Matt Welch, author of
McCain: The Myth of aMaverick
Whileitisimpossibletodivinefromacandidate’sstatedforeignpol-icy ideas what his actual approach to foreignpolicy would look like (recall the disparity betweencandidateGeorgeW.BushandPresi-dent George W. Bush, for example), John Mc-Cain has advanced a consistent and laudably transparent message for any possible adver-saries:WatchOut,YouMightBeNext.McCain believes that the foreign policy choicesavailabletotheUnitedStatesarelim-itedtotheextremesofservingasworldpolice-man or retreating behind the walls of “For-tress America,” and without global Americanmilitary dominance—and the willingness touse force—the world would collapse intowidespread conflict, and freedom would bedestroyedbytheforcesoftyranny.AsMcCainput it in his defense of the first Gulf War, if America failed to act, “there will be inevitably a succession of dictators” that would present“athreattothestabilityofthisentireglobe.”
New York Times’
Matt Bai interviewedMcCain in 2008 and concluded that “whilemost politicians looked at injustice in a for-eignlandandasked,‘Whyintervene?’McCainseemedtolookatthatsameinjusticeandaskhimself,‘Whynot?’”
In his 1999 Landon Lecture at KansasState University, McCain explained his criti-cisms ofthe Clintonadministration’s foreignpolicy.TherootsofClinton’sfailings,accord-ing to McCain, were “strategic incoherenceand self-doubt.” It is ironic that in the very same speech, McCain invoked and endorsedSecretary of State Madeleine Albright’s“indispensable nation” description of theUnitedStates.Describingone’sownnationinsuch a way positively bristles with arroganceand self-assurance—the furthest thing fromself-doubt one could imagine.
But McCaintook the self-congratulation a step further,noting that the reason America is the indis-pensablenationisbecausethecountryis“thegreatestforceforgoodinhumanhistory.”The actions of a country that representssuch goodness could rarely be destructive orpernicious.AlthoughheallowedintheLandonLecture that “we have made our share of mis-takesinthepast,”McCaincouldnotbringhim-self to mention even one, warninginstead thattherewasadangerthatconfrontingourerrorstoocandidlycouldleadus“toconferonothersthe primary responsibility for protecting ourinterests and values.” In keeping with thisthinking, throughout the 1990s, McCain wasoneofthemostvocalsupportersofforeignmil-itary interventions, favoring the Gulf War andtheSomaliaintervention(aftertheBlackHawkDown incident, McCain supported cutting off funding for the troops in the field, later ruingthispositionashavingbeenanendorsementof “aretreatinthefaceofaggressionfromaninfe-riorfoe”
);stronglyopposingandthenstrongly supporting the Bosnia intervention; andproposing an expansion of the Kosovo war tointroduce U.S. ground troops into Serbia.
McCain’s 2007 call to expand the active duty Army and Marine Corps from the already-inflated level of 750,000 to 900,000 shouldserveasanindicationofMcCain’sviewsontheroleofthemilitaryinthecomingyears.
Senator McCain has repeatedly explainedhis thinking on the centrality of Americanforeign-policy activism to the prosperity andlivabilityoftheglobe.Ina2006interviewwith
magazine,McCainrevealedthat“fun-damentally I agree with the so-called neocon-servatives because I believe we can do a better job of helping people achieve democracy andfreedom, and we should exercise this influ-ence for good. But not by launching preemp-tive strikes and unseating people and doingbadthings.Bydoinggoodthings.”
But what Senator McCain is eliding here isthat he and his neoconservative confreres fre-quently conflate “doing good things” with“launching preemptive strikes and unseatingpeople.” As
columnist Joe Klein has ob-served,theneoconservativeapproachtoforeignpolicycanbedescribedas“unilateralbellicosity cloakedintheutopianrhetoricoffreedomanddemocracy.”
To see the conflation of the twoconcepts, one can examine Senator McCain’sboostingofIraqicharlatanAhmedChalabi.
McCain’s call toexpand the activeduty Army andMarine Corpsfrom 750,000 to900,000 shouldserve as anindication of his views on the roleof the military inthe coming years.