The internets' franco-tubes have been abuzz the last couple of days with mockery of the the Straight Talk Express's stop in Baghdad, and who can blame them. The photos of Sen. McCain all Dukakised up in his flack jacket as he and his Army company of bodyguards and helicopter escorts buy falafels are just too good to resist. It's no wonder he's gone from maverick to laughingstock in such a short time.
But his detractors fail to see the real message of McCain's market mission--Despite what the war-haters might say, Iraq is nothing like Vietnam.
In 1968, a soldier stationed in say, Saigon, could unwind after a hard week of defending McNamara's ego by sharing a couple of Tiger beers at a Vietnamese bar with a buddy or some nice local girl. Although we didn't realize it then, such informal fraternization with our allies was very counter productive--it made us look weak. One, two, or even five soldiers in a bar, armed with only sidearms if at all, just aren't that intimidating--it was like we were asking for disrespect.
Thankfully, we aren't making the same mistake in Iraq. As McCain's little shopping expedition demonstrated, we don't even think about going into an indigenous market unless we're accompanied by 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk choppers, and a pair of Apache gunships. That has to impress the locals.