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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Strange Political Bedfellows, McCain, Former VC,and Free Trade

Most Americans may not have heard of names like Le Van Lua and Tran Trong Duyet however they are both ones John McCain is all too familiar with. Duyet was among the first people to "greet" McCain after his plane crashed and he "greeted" him with a massive butcher knife. Le was one of several guards that kept McCain "company" during his five and a half year stay at the Hanoi Hilton. Both are now power players within the government of Vietnam. In a turn of absurd and perverse geopolitical irony, both also support John McCain for President of the United States.

At issue, is the policy of free trade. Both are looking for a free trade pact with the United States. Currently, free trade accounts for only $11 billion dollars worth of commerce between the two nations annually. Vietnam is looking for significant increases to that in the future.

John McCain's record on free trade is among the most free trade record in the entire legislature. Barack Obama's record is among the most protectionist. As such, these one time military who once viewed McCain as an enemy now view him as an ally on they see most crucial to their country. Here is how they view him now.

-- Le Van Lua, the first North Vietnamese that Lieutenant Commander John McCain encountered in 1967, says he greeted the American aviator with the biggest kitchen knife he could find. He'd like to welcome McCain back as president of the United States.

He isn't alone. Former prisoner of war McCain has some unlikely supporters in Vietnam, a country he bombed 23 times. Like Le, many Vietnamese are cheering for the self-confessed ``air pirate,'' absolving McCain-the-bomber and embracing the senator who pushed to normalize diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995.

...

``We were once face to face in a very difficult moment, between life and death,'' said Le, then an 18-year-old mechanic. ``We would be good friends if he were sitting in front of me now,'' he said, citing McCain's push for normal ties.

So, if ever there was real life proof that politics makes for strange befellows it is here. These former captors don't merely want to welcome McCain to visit in a symbolic forgiveness of past sins. No they want him to visit so that each side can work on issues of mutual benefit: free trade.

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