On the call, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani responded to Biden by insisting that “it is not uniformly the case that the mettle of American presidents is tested…Senator McCain would not present that same risk that Joe Biden seems to be worried about.” Giuliani also called Biden’s statement “extraordinary.”
Senator Joe Lieberman, one of John McCain’s closest allies, disagrees. Appearing on Face the Nation back in June, Lieberman insisted that “our enemies will test the new president early.”
Another remark, this one from McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, provides a good insight into McCain’s perception of foreign policy. Scheunemann stated that “in foreign policy, it is weakness that is provocative.” As I wrote last week, these sorts of arguments about credibility and reputation are inherently subjective. Sure, weakness can be provocative. But strength can also be provocative.
For example, after 9/11, Scheunemann and McCain were among those who helped sell the Iraq war to the American people as a way of “showing strength” in response to an attack on our homeland. Amazingly, it turned out that “showing strength” by invading and occupying Iraq turned out to be both incredibly provocative and disastrous for America’s security, attracting thousands of militants to Iraq, fueling unprecedented levels of anti-Americanism around the world, and bleeding the U.S. of resources for the last five years, with more to come.
The neoconservative obsession with “strength,” which McCain clearly shares, is thus not particularly relevant or useful except inasmuch as it bolsters my theory that all neoconservatives were picked on as kids. The correct question is not whether a president is “strong” or “weak,” but whether his policies are effective. There is a general consensus among analysts that Al Qaeda will, at some point, attempt another attack here in the U.S., and that attack will likely be generated from Al Qaeda’s new base in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. Dealing effectively with tomorrow’s threats will require the next administration to use the full range of U.S. power — diplomatic, economic, and military — and eschew the focus on military solutions that has resulted in an intact and active Al Qaeda, seven years after 9/11.