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UNCOMMITTED VOTERS: Is John McCain Right for America?

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John McCain continually speaks of his foreign policy experience and of how he is ready on Day One to lead our Country. However, other foreign policy experts have different points of view.

In John McCain’s Foreign Policy paper, published in Foreign Affairs Magazine, John McCain wrote:

As president, I will increase the size of the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps from the currently planned level of roughly 750,000 troops to 900,000 troops. Enhancing recruitment will require more resources and will take time, but it must be done as soon as possible.
[…]
I will create an Army Advisory Corps with 20,000 soldiers to partner with militaries abroad, and I will increase the number of U.S. personnel available to engage in Special Forces operations, civil affairs activities, military policing, and military intelligence. We also need a nonmilitary deployable police force to train foreign forces and help maintain law and order in places threatened by state collapse.
[…]
We should go further by linking democratic nations in one common organization: a worldwide League of Democracies.
[…]
We need a new Western approach to this revanchist Russia. We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia.

The latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Charles A. Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, contradicts Sen. McCain:

Nonetheless, the next occupant of the White House should shelve the idea of establishing a league of democracies. Such a club is not needed to secure cooperation among liberal democracies — they are already regular partners — and it would draw new lines between democracies and nondemocracies, thus compromising their relations just when adapting the international system to the rise of illiberal powers is becoming a paramount challenge. Contrary to the expectations of its advocates, moreover, a league would expose the limits of the West’s power and appeal, revealing the constraints on solidarity among democracies, eroding the legitimacy of the West, and arresting the global spread of democracy. With its marginal upsides and dramatic downsides, establishing a league of democracies would not be a wise investment for the next president, whose time and political capital will be severely taxed by an economic downturn at home and abroad and by conflict in the Middle East.

But perhaps the most telling confirmation of John McCain’s errant foreign policy comes from his long time friend and Senate colleague, Chuck Hagel.

In the latest issue of New Yorker Magazine, Connie Bruck wrote a long article explaining Republican Senator Chuck Hagel’s refusal to endorse his long time friend John McCain. Hagel, a social conservative Senator from Nebraska and decorated Vietnam Vet, is giving up his seat in the Senate this year. The following are excerpts from that article.

After September 11, 2001, differences in Hagel’s and McCain’s views on foreign policy became sharper, and more consequential. Hagel, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is an ardent internationalist—“All of us are touched by every event that unfolds in every corner of the world,” he often says. An advocate for a strong military, he also believes that military force should be the last tool of statecraft. McCain has an almost religious belief in American exceptionalism and the merits of using military force to protect the nation’s interests and promote its values. (“Whatever sacrifices you must bear,” he told young men and women at the U.S. Naval Academy, in October, 2001, “you will know a happiness far more sublime than pleasure.”) In the months after the September 11th attacks, he became an enthusiastic promoter of war in Iraq. In early January, 2002, as warplanes took off for Afghanistan, McCain stood on the flight bridge of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea, and yelled, “Next up, Baghdad!” Hagel, who was on the trip with the same congressional delegation, told a reporter, “I think it would be wrong, very shortsighted, and very dangerous for the United States to unilaterally move on Iraq.”

Hagel has frequently described the Administration’s “war on terror” as ill-conceived sloganeering and has argued that, in addition to fighting terrorism, we must fight the poverty and despair that enable terrorism to flourish. In a committee hearing in early 2007, he denounced the Bush Administration’s proposed “surge” strategy, which McCain strongly supported, as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.”

From 2004 on, McCain, in his desire to win the nomination, had embraced Bush’s policies ever more zealously, while Hagel had become the Administration’s most severe Republican critic. Although he has frequently voted with his party on domestic policy, his views on foreign policy represent a bold departure from those of the Administration, and his willingness to take Bush to task publicly has alienated many Republicans. In some ways, Hagel is far more of a maverick than McCain has ever been, and his endorsement would likely sway independents whose votes McCain probably needs in order to win.

Hagel said of their meeting in June, “It never was an interview kind of thing—‘John, let me get these things straight.’ ” Rather, he explained, “I wanted to understand, too, as we talked through these things, where he was going. . . . We talked about Iraq, and he and I disagree on this.” They also discussed McCain’s argument that Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Presidential nominee, was wrong to pursue direct engagement with Iranian leaders. “And I said, ‘I don’t think he is. It’s what I’ve been saying, actually longer than Obama.’ I remember telling John—I said, ‘John, if you don’t engage Iran, where do you think this is going to go? We’re going to be in another war!’ ” (Hagel has been calling for direct, unconditional talks with Iran since 2001.)

Hagel says that he told McCain that he believed the election would be close, and he warned against waging a vicious campaign of the kind that had defeated McCain in 2000. “Once you win, then you’re going to have to govern,” Hagel told his friend. “The Democrats are going to add to their numbers, probably significantly, in the House and the Senate. You’re going to be faced with a strong Democratic Congress. You are going to have to bring some consensus here, and the first thing you are going to have to do is reach out to the Congress—Democrat and Republican.”

After the meeting, which Hagel says was amicable, any possibility that he might endorse McCain seemed to disappear.

Hagel’s unwillingness to endorse McCain is generally perceived to be a result of their ongoing disagreements over the Iraq war. But he told me that the gulf between them is much deeper: “In good conscience, I could not enthusiastically—honestly—go out and endorse him and support him when we so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world.”

Hagel, citing McCain’s repeated calls for Russia to be expelled from the Group of Eight, the association of major industrial democracies, said, “You’re not going to isolate Russia—that’s completely crazy!” He told me that McCain’s approach to Russia was one of the reasons that he could not endorse him.

Critics have suggested that McCain’s League of Democracies could diminish the role of the United Nations. When I mentioned this to Hagel, he said, “What is the point of the United Nations? The whole point, as anyone who has taken any history knows, was to bring all nations of the world together in some kind of imperfect body, a forum that allows all governments of the world, regardless of what kinds of government, to work through their problems—versus attacking each other and going to war. Now, in John’s League of Democracies, does that mean Saudi Arabia is out? Does that mean our friend King Abdullah in Jordan is out? It would be only democracies. Well, we’ve got a lot of allies and relationships that are pretty important to us, and to our interests, who would be out of that club. And the way John would probably see China and Russia, they wouldn’t be in it, either. So it would be an interesting Book-of-the-Month Club.

“But in order to solve problems you’ve got to have all the players at the table,” Hagel went on, his voice rising. “How are you going to fix the problems in Pakistan, Afghanistan—the problems we’ve got with poverty, proliferation, terrorism, wars—when the largest segments of society in the world today are not at the table?” He paused, then added, more calmly, “The United Nations, as I’ve said many times, is imperfect. We’ve got NATO, multilateral institutions, multilateral-development banks, the World Trade Organization—all have flaws, that’s true. But if you didn’t have them what would you have? A world completely out of control, with no structure, no order, no boundaries.”

Hagel and McCain’s greatest disagreement remains the Iraq war. McCain has made the surge a keystone of his campaign, citing it as proof that the American military is winning. Hagel, like Obama and Jack Reed, says that it is unclear which factors have contributed most to the reduction in violence in Iraq. The addition of thirty thousand troops doubtless helped, he said. But so did the Anbar Awakening, in which Sunni tribal leaders decided to fight Islamic militants affiliated with Al Qaeda instead of the Americans; the decision by the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to order his militias to stand down; and the introduction of improved intelligence systems. “The surge is one of the great misunderstood tactical situations that we’ve had in modern times,” Hagel said. “Most of the press does not get it. What is the point of bringing the violence down? Why are we investing the lives of eleven hundred Americans killed, thousands wounded, tens of billions of dollars of additional money, undermining our interests around the world?” The strategic goal, of course, was to establish enough peace and security to enable a political reconciliation among the Iraqis. On that score, Hagel argued, there has been “very limited progress.” And if the Iraqis don’t reach an agreement on sharing the country’s oil reserves, he continued, “then they will have civil war, and they may have civil war, regardless.” In any case, he pointed out, “We still have more troops there than we had before the surge.”

I was speaking with Hagel in early October, shortly before the second Presidential debate. He mentioned that Obama had just called him, and among the many things they discussed was Afghanistan. “Here we are, in a situation where we all agree that the mountain range between Afghanistan and Pakistan represents the biggest threat to our security and the world’s security, where the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and terrorist groups are reconstituting,” Hagel said. “Pakistan is right on the brink. Yet we do not have enough force structure to put into the location that represents the greatest threat to our security. Why is that? Because of a fatal, fatal error”—the decision to go into Iraq and then to commit an even greater number of troops in the surge. “It has consumed our capacity to deal with anything else in the world. It won’t be until sometime next year that you’re going to be able to give more troops to General McKiernan”—the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan—“whom poor Governor Palin in her debate kept referring to as General McClellan.” Hagel chuckled, and added that that war “was a while back.”

While John McCain continues to promote his foreign policy experience and knowledge, consensus is growing among foreign policy experts that John McCain’s ideas are wrong-headed and detrimental to America’s interests abroad. Like Chuck Hagel, foreign policy experts are speaking out, stating that John McCain’s ideas will lead this country into even more conflicts and warfare…as well as the complete loss of goodwill amongst our leading allies and increase the threat towards our strategic Middle East allies, such as Israel.

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Written by Valerie Curl

October 31, 2008 at 8:07 PM

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