzzling, but perhaps can be boiled down to the Timesblaming President Richard Nixon for candidate John McCain's pro-war view of Iraq - a position underlined with a citation from the Times' favorite anti-Bush historian, Robert Dallek.

McCain had the bad taste to give credit to Nixon in his 1974 paper for the National War College about improving conditions among POWs in North Vietnamese prison camps. McCain was hardly uniformed on the matter, having spent five years as one. Still, the Times tarred McCain with the Nixon brush.

Does Senator John McCain's approach to the Iraq war go back to a sense of gratitude toward President Richard M. Nixon?


''The tremendous effort mounted by the Nixon administration and millions of Americans in behalf of the prisoners of war in Vietnam is directly responsible for the radical improvements in the treatment of the Vietnam P.O.W.'s beginning in late 1969,'' Mr. McCain wrote in a paper at the National War College a year after his release. Without the changes, many prisoners ''in all probability would never have survived,'' he added.

Historians, though, say the death of the North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in 1969 was probably a more significant factor.


''The connection to Iraq is striking,'' said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian.

Crediting the Nixon administration for bettering the prison camps, Mr. Dallek argued, fit with Mr. McCain's view that ''the flexing of American muscles'' is the solution in Iraq as well.

One hopes that last sentence is just sloppy writing, and that liberal historian Dallek doesn't really think McCain wrote his 1974 paper on Vietnam while anticipating a war in Iraq in 2003. And given that the troop surge pushed by McCain is producing undeniable benefits of security, shouldn't he be given a smidgen of credit for prescience by Dallek?