Thursday, March 20, 2008

McCain to Europe: I'm not Bush

With Democrats branding a McCain presidency as Bush's third term, McCain used the Financial Times yesterday to send a message to Europe and the world: not so.

McCain's pitch was for renewed transatlantic partnership. Its subtext was 'I'm not Bush':

At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. We Americans recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we must pay “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.

We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. When we believe that international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must also be willing to be persuaded by them.

"A decent respect for the opinions of mankind"..radical! Recall Bush's ferocious vows that the U.S. would never ask any entity's permission to act as it saw fit. Never mind that this bow to multilateralism is folded inside a proposal to bypass the unmentioned United Nations (and to a lesser extent, China and Russia) in all matters of substance:

We need to renew and revitalise our democratic solidarity. We need to strengthen our transatlantic alliance as the core of a new global compact – a League of Democracies – that can harness the great power of the more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.

The superannuation of the U.N. might make McCain's outreach to the multilateralist Europeans a bit of a stretch. Still, he does set out several marked departures from the substance and style of the Bush Administration policies, including:

Stopping torture: "We all have to live up to our own high standards of morality and international responsibility. We will fight the terrorists and at the same time defend the rights that are the foundations of our societies. We cannot torture or treat inhumanely the suspected terrorists that we have captured. We must close the detention facility at Guantá­namo and come to a common international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control."

This does leave unexplained McCain's recent vote against subjecting the CIA to the U.S. Military code of conduct in treatment of detainees. The 'common international understanding' he calls for remains a black box. Nonetheless, the impression persists that McCain would roll back at least some of Bush's outrages against civil liberties and international law.

Going first on climate change: "We need to reinvigorate the US-European partnership on climate change where we have so many common interests at stake. The US and Europe must lead together to encourage the participation of the rest of the world, including most importantly, the developing economic powerhouses of China and India" (my emphasis)...."We need a successor to Kyoto, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner." Gone, it would seem, is the Bush insistence that China and India must move with us before we take a step.

Eur-autonomy on defense: "We welcome European leadership to make the world a better and safer place. We look forward to France’s full reintegration into Nato. And we strongly support the EU’s efforts to build an effective European Security and Defence Policy [ESDP]. A strong EU, a strong Nato and a true strategic partnership between them is profoundly in our interest."

While support for ESDP may not be a departure from Bush Administration policy, it is a departure from the McCain of yore. In a speech at Kansas State University in March 1999, he warned:

Second, Europe's growing determination to develop a defense identity separate from NATO. Once only the product of French resentments, the idea of a separate defense identity is now even entertained in London. We must be emphatic with our allies. We encourage their efforts to assume more of the burden of their defense, but only within the institutions of NATO. Defense structures accountable to the WEU or any other organization other than the alliance will ultimately kill the alliance.
McCain is doubtless aware that upwards of 85% of polled world population supported Kerry over Bush in 2004. With much of the world intoxicated by the prospect of Obama as atonement, McCain seems to be moving fast here to prevent the global encirclement of his campaign. True, Bush prevailed in the only vote that mattered to him. But four years later, Americans are plainly more attuned to the downside of alienating the world. Good for McCain that he recognizes this changed reality.

Recall, though, Patrick Buchanan's pronouncement that McCain as President will "make Cheney look like Gandhi." Somehow, I had the feeling that Buchanan knew what he was talking about. The responsible tone McCain strikes in the FT steers clear of several past and present signature positions. Mostly hidden here is the McCain who
  • Advocated risking war with North Korea in 1999, 2002 and 2006 (potentially nuclear war, the last two times) rather than conciliating Kim Jong-il's regime in any way.
  • Relentlessly frames al Qaeda in Iraq (conveniently conflated with al Qaeada proper) as the antagonist that "will win" in Iraq if we don't stay indefinitely. His recent confusion of AQI with groups supported by Iran (the very day this op-ed appeared) underscores McCain's longstanding penchant for lumping disparate militant and radical Islamic antagonists together.
  • Voted against a Senate bill that would have held CIA interrogators to the code of conduct adopted by the U.S. military--repudiating his longstanding argument that the U.S. undermines its own security when it engages in torture.
Which McCain would we see as President? An unrollable but not immovable multilateralist, or Cheney on steroids?

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McCain: (Bill) Clinton fails the commander-in-chief test?

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