National Security Network

John McCain's Scary Foreign Policy

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Report 31 October 2008

Allies diplomacy Foreign Policy john mccain neoconservatives


There are few things more unnerving, even on Halloween, than Senator McCain’s positions on foreign policy. The area was supposed to be a major McCain strength, but over the course of this campaign it has become increasingly clear that McCain holds extremely neoconservative positions that represent a continuation of the of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Before the campaign began, it was widely believed that McCain was relatively moderate on foreign policy. This was a misconception. McCain had long supported hawkish neoconservative policies and has even advocated positions that are more extreme than the Bush administration – such as on North Korea and Iran. McCain has also consistently demonstrated that he has a dangerous temperament when it comes to handling international crises. After the disaster of the last eight years, the country needs a dramatic change in direction, not Bush on steroids.

Note: With all the news and excitement of the next few days NSN's daily update will be taking a one week hiatus.  The daily will return on Veterans’ Day, Tuesday November 11.

McCain’s foreign policy would be a continuation of the past eight years. On almost every foreign policy issue McCain is either in complete agreement with the Bush administration or is more extreme. As the Bush administration has moderated and changed its approach on a variety of foreign policy issues – negotiating with North Korea, meeting with Iran, agreeing to a timetable for withdrawal on Iraq – McCain clung to the positions of his discredited neoconservative advisers. McCain’s unwillingness to engage in talks with Iran, his dismissal of the Bush administration’s negotiations with North Korea, and his eagerness to immediately ratchet up the confrontational rhetoric with Russia, demonstrate that McCain would be prone to lurch from crisis to crisis, confrontation to confrontation, while U.S. troops would remain in Iraq indefinitely. Additionally, McCain, like the Bush administration, has consistently ignored the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and fully backed the Bush administration’s policy toward Pakistan that focused solely on supporting former President Musharraf. McCain has also taken an abrasive line with NATO allies, calling them “vacuous and posturing” in the run up to the Iraq war, and even stated in September that he would not meet with the Spanish Prime Minister in the White House. [NSN, 10/28/08. NSN, 9/4/08. NSN, 10/15/08. NSN, 9/24/08. TNR, 5/7/08. NSN, 9/18/08]

John McCain is a neoconservative who has embraced the reckless policies of the Bush administration. Despite claiming to be a “realistic idealist,” John McCain has long advocated and supported neoconservative positions and the policies of the Bush administration. In the 2000 Republican primary he ran on a platform of “rogue state rollback” and was supported by neoconservatives like Bill Kristol. The Economist noted in 2002, “Despite his defeat, he [McCain] laid much of the groundwork for Mr. Bush's post-September presidency... In his state-of-the-union speech in January, Mr Bush... delivered his famous warning on the ‘axis of evil,’ rhetorically reformulating Mr. McCain's ‘rogue-state rollback.’” McCain has supported almost every major foreign policy decision of the Bush administration. McCain:

  • called for invading Iraq in the immediate aftermath of 9-11,
  • exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein,
  • strongly supported the Rumsfeld war strategy that relied on too few troops and led to the post-invasion fiasco,
  • believed that we would be greeted as liberators and the war would be “easy,” 
  • thought that Ahmed Chalabi would be accepted as the leader of Iraq, 
  • and advocated confrontation with North Korea, Iran.

Throughout the last eight years on the major foreign policy issues of our time John McCain has consistently sided with the reckless and irresponsible neoconservative thinkers inside the Republican Party that dominated the Bush administration’s first term. Many of the same neoconservatives are advisors to McCain. “Mr. McCain and his aides were consulting regularly with the circle of hawkish foreign policy thinkers sometimes referred to as neoconservatives — including Mr. Kristol, Robert Kagan and Randy Scheunemann, a former aide to Mr. Dole who became a McCain campaign adviser — to develop the senator’s foreign policy ideas and instincts into the broad themes of a presidential campaign.” Robert Kagan, one of the most prominent neoconservatives also wrote McCain’s seminal foreign policy speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. [John McCain, 3/26/08. Economist, 3/28/02. NSN, 9/4/08. NY Times, 8/16/08. WSJ, 3/6/08. Wonk Room, 3/17/08]
McCain’s temperament and his reckless and erratic reactions to international crises are a significant concern.  McCain’s reaction to the financial crisis was erratic and reckless, saying “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” calling for the Chairman of the SEC Christopher Cox to be fired, “suspending” his campaign, and threatening to pull out of the first debate so that he could go back to Washington to “deal” with the financial crisis.  In August, as the crisis erupted in the Caucasus, McCain – without waiting for the facts – blamed Russia and made extensive commitments to Georgia. The Politico noted that “while virtually every other world leader called for calm in Georgia last Thursday morning, John McCain did something he’s done many times over his career in public life: He condemned Russia.” This has been a pattern in McCain’s career.  Following 9/11, he suggested striking at Iraq, Iran and Syria. “I have very little doubt in my mind -- after bin Laden is either taken prisoner or killed and his network is destroyed, then what's next? Obviously, Iraq is still bent on -- Saddam Hussein is still bent on developing weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, the Iranians are still supporting terrorist organizations, as are the Syrians.” Then, with no evidence, McCain even falsely accused Iraq of being behind the anthrax letter attacks, saying “Some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.” In the recent wave of conservatives refusing to endorse McCain, many have cited temperament as a reason, including Colin Powell, Christopher Buckley, Former Sen. Larry Pressler, and Ken Adelman. [George Will, 9/23/08. MSNBC’s Hardball, 10/3/01. Politico, 8/12/08]

Quick Hits

ABC reports that General Petraeus suggested visiting Syria shortly after assuming command of CentCom to try improve relations as a hedge against Iran, but was rejected by the Bush administration.

Overseas markets were mixed and the U.S. stock market opened lower.  Japan’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the first time in seven years.

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq for October may tie with July for the lowest monthly death toll since the war began in 2003.  October is also set to be the first month in the conflict in which no U.S. soldier died in combat in Baghdad.

General David Petraeus takes charge of Central Command today.  

The United Nations urged North Korea to accept food aid from South Korea.
  The UN estimates that millions of North Koreans are going hungry.

The Iraqi Ministry of Defense will require all of its employees to maintain political neutrality.

The Red Cross warns of a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the DR Congo.

Amnesty International reports that conditions in Zimbabwe are “worsening.”  The political crisis continues and half the population will need food aid by the end of the year.

The African National Congress faces challenges to its 14-year dominance of South African politics.

A 2004 Department of Homeland Security program to disrupt election-related terrorism plots investigated 2,000 immigrants from Muslim countries, finding most innocent.

Pirates are rare examples of wealth in war-torn, starving Somalia.