Defense & National Security

Courage lacking in U.S. foreign policy leadership

At a reception Tuesday night celebrating the release of a book written by a fellow Vietnam prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain didn’t miss an opportunity to compare the bold actions of American heroes with a lack of courage in American leadership today.

Retired Marine Col. Lee Ellis used his experiences in captivity as leadership object lessons in his new book Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Seven prisoners of war, including McCain, attended the reception.

McCain was captured in Vietnam eleven days before Ellis in 1967, and the two were released on the same day five-and-a-half years later, in 1973. For 18 months of their imprisonment, they occupied adjacent cells.

Leading with honor contains several laudatory references to McCain’s refusal to comply with North Vietnamese propaganda, even when faced with torture or tempted with the prospect of an early return home.

The book also contains some new revelations, including this reflection on isolation:

“Isolation in a communist prison is one of the loneliest experiences imaginable, so it was always cause for celebration when POWs were reunited with their cellmates after such punishment. The reunion conversations lasted for hours, often accompanied by hugs and tears. Air America pilot Ernie Brace, who spent five years in a cafe in Laos and in the hinterlands of Vietnam, was so overwhelmed with emotion when he heard the voice of John McCain that he was unable to respond for several minutes. Every time he tried to say something, he broke down in tears. Walking together through these kinds of trials forged enduring bonds.”

McCain praised Ellis’s book, but also directed harsh rhetoric at President Obama, criticizing his lack of action in Syria and his timeframe for withdrawal from Afghanistan as evidence of courage and authority.

“Lee has written a remarkable book, and it is about leadership,” he said. “And the world continues to cry out for American leadership. As we watch thousands of people being slaughtered in Syria today, American leadership is conspicuous by its absence. As people in the Middle East and the Taliban and Al Qaeda believe that the United States is withdrawing, it cries out for leadership.”

In the presence of an old military buddy, McCain, a retired Navy captain, made sure to send some jabs his way too.

“I often have a phrase I use…when I graduated from the Naval Academy, I tried to get into the Marine Corps, but my parents were married,” McCain said, to chuckles and groans from the audience.

“You know, the funny thing about Marines, they’re not very smart. But they can be pretty stubborn, and the Vietnamese found that out.”

Leading with Honor is available from FreedomStar Media.


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