The McCain Plan: Hope


The good news about John McCain's Foreign Affairs manifesto is that it lacks the tone of demagoguery and hysteria that you saw in Rudy Giuliani's contribution to that forum and, to a lesser extent, in Mitt Romney's as well. Unlike the others, who seem to want to be regarded as crazy, McCain clearly wants to seem pragmatic and reasonable. Unfortunately, appearance and reality aren't quite the same thing. He starts off determined to keep our troops in Iraq indefinitely. Next he starts talking about Afghanistan where he sensibly feels more troops are needed. But sending more troops to Afghanistan is incompatible with his vision of an endless occupation of Iraq. So what do we get?

Our recommitment to Afghanistan must include increasing NATO forces, suspending the debilitating restrictions on when and how those forces can fight, expanding the training and equipping of the Afghan National Army through a long-term partnership with NATO to make it more professional and multiethnic, and deploying significantly more foreign police trainers. It must also address the current political deficiencies in judicial reform, reconstruction, governance, and anticorruption efforts.

Basically: wishful thinking. McCain wants us to stay distracted in Iraq, and then hope our NATO partners decide to pick up the slack by committing extra troops and more aggressive rules of engagement to a theater that he'll be assigning second priority to even though it's clearly more important.

This kind of wishful thinking pervades the article -- at every junctures there are no tradeoffs and the impossible can be achieved just by wishing it were so. McCain envisions a vague-but-massive military buildup, writing that "we can also afford to spend more on national defense, which currently consumes less than four cents of every dollar that our economy generates -- far less than what we spent during the Cold War." Of course, spending is considerably higher than that when you take the war supplemental appropriations into account. And of course the country is already in deficit, a deficit McCain's tax policies will deepen. And of course while we spend less as a percentage of GDP than we did at the height of the Cold War, there's no Soviet Union anymore -- we already account for half of the world's defense expenditures. He recognizes the need to avoid alienating the next generation of the world's Muslims, but his ideas for doing so are shallow and ill-considered:

important is preventing a new generation of them from joining the fight. As president, I will employ every economic, diplomatic, political, legal, and ideological tool at our disposal to aid moderate Muslims -- women's rights campaigners, labor leaders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, tolerant imams, and many others -- who are resisting the well-financed campaign of extremism that is tearing Muslim societies apart. My administration, with its partners, will help friendly Muslim states establish the building blocks of open and tolerant societies. And we will nurture a culture of hope and economic opportunity by establishing a free-trade area from Morocco to Afghanistan, open to all who do not sponsor terrorism.

Located in the context of an agenda of unrestrained American military power, perpetual occupation of Iraq, preventive war with Iran ("military action, although not the preferred option, must remain on the table"), and the re-orientation of world politics around a League of Democracies from which all Arab states will be excluded, efforts to provide direct American support to moderate Muslims are just going to backfire, as we've seen in Iran. Meanwhile, I'm all for reduced trade barriers, but a free trade area "from Morocco to Afghanistan" is obviously something for the countries located between Morocco and Afghanistan to negotiate, not something the US can productively impose.

Nor is there any evidence that the hypothetical members of the League of Democracies would actually be interested in McCain's agenda of "bringing concerted pressure to bear on tyrants in Burma (renamed Myanmar by its military government in 1989) or Zimbabwe, uniting to impose sanctions on Iran, and providing support to struggling democracies in Serbia and Ukraine, the League of Democracies would serve as a unique handmaiden of freedom." Will South Africa suddenly flip-flop on the Zimbabwe issue? Is India really going to become a leading opponent of nuclear proliferation? Brazil a fan of American hegemony?

Meanwhile, conflict with China is on the horizon. Despite McCain's proposed US defense build-up, "When China builds new submarines, adds hundreds of new jet fighters, modernizes its arsenal of strategic ballistic missiles, and tests antisatellite weapons, the United States legitimately must question the intent of such provocative acts." And despite McCain's proposal of a new multilateral institution from which China would be excluded, "When China proposes regional forums and economic arrangements designed to exclude America from Asia, the United States will react." Nevertheless, he wants us to believe that "China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries." But if McCain thinks that Chinese actions that are exactly the same as the actions he proposes for the United States should be viewed as hostile, then how are we going to avoid becoming adversaries? To cap it off, we have a proposal for NPT revision that other countries will never agree to:

First, the notion that non-nuclear-weapons states have a right to nuclear technology must be revisited. Second, the burden of proof for suspected violators of the NPT must be reversed. Instead of requiring the International Atomic Energy Agency board to reach unanimous agreement in order to act, as is the case today, there should be an automatic suspension of nuclear assistance to states that the agency cannot guarantee are in full compliance with safeguard agreements.

This is great if you're a nuclear weapons state, but goes precisely against the core bargain of the NPT between the weapons and non-weapons states. Who's going to agree to give up their right to peaceful nuclear energy programs in exchange for nothing whatsoever from the weapons states? Nobody, that's who. Near the end, he mentions his global warming plan, which is the same thing all over again. To his credit, unlike your average Republican he acknowledges that there's a problem. And he acknowledges that carbon emissions reductions are the solution. But then the plan just . . . fails to produce adequate emissions reductions. But the climate isn't going to hand out bonus points for good intentions -- if you want to deal with the problem you need to deal with its actual scope. And over and over again that's the story here, diagnoses that are at least somewhat tethered to reality matched to solutions that don't solve anything.