THE McCAIN NOBODY KNOWS
All the media will tell us about McCain is that he wants 100 years of war in Iraq (which he doesn't, and he didn't say -- he wants a continuing US presence like in Kuwait or South Korea) and that he will be a "third term for Bush" - which even the New York Times concedes is overly simplistic. A bit of fresh air to see the Times giving McCain credit (not on the front page, of course, but you take what you can get) for what he actually did say this week.
The third McCain speech was delivered on Wednesday. It is as personal, nuanced and ambitious a speech as any made by a presidential candidate this year.
McCain noted that we are not only fighting a war on terror. The world is seeing a growing split between liberal democracies and growing autocracies. We are seeing a world in which great power rivalries — with China, Russia and Iran — have to be managed and soothed.
Moreover, the U.S. is not the sole hegemon. Power is widely distributed among many rising nations. McCain’s core purpose in the speech was to revive the foreign policy tradition that has jumped parties but that has been associated with people like Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Stimson, Dean Acheson, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
In this tradition, a strong America is the key to world peace, but America’s role is as a leading player in an international system. America didn’t defeat communism, McCain said Wednesday, the American-led global community did. This is the tradition that Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment has been describing for a decade.
McCain offered to build new pillars for that system — a League of Democracies, a new nuclear nonproliferation regime and a successor to the Kyoto treaty. In stabilizing Asia and the Middle East, he would rely more on democracies like Turkey, India, Israel and Iraq, and less on Mubarak and Musharraf.
Unlike the realists, McCain believes other nations have to be judged according to how they treat their own citizens. Unlike the Bush administration in its first few years, he believes global treaties cannot solely be evaluated according to a narrow definition of the American interest. The U.S. also has to protect the fabric of the international system.
McCain opened his speech with a description of his father leaving home on the day of Pearl Harbor, and then being gone for much of the next four years. He harkened back repeatedly to the accomplishments of the Truman administration.
In so doing, he signaled that the foreign policy debate of the coming months will be very different from the one of the past six years. Anybody who thinks McCain is merely continuing the Bush agenda is not paying attention.