On Wednesday, John McCain delivered what was billed as a "major foreign policy" speech and today, David Brooks gushed that it was "as personal, nuanced and ambitious a speech as any made by a presidential candidate this year." In particular, Brooks said that the speech demonstrates just how different McCain's foreign policy approach is from that of Bush/Cheney: "Anybody who thinks McCain is merely continuing the Bush agenda is not paying attention."
The reality is exactly the opposite. Thematically, rhetorically and substantively, McCain's speech, particularly as it concerned the Middle East, was essentially a replica of the speech George Bush has been giving for the last seven years. It trumpeted virtually every tenet of the neoconservative faith: to be safe, the U.S. must slay tyranny around the world, spread democracy, bring freedom to the grateful peoples of the Middle East so they turn towards us and away from the Terrorists, using "more than military force" -- but also military force. We'll only be safe by controlling and transforming the Middle East to look the way we want it to look.
McCain is a pure neoconservative in exactly the way that Bush and Cheney are, which is exactly why David Brooks, and like-minded ideologues like Bill Kristol, swoon over McCain's foreign policy "principles." That's fine. Brooks is a neoconservative and it's thus perfectly natural that he would find a neoconservative foreign policy speech to be filled with wisdom and insight. But to pretend that it's some grand departure from the Bush/Cheney approach is pure deceit.
Just as was true for Bush in 2000, McCain is running at a time when the Republican brand is sullied (in 2000 because of the ugly Gingrich/impeachment crusades and in 2008 because of the destructive Bush years). Thus, McCain is being politically marketed in exactly the same way that Bush the presidential candidate was (he's a uniter not divider; a new kind of Republican; you always know where he stands; he's a conservative who deviates from dogma and appeals to Democrats; he transcends partisanship; we're going to be a more humble nation, etc. etc.). It's exactly the same wrapping. And the media believed all of that about Bush and they now believe it all about McCain.
But beyond just the political packaging, McCain -- with a couple of pointed exceptions -- is a carbon copy of Bush in substance as well, at least with regard to war and foreign policy. Just compare McCain's supposedly moving and novel foreign policy address with two randomly selected Bush speeches on the "war on terror" from 2005 -- this one and this one. On the key, defining points, they're virtually identical. I've compared the key passages of McCain's speech to the same passages from the Bush War on Terrorism speeches here.
They sound like they have exactly the same speechwriters and precisely the same world-view. And all of that is to say nothing of the self-evidently identical positions they have on Iraq (we must stay forever) and Iran (we'll bomb them if they seem like they might develop the know-how to build a nuclear weapon). They're cut from the same cloth, except that McCain might actually be even more willing to use military force than Bush has been.
It's true that, in his speech, McCain advocated a reduction in America's nuclear weapon stockpile and called for a "a successor to the Kyoto Treaty," something Bush/Cheney did not and would not accept. And he also advocated the creation of what he calls "the League of Democracies" -- an idea that, according to this Editorial in the right-wing Investor's Business Daily, is the brainchild of the Right's premiere foreign policy scholar and intellectual historian, Jonah J. Goldberg.
But on the foreign policy issues that are most consequential, McCain is George Bush. They pay lip service to the same pretty concepts of internationalism and democracy in order to justify endless militarism, occupation and war. They believe the "transcendent" obligation of America is to use its military force and other resources to re-make the world in our image. The Middle East is our personal playground and controlling it will consume most of our attention and energy. We should work cooperatively with other countries whenever they are willing to support our foreign adventures.
With regard to the most complex and dangerous conflicts, they even sound almost exactly alike in their simple-minded belligerence. Here was Bush's "solution" to the Israel/Hezbollah war, spat out between food bites to Tony Blair:
What they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it's over.
And here was McCain's equally insightful solution to the civil war in Iraq:
One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, "Stop the bullshit."
The American Emperor issues moronic dictates to the world's primitive peoples, and they obey -- just as has happened for the last eight years -- and thousands-year old religious and ethnic conflicts vanish and freedom and Western democracy sprout magically in their place. As Matt Welch, author of McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, said in a February speech at the Cato Institute:
[McCain's] whole career, his life, his training, his family background has been to be a member of . . . the Imperial Class; [he's] motivated by an inspiring trust of America's governance of the world; [and] he would be the most imperial-oriented President, most militaristic President, since Teddy Roosevelt, at least.
Just as one would expect, given their identical worldviews, Bush and McCain burdened with exactly the same absurd contradictions. Hence: the key to our security is to undermine Muslims' resentment towards the U.S., which we'll accomplish by occupying Iraq indefinitely and threatening Iran. "Victory" in Iraq means a government supported by the majority of Iraqis and yet which somehow is simultaneously a "key U.S. ally in the war on terror" and a friend of Israel.
And: We must stop supporting autocracies, as we pursue hegemonic policies that make us increasingly dependent upon Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan. Democracy is the linchpin of peace, yet our enemies are Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian hardliners supported by large portions of those countries' populations. We should continue to interfere in Middle East countries (thus ensuring increased anti-Americanism) and simultaneously spread democracy (thus ensuring the election of anti-American political leaders). We must rein in government spending while pursuing hegemonic policies that we can't remotely afford to pay for, etc. etc.
Whatever all of that is, a departure from the Bush/Cheney doctrine isn't it. It's precisely what has led us over the last eight years to where we are. It isn't the role of journalists to decide whether we ought to continue the Bush/Cheney policies, but it is their role to prevent John McCain and his Brooksian supporters from pretending that this isn't what he's advocating.