Sunday, October 21, 2007

John McCain and American Foreign Policy

I've been eagerly awaiting John McCain's contribution to the Foreign Affairs Campaign 2008 series, and I'm not disappointed. I've long considered McCain the most qualified candidate among both parties, especially on national security. Here's McCain's statement on the contemporary international challenges facing the United States:

Defeating radical Islamist extremists is the national security challenge of our time. Iraq is this war's central front, according to our commander there, General David Petraeus, and according to our enemies, including al Qaeda's leadership.

The recent years of mismanagement and failure in Iraq demonstrate that America should go to war only with sufficient troop levels and with a realistic and comprehensive plan for success. We did not do so in Iraq, and our country and the people of Iraq have paid a dear price. Only after four years of conflict did the United States adopt a counterinsurgency strategy, backed by increased force levels, that gives us a realistic chance of success. We cannot get those years back, and now the only responsible action for any presidential candidate is to look forward and outline the strategic posture in Iraq that is most likely to protect U.S. national interests.

So long as we can succeed in Iraq -- and I believe that we can -- we must succeed. The consequences of failure would be horrific: a historic loss at the hands of Islamist extremists who, after having defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the United States in Iraq, will believe that the world is going their way and that anything is possible; a failed state in the heart of the Middle East providing sanctuary for terrorists; a civil war that could quickly develop into a regional conflict and even genocide; a decisive end to the prospect of a modern democracy in Iraq, for which large Iraqi majorities have repeatedly voted; and an invitation for Iran to dominate Iraq and the region even more.

Whether success grows closer or more distant over the coming months, it is clear that Iraq will be a central issue for the next U.S. president. Democratic candidates have promised to withdraw U.S. troops and "end the war" by fiat, regardless of the consequences. To make such decisions based on the political winds at home, rather than on the realities in the theater, is to court disaster. The war in Iraq cannot be wished away, and it is a miscalculation of historic magnitude to believe that the consequences of failure will be limited to one administration or one party. This is an American war, and its outcome will touch every one of our citizens for years to come.
McCain offers some interesting propasals. For example, he backs the formation of a new international organization of the world's leading democracies. He notes that such a body wouldn't replace the United Nations, but founded on a common set of interests, it would act with more dispatch toward global problems. McCain also speaks to strengthening America's existing great power alliances in Europe and East Asia. Here are his comments on America's alliance partnerships and East Asian security:

Power in the world today is moving east; the Asia-Pacific region is on the rise. If we grasp the opportunities present in the unfolding world, this century can become safe and both American and Asian, both prosperous and free....

North Korea's totalitarian regime and impoverished society buck these trends. It is unclear today whether North Korea is truly committed to verifiable denuclearization and a full accounting of all its nuclear materials and facilities, two steps that are necessary before any lasting diplomatic agreement can be reached. Future talks must take into account North Korea's ballistic missile programs, its abduction of Japanese citizens, and its support for terrorism and proliferation.

The key to meeting this and other challenges in a changing Asia is increasing cooperation with our allies. The linchpin to the region's promise is continued American engagement. I welcome Japan's international leadership and emergence as a global power, encourage its admirable "values-based diplomacy," and support its bid for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. As president, I will tend carefully to our ever-stronger alliance with Australia, whose troops are fighting shoulder to shoulder with ours in Afghanistan and Iraq. I will seek to rebuild our frayed partnership with South Korea by emphasizing economic and security cooperation and will cement our growing partnership with India.
Read the whole thing. McCain is concise and to the point. To his credit, he doesn't propose an unending array of policy propsals designed to involve the U.S. in every possible international problem of the day, unlike Hillary Clinton in her Foreign Affairs essay from the series.

Note something important here, though: I don't back McCain's suggestion that we need to repair our image around the world. This is an apparent buckling to negative public attitudes regarding the U.S. internationally, not to mention antiwar opinion in the U.S. Here you can see how McCain trumpets America's traditional moral leadership, while simultaneously calling for renewal:
We are a special nation, the closest thing to a "shining city on a hill" ever to have existed. But it is incumbent on us to restore our mantle as a global leader, reestablish our moral credibility, and rebuild those damaged relationships that once brought so much good to so many places.
McCain's absolutely correct to situate contemporary American foreign policy in our robust history of promoting human dignity, progress, and universal values. He's made the point eloquently many times. But we don't need to make apologies for acting in our interests on Iraq in 2003, or on issues issues such as global warming or missile defense. Our interests are legimate. Leave the apologies (and appeasement) to the Democrats.

McCain understands the dangers facing the U.S. amid the present correlation of world forces. Sure, we might face some challenges of image-building, but I think the point's more a matter of good public relations rather than wholesale policy change. Indeed, international opinion in the advanced industrial democracies has rebounded from earlier lows following 2003. I believe continued success in Iraq will work to further consolidate these gains in the years ahead. Thus, we must not slacken our commitment to defeating the terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere. I propose that John McCain provides the best set of skills to further these objectives.

See the other essays in the Foreign Affairs series, in the order they first appeared:
Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, and Hillary Clinton.

See also my post yesterday making the case for a second look at McCain's candidacy.