Trump Swiftboats McCain the Way W. Swiftboated John Kerry

by Juan Cole Juan R. I. Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and many other works. He has translated works of Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran. He has been a regular guest on PBS's Lehrer News Hour, and has also appeared on ABC Nightly News, Nightline, the Today Show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360, Rachel Maddow, the Colbert Report, Democracy Now! and many others. He has given many radio and press interviews. He has written widely about Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and South Asia. He has commented extensively on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Iraq War, the politics of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iranian domestic struggles, the Arab Spring and its aftermath, and foreign affairs. He has a regular column at He continues to study and write about contemporary Islamic movements, whether mainstream or radical, whether Sunni and Salafi or Shi`ite. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam. He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, and continues to travel widely there. 20.07.2015

The chickens of 2004 have come home to roost in the Republican Party. The Republican strategists around George W. Bush in that year decided to rip John Kerry’s face off by attacking him, in accordance with Karl Rove’s dirty tactics, at his strength. Bush, who hid out from the Vietnam War in the Texas Air Reserve faced a decorated war hero in Senator Kerry. A campaign of falsehoods and vilication was gotten up against him by unscrupulous propaganda gangsters that questioned his heroism and his medals. Their charges were shown to be without merit, but they no doubt did hurt Kerry’s reputation and campaign with their falsehoods.

Now another Republican candidate is trying to swiftboat a decorated veteran. But this time the candidate is Donald Trump and the veteran is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). (McCain, by the way, defended Kerry in 2004; but then he had been the victim of Bushie dirty tricks in the 2000 primaries and knew the filthy ends to which they were willing to go).

Trump attacked McCain on Saturday in an act of petty revenge. McCain had complained of Trump’s demagoguery, saying he had “fired up the crazies.” Trump replied that McCain is a “dummy”, having been last in his class at Annapolis. Then yesterday at a conservative forum in Iowa, the moderator called McCain a war hero, and Trump replied, “He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The problem with Sen. McCain is not that he isn’t heroic– he is. It is that he proposes US wars too often and too lightly.

It is worth noting that the only brush with the military Trump ever had came when he was expelled from middle school for behavioral problems at age 13 and was placed by his parents in the New York Military Academy in hopes that it could straighten him out (obviously it couldn’t).

There is no shame in having been against the Vietnam War (I was, too), the reason Trump gives for having sought student deferments. But people who haven’t been in war, in my view, are not in a position to question the valor of people who have. Someone who served in a war can be wrong about politics and then we should argue with them on political grounds. But if we weren’t there, we don’t know the test of character they faced and can’t speak to that.

Hanoi had among the most extensive anti-aircraft batteries of any city in the world when McCain was flying missions over it. That takes courage, so Trump is wrong that the senator only became heroic by virtue of being shot down. That he was downed shows how dangerous his multiple missions were in the first place.

McCain was in brutal captivity for 5 and a half years at the hands of an authoritarian regime. He was tortured. He declined an opportunity to leave his mates behind because his father was an admiral. Getting through all that takes courage. So too does getting over it and showing the resilience to go on to serve his country in the senate.

You can be against the war he fought in and still recognize heroism there.

Trump clearly spoke out of annoyance (he really, really dislikes being disagreed with or dismissed as unserious).

Trump is a one-man advertisement for campaign finance reform, socialism and banning casinos. Whatever circumstances made him a plausible candidate for president should be immediately changed to make sure that kind of thing never happens to our country again.

But in addition, I think all the Republicans who say they are outraged at Trump’s comments need to step up and apologize to John Kerry if they didn’t, as McCain did, defend him from the swiftboaters.

For Juan Cole's own web site, please click here.

For Juan Coles books on Amazon, please click a picture below.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.

Rate this article

Click the stars to rate

Recent articles