Sen. John McCain might end up being elected
president in November because many antiwar independents believe he's the best
person to handle that famous phone call at 3am. He's obviously the most experienced
and probably the most courageous of the remaining contenders. But he lacks temperament,
philosophy, and judgment. Which means he would be the worst person to make a
snap decision in a complicated international crisis. Foreign policy is the most
important reason to vote against John McCain in November, irrespective of the
Democratic nominee's identity.
Independents long ago turned against the Iraq war, but they broke for McCain
in every Republican primary in which they could vote. He took almost half of
the antiwar independents in New Hampshire, for instance. McCain has the image
of a maverick, but he earned it by sipping deeply of liberal nostrums, pushing
campaign finance reform (trampling the First Amendment in the process) and criticizing
the Bush tax cuts (for favoring the rich who, of course, pay the most in income
Moreover, even though the majority of the American people believe the Iraq
war was unnecessary and badly botched by President George W. Bush, 46 percent
declared in a recent Zogby poll that McCain would be the best candidate to handle
Iraq. The number rose to 49 percent on the issue of terrorism. When it came
to that 3am phone call, McCain took 55 percent against Hillary Clinton and 56
percent against Barack Obama.
John McCain is a man of experience, courage, and honor, but they are overshadowed
by his vices, such as his angry temperament, his tendency to go postal against
his Senate colleagues, questioning their intelligence and principles when they
disagree with him. We should expect better of someone entrusted with control
of the strongest military on earth.
McCain's sanctimonious certainty is another problem. In one of the Republican
debates he declared "I'm the expert" on Iraq. Yet on his most recent
trip to Iraq he confused Iraq and Iran, denouncing the latter, a Shi'ite state,
for training al-Qaeda, made up of Sunnis, and had to be corrected by Sen. Joseph
Lieberman, who was standing nearby at the obligatory press conference on the
"nonpolitical" trip. Will Sen. Lieberman move into the White House
along with the McCains to hover near the phone at 3am?
McCain similarly appears to share George Bush's simplistic view of the
world. Both see America threatened by numerous enemies who are all alike – al-Qaeda
members, secular dictators, Palestinian terrorists, Baathist insurgents, Shia
nationalists, Hezbollah fighters, Taliban fundamentalists, Hamas activists.
told an audience at the Virginia Military Institute last year: The Iraq
war "is part of a broader struggle in the Arab and Muslim world, the struggle
between violent extremists and the forces of modernity and moderation."
The extremists, he adds, "wish to return the world to the 7th
Actually, most Iraqi insurgents want to drive America out of their country.
Most al-Qaeda terrorists want to punish the U.S. government for appearing to
wage war on Muslims – in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, and
elsewhere. Most Hamas and Hezbollah fighters want to defend their respective
homelands from Israeli intervention, backed by America. Lots of other people
simply want the U.S. to stop interfering in their affairs. "They"
all hate America, but for very different reasons.
Perhaps McCain sees no need to sweat the small stuff, like the facts. After
assures the American people, "the war will be over soon." Rather
like Vice President Richard Cheney's claim – three years ago – that the insurgency
is "in the last throes."
However, the biggest problem with McCain is his philosophy. Sen. McCain
once was a reluctant warrior, balking at intervention in Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti,
Bosnia, and even Iraq the first time. Today he is the most belligerent of the
original 2008 presidential contenders, except, perhaps, for Rudy Giuliani. If
there is a war in the world, McCain can be counted on to join it. And if one
doesn't exist, he is determined to start it.
Indeed, like almost every uber-hawk, McCain rolls out the Hitler analogy
against anyone who opposes his latest war. In criticizing Rep. Ron Paul, the
sole Iraq critic among the GOP presidential contenders, McCain
argued "that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II."
He added that "we," apparently meaning Americans, who had nothing
to do with the Nazis' political rise, "allowed Hitler to come to power
with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement." Every opponent
of the U.S. government becomes Hitler resurrected – Ho Chi Minh, Slobodan Milosevic,
Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmandinejad, fill-in-the-blank. Yet again, an American
politician has demonstrated that a little historical knowledge is extraordinarily
McCain has made Iraq his signature issue. In an unusually truthful moment,
before quickly retracting his comments, he acknowledged that if he doesn't convince
the American people that U.S. policy is succeeding, "then I lose. I lose."
He should lose.
In his view, America was right to invade, is winning, and should stay 100
years: "It's not a matter of how long we're in Iraq, it's if we succeed
or not," he told CNN's Larry King. McCain's failure to grasp the difference
between the presence of U.S. troops in Germany, Japan, and South Korea, and
in Iraq, is stupefying. In the former, no one was attempting to kill Americans.
Nor were upwards of 1.3 billion people angered by America's policy, creating
McCain also is ignoring the ever-worsening strain on the U.S. military.
American service personnel sacrifice much for their country, but soldiers and
Marines who face multiple tours and reservists who are treated like active duty
forces will eventually hit the limit. The armed services have been having trouble
recruiting new accessions and retaining officers – keeping the ranks filled only
by lowering standards. The longer the war goes on, the more difficult the task
of attracting and keeping quality personnel.
But assume away these complications. What does McCain define as success?
It is now widely acknowledged that Iraq was an unnecessary war of choice.
The Saddam Hussein regime was not involved in 9/11 and had no operational relationship
with al-Qaeda, which actually attacked the U.S. Iraq did not possess any weapons
of mass destruction, was contained and constrained by its neighbors, most notably
Iran, and, like Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China, was deterred by superior
American military power. Indeed, Washington's threat to use nuclear weapons
in response to a chemical attack in the first Gulf War had kept then-existing
Iraqi WMDs in their warehouses.
Moreover, the war and ensuing occupation have turned out to be as inhumane,
and perhaps much more so, than Saddam Hussein's depredations. Millions of Iraqis
are worse off today than in 2003.
Thus, Iraq cannot be counted as a success based on the administration's
formal reasons for going to war.
Does the success of the surge retroactively justify the invasion? Violence
is down – to the unacceptably high levels of 2005. But as violence has started
to tick back upwards, the Bush administration is holding off on expected troop
withdrawals. Yet the Pentagon lacks the manpower to sustain the surge for long.
Moreover, much of the administration's success is artificial. One reason
fewer Iraqis are dying is that Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed: in most
neighborhoods there are few religious minorities left to be killed. Shia activist
Muqtada al-Sadr's decision to observe a truce also has been instrumental in
Washington's "success," but predicting al-Sadr's future course is
impossible. Moreover, the U.S. has helped buy peace by paying and arming the
Sunni tribes, who may eventually turn their weapons on the Shia-dominated central
government. Or on American forces, since neither Shiites nor Sunnis want the
U.S. to stay long, let alone 100 years.
The central government remains non-functional. Services, whether electricity,
water, or health care, are largely nonexistent. Billions on development projects
have been wasted. Reconciliation is minimal: leading Sunnis refused to attend
the much-ballyhooed reconciliation conference. The likelihood that an Iraq in
McCain's image – a unitary state with liberal democracy allied militarily with
the U.S., joining in new crusades against Iran, Syria, and any other American
enemy of the month – will emerge in the near future is about the same as Osama
bin Laden converting to Christianity and asking for forgiveness for his terrorist
Unfortunately, Americans continue to pay a high price for John McCain's
vision of success. The U.S. death toll is approaching 4,000, with tens of thousands
wounded, many of them maimed for life. At least 100,000 have been treated for
a mental health condition. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. Four to
five million have been turned into refugees.
The U.S. is spending $12 billion a month on the war, with $600 billion
already wasted. Total costs, especially counting decades of care for thousands
of soldiers and Marines injured in Iraq, will run $1-2 trillion, and perhaps
as much as $4 trillion, according to Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.
Moreover, those who hoped to bolster American influence have left the U.S.
hated and alone. American power and credibility have been squandered even as
Iran and North Korea have moved forward with nuclear weapons programs, China
and Russia have begun cooperating against America, and Europe has distanced
itself from U.S. policies. The Mideast is even more unstable than usual, Iran's
influence has grown, and America's reputation in the region is at a recent nadir.
As Andrew Bacevich of Boston University puts it, "The neoconservatives
brazenly ignore or minimize all that we have flung away in lives, dollars, political
influence, moral standing, and lost opportunities. They have to: once acknowledged,
those costs make the folly of the entire neoconservative project apparent."
Yet after five years, these costs continue. No matter to those convinced that
the U.S. simply hasn't killed enough people, bombed enough cities, or invaded
enough cities. Alas, writes Bacevich, "Only the truly demented will imagine
that simply trying harder will produce different results." And even if
the U.S. succeeds, whatever that means, the cost will be far too high.
McCain is left to argue that never mind what happened, we should focus
on the future. However, he does not deserve a free pass on his monumental mistakes
and Panglossian fantasies
about America's ability to engage in global social engineering.
Indeed, McCain's misjudgments do not stop with the decision to go to war.
He was one of Ahmed Chalabi's many hapless dupes, believing the tales spun by
the émigré fraudster who hoped to ride American tanks to Baghdad's
presidential palace. McCain
said of Chalabi, "He's a patriot who has the best interest of his country
Yet Chalabi's organization, the Iraqi National Congress, collected tens
of millions of dollars from the U.S. government in return for providing fictitious
intelligence from supposed defectors, misinformation which helped induce the
Bush administration to go to war. No surprise, reports
Chalabi biographer Aram Roston, the ambitious émigré favored McCain
in 2000: "Chalabi knew that he would be able to free up the $97 million
in military aid plus millions pushed through in Congress and earmarked for Chalabi's
exile group, the Iraqi National Congress."
Sen. McCain also makes much of his supposed prescience in criticizing
the administration's extraordinary incompetence in Iraq. Yet while military
officers and outside analysts criticized the Bush administration's manifestly
inadequate pre-war planning, McCain stayed silent. Chicago
Tribune columnist Steve Chapman points out that "McCain didn't declare
‘no confidence' in [Donald Rumsfeld] until a year and a half after the invasion."
McCain even lauded the former defense secretary after he was dumped by President
McCain has yet to get anything right. John
Judis summarizes McCain's record: "He was wrong about Chalabi, he was
wrong about Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda and WMD, he was wrong about the reaction
of Iraqis to the invasion, and he was wrong about the effects on the wider Muslim
But assume the past is past. Given how wrong McCain has been from the beginning,
why credit his argument that withdrawal will lead to catastrophe? He warns of
chaos, but what does he think we've had over the last five years? McCain also
cites the prospect of "genocide," but that's highly unlikely to occur
in Iraq, given the sectarian cleansing already underway. An American withdrawal
might lead to a bitter civil war, but America's presence also fosters conflict.
Better a civil war without than with the U.S.
Indeed, with both sides opposed to a long-term occupation, Washington is
likely to find itself under increasing pressure from both sides. An American
withdrawal would force Iraqis and their neighbors to confront the possibility
of civil war, rather than expecting Washington to resolve the conflict. They
might not rise to the challenge, but as John
Podesta, Ray Takeyh, and Lawrence Korb observed in the Washington Post:
"Iraq today belongs to Iraqis; it is an ancient civilization with its own
norms and tendencies. It is entirely possible that in the absence of a cumbersome
and clumsy American occupation, Iraqis will make their own bargains and compacts,
heading off the genocide that many seem to anticipate."
Oh, but if we leave "we'll be back, because al-Qaeda will then succeed,"
claims McCain. In making this argument John McCain demonstrates that he is no
expert on Iraq. The faction most likely to fail in Iraq is al-Qaeda, since it
is hated by everyone else, including its former Sunni allies. Even dispossessed
Baathist insurgents want to regain power, not end Iraqi civilization. With al-Qaeda
rather than the U.S. as the center of Iraqi dissatisfaction, the group's end
would come quickly.
But McCain apparently believes that if al-Qaeda loses in Iraq, its members
will invade America. He claimed that "If
we leave Iraq, they are going to follow us home." Again, the unspecified
"they." Baathists upset at losing power and Shiites busy "cleansing"
their neighborhoods of Sunnis will immediately jump on al-Qaeda troop ships – or
maybe Saddam Hussein's vaunted unmanned aerial vehicles which the Bush administration
never located – and head to America. Actually, it's a lot easier for angry young
Arabic-speaking Middle Eastern men to get to Iraq and wreak havoc than to set
up shop in the U.S. Anyway, most desire to get away from Americans, not visit
Finally, McCain warns of the hit against Washington's reputation if the
U.S. withdraws and "al-Qaeda tells the world they defeated the United States
of America." Actually, that's the least of our worries. As noted earlier,
Al-Qaeda is losing in Iraq because the Shia and Kurds hate the terrorist group
and even Sunni opponents of the Shiite-dominated central government have turned
against it. Any al-Qaeda victory claim would be short-lived as the group was
eradicated in any ensuing civil or sectarian conflict.
Washington's reputation would still suffer, but that prospect offers additional
evidence, as if additional evidence was necessary, that the U.S. should not
put its reputation at risk needlessly. "No more Iraqs" would be a
more sensible response to the Bush debacle than "In Iraq forever."
In short, McCain's position on Iraq alone should disqualify him from the
presidency. Americans cannot afford to elect as president someone so divorced
from reality with such a foolishly aggressive philosophy.
But John McCain is not just for war in Iraq. "There's
going to be other wars," he explained. On Good Morning America he
declared that he was prepared to send U.S. troops "anywhere."
He didn't bother to specify where he thinks these wars are most likely to occur,
but his rhetoric suggests that he is planning at least one war on every continent.
Well, not yet in North America or Antarctica. But give him time.
John McCain has turned his vaunted expertise on Iran, declaring that Iran's
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "evil" – a perfectly truthful but utterly unhelpful
statement. After all, scores of heads of government around the world are "evil."
Nor does Ahmadinejad's moral character matter much, since he does not control
the nuclear program or security forces. McCain also denounces Iran for sponsoring
"Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations." Of course, Iran might
respond that Washington should stop supporting Israel as it wreaks death and
destruction in Palestinian territories and Lebanon.
Worthy of derision is McCain's concern "about the Iranian influence
in Iraq and in the region." He even warns that after an American withdrawal
from Iraq "then obviously the Iranian influence is dramatically increased."
Doesn't he remember why this has happened? Because Washington overthrew Iran's
chief enemy in the region.
Naturally, McCain finds the prospect of Iran possessing nuclear weapons
pose "an unacceptable risk." Tehran then might "sponsor terrorist
attacks against any perceived enemy," a curious charge to make against
a nation currently denounced for supporting terrorists. Anyway, Russia's and
China's possession of nuclear weapons did not turn them into irresponsible,
risk-taking, terrorism-generating nations. Rather, deterrence caused both sides
to be more cautious.
McCain worries that Tehran would pass nuclear materials on to terrorists,
but why would the regime give away weapons and technology so dearly bought to
groups that it can never completely control? Actually, American ally Pakistan
poses the greatest risk of proliferation, having operated a Nukes-R-Us for years.
Perhaps McCain should suggest flattening Islamabad.
argues that "Coupled with its ballistic missile arsenal, an Iranian nuclear
capability would pose an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel."
But isn't that why Israel has constructed 200 or more nuclear weapons?
Iran's mullahs are evil, not stupid. The evidence suggests that they are pragmatic
politicians, not suicidal demagogues. Even Osama bin Laden sends others to die;
he never sacrifices himself. Israel is well able to defend itself.
Still, an Iran nuclear weapon would create, shall we say, "unpleasant"
possibilities. McCain advocates working with Europe to impose a "broad
range of sanctions and punishments" on Tehran to "convince them that
their activities, particularly development of nuclear weapons, is not a beneficial
goal to seek." And if that doesn't work?
McCain says that "every option must remain on the table" and
that military action "remains, as it always must, the last option."
Moreover, he asserts, "At the end of the day, we cannot afford having a
nuclear-armed Iran." Similarly, he
declared in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, "we
will not permit a government that espouses the destruction of the State of Israel
as its fondest wish and pledges undying enmity to the United States to possess
the weapons to advance their malevolent ambitions." Indeed, he insists,"it
is a simple operation of reality that there is only one thing worse than a military
solution, and that, my friends, is a nuclear armed Iran."
McCain vastly underplays the consequences of military action, just as he
similarly underestimated the cost of the Iraq war. The long-term consequences
of the destruction of Iran's democracy movement, retaliation against Israel,
deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, increased terrorism elsewhere, and widespread
unrest throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, would be enormous. Moreover, any
U.S. attack would convince the Iranians – and other states on the outs with Washington – of
the necessity of developing nuclear weapons as the only means to avoid future
None of this worries Sen. McCain. Who could miss the rock star wannabe
singing "Bomb, bomb,
bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' Barbara Ann.
For most people war is no laughing matter, but Sen. McCain literally giggles
at the possibility of unleashing death and destruction on the people of Iran.
Perhaps his seeming sangfroid reflects the fact there seems to be little
he wouldn't do for Israel. This March he made the obligatory election-year visit.
Top of his rhetorical list was backing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
McCain said he was on a "fact-finding" trip, but facts have never
been relevant to his foreign policy. He obviously doesn't understand the difference
between backing Israel's right of survival and Israel's colonization of the
West Bank and Gaza, despite the presence of four million Palestinians. "Just
as there will always be a proud, strong Israel, so too will there always be
a close and enduring U.S.-Israel relationship," he said, which in practice
means doing whatever the most hawkish Israeli politicians demand. Last summer
McCain explained: "When it comes to the defense of Israel, we simply cannot
compromise. In view of the increased threats to Israel's security, American
support for Israel should intensify – to include providing needed military equipment
and technology and ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge."
Since when is Israel's edge at risk? Israel is the regional superpower.
No country threatens its existence, even a nuclear Iran, which would face ruinous
retaliation. McCain also points to Hamas and Hezbollah, but the former has no
military, and the latter has no offensive capability, other than missiles which
it has used only as retaliation for Israeli action. The real threat comes from
an ever-growing Palestinian population under occupation. Israel cannot be simultaneously
Jewish and democratic if it rules over millions of Palestinians. Yet Randy Scheunemann,
McCain's chief foreign policy aide, says McCain "would never pressure Israel
into making concessions that endanger its national security," commonly
understood to mean pressing Israel to withdraw its settlers from occupied lands.
Yet the settlements ensure continuing conflict.
McCain also has enthusiastically talked of war in Asia. In January 2003
he claimed that North Korea was more dangerous than Iraq. All that has been
missing from McCain's approach is a fevered rendition of "Bomb, bomb, bomb,
bomb, bomb North Korea."
No one wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, but McCain is completely
wrong when he
claims that "North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear arsenal directly threatens
the security of the American people." That's nonsense. Kim Jong Il
wants his virgins today, not in the hereafter. Absent the presence of American
troops in South Korea – of no security value, since the South vastly outranges
Pyongyang on virtually every measure of national power – the North has no way
of striking America. In any case, North Korea is easily deterred by Washington's
vast nuclear arsenal.
McCain backs sanctions against Pyongyang while refusing to talk to the
Kim regime (a position which even the Bush administration finally realized was
counterproductive). Moreover, he
has threatened North Korea with "extinction."
also wrote: "The use of military force to defend vital American security
interests must always be a last resort, as it is in this crisis. But if we fail
to achieve the international cooperation necessary to end this threat, then
the countries in the region should know with certainty that while they may risk
their own populations, the United States will do whatever it must to guarantee
the security of the American people." Never mind that unleashing war on
the Korean peninsula likely would destroy Seoul, whose metropolitan area contains
23 million people, half South Korea's population. Explained
McCain: "spare us the usual lectures about American unilateralism.
We would prefer the company of North Korea's neighbors, but we will make do
without it if we must."
McCain also was an enthusiastic backer of the war against Serbia over Kosovo,
a conflict in which America had no stake. The world is filled with nasty civil
wars and our allies, the Kosovo Liberation Army, had previously been termed
terrorists by a U.S. diplomat and later kicked out a quarter of a million Serbs,
Roma, and others from Kosovo.
Yet McCain wanted not just a war, but a ground war. He was the chief supporter
of a congressional resolution authorizing the Clinton administration to use
force against Serbia, and denounced President Clinton for not sending in ground
McCain: "The president doesn't want the power he possesses by law because
the risks inherent in its exercise have paralyzed him." He deployed
the usual arguments – not to win would lose America respect by friends and enemies
Since then, McCain has benefited from substantial campaign support from
Joe DioGuardi declared earlier this year that McCain "did everything that
we asked of him, including arming the KLA." Naturally, McCain has endorsed
Kosovo's recent declaration of independence, which is sending tremors across
the Balkans and well beyond, as would-be nations from the Republic of Srpska
in Bosnia to Abkhazia and Ossetia in Georgia to the Palestinian territories
to Taiwan consider making similar declarations. The key question McCain will
face as president: will he use American troops to compel minority Serbs in the
north of Kosovo to remain part of a new country they do not recognize instead
of being allowed to exercise their own right of self-determination to stay with
Serbia? Sen. McCain missed getting his Kosovo ground war in 1999, but President
McCain might have his chance next year.
McCain wants NATO to keep expanding. He currently is lobbying to include
Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia, and to approve Georgia and Ukraine for the
so-called "Membership Action Plan," which would put them on track
for eventual NATO membership. The first three countries never have been relevant
to America's security and remain entangled in multiple controversies with their
Offering to defend the latter two is even more dangerous, since they have
unresolved conflicts with Russia. It's not even obvious how America would intervene
in the event of a showdown, absent threatening to use nuclear weapons. Is the
security of Kiev and Tbilisi worth risking Washington, D.C. and New York City?
One would hope that it never came to that, but it is foolish to assume the U.S.
can rely on bluster and threats to deter other nations from defending what they
view as vital interests. America would not so easily cave in. Neither will America's
But McCain doesn't believe Europe should be the only location of European
2006 McCain called on NATO to evolve "from a territorial defense mission
to an expeditionary alliance." Last month he advocated that NATO
"be as international in scope – partnering with willing democracies all
over the world – as the challenges we confront." McCain also has advocated
creation of a league of democracies to "act
when the UN fails," including imposing sanctions and possibly using
force, though McCain hasn't been entirely clear on the latter point. (What does
relieving "human suffering in places such as Darfur" mean in practice?)
He seems determined to drag America's allies into new wars around the globe.
Is there no country which he would not attempt to micromanage?
Alas, it is not just in the Mideast, Asia, and Europe where John McCain
sees his "many wars" being fought. Biographer Matt
Welch warns: "the most militaristic presidential candidate since Ulysses
S. Grant has provided a clear answer [to questions over Washington's use of
force]: If you think George W. Bush had an itchy trigger finger, you ain't seen
nothing yet." No wonder Teddy
Roosevelt is an idol of McCain's – Roosevelt, a racist imperialist, variously
favored war against Germany, Great Britain, and Spain, as well as "uncivilized"
peoples around the world.
McCain says that he looks "back
at America's failure to act to prevent genocide in Rwanda with shame."
He explained in 2000 that Washington should intervene "If
Rwanda again became a scene of horrible genocide, if there was a way that the
U.S. could stop." But the only way to have prevented that tragedy would
have been an invasion – yet another war in which Americans had nothing directly
at stake. Twelve years ago he
advocated military intervention, through the United Nations and NATO, which
would have meant the U.S. in practice, to "rescue" Darfur.
Last year he
announced in Foreign Affairs: "Africa continues to offer the
most compelling case for humanitarian intervention. With respect to the Darfur
region of Sudan, I fear that the United States is once again repeating the mistakes
it made in Bosnia and Rwanda. In Bosnia, we acted late but eventually saved
countless lives. In Rwanda, we stood by and watched the slaughter and later
pledged that we could not do so again. The genocide in Darfur demands U.S. leadership.
My administration will consider the use of all elements of American power to
stop the outrageous acts of human destruction that have unfolded there."
Even where war is not in the offing, all McCain can think of is confrontation.
He has pushed for "rogue
state rollback" by supporting opposition groups – think Iraqi National Congress – to
oust governments that threaten not just America's interests but also "values."
Libya, which ultimately reached a peaceful accommodation with the U.S.,
was on his enemies list in 2000, along with Iraq and North Korea. He declared
would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would
eventually overthrow the governments."
He is outraged at the thought of even talking with the new Cuban leadership,
let along lifting sanctions, which he voted to tighten. Never mind that the
half-century-old embargo has failed to improve the lot of the Cuban people.
In fact, he believes, the
U.S. should indict Fidel and Raúl Castro while preparing for a democratic
transition in Cuba – just as Washington has been breathlessly preparing for
such a transition for decades. Moreover, McCain writes, Venezuela threatens
"the security and prosperity of the Americas" and must be marginalized,
whatever that means.
He contends that the U.S. should
have applied sanctions against Russia over the war in Chechnya. Moscow also
should be kicked out of the G-8, replaced by nations such as Brazil and India.
And NATO "should
make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is
indivisible." McCain even traveled to the disputed territory of South
Ossetia in Georgia to denounce
South Ossetians who desired independence and Moscow for backing them.
Moreover, as Washington prepared to spend more money (adjusted for inflation)
on the military than at any time since World War II, he challenged China over
its decision to spend about a quarter as much money on defense. After all, Beijing's
development of a force capable of deterring American attacks constitutes "provocative
acts." Further, the U.S. should
"react" to Chinese threats against Taiwan, aid to "pariah
states," and attempts to exclude America from "regional forums and
Although McCain talks endlessly about democracy, he rejected calls for
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation after Pakistani voters repudiated
Musharraf's party. McCain
said that Musharraf was "legitimately elected," even though the
latter relied on a state of an emergency to toss out any judges unlikely to
rule in his favor. Never mind what the Pakistani people think.
Nor does the end of a war, any war, reduce McCain's commitment to fight
another war. South Korea and Japan have grown up and can defend themselves.
The Europeans have a larger economy and population than America. But we must
stay everywhere, apparently forever. Explains
McCain: "I have an open-ended commitment in Asia. I have an open-ended
commitment in South Korea. I have an open-ended commitment in Bosnia. I have
an open-ended commitment in Europe."
Perhaps McCain's willingness to irritate, anger, enrage, and threaten
countries all over the world reflects his myopic view that "the
transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extremists."
Terrorism is nasty, but poses no existential threat akin to war with Nazi
Germany, the Soviet Union, or the China of the future. Apparently McCain confuses
a loose collection of transnational terrorists, which has been strengthened
by America's invasion of Iraq, with industrialized and militarized nation states.
It's a nonsensical comparison. Likely to be far more important than attacks
by al-Qaeda in the future, and far more decisive in shaping our world, are ongoing
disagreements with Russia, impending challenges from China, likely controversies
involving emerging powers from Brazil and India, and endless complications arising
from a kaleidoscope of nations being transformed in the new globalized world
Apparently even McCain realizes that fighting all of his wars and maintaining
all of his open-ended commitments won't be easy. It means a major military build-up,
including an extra 70,000 soldiers for the Army and 25,000 Marines. It means
better training. It means additional equipment. It means more money, and spending
money more wisely. (We all know how unlikely the latter is!) But never mind
the expense since, McCain notes, the defense budget "currently
consumes less than four cents of every dollar that our economy generates – far
less than what we spent during the Cold War." Of course, since the
economy is much larger today, that percentage generates far more money at a
time when the threats are far less dangerous.
McCain, in contrast to George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, among many other
ivory tower faux warriors, actually was willing to fight and risk death. But
like the neocons, he is still far too ready to risk the lives of other Americans
for causes not vital to our nation's security. Indeed, he has harshly
attacked those who advocate that America return to a traditional republican
The election in November should come down to foreign policy. John McCain
lacks the temperament, knowledge, and philosophy necessary to be a wise military
commander-in-chief. He is the last person who should be answering any 3am phone
calls at the White House.