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On a less amusing, but more substantive note, it's worth understanding that these out-of-context snatches of McCainiana really do fit into the broader context of his career. They're not random gaffes and they're not primary season rhetoric aimed at ingratiating himself to the GOP base. McCain was arguing in favor of a much more aggressive American military posture when it was unfashionable from 1999-2001, he was in favor of it when it was wildly popular in 2003, and he continued to argue for it when it became a narrowcast message appealing only to hardcore Republicans by 2006-2007. This is more-or-less what he thinks.

Back in 1999, for example, he broke with much of his party's leadership not to support the Clinton administration's policy in the Balkans, but to criticize it as both insufficiently forceful and insufficiently ambitious. Rather than a bombing campaign against Serbia with limited objectives, McCain wanted a full-scale ground invasion, arguing on hardball that we ought to "do everything necessary to gain victory" and heartily assenting to Chris Matthews' invitation to define "victory" as "not to go to the negotiating table with some guy and beg him for a deal, but to tell him what to do." I think it was clear then and continues to be clear now that launching a land war aimed at Slobodan Milosevic's unconditional surrender would have shattered NATO, stripped the war of its tenuous international legal legitimacy, and likely gotten us bogged down in a very messy post-war situation in Serbia proper. But McCain wasn't chastened by the success of a more limited venture in the former Yugoslavia and he wasn't chastened by the failure of a more grandiose venture in Iraq. This is just what he thinks.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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