The Rise (and perhaps fall) of Pragmatism

Michael Slackman notes that across the Middle East, European countries, Israel, and even the Bush administration are looking to engagement and diplomacy to try to resolve outstanding issues, rather than counting on futile policies of "isolation" and coercion.

Which is, in my view, all to the good. But it's also a reminder of an important extent in which John McCain would not be merely an extension of the Bush administration. Bush, never one to admit an error, hasn't made a big deal about it but since at least Israel's failed invasion of Lebanon in 2006 the administration has substantially crawled back from its previous lunatic policies in favor of something more resembling a pragmatic approach to the Middle East (and of course North Korea). McCain, however, gives every indications of wanting to go back to an earlier, purer phase of Bushism when neocons were riding high and Robert Gates was nowhere to be seen in the halls of power.

Plausibly, the weird combination of McCain's traditional dislike of and contempt for Bush, combined with their objectively similar opinions on policy matters, is making things worse here. On some level, the Bush administration has gotten less crazy because they've seen the results of their earlier blunders. But McCain seems to think poorly enough of Bush as a man and as a leader to believe that Bush rather than Bush's ideas are to blame for these problems. Thus, in his view, if only we'd had John "I know how to win wars" McCain in the White House earlier, everything might have been fine. So if he's president, we might go and try the whole thing over again, reliving the policies of 2002-2005 until McCain can prove to himself that, no, even the legendary Awesomeness of John McCain can't make unworkable policies work.

Meanwhile, I'd say Sean-Paul Kelly is probably too optimistic that recent Iran-related developments mean there's really going to be a Bush-era breakthough, but I hope he's right.