Friday, March 21, 2008

McCain's Foreign Policy Myopia / Obama's Challenge

We had an interesting back and forth this week between the Obama/McCain camps on Iraq.

Sen. Obama gave a speech on Wednesday on foreign policy and Iraq. He criticized not only the choice to start a war in Iraq, but took a broader look at how national security dilemmas elsewhere-- from Afghanistan and Pakistan and beyond-- have been impacted by the fallout from that choice. Challenging the position held by Sen. McCain and others, he said-
"If you believe we are fighting the right war, then the problems we face are purely tactical in nature. That is what Senator McCain wants to discuss – tactics. What he and the Administration have failed to present is an overarching strategy: how the war in Iraq enhances our long-term security, or will in the future. That’s why this Administration cannot answer the simple question posed by Senator John Warner in hearings last year: Are we safer because of this war? And that is why Senator McCain can argue – as he did last year – that we couldn’t leave Iraq because violence was up, and then argue this year that we can’t leave Iraq because violence is down.

When you have no overarching strategy, there is no clear definition of success. Success comes to be defined as the ability to maintain a flawed policy indefinitely..."

He nails it. "Success" = staying. He then goes on to discuss what his withdrawal strategy-- militarily and politically-- would be. Regarding the inevitable McCain rebuttal, he adds-
"Now we know what we’ll hear from those like John McCain who support open-ended war. They will argue that leaving Iraq is surrender. That we are emboldening the enemy. These are the mistaken and misleading arguments we hear from those who have failed to demonstrate how the war in Iraq has made us safer. Just yesterday, we heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shiite, Iran and al Qaeda. Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no al Qaeda ties. Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America’s enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades."

Of course-- regarding McCain's 'confusing' of Sunni and Shiite, Iran and al Qaeda-- Obama gives him the credit of assuming it was just lack of knowledge... and not a direct attempt to conflate two enemies. Glenn Greenwald, for one, thinks that McCain's clear, lengthy record of such statements demonstrates a deliberate strategy.

Josh Marshall's view, however, is probably a little closer to my own. He sees McCain's constant 'gaffes' as proof that the man running as Mr. National Security really knows little to nothing about foreign policy at all (as he admits he knows nothing about the economy either). Moreover, this is a man so obsessed about fighting the war in Iraq forever that he cannot see anything beyond that.

Says Marshall-
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...

...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...

...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...

....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.



And this is the key point. 8 years ago, George W. Bush was mocked by many for his complete lack of knowledge about foreign policy or even the world outside of Texas. He was elected (kind of) anyway, and the rest is history. But Bush was running in peacetime. John McCain has been in Washington DC for decades, and is basing his entire campaign on the myth of himself as the great Warrior Hero who will save America from the forces of islamofascism abroad and defeatocrats at home. So the fact that he is blissfully unaware of a) the complexities of Middle East politics, and b) the larger problems we face at home and overseas, is even more disturbing.

That he is polling ahead of his two opponents despite supporting the same policies and leaders that are now disapproved of at home by record numbers may be the most disturbing thing of all. As John McCain's friend George once said, "fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." Except when you can.

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