The Real Empty Suit

Via Cernig, Robert Scheer tells us that John McCain is running on a war platform because that is all he knows:

McCain can win only as a war president. He neither knows nor cares much about the economic meltdown, which is the consequence of the deregulation mania that he has supported at every turn during his career in the Senate. If McCain had to run on his economic policy record in the Senate, he might be a loser even in his home state of Arizona, whose residents are suffering mightily from economic disarray presided over by the Republicans. Better to dwell on the dubious success of the surge in Iraq than on the surge in home mortgage foreclosures and the price of gasoline that has crippled Arizona’s and the nation’s economy. Still better to change the subject to the Russians and Georgia rather than dwell overly long on the disaster of Iraq, which has cost our nation trillions of dollars and where the prime minister now is far more zealous than Barack Obama in calling for an early withdrawal of U.S. troops. But whatever McCain’s problems from cheerleading for Bush’s war, they pale in comparison to his vulnerability on the most pressing domestic issues.


That’s why he needs a new Cold War, but it’s a bad fit for the world we face. The danger from Russia is not that it has imperial ambitions driven by the remnants of an expansionist communist ideology. Even China, which is still a communist-run state, knows that old-fashioned imperialism doesn’t pay. What drives nations to madness these days is not ideology — communist, Muslim or any other flavor of the month — but rather an assortment of nationalist and religion-fueled grievances. …

The irony here is, of course, that McCain’s understanding of foreign policy — either in a factual or a strategic sense — is no better than his understanding of domestic issues, as Cernig points out at Newshoggers and in a guest piece at The Art of the Possible in which he writes about how McCain and his far right and neoconservative supporters have given new meaning to the concept of The Ugly American:

Bush, Rumsfield, Bremer, Bolton, the entire Kagan family, Podhoretz – Cheney, of course – and a slew of hard right pundits and bloggers. The right is filled with Ugly Americans right now, who simultaneously want to dictate how non-Americans will behave and to insist that only American interests matter, only what they want matters. It’s a mindset rooted in the ideology of American exceptionalism, with a hefty dose of Divine Mandate (code for “The White Man’s Burden” reset as a uniquely American one), leavened with fear of “the other”, but to perpetuate it requires ignorance, arrogance and a belief that all problems can be solved by using a bigger hammer.

Out of all the Ugly Americans of the modern hard Right, John McCain is rising as the star. His entire worldview is based not just upon American exceptionalism but upon McCain exceptionalism – “Verb, Noun, P.O.W.” He can’t remember how many houses he owns (through his joint-property marriage in Arizona with his heiress wife) and thinks $5 million is the cut-on point for “rich” – I doubt highly that he knows the price of bread or the rise in the cost of milk over the last year unless its from a briefing by his staff. The nearest he gets to the common American is talking to his coterie of advisors, who all wear lobbyist or think-tank hats too and apparently do all his thinking for him on someone else’s dime. Meanwhile, he accuses others of uppity elitism, oblivious to the irony. A very ugly American indeed.

McCain can’t keep his geography straight for more than five minutes (even while banging the war drum about them) but he’s full of opinions about how America should treat the inhabitants of that geography with contempt. He was an avid booster for the Iraqi WMD snark-hunt. He’s described European allies as “”vacuous and posturing” “adversaries” (and one of his advisors, Robert Kagan, this week called Europe “irrelevant”). He has said we should bomb Iran.  He’s willing to get into major escalations with China and Russia – including turning those irrelevant European countries into “armed hedgehogs” (the phrase comes from the other Kagan, Fred). Yet he’s blithely unaware, it seems, of any nuance or backstory in any of these issues. History starts when John McCain says it does. It’s in his foreign policy that McCain reveals himself as the ugliest American of all.

That last link is to an Andrew Sullivan post commenting on an op-ed by Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman in (where else?) the Wall Street Journal. What Graham and Lieberman are doing in this op-ed is no less than reviving the Cold War — complete with an updated version of the domino theory (see my emphasis):

Russia’s aggression is not just a threat to a tiny democracy on the edge of Europe. It is a challenge to the political order and values at the heart of the continent.

For more than 60 years, from World War II through the Cold War to our intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the U.S. has fostered and fought for the creation of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. This stands as one of the greatest strategic achievements of the 20th century: the gradual transformation of a continent, once the scene of the most violent and destructive wars ever waged, into an oasis of peace and prosperity where borders are open and uncontested and aggression unthinkable.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia represents the most serious challenge to this political order since Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the demons of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans. What is happening in Georgia today, therefore, is not simply a territorial dispute. It is a struggle about whether a new dividing line is drawn across Europe: between nations that are free to determine their own destinies, and nations that are consigned to the Kremlin’s autocratic orbit.

That is the reason countries like Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States are watching what happens in the Caucasus so closely. We heard that last week in Warsaw, Kiev and Tbilisi. There is no doubt in the minds of leaders in Ukraine and Poland — if Moscow succeeds in Georgia, they may be next.

There is disturbing evidence Russia is already laying the groundwork to apply the same arguments used to justify its intervention in Georgia to other parts of its near abroad — most ominously in Crimea. …

If McCain is elected, this is the foreign policy we can expect to see:

What they are laying out in very clear terms is the agenda of a McCain presidency. The agenda is war and the threat of war – including what would be an end to cooperation with Russia on securing loose nuclear materials and sharing terror intelligence, in favor of a new cold war in defense of … Moldova and Azerbaijan. I’m sure McCain would like to have his Russian cooperation, while demonizing and attacking them on the world stage, but in the actual world, he cannot. Putin and Medvedev are not agreeable figures, and I do not mean in any way to excuse their bullying. But this is global politics, guys, and these are the cold, hard choices facing American policy makers.

And in this telling op-ed Lieberman and Graham simply do not even confront them. It’s all about a moral posture, with no practical grappling with the consequences. It’s the mindset that gave you the Iraq war – but multiplied.

John McCain is making it quite clear what his foreign policy will be like: tilting sharply away from the greater realism of Bush’s second term toward the abstract moralism, fear-mongering and aggression of the first. Not just four more years – but four more years like Bush’s first term. If the Democrats cannot adequately warn Americans of the dangers of a hotheaded temperament and uber-neo-con mindset in the White House for another four years, they deserve to lose. If Americans decide they want a president who will be more aggressive and less diplomatic than the current one, then they should at least brace for the consequences  – for their economy and their security.

Ilan Goldenberg has an excellent post at Democracy Arsenal about that hotheaded temperament as it relates to McCain’s loose cannon approach to foreign policy:

John McCain has an ad up trying to scare the American people about Iran and saying Obama doesn’t take the threat seriously enough.  I think it’s time to take the gloves off and paint McCain as the reckless and dangerous overeager warrior that he is.

If I was the Obama campaign I would probably go with something like this:

John McCain.  He was a cheerleader for George Bush and Dick Cheney’s war in Iraq.  He has said we should bomb Iran.  He’s willing to get into major escalations with China and Russia.  He thought war with North Korea was inevitable.  He even called Germany and France our “adversaries.”  Is that who we want leading our country?  […]

… The whole point [of the McCain ad] is to elevate the Iranian threat to some ridiculous level of fear and paranoia equivalent to the Nazis or the Soviet Union.  First of all, the quote is of course completely out of context.  Obama  clearly takes Iran seriously.  All you have to do is read his policies and listen to his positions.

But Iran isn’t the Nazis or the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons and controlled all of Eastern Europe.  The Nazis took over all of Europe and killed millions.  Iran is a country with 60 million people and a GDP the size of Florida.  By historical comparison it is simply not the same level threat.

But John McCain doesn’t think that way.  For McCain every crisis is 1939 and every threat is existential.  As Max has so aptly pointed out, this is a very dangerous approach to the world.

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