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McCain: Against the ‘100 Years’ Before He Was For It

What to make of newly unearthed quotes from 2005 John McCain, who, unlike 2008 John McCain, seems to have understood that a long term U.S. military presence in Iraq was neither desirable nor workable. Back then, McCain straight talked that, not only could we get along without a permanent U.S. bases in Iraq, but that “one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence”:

I would hope that we could bring them [the troops] all home…I would hope that we would probably leave some military advisers, as we have in other countries, to help them with their training and equipment and that kind of stuff.

Watch it:

McCain expressed similar sentiments in November 2007, telling Charlie Rose that he didn’t think that the South Korea analogy was a good one, which is what he thinks now. In other words, back then, he was making some sense. Since then, however, McCain has dug in under his infamous “100 years” comments, insisting that a century-long military presence in Iraq is an appropriate goal of American foreign policy, studiously ignoring or denying the fact that that presence is one of the main drivers of violence in Iraq.

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This gets to the serious questions that exist over McCain’s claim of foreign policy as his area of greatest expertise. Or, as Tim Dickinson puts it, “the only game he’s got.” How does McCain’s foreign policy “game” square with the strategic confusion revealed in his flip-flopping on an Iraq troop presence?

Although John McCain’s March 26 foreign policy speech was widely praised initially, some analysts have realized upon closer inspection that, leaving aside a few head-fakes toward responsible multilateralism, the speech is essentially a manifesto for an even more activist and belligerent American foreign policy than George W. Bush’s.

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria wrote that “the neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology.”

It places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework…How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore?…Dissing dictators might make for a stirring speech, but ordinary Americans will have to live with the complications after the applause dies down.

Exactly right. No politician ever lost an American election by praising democracy and condemning oppression, but many thousands of Americans have lost their lives as a result of policies by politicians who assumed that admirable and airy sentiments were the equivalent of workable doctrine.

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The real question, of course, is what policies one proposes to achieve those ends, and it’s in this area that neoconservatism has utterly and demonstrably failed in each and every particular. The last seven years of Bush have shown how destructive big and bold-sounding ideas can be in the hands of a president with no good idea of how to implement them.