The McCain Doctrine


My cover story in the latest issue of The American Prospect is now online. It's a look at John McCain's views on national security policy and how frightening they are:

Things were looking bleak for Republicans in February, and it was clear that only a candidate with crossover appeal to war opponents stood any chance of going toe-to-toe with a Democrat. Thus, though it may have angered the conservative base, the Republicans got lucky as McCain emerged as the front-runner over Mitt Romney, the preferred choice of Bush-lovers. But there is a problem. Despite neoconservatism's close association in the public imagination with the Bush administration, and despite McCain's image as a moderate, a look at the record makes clear that McCain, not Bush, is the real neocon in the Republican Party. McCain was the neocons' candidate in 2000, McCain adhered to a truer version of the faith during the early years of hubris that followed September 11, and as president McCain would likely pursue policies that will make what we've seen from Bush look like a pale imitation of the real thing. McCain, after all, is the candidate of perpetual war in Iraq. The candidate who, despite his protestations in a March speech that he "hates war," not only stridently backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq but has spent years calling on the United States to depose every dictator in the world. He's the candidate of ratcheting-up action against North Korea and Iran, of new efforts to undermine the United Nations, and of new cold wars with Russia and China. Rather than hating war, he sees it as integral to the greatness of the nation, and military service as the highest calling imaginable. It is, in short, not Bush but McCain, who among practical politicians holds truest to the vision of a foreign policy dominated by militaristic unilateralism.

To tie this in to some of the themes of Heads in the Sand McCain offers Bush-like ideas -- indeed, Bush's ideas in a rawer, purer form -- but without Bush or necessarily too much of Bush's personnel. To make the case against McCain you need to be able to make the case against their ideas and not just against the alleged incompetence of Bush and his key subordinates. But of course to do that, McCain's opponent is going to need to have adequate separation from those ideas.

At any rate, the article is part of a larger package on McCain on the TAP website so also check out Harold Meyerson and Mark Schmitt. Meanwhile, the June issue of The Atlantic should be out one of these days and features my take on Barack Obama's foreign policy.

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

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