Eager to look presidential amidst the Democratic squabbling, Republican presidential nominee John McCain in a speech in Los Angles on Wednesday, provided the country a glimpse of how sell his Commander and Chief persona to the American people during the next few months.
Clearly, McCain sought to reassure those who were perhaps disturbed by the “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” talk and the causally suggesting that U.S. could be in Iraq for 50 to 100 years, by informing us that he “detested war.” On nuclear nonproliferation, McCain said, “We should work to reduce nuclear arsenals all around the world, starting with our own.”
He also rhetorically distanced himself from the reckless unilateralism of the Bush administration in saying, “Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.”
McCain reaffirmed his somewhat comprised stance on banning torture too. “We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured. I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control,” he urged the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
On global warming, he tried to impress Americans as a reasonable sober thinking conservative. He admitted that modern advances can “produce a global industrialization that can in time threaten our planet.”
At first glance, all of this makes John McCain sound like a centrist Democrat. But a closer examination of his previous statements and of the speech itself reveals an unwillingness to shed some of the vestiges of the Bush doctrine.
For instance, in September of 2006, President Bush invoked the then 5-year anniversary of the 9/11 calamity to justify a misbegotten war in Iraq and another poorly executed one in Afghanistan.
We’re determined to deny terrorists the support of outlaw regimes. After September the 11th, I laid out a clear doctrine: America makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror, and those that harbor and support them, because they’re equally guilty of murder….Afghanistan and Iraq have been transformed from terrorist states into allies in the war on terror.
Witnessing its effects, few people were persuaded by the logic of the Bush doctrine then and even more are skeptical about it now. But John McCain has been an unwavering adherent. After emphasizing how radical Islamic terrorism is the transcendent challenge of our time in his speech, McCain warns:
We learned through the tragic experience of September 11 that passive defense alone cannot protect us. We must protect our borders. But we must also have an aggressive strategy of confronting and rooting out the terrorists wherever they seek to operate, and deny them bases in failed or failing states. Today al Qaeda and other terrorist networks operate across the globe, seeking out opportunities in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and in the Middle East.
Though McCain does note that such an effort will require more than just military instruments, most of his pro-war advocacy has focused on achieving ill defined notion of “victory” in Iraq.
And while it is true that security threats exist in a variety of places, it is not clear that the U.S. was passive in confronting them either before or after September 11th. President Bill Clinton did bomb Afghanistan and Sudan to root out Osama bin Laden in 1998. President Bush did initiate two poorly prosecuted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11.
So we are left wondering to what extent are we to expect these efforts to root out terrorists will lead to open ended war in various parts of the globe. That unanswered question leads to the same dead end that making “no distinction between those who harbor” them does which either, is or comes close dangerously to, perpetual war.
And when a war is predicated on a number of confusing premises, as is the case with Iraq, claiming victory is difficult to define in concrete terms. McCain asserted:
Many people ask, how should we define success? Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism.
Somehow that does not clear things up for me. And I suspect many other people will have the same problem. Of course, not President Bush who said in the 2007 State of the Union address, “Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.”
Could that take 50 to 100 years?
But an equally baffling point made by both Bush and McCain is the framing for why the U.S. should not withdraw in the near future. McCain said in his speech this week that “Iran will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly.”
And on March 19, Bush said, “Iran would be emboldened as well — with a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the Middle East. Our enemies would see an America — an American failure in Iraq as evidence of weakness and a lack of resolve.” Thus, not only are Bush and McCain of the same mind on Iran, but the unmeasured hawkishness toward the Shiite dominated country has contributed to conflating the Sunni dominated global terrorist network of radical Islamists.
Its the “but if we leave now then Iran will talk about us and call us punks” argument.
It should also be noted that the most definitive U.S. intelligence document, the NIE, concluded that Iran halted it’s program in 2003 and decided to do so because “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs,” as opposed to being a rouge nation acting irrationally. That means diplomacy works when give a chance and explored exhaustively. Interestingly enough, McCain 6 page speech mentions the word “diplomacy” only twice.
All of which puts McCain’s so-called gaffe regarding which country is training what terrorists where and for what reason in context.