Instead Kurtz leaves us to make sense of bits like this one:
As McCain and his Senate wingman, Joe Lieberman, traveled on to Lebanon
and then Jordan, they spent hours discussing whether to support U.S.
military action against Gaddafi. Once they came out for a no-fly zone,
McCain grew increasingly frustrated as, in his view, the administration
dithered--a delay he blames on President Obama's "world view, and a
belief we don't act unless it's with other countries." Twisting a
Sharpie in his Senate office as he speaks in staccato bursts, McCain
says, "I don't think he feels strongly about American exceptionalism."
It would have been nice for Kurtz to ask, "Didn't Obama authorize the CIA to put boots on the ground in Libya before international bodies approved the mission?" Seems relevant, right? Other questions I'd have posed: "How do you account for Obama's unilateral action elsewhere in the world: drone strikes in Pakistan, DEA agents in Columbia? Finally, Senator McCain, could you flesh out what you regard to be the conflict between American exceptionalism and the notion that the United States should assemble a coalition before acting abroad when there isn't an imminent threat to our safety?" Had Kurtz asked those questions, we might know more about McCain's opinions. As it stands, we know merely that he repeated a talking point about American exceptionalism. (Yawn.)
A bit later, Kurtz writes:
McCain is taking some serious shots: he says Gaddafi would be gone had
Obama started the bombing sooner, and that the president should never
have relinquished control of the mission to NATO. But he has broken with
conservative elements in his own party in backing Obama--going further
than many war-wary Democrats.
Okay, gold star for citing two specific critiques of our Libya policy. But it's misleading to frame the divide on Libya among Republicans as one of "conservative elements" versus others. It's just much more complicated than that. Next comes the part that made me want to grab Kurtz by the shoulders:
McCain, who insists on visiting Iraq and Afghanistan twice a year, often
favors a muscular approach to projecting U.S. military power but is
wary of entanglements with no exit strategy. The old aviator, who had
both arms repeatedly broken in a Hanoi prison camp, says that experience
has "also given me a sense of caution in light of our failure in
So Kurtz is trying to explain John McCain's foreign policy to his readers. He tells us he specifically favored military action against Libya - and that he is very wary of entanglements with no exit strategy. Is there perhaps some conflict in those statements? An obvious followup question for Senator McCain?
Nope, instead we get this:
While McCain opposed the U.S. military actions in Lebanon and
Somalia, he is sympathetic to humanitarian missions--and would even
consider sending troops to the war-torn Ivory Coast if someone could
"tell me how we stop what's going on."
Pressed on when the United States should intervene in other
countries, McCain sketches an expansive doctrine that turns on
practicality: American forces must be able to "beneficially affect the
situation" and avoid "an outcome which would be offensive to our
fundamental -principles--whether it's 1,000 people slaughtered or
8,000...If there's a massacre or ethnic cleansing and we are able to
prevent it, I think the United States should act."
This much is certain: Kurtz has sketched a foreign policy approach that is rife with contradictions, vague on various points of importance, and useless to the average reader trying to figure out what McCain might do in some future situation. Why didn't he interrogate McCain to clear up these inconsistencies? Or if the Senator proved incapable of articulating a coherent worldview, why isn't the reader told as much? It's as if there's some strange convention of Beltway journalism at work here, where we're supposed to accept the coherence of statements obviously in conflict, because that's how things work: senators say things, and journalists write them down.