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McCain's National Greatness Conservatism

Matt Yglesias calls it imperialism:

To McCain it is precisely commitment to this imperial vision that makes American patriotism superior to other brands of nationalism. Our own patriotism would become compromised by stinginess and selfishness were we to show more restraint in world affairs.

This really is a core issue in this election, and it's one more reason to hope for an Obama-McCain debate. Do the last few years suggest America needs to be more imperialist, more ambitious, more military and more interventionist? Or do they recommend the opposite?

I don't pretend to have always had the same perspective on this, or not to have shifted with the times. In the Cold War, I was pro-American. The world needed a counter-weight to the evils of expansionist, imperial communism. (But I was never an American utopian. There's nothing new in humanity in this country - just a better system and more freedom, which tends to be the best corrective against sustained error.) After the Cold War, I saw no reason to oppose a prudent American policy of selective interventionism to deter evil and advance good a little, but even in the Balkans, such a policy did not require large numbers of ground troops and was enabled by strong alliances. After 9/11, I was clearly blinded by fear of al Qaeda and deluded by the overwhelming military superiority of the US and the ease of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe into thinking we could simply fight our way to victory against Islamist terror. I wasn't alone. But I was surely wrong. Haven't the last few years been a sobering learning experience? Haven't we discovered that allies actually are important, that fear is no substitute for cold assessment of self-interest, that saying something will happen is not that same thing as it actually happening?

That someone could come out of the last few years believing that Teddy Roosevelt's American imperialism is a model for the future is a little hard for me to understand. McCain has several months in which to explain himself. This skeptic will listen; but I'm much more chastened than McCain seems to be. And a little unnerved that he seems utterly unaltered by the new millennium.

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