Monday, January 21, 2008

John McCain, Neoconservative

Jacob Heilbrunn argues that GOP frontrunner John McCain's poised to maintain neoconservative power in Washington, should he win the presidency this November:

The canonization of John McCain has begun. In his Monday New York Times column, William Kristol suggested that McCain isn't simply a candidate for president. He's something more - the next Winston Churchill who can lead the U.S. to victory in the war on terror. According to Kristol, who has long been a close friend of McCain's and quoted him reciting a turgid Victorian poem, he is a "not-so-modern type. One might call him a neo-Victorian - rigid, self-righteous and moralizing, but (or rather and) manly, courageous and principled." For both Kristol and David Brooks, McCain epitomizes the belief in American national greatness that can replicate the glories of the nineteenth century British empire....

The neoconservatives, who believe, or pretend to believe, that supposed foes abroad always represent new Hitlers and that wimpy liberals are about to recapitulate the appeasement that English liberals espoused in the 1930s, are constantly searching for a new Churchill. They see Churchill as the last great representative of the Victorian era in contrast to the weaklings that surrounded him. (George W. Bush himself keeps a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office.) For the neocons, McCain, a military hero who has written a number of books and become a politician, eerily resembles Churchill himself. McCain himself has made his admiration for Churchill abundantly apparent in his most recent book, Hard Call, in which he hails the great man's prescience in warning of Germany's aggressive intentions in the run-up to both World War I and World War II. But more to the point, McCain represents for the neocons the ultimate synthesis of war hero and politician. And McCain, in turn, has been increasingly drawn to the neocons' militaristic vision of the U.S. as an empire that can set wrong aright around the globe.

The neocons became close to McCain in the 1990s, when they supported American intervention in the Balkans. According to the New Republic's John Judis, the first sign of neocon influence on McCain came in 1999. McCain delivered a speech at Kansas State University in which he touted "national greatness conservatism," arguing: "The United States is the indispensable nation because we have proven to be the greatest force for good in human history." He went on to state that the U.S. should have "every intention of continuing to use our primacy in world affairs for humanity's benefit."
Heilbrunn, readers will recall, is the author of a new book on neoconservatism, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (see my posts on Heilbrunn here, here, here, and here).

Some reviewers have suggested that Heilbrunn's a mildy disaffected former neocon, remaining sympathetic to the movement. He warns here, though, that a McCain presidency could "ramp up" America's international intervention, ultimately destroying the imperial project the neocons themselves seek.

That, of course, is a matter for history to decide, but if the current success in Iraq is any indication, smart money wouldn't discount the sustained primacy of American power under a McCain administration.


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