From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.
Denis Diderot
Original Blog US Casualties Contact Donate


April 2, 2008

McCain's Foreign Policy Vision: Style Over Substance

Charles Peña

In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, John McCain outlined his vision for U.S. foreign policy if he were elected president. As portrayed by much of the so-called mainstream media, one might be led to believe the McCain's vision is fundamentally different than the current U.S. foreign policy practiced by the Bush administration, as evidenced by the sampling of titles of these newspaper articles:

The emphasis on cooperation is clearly intended to convey a change from the Bush administration's go-it-alone unilateralism (the Washington Times article title was more direct: "McCain Cites Breaks With Bush Foreign Policy"). But while how the United States conducts foreign policy is certainly important, what matters more is the policy itself. In that regard, McCain's speech reveals all the talk about cooperation is just style over substance.

The reality is that McCain extols the neoconservative foreign policy vision (not surprisingly, some of his foreign policy advisers include neocon stalwarts such as former CIA director James Woolsey; Randy Scheunemann, the campaign's director of foreign policy and national security, who helped author the Iraq Liberation Act that funded Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and created the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq; Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol; and Kristol's Project for a New American Century co-founder, Robert Kagan). Citing Harry Truman ("God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose"), he argues, "Now it is our turn." What is it our turn to do? (Apparently, among other things, it is now our turn to needlessly antagonize and confront Russia – still the only other nuclear power in the world with the ability incinerate the United States – by kicking them out of the G-8 and expanding NATO from the Baltic to Black Sea. Well played, sir! He also thinks that NATO should be "open to all democracies" regardless of geographic location.) Using language that could have been pulled from one of President Bush's speeches, McCain says:

"We cannot wish the world to be a better place than it is. We have enemies for whom no attack is too cruel, and no innocent life safe, and who would, if they could, strike us with the world's most terrible weapons. There are states that support them, and which might help them acquire those weapons because they share with terrorists the same animating hatred for the West. "

According to McCain, "This is the central threat of our time." And we must "confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism." Sounding just like Bush, McCain claims that the terrorists "devote all their energies and indeed their very lives to murdering innocent men, women, and children. They alone seek nuclear weapons and other tools of mass destruction … to use against us wherever and whenever they can." Like Bush, McCain is essentially saying that the terrorists hate us for who we are and refuses to acknowledge that what we do has consequences, including motivating acts of terrorism. And like Bush, McCain's prescription is democracy:

  • "In the troubled and often dangerous region they occupy, these two nations [Iraq and Afghanistan] can either be sources of extremism and instability or they can in time become pillars of stability, tolerance, and democracy."
  • "We must help expand the power and reach of freedom."

And sounding positively Wilsonian, McCain called for creating "a League of Democracies – that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests."

Ultimately – and perhaps most importantly – McCain would continue the Bush administration's quixotic Iraq policy: "Success in Iraq … is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors." Even if it takes 100 years.

Sen. McCain fashions himself as a realistic idealist. However, the only thing realistic in his speech was his acknowledgment that "we can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these [Middle East] autocrats is our safest bet." Yet he doesn't offer any alternative to this policy other than echoing the Bush administration's call for spreading democracy:

"Whether they eventually become stable democracies themselves, or are allowed to sink back into chaos and extremism, will determine not only the fate of that critical part of the world, but our fate, as well. That is the broad strategic perspective through which to view our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In the end, McCain's reality is no different than Bush's reality. He's just a neoconservative wolf dressed up in cooperative, multilateralist sheep's clothing.


What amazes and baffles me is how people don't seem to want to recognize John McCain for what he is. Take, for example, a liberal-leaning Democratic friend who thinks the Bush administration is a disaster. Surprisingly, he doesn't like either Clinton or Obama (you would think as a Democrat he would at least like one of them). Even more surprising is that he thinks McCain is a "cautious conservative" and would be better on foreign policy. I have moderate conservative friends who believe McCain won't be ideological and will be "more reasonable" (as in less partisan) if elected president. Thus, it should come as no surprise that whether his opponent is Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama, according to the Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll, McCain is in the lead. Some of my other Democratic friends firmly believe that once the dust settles on the Obama vs. Clinton fracas the American public will come to its senses and never vote for four more years of current policy. To use a favorite British phrase, those Democrats may be gobsmacked come Nov. 5, 2008.

comments on this article?
Most Recent Article

  • TSA: Tedious, Slow, and Absurd?

  • Hey, Big Spender!

  • Conflicting Visions of Security

  • Portents From the First
    Press Conference

  • Obama Wants a Surge
    of His Own

  • Terror, Torture, and Empire
    on the Silver Screen

  • Why War?

  • Why Lightning Hasn't Struck Twice

  • Not Home for the Holidays, Again

  • More Security, Less Secure

  • Missile Defense and
    the American Empire

  • You Can't Cut Spending
    and Spare 'Defense'

  • What Happens in a Police State…

  • Can Afghanistan Be Won?

  • The Pakistan Dilemma

  • What $700 Billion?

  • Georgia On My Mind

  • My Energy Plan Is
    Better Than Yours

  • Bidding War Over Afghanistan

  • Is Iran Still an Option?

  • Change We Can Believe In?

  • Having Your Cake and
    Eating It Too

  • Things to Remember on Memorial Day

  • Mission Accursed

  • Whither the Price of Oil?

  • McCain's Foreign Policy Vision: Style Over Substance

  • Hard to See the Benefits Through the Bills and the Blood

  • The Golden Rule

  • More Amtrak Security,
    More Safety?

  • Hobbled in Kabul

  • Is Bad PR Really the Problem?

  • Shocked, Shocked by Bush's Broken Promises

  • Providing for the Common Defense

  • Not Home for the Holidays

  • Bush's Surreal Iran Policy

  • An American in Paris

  • Fred Thompson and the Kitchen Sink

  • To Bomb, Or Not To Bomb

  • Not -So-New Homeland Security Strategy

  • Misunderestimating the Price of Iraq

  • Greenspan's Unsure Grasp of Economics

  • Close, but No Cigar

  • Defusing Nuclear Hysteria

  • More Troop Reduction Legerdemain

  • Memo to Rep. Ron Paul

  • Surveillance Society

  • Lucky, but for How Much Longer?

  • Cooperative Threat Reduction Is Worth the Cost

  • Unprepared for Bioterrorism

  • Rudy Giuliani and the
    Fort Dix Six

  • Good Intentions and
    Unintended Consequences

  • Still Whacking Moles in Iraq

  • Yankee, Go Home

  • Foreign Follies
    a Sobering Read

  • Reducing the Risk of Nukes

  • Our Pals in Pakistan

  • The Future of Terrorism

  • Whither the Surge?

  • 92,000 More Soldiers?

  • Requiem for a Dictator

  • Another Year,
    Another Iraq Plan

  • Two Pair of Twos

  • Worse Than Staying the Course

  • The Mother of All Defense Supplementals

  • Fish or Cut Bait in Iraq

  • Photo - George Cole

    Charles V. Pea is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a former senior fellow with the George Washington University Homeland Security
    Policy Institute
    , an adviser to the Straus Military Reform Project, and an analyst for MSNBC television. He has also appeared on CNN, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and The McLaughlin Group, as well as international television and radio. Pea is the co-author of Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War Against al-Qaeda, and author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.

    Charles Pena's new book is now available. Order now.

    His articles have been published by Reason; The American Conservative; The National Interest; Mediterranean Quarterly; Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy; Journal of Law & Social Change (University of San Francisco); Nexus (Chapman University); and Issues in Science & Technology (National Academy of Sciences).

    His exclusive column appears every other Wednesday on Antiwar.com.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2017 Antiwar.com