Today’s New York Times has an article about McCain’s foreign policy brain trust that is definitely worth a read. The dramatic narrative is framed as a contest between realists and neoconservatives for influence on Senator McCain. McCain echoed the article’s evidence that he was leaning to the neoconservative side at a Connecticut town hall yesterday. When a questioner asked if McCain would "reject the Bush doctrine of preemptive war" he responded by saying he might indeed launch a preemptive war to stop a country from gaining the weapons "capability" to "devastate America". Subtext: "Take that, Iran".
But I thought the most telling observation in the Times article was slipped in almost as
an aside. The article highlights a fundamental issue of disposition
voiced by “the pragmatists”. These pragmatists are concerned that: “Mr.
McCain is susceptible to influence from the neoconservatives because he
is not as fully formed on foreign policy as his campaign advisers say
he is, and that while he speaks authoritatively, he operates too much
off the cuff and has not done the deeper homework required of a
This movie – the one about the most powerful person in the world and
their failure to do their homework about foreign policy challenges – is
not only one we’ve seen before. We’re still watching it … and trying to
awaken from that particular nightmare. What’s ironic is that unlike
with Mr. Bush, foreign policy is seen as McCain’s strong suit. I don’t
usually see myself as in the same camp as Henry Kissinger and Brent
Scowcroft but count me in as “concerned” (more like terrified) about
McCain’s lack of attention to foreign policy detail and his off the
cuff problem solving.
One case in point is his infamous remark that we might be in Iraq
for 100 years. Lately, it has been fashionable to point out that McCain
was talking about a “peaceful” military presence along the lines of
post-war Japan or the Korean peninsula. What hasn’t been as focused on
is just how ludicrous such an idea is. First of all, it is almost
impossible to envision that kind of peaceful presence since a
garrisoned force would likely remain a magnet for terrorist attacks for
decades no matter how peaceful the rest of the country was. Secondly,
even if the operation could be peaceful, that very presence – after an
invasion that most of the world opposed – would become al-Qaeda’s best marketing and recruiting tool.
McCain keeps blowing it. He’s singing off key whether he’s
conflating al-Qaeda with Iran, conflating South Korea with Iraq, conflating intelligence about weapons capability with an immanent threat, or whether he’s just
mumbling his hit “Bomb, Bomb, Iran” (on YouTube).
That kind of sloppy thinking and sloppy judgment has created the
largest foreign policy mess in our nation’s history. When will the
whisperings of concern by the greybeards of the foreign policy elite –
and by the activists in Peace Action West’s offices – be debated fully
in the public square?