03/28/2008 08:34 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is McCain Able?

Everyone, friend and foe, begins comments about John McCain's readiness to be president by acknowledging his heroism during his captivity during the Vietnam War. For those who do not know, McCain was offered an early release because of the regard in which the North Vietnamese held his father, the Admiral who helped defeat the Japanese and thus helped remove the yoke of Japanese occupation from Vietnam. Had he accepted, North Vietnam also intended to use this gesture for propaganda purposes.

McCain refused, and endured not just several more years of imprisonment, but also torture and solitary confinement.

That is heroism. And, for that, McCain deserves his accolades.

But not the presidency of the United States.

On foreign policy it is by no means clear that McCain knows much more than military/defense. His repeated misunderstandings of Iraqi factions suggest that neither knowledge nor subtlety nor nuance is his strong suit. Most importantly, there is no evidence that these complexities interest him any more than they do George W. Bush.

When a leader either does not know, or does not care, about knowledge, subtlety or nuance, his options are limited, and the likely default is to his comfort zone -- precisely what we should have learned is the discomfort zone for the rest of us.

Macho- and misconception-driven misunderstanding clearly influences McCain's policy choices. Hearing bin Laden say that Iraq is the central battleground, McCain -- rather than recognizing the duplicity and self-interest in such statements -- embraces them as the foundation of his policy. [By the way, John, if, as you say, you "know how to catch" bin Laden, why have you not told GWB how to do it?]

Moreover, McCain was absolutely wrong about the Iraq War. While some Senate Democrats did enable Bush by voting for the war resolution, and against the Levin Amendment, they never suggested it would be easy, that we would be treated as liberators, and be greeted with "flowers and dancing".

McCain did. While one could argue whose judgment was worse (those who did not think it would be easy but voted for it anyhow, or those who did), McCain has never apologized for his vote, nor said that if he knew then what he knows now about WMD that he would or would not have invaded.

McCain credits himself with the "success" of the surge. Democrats wrongly engage that argument by observing that the surge was supposed to lead to political reconciliation and it has not. This is the Republican frame, and begs the entire question as to whether reconciliation is even a goal of any of the Iraqi factions.

The Democrats' point should be that the surge was based on a false assumption: that there exists among Iraqi leaders and factions a desire for reconciliation, where reconciliation means not winning on your own terms, but compromise and shared power. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the premise that any faction or major leader wants that, i.e., another failed McCain judgment.

There is another danger: McCain has so much of his fate and psyche committed to the "success" of the surge, that he has already displayed signs of not being able to hear and process contrary information. He has called it a "success" and "does not care what anyone else says." If there were ever a prescription for a third Bush term, it would be that.

That John McCain could have served all these years on Armed Services, traveled so frequently to Iraq, and not know that Iran and al-Qaeda are not allied ought to be a redflag itself that our policy -- and our lives, limbs and treasure -- will continue to be guided by ignorance and misunderstanding.

Searching the McCain website, there is no evidence that he has even minimal foreign policy experience beyond military and defense. That it is not a resume of foreign policy knowledge.

On foreign policy McCain tends to be wrong. On domestic policy McCain is not able to make any judgment at all. When he said he did not really get economics, he was revealing a state secret. A good example was his recent Herbert Hooveresque speech on the credit crisis. His proposal for affected individuals amounts to nothing more than a "slap on the back and a good brisk walk".

The healthcare proposal omits the "good brisk walk". At a time when the American people have, finally, determined that they want universal healthcare, McCain's healthcare proposals are piddling. They rely on the same nostrums of promoting competition, removing barriers and coordinating care -- all good, but all woefully insufficient.

John McCain deserves all his accolades and medals for his service as prisoner of war. But, the presidency is not about the politician, it is about the American people, their needs and their dreams.

Iraq, foreign policy, the economy, healthcare -- McCain is not able.