McCain’s Incoherent Foreign Policy

In an article, written in Denver, “McCain Vows to Work with Russia on Arms“, which appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, Elizabth Bumiller writes:

Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, distanced himself from the Bush administration on Tuesday by vowing to work more closely with Russia on nuclear disarmament and by calling for a reduction in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

In what his campaign promoted as a major speech on nuclear security policy, Mr. McCain told a largely friendly crowd at the University of Denver that he supported a legally binding accord between the two nations to replace verification requirements in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, which expires in 2009. The Bush administration has refused to accept such binding limits on nuclear weapons, which the administration’s critics say has created paranoia in Moscow.

“Russia and the United States are no longer mortal enemies,” Mr. McCain said in a speech that was interrupted at least four times by hecklers opposed to the Iraq war. “As our two countries possess the overwhelming majority of the world’s nuclear weapons, we have a special responsibility to reduce their number. I believe we should reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary, and we should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions I will seek.”

In addition, Mr. McCain said, “we should be able to agree with Russia on binding verification measures based on those currently in effect under the Start Agreement, to enhance confidence and transparency.”

When I first read Elisabeth Bumiller’s article, I was tempted to for a moment to think that a McCain presidency might not be such a bad thing after all. After all, he is advocating entering into negotiations with the Russians in order to “reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary, and we should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions I will seek”.

I was reminded of Nixon’s acceptance speech at the NRC in Miami in 1968 when he said:

To the leaders of the Communist world, we say…the time has come for an era of negotiations. …We extend the hand of friendship to all people. To the Russian people. To the Chinese people…the goal of an open world, open sky, open cities, open hearts, open minds.

Commenting on Nixon’s words, Norman Mailer wrote: “Nixon was calling for an end to Henry Luce’s American Century”. Is McCain calling for an end to the neocon’s’ Project for an New American Century?

That, at least would appear to be the estimation of Charles Kupchan, senior fellow for Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, who said that Mr. McCain seemed to want to “go back to the liberal internationalist playbook.”

“I was struck by how many references there are in the speech to multilateralism, to institutions, to treaties,” he said, “and I think he clearly senses that the electorate has soured on the go-it-alone attitudes of the Bush administration, and that he wants to tack back to the center.”

“It was really a return to a set of policies much more reminiscent of the pre-Bush Republican Party,” Mr. Kupchan said. “There seems to be little of the neocons’ template in this speech. ‘We will work with whatever powers we need to, to keep the world safe from nuclear weapons and proliferation of those weapons.’ It’s a refreshingly pragmatic approach.”

For all their sins (promoting a military coup in Chile, the continuation of war in North Vietnam, the invasion and bombing of Cambodia, a country with whom the US was not at war, being chief amongst them), and however insincere their motives (they needed Soviet help in extricating themselves from Vietnam), Nixon and Kissinger did at least practice a form of Realpolitik, much at variance with today’s gung ho international maraudering, talking to their perceived enemies (the USSR), Nixon visiting Moscow in 1972 and Brezhnev visiting the USA the following year, and thereby initiating the process of detente.

(It comes as no surprise to learn that amongst the many people that had a hand in McCain’s speech, Henry Kissinger was among them.)

One was almost tempted to believe that the heckler (see video below), who interrupted the Senator several times with the cry, “Endless war! endless war!” (in Think Progress, he was reported as saying, “End this war! end this war!”), was coming from somewhere to the right of McCain and advocating endless war.

But as I continued reading, I realized that my initial optimism had been misplaced, and that comparisons with Nixon’s acceptance speech and McCain’s Denver speech can be overstretched.

During his acceptance speech, Nixon wowed his audience (and those American elsewhere prepared to take him at his words) with the statement: “I pledge to you tonight to bring an honorable end to the war in Vietnam.”

McCain has made no such pledge. He has merely promised to win the war. Indeed, during his speech, he promised, “I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends. I will never surrender in Iraq. [To which, a blogger on Think Progress left the following comment: “When did you enlist, McChickenshit?”] Our American troops will come home with victory and with honor, my friends. …And we are winning.” [To which another blogger on Think Progress responded: And what have we won, Johnny?” And yet another: “How do you ‘win’ an occupation, McIIIrd?”]

Whereas Nixon promised “peace with honor” at a time when it had become abundantly clear that the war in Vietnam could not be won, McCain promises victory and honor at a time when it appears that the war in Iraq is similarly lost.

In additon, McCain’s policy towards Russia is incoherent.

Bumiller writes:

But Mr. McCain’s talk of nuclear cooperation with Russia raised questions about how receptive Moscow might be to heightened nuclear cooperation with McCain if he were elected, when another of the senator’s proposals — excluding Moscow from the Group of Eight industrialized countries — seems sure to test relations.

Furthermore, whereas Nixon was prepared to talk to America’s enemies, as the Soviets were then perceived to be), McCain clearly isn’t:

Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is have our president talk with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven’t tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades.

(A statement, by the way, which is at variance with Bush’s claim that to speak to such folks is “appeasement”. Unless, of he means that for Obama to talk to the North Koreans and the Iranians is appeasament, but not if Bush’s folk do it, albeit secretly.)

In calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, something which Obama had done last October, McCain is merely clinging onto Obama’s coattails. Aa Obama’s spokesman, Bill Burton said yesterday:

By embracing many aspects of Barack Obama’s non-proliferation agenda today, John McCain highlighted Obama’s leadership on nuclear weapons throughout this campaign, and his bipartisan work with Richard Lugar in the Senate. No speech by John McCain can change the fact that he has not led on non-proliferation issues when he had the chance in the Senate.

In other words: Why vote for McCain when you can have the real thing?


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