On the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War, Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo explains why the American public should have no confidence in the foreign policy ‘authority’ of Senator John McCain—and the Democratic candidates shouldn’t give him any credit, either. McCain does not possess the expertise or geostrategic vision he likes to think he has. (Boldface added for emphasis.) Click here for a video version of the opinion piece below.
Unfit to Serve
By Josh Marshall
Let me follow up on this McCain gaffe in which he got confused and claimed that al Qaeda was getting trained and equipped by Iran before doing mischief in Iraq, before being corrected by his senate colleague Joe Lieberman.
Let’s start by stipulating that if Barack Obama had had this slip up it would be everywhere on the news for the next week. Pretty much the same if it had been Hillary Clinton.
But this is really just the tip of the iceberg with McCain. In almost every discussion of foreign policy, not just today but in previous years, what stands out is McCain’s inability to see beyond the immediate issues of military tactics to any firm grasp of strategy or America’s real vital interests. His free willingness to commit to a decades long occupation of Iraq is an example, his push for ground troops to be introduced during the Kosovo War is another. His refusal, almost inability, to grapple with the political failure of the surge is the most telling one if people will sift through its deeper implications.
The idea that fighting jihadists in Iraq or policing the country’s sectarian and ethnic disputes is the calling of this century is one that is belied in virtually everything we see in flux in today’s world and which seems certain to affect us through the rest of our lifetimes and our children’s.
It is very difficult to draw practical lessons from history. But one of the closest things to a law is that military power is almost always built on economic might. And the former seldom long outlasts the latter. Indeed, countries with sound finances have routinely been able to punch over their weight—Great Britain and the Netherlands during different periods are key examples. So fiscal soundness even over the medium term is much more important than any particular weapon system or basing right.
Then you step back and see the huge number of dollars we’re pouring into Iraq, the vast mountains of capital being piled up in China, the oil-fueled resurgence of Russia, the weakness of the dollar (not only in exchange rate but in its future as a reserve currency), the rising tide of anti-Americanism around the world. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything from John McCain that suggests he’s given serious consideration to any of these issues, except as possible near term military challenges—i.e., is China building a blue water navy to challenge the US, Russian weapons systems, etc.
Candidly, I do not think I’ve heard sufficient discussions or solutions to these challenges from my preferred candidates. But neither has the myopia that McCain has about Iraq. Or the willingness to spend—how else to put it—like a drunken sailor in that country at the expense of everything else now going on in the world.
Hillary Clinton has stipulated to McCain’s qualifications as Commander in Chief; and Obama, implicitly, does the same. But his record actually shows he’s one of the most dangerous people we could have in the Oval Office in coming years—not just because he’s a hothead in using the military, but more because he seems genuinely clueless about the real challenges and dangers the country is facing. He’s too busy living in the fantasy world where our future as a great power and our very safety are all bound up in Iraq.