If SNL is looking for an unexpected addition to the cast, let me be the first to recommend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who this week turned in a performance on the Senate floor which—it must be hoped—was a cutting parody of the outdated, Cold War thinking that persistently hawks around the Washington foreign policy establishment to the detriment of American defense interests.
The topic at hand was Montenegro’s bid to join NATO, and McCain found himself at odds with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The Kentucky senator on Wednesday blocked Senate ratification of a treaty to advance the tiny Balkan nation’s request and then exited the Senate chamber. McCain was displeased. In opposing the treaty, “you are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin,” he fumed to Paul.
“The only conclusion you can draw” from Paul’s departure, McCain added, is “he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”
Setting aside these charges of light treason, it is not difficult to think of a reason Paul would oppose adding Montenegro to NATO. As the senator himself explained in an interview Thursday, this latest outworking of McCain’s perpetual bias toward military intervention and expensive security commitments abroad at the very least warrants a hefty dose of skepticism.
The United States already has “combat troops in about six nations. We have troops actively just stationed in probably a couple dozen others. We have a $20 trillion debt,” Paul noted in an interview on MSNBC. That context, he added, is why we must seriously consider “whether or not it’s in our national interest to pledge to get involved with a war if Montenegro has an altercation with anyone.”
Paul is right. While no person of good conscience wishes to see the people of Montenegro in danger, McCain’s insistence that it is the responsibility of the United States via NATO to protect this nation halfway across the globe only holds water if we share his false assumption that America must ever and always play world police.
And the fact is NATO does not need Montenegro. As Dan DePetris details at The Hill, this is a “country of less than 630,000 people, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of only $3.9 billion and an active military of approximately 2,000 troops.” The idea that Montenegro will contribute anything to U.S. security is laughable. On the contrary, by failing to meet NATO’s 2 percent of GDP defense expenditure minimum, “Montenegro would add yet another dependent country to America’s coattails.”
Having considered why Paul would reasonably be reluctant to move forward with Montenegro’s inclusion in NATO, we might also consider why McCain is so vehemently in favor of it. Once again, the answer is not difficult to fathom: His thinking is trapped in a Cold War mindset increasingly anachronistic to America’s modern security needs (and out of step with the American people).
Indeed, McCain’s willing to pledge an already over-committed U.S. military to the defense of a nation that offers nothing to American vital security interests can only be interpreted as a reckless swipe at Russia that needlessly moves us toward the precipice of war.
That this move makes little sense—Moscow is not threatening invasion of Montenegro; Montenegro itself is hardly a western-style democracy; and the people of Montenegro are deeply ambivalent about NATO membership—apparently does not trouble the senator from Arizona. McCain’s reactionary perspective is out of line with these obstinate facts, as well as the much-overdue skepticism of NATO’s current dynamic we saw from President Trump on the campaign trail.
Of course, the real divide between McCain and Paul is not about Montenegro but the broader direction of U.S. foreign policy.
Paul offers a voice of prudence, realism, and restraint, while if McCain had his way, America would be at war all the time and just about everywhere, regardless of any given conflict’s demonstrable connection to vital U.S. interests. Sen. McCain’s incessant and irrational hawkishness is the Washington establishment’s bipartisan interventionism of the past decade and a half distilled into its purest form. And unfortunately for American foreign policy, his Senate floor performance wasn’t the parody I’d hoped.