John McCain went before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council yesterday morning to showcase his foreign policy credentials and convince Americans that he is the only candidate experienced enough to take that 3am telephone call. While Clinton and Obama are distracted by a pre-Pennsylvania primary food fight, McCain's address constituted a dress rehearsal for a future national security agenda that, at its very core, resembles nothing more than discredited cowboy diplomacy. It is essentially fermented old failed warrior wine in new bottles...camouflaged unilateralism gussied up in a Potemkin village of storefront global engagement.
Democrats should not ignore the content of McCain's speech while our internal bout continues, or remain passive at the free ride McCain will enjoy from a fawning media lauding the speech's "presidential" character and its perceived break with Bush/Cheney/Rice foreign policy catastrophes. To remain impervious to McCain's attempted act at presidential statesmanship risks cementing in the minds of voters a dangerous perception that McCain will chart a new, more responsible and appealing foreign policy course that represents a break with neoconservatism orthodoxy.
Caveat Emptor: read between the lines!
First and foremost, McCain reasserts his ominous commitment to an endless engagement in Iraq. He justifies his bottomless pit commitment by arguing that a "premature" withdrawal will lead to a wider Middle East war because Al Qaeda will be able to turn Iraq into a cauldron of sectarian strife. This, he argues, will ultimately embolden Iran to confront Sunni Arab states and Israel, and lead to a regional war that will surely force the United States back into a wider conflict that it will have to wage against adversaries far stronger than they are today. In other words, the domino theory of Middle East extremism lies at the core of McCain's endless summer in Iraq.
McCain would like to convince voters they face the choice of accepting his Churchillian "never surrender" approach, or a dangerous Democratic "cut and run" alternative. In other words, leave Iraq and America will be in more danger and have to fight a more bloody and costly war later on many Middle East fronts, or stay the course in Iraq (courtesy of McCain's surge policy) and vanquish Al Qaeda and quell the sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiites and we will be marginalize the threats arrayed against us throughout the region.
The trouble with this set up is that McCain's core premise is dead wrong. By our own senior commanders' accounts, Al Qaeda is but a minor player in Iraq, and there is no way the U.S. presence, surge or not, that will keep a lid on sectarian tensions. Just look at what is going on in Iraq at the very tragic milestone of 4,000 Americans killed: the worst sectarian violence in months has broken out with hundreds of lives lost despite a McCain's surge that he continues to tout as the fire extinguisher that will stop sectarian strife from igniting once again.
How inconvenient timing just when McCain keeps claiming that the surge has succeeded.
McCain's black and white version of the Middle East is what I find so troublesome. There is absolutely no redemption possible for adversaries such as Iran and Syria and no room for creative diplomacy other than his beloved surge strategy. In a nutshell, we must stay in Iraq to contain regional threats or risk engaging in a fool's errand by resorting to defeatist diplomacy.
I just don't buy that equation, and neither should the American people.
Moreover, McCain claims that an unending presence in Iraq can be legitimated by a new "League of Democracies" (a.k.a. a new Coalition of the Willing) that would conveniently marginalize those pesky international institutions such as the United Nations that seem to always stand in the way of American unilateralism or the McCain version "semi-unilateralism."
Creating parallel international organizations composed solely of "acceptable" democratic states would create a 21st century version of a new bi-polar world: A U.S./European Union plus India, Israel, Japan and other democracies lined up against Russia and other authoritarian governments. Democracies banding together to set a new global course has that soft, sweet appeal to our patriotic virtuosity, with every other undemocratic nation outside the McCain's democratic tent left to create their own mischief from the stage of the UN General Assembly, or create their own "anti-democratic" alliances and competing anti-democratic groupings.
What is so strikingly and inherently wrong with McCain's world vision is that America's global leadership will not be restored by ignoring adversaries that, left to their own devices, may further challenge and undermine America's national security.
Democrats should not permit McCain to gain further traction by falsely asserting he is charting a new foreign policy course that will restore America's image, global leadership, and reduce the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its spinoff terror groups. Despite McCain's assertion that he no warrior at heart, he is no prince of peace either. Any national security policy that, at its core, leaves America stranded in Iraq with hundreds of thousands of troops fighting whatever enemy we can conveniently label is a calling card for extremists and ultimately risks creating stronger adversaries. It is nothing more than a continuation of the failed Bush/Cheney/Rice status quo. The surge that McCain is so proud of will, by most impartial assessments, fail to stop the very civil strife that it is designed to prevent.
Sadly, there is nothing in McCain's speech that will convincingly steer our ship of state back on a truly righteous course that will undo the damage that the past seven years of failed national security policies have wrought. McCain is offering America nothing more than more of the same, and more of the same is what got America into this mess in the first place.