McCain Foreign Policy Speech: You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig, but It's Still a Pig

Yesterday John McCain did his best to redecorate his unvarnished neo-con foreign policy positions, vowing to be more "collaborative" with American allies. However he dresses up his positions with phrases like "realistic idealist" he is as firmly committed as ever to continuing the fundamental policies of the Bush administration that have made America less safe.

McCain is just a committed as ever to the doctrine of "pre-emptive war." He is just as committed as ever to unilateral American action in places like Iran (who can forget: "Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb, bomb Iran"?).

President John Kennedy said in his inaugural address, "We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate." McCain's harsh criticism of Senator Obama's call for negotiations with our adversaries, without preconditions, makes it clear that he is indeed no John Kennedy.

Far from it. In many ways, he is more like Bush than Bush. In 2003, for example, McCain declared the U.S. could "make do" without South Korea's support if it opposed a pre-emptive attack on North Korea by the U.S., even though South Korea's population would be the one put at risk by a war on the Korean peninsula.

McCain biographer Matt Welch was quoted in The Economist last month, saying that McCain "offers a more militaristic foreign policy that any US president in a century."

Even former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan said, "(You get)... John McCain in the White House, and I do believe we'll be at war with Iran....He's in Putin's face, he's threatening the Iranians, we're going to be in Iraq a hundred years."

Most importantly, McCain can't get around the fact that his commitment to a long-term American presence in Iraq poisons our relationship with the rest of the world - our allies, the Third World and certainly the Muslim world.

McCain is committed unequivocally to a presence in Iraq that is essentially neverending. You don't even hear talk from McCain about accepting the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and engaging Iran and Syria in a regional plan to stabilize Iraq.

Unfortunately, in early reports of McCain's speech, many in the American media have been sucked in, allowing him to try to reposition himself as a "conciliator" without much push-back. People in the media are soft on McCain because they like his accessible manner and his "I'm-a-maverick" narrative.

McCain does think of himself as a "maverick." In the late '50s when McCain was a young man, there was a TV show called Maverick. At his core, the star of the show, Bret Maverick, was a gunslinger. That has always been, and continues to be, McCain's view of American foreign policy.

In his Wednesday speech, McCain argued that while critics say America must repair its image, "how can (they) argue at the same time for the morally reprehensible abandonment of our responsibilities in Iraq?"

He supports the "Pottery Barn" theory: if you break it, you own it. Well, John McCain forcefully advocated that we invade Iraq and "break it" in the first place. And, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the price tag to "own it" will ultimately be about $3 trillion.

Most disturbing is his view that our continuing unilateral presence in the midst of the religious civil war, triggered by an invasion which he wholeheartedly supported, is the "responsible" thing to do. In poll after poll the Iraqi people, the American people and people around the world disagree that it is the "responsible" thing for America to stay in Iraq. Governments around the world disagree that it is the "responsible" thing for America to stay in Iraq. A majority in Congress disagrees that it is the "responsible" thing for America to stay in Iraq.

It is precisely this kind of unilateralist, "to-hell-with-the-rest-of-the-world," Dick Cheney-like attitude that is at the core of the Bush-McCain-neocon vision of American foreign policy.

And it is exactly that policy that must be changed in November.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on