Saturday, March 29, 2008

McCain's Foreign Policy: Intensifying the Bush Doctrine?

McCain in Los Angeles

Spencer Ackerman argues that John McCain's foreign policy speech Wednesday was not a tempered break from the Bush administration's record, but rather an aggressive update of it:
Since he began running for president, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has embraced President George W. Bush's foreign policy. He has done so for a simple and understandable reason: it was McCain's policy first.

"I'd institute a policy that I call 'rogue state rollback,'" McCain
said during a GOP primary debate in February 2000. "I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments." Though Bush himself would not embrace McCain's weltanshauung until after 9/11, this approach to global affairs would eventually become known as the Bush Doctrine.

Yet when McCain walked to the podium yesterday at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council to deliver his clearest
speech yet outlining a McCain foreign policy - a policy characterized by what could be endless wars - the media almost uniformly declared it a break with Bush.

McCain sanded down the edges of the Bush Doctrine by urging more consulting with allies and action on climate change. The result? "Republican presidential candidate John McCain suggested that as president, his foreign-policy approach would be different, more collaborative," Fox News's Molly Henneberg reported. Added CNN's Dana Bash:"This speech was mainly an attempt to highlight a McCain world view quite different from the president's."

Notably, one person who didn't jump at the chance to distance McCain from Bush was McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. Asked by reporters if McCain intended to portray himself as departing from Bush's legacy, Scheunemann replied, "I'll leave that to you." For good reason: McCain represents not a break from the Bush Doctrine, but rather its intensification.

Much as Bush has never backed away from his invasion and occupation of Iraq, McCain endorsed a maximal, not minimal, definition of U.S. goals. "Success in Iraq is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists." Withdrawal would be "morally reprehensible" and an "unconscionable act of betrayal." It would yield, in McCain's telling, "genocide, and destabilize the entire [Middle East] as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions." Iran would see "our premature withdrawal as a victory."

What of Iraq today? "Those who argue that our goals in Iraq are unachievable are wrong. Just as they were wrong a year ago, when they declared the war in Iraq already lost." McCain proceeded to rattle off some already-outdated statistics comparing the late-2007 reduction in violence to 2005 levels -- levels that already led his fellow Vietnam veteran, Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) to break from his hawkish past and endorse withdrawal.

McCain appeared divorced from reality over the war. As he spoke, weak government forces battled Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army. More than 200 have died so far in those clashes -- clashes which, according to NPR, have led government security forces to defect to Sadr's movement. With the departure of the final "surge" brigade from Iraq next week, the window during which the U.S. could operate with maximum military strength closes, and in the wake of that closure comes the most serious challenge to the government's authority since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took power in the spring of 2006.

Further demonstrating McCain's unmooring, the enemy described in his speech is an undifferentiated "radical Islamic terrorism." It is less an entity than a metaphysical concept -- existing everywhere and without distinction.

McCain draws no distinction between the puny Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. Interestingly, the U.S. military in Iraq does: it recently gave a briefing that described Al Qaeda in Iraq's foot soldiers as
brainwashed twentysomethings rather than fanatical murderers.

Ackerman goes on to argue that Iran's the supreme victor from the Iraq war (as the conflict's "tied down" the U.S.), and he suggests that democratization has proceeded in the Middle East only to increase "sectarianism, religious fanaticism, illiberalism."

Note first that Ackerman's argument that Iraq's strengthened Iran, with the U.S., like Gulliver, "tied down and bloodied," has been discredited by recent analyses by Middle East experts and military analysts (see
Reuel Marc Gerecht and Fouad Ajami, and Jules Crittenden, respectively). Iraq's threat to Middle East stability is long gone (a point conveniently forgotten by antiwar hawks), and from Damascus to Tehran to Tripoli the groups cited by Ackerman as strengthened have become marginalized at home or ostracized abroad. People in the Middle East have no taste for a some prolonged neo-imperial domination, but they welcome U.S. power as the handmaiden to freedom. American capabilities are vital to the defeat of mayhem and petty tyrants across the region.

As for Ackerman's "undifferentiated" radical terrorists who are supposedly making McCain look "unmoored,"
Amir Taheri made a geopolitical case today that McCain's right, actually, "that there are deadly and determined groups dedicated to destruction of the U.S. in the name of a perverted version of Islam, and that they need to be resisted, fought and ultimately defeated."

Underneath all of this, of course, is Ackerman's premises for U.S. international action. These notions, radical in essence, are rooted in a foreign policy orientation almost diametrically opposed to the ones offered by either Bush or McCain, whose GOP polices that have been attacked, again and again, by leftist antiwar surrender junkies.

Recall last week we saw Ackerman announce the "
Obama Doctrine of dignity promotion," in which he sees traditional power politics and the use of military force as the fruits of a "corrosive mind-set" infecting the Washington foreign policy establishment. This is the same establishment that would allegedly back a McCain adminisration's "endless wars."

As nasty and foul-mouthed a commentator as Ackerman is (especially on
his blog), there's a tender, soft-hearted idealism nestled right down in the middle of his Obama foreign policy advocacy.

These dignity doctrines, for example, are big on human rights promotion and quality of life indicators. Yet for all of Ackerman's talk of
an unprecented Obama revolution, we've heard this kind of softy language before, back in the 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter shifted American foreign policy away from robust power politics vis-a-vis the Soviets, to a human rights doctrine of appeasement and indecision.

(See, for example,
Slater Bakhtavar, "Jimmy Carter's Human Rights Disaster in Iran," and Victor David Hanson, "The Wages of Appeasement: How Jimmy Carter and Academic Multiculturalists Helped Bring Us Sept. 11.")

Further, Ackerman's also a member of the self-proclaimed and megalomaniacal radical foreign policy netroots, an antiwar faction implacably committed to defeating Bush politically at home rather than prevailing in America's relations abroad (for more on this, see "
Blogging Foreign Policy: Bereft of Credentials, Left Strains to Shift Debate").

These folks, apparently weaned on the mother's milk of post-Vietnam "lessons" of foreign policy, and motivated moral condemnation and a penchant for elite conspiracy, oppose any and all use of American military power (yet, depending on the advocate, say, someone like
Samantha Power, the use of force is fine, as long as it doesn't involve protecting vital national interests).

This really is the context for Ackerman's diatribe against McCain's Los Angeles address. More than any other candidate in campaign '08, the Arizona Senator's got the background and experience to state the case that one doesn't tarry with our enemies, that in defeating them there's no replacement for the use of force as needed, and that sometimes what's required is an unfliching willingness to kill those who want nothing less than the total annihilation of the American state.

The demonizations of perennial warfare aren't completely new. Rather, we're seeing a beefy up version of foreign policy anti-Americanism, that is, antiwar BDS-plus.

Photo Credit: USA Today