A Pundit Not a President
Posted by Max Bergmann
Matt Yglesias has a great post which really captures a key component of McCain's foreign policy approach - it is rooted in hyperbolic rhetoric mixed with hysterical over reaction. As Matt describes it,
Not only is Russia on the march beyond Tbilisi to Ukraine, Finland, and substantial swathes of Poland but that’s not even the transcendent issue of our time. And North Korea’s nuclear program is “the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today” but that’s not the transcendent issue of our time. And Islamism is the transcendent issue of our time, but not a serious international crisis or an especially great challenge to U.S. security and world stability. Now of course there’s no way to make sense of that, because it’s not supposed to make any kind of sense. McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It’s a hysteria-based foreign policy.
Each of those statements from McCain sound like they came from an excited media pundit. Well that’s because they did.
McCain’s approach and tone on foreign policy has always been more emblematic of a tv pundit rather than a sober president. While McCain has attacked Obama as the "celebrity" candidate, the fact is that a bad place to be over the last 25 years has been between John McCain and a TV camera. The New York Times on Sunday noted that one of the first things McCain did after 9-11 was go on just about every TV program - where he incidentally called for attacking about four countries. In its biographical series profiling the candidates the Times also noted that McCain was attracted to the celebrity of the Senate with one close associate noting that McCain “saw the glamour of it. I think he really got smitten with the celebrity of power.” McCain clearly enjoys being on television and he has been a constant commentator on the Sunday news shows and the evening talk news programs.
But TV appearances encourage sound bites, over-the-top rhetoric, and good one-liners, not reasoned and nuanced diplomatic language. This is especially true from guests who are not in the current administration, since you are less likely to get invited back on Face the Nation if you down play a crisis or take a boring nuanced position. Thus on almost every crisis or incident over the last decade, McCain has sounded the alarm, ratcheted up the rhetoric and often called for military action - with almost no regards to the practical implications of such an approach.
The big concern with a McCain presidency – a concern which I am surprised has not been vocalized more fully – is that the U.S. will lurch from crisis to crisis, confrontation to confrontation, whether it be with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. The danger is that McCain’s pundit-like rhetoric will entrap the U.S. in descending spiral of foreign policy brinksmanship. Just think about the very likely scenario of McCain giving Iran/Russia a rhetorical ultimatum and Iran/Russia ignoring it. Now we are stuck - either we lose face by not following through on our threats or we follow through and go to war. We can’t afford such a reckless approach after the last eight years. For the next eight we need a president not a pundit.