As I said before McCain’s candidacy is not based on policies, because those policies (he voted 96% with Bush) have been thouroughly discredited by events. So he bases his “trust me, I’m a maverick” campaign on two elements–his biography (a man of courage and character) and his judgement (“I don’t question Obama’s patriotism, I question his judgement” ). Yesterday I wrote about McCain’s flawed character, and today I will try to tackle the question of judgement. I’m going to briefly touch on domestic issues and then spend most of the time on his foreign policy judgement, on which his whole campaign is built.
The domestic policy area that I will claim some expertise in is Communications (I’m on the California State Broadband Policy Taskforce). John McCain ruled over telecommunications policy as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee for the last six years of the Clinton Administration and the first four years of the Bush administration. In those years he regularly sided with Big Media against any efforts to lessen their stranglehold on communications. Even when the one new democratic form of media–the Broadband Internet–began to flourish, he sided with Big Media against any efforts to ensure Network Neutrality. If you want a quick primer on what a disaster McCain would be for a democratic and free media, watch Larry Lessig’s short video on the subject.
McCain of course is desperate to up his computer cred among the “youngsters” and so at the Rick Warren forum when asked to cite three wise advisers, he went in to pander mode. First he cited John Lewis. Lewis of course now says he hardly ever talked to McCain in the 22 years they have served together in Congress. But funnier from a tech point of view was calling out E-Bay’s Meg Whitman as true tech visionary. But as the New York Times pointed out yesterday, E Bay’s auction model is totally failing. No one except bored housewives looking for jewelery has the time to participate in an auction. It was only after eBay kicked Ms. Whitman upstairs that the new management was able to put in a fixed price system. Obviously both the Lewis and Whitman shout outs by McCain were aimed at suckering voting blocs, because the reality of the “wise men” he really listens to, like Phil Gramm and Randy Scheunemann would have been too toxic for the voters.
It would be an understatement to say that McCain’s campaign is based on the notion that he is ready to lead America in a crisis. The above results from the new CBS/New York Times poll demonstrate the advantage McCain has on the “Commander in Chief” issue. But is this view based on reality or propaganda? Let’s look at the major foreign policy crises since 9/11.
Invasion of Iraq
It is fair to say that the Invasion of Iraq probably would not have taken place without the aid of John McCain. Starting in 1997 with his Co-sponsorship of the Iraqi Liberation Act which poured over $100 million into the coffers of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and authorized “regime change” in Baghdad, McCain was the most fervent advocate of “rogue regime rollback”.
He argued that disparate regional troublemakers, including Iraq, North Korea and Serbia, bore a common stamp: they were all autocracies. And as such, he contended, they were more likely to export terrorism, spread dangerous weapons, or start ethnic conflicts. In an early outline of what would become his initial response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. McCain argued that “swift and sure” retribution against any one of the rogue states was an essential deterrent to any of the others.
After 9/11 he became the most vocal advocate of invading Iraq, and although he seeks to play down this aspect of his judgement in order to stress his backing the surge, it is this judgement that has cost us thousands of lives, tens of thousands of maimed soldiers and trillions of dollars.
While pushing to take on Saddam Hussein, Mr. McCain also made arguments and statements that he may no longer wish to recall. He lauded the war planners he would later criticize, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. (Mr. McCain even volunteered that he would have given the same job to Mr. Cheney.) He urged support for the later-discredited Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi’s opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, and echoed some of its suspect accusations in the national media. And he advanced misleading assertions not only about Mr. Hussein’s supposed weapons programs but also about his possible ties to international terrorists, Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks.
So anxious was McCain to invade Iraq, that he quickly relegated the War in Afghanistan and the pursuit of Bin Laden to a side show where “we could muddle through.” So in summation, both of these judgements were fatally flawed. He can lie and say he fought Rumsfeld’s conduct of the war, but it’s just not true.
Pollsters have surmised that McCain’s recent move up is somehow connected to his strong stance on the Georgian conflict. I have written recently about why I think McCain’s saber rattling is typical of the shoot from the hip style that would be very dangerous were he to be sitting in the Oval Office.
“He has the personality of a fighter pilot: when somebody stings you, you want to strike out,” said retired Gen. John H. Johns, a former friend and supporter of Mr. McCain who turned against him over the Iraq war. “Just like the American people, his reaction was: show me somebody to hit.”
But I will leave to David Remnick of the New Yorker, probably our greatest writer on contemporary Russia to deliver the coup de grace on McCain’s policy moves on Georgia.
Even ordinary Russians find it mightily trying to be lectured on questions of sovereignty and moral diplomacy by the West, particularly the United States, which, even before Iraq, had a long history of foreign intervention, overt and covert—politics by other means. After the exposure of the Bush Administration’s behavior prior to the invasion of Iraq and its unapologetic use of torture, why would any leader, much less Putin, respond to moral suasion from Washington? That is America’s tragedy, and the world’s.
There is little doubt that the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, provided Putin with his long-awaited casus belli when he ordered the shelling of South Ossetia, on August 7th. But Putin’s war, of course, is not about the splendors of South Ossetia, a duchy run by the Russian secret service and criminal gangs. It is a war of demonstration. Putin is demonstrating that he is willing to use force; that he is unwilling to let Georgia and Ukraine enter NATO without exacting a severe price; and that he views the United States as hypocritical, overextended, distracted, and reluctant to make good on its protective assurances to the likes of Georgia.
Inevitably, a number of neoconservative commentators, along with John McCain, have rushed in to analyze this conflict using familiar analogies: the Nazi threat in the late nineteen-thirties; the Soviet invasions of Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. But while Putin’s actions this past week have inspired genuine alarm in Kiev and beyond, such analogies can lead to heedless policy. As the English theologian Bishop Joseph Butler wrote, “Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.” Cartoonish rhetoric only contributes to the dangerous return of what some conservatives seem to crave—the other, the enemy, the us versus them of the Cold War.
In the end, I can only reach one conclusion. McCain has not only had fatally flawed judgement in the areas he is supposed to understand (he needs Joe Lieberman to explainthe difference between Sunni and Shia) but he has a temperment that is not suited for the most powerful office in the world.