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 taxes).
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. McCain 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 century."
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 all, he 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 dangerous.
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 more terrorists.
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 attacks.
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 at heart."
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 Bush.
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 world."
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 America.
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 to 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.
Finally, McCain 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 American attacks.
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."
McCain 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 forces. Said 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 alike.
Since then, McCain has benefited from substantial campaign support from Albanian-Americans. Lobbyist 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 neighbors.
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 potential adversaries.
But McCain doesn’t believe Europe should be the only location of European wars. In 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 that "I 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 economic arrangements."
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 order.
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 foreign policy.
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.
Read more by Doug Bandow
- The Rise of ISIS: Iraq and Beyond – July 16th, 2014
- Squaring the Pentagon – March 12th, 2009
- Balancing Beijing – February 27th, 2009
- The Asian Century – February 20th, 2009
- Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty: The Battle Continues – February 6th, 2009