One candidate, two camps, one direction

In the battle for McCain's ideological soul, the neocons won a long time ago.

Published April 10, 2008 4:57PM (EDT)

The Los Angeles Times ran a solid report about a month ago, noting that when it comes to foreign policy, John McCain's record is littered with "mixed signals" and contradictory positions. That's true -- foreign policy "realists" who are looking for signs of hope can point to McCain's opposition to extending Reagan's troop deployment in Lebanon in 1983 and his initial hesitation about going to war with Saddam Hussein in 1990.

But the New York Times reports today that these contradictions have led both Republican camps -- realists and neocons -- to believe they can help shape the malleable McCain worldview. The Times noted that pragmatists are "expressing concern," though, that the senator is slipping away.

The concerns have emerged in the weeks since Mr. McCain became his party's presumptive nominee and began more formally assembling a list of foreign policy advisers. Among those on the list are several prominent neoconservatives, including Robert Kagan, an author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26, in which he described himself as "a realistic idealist." Others include the security analyst Max Boot and a former United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton.

Prominent members of the pragmatist group, often called realists, say they are also wary of the McCain campaign's chief foreign policy aide, Randy Scheunemann, who was a foreign policy adviser to former Senators Trent Lott and Bob Dole and who has longtime ties to neoconservatives ...

"It maybe too strong a term to say a fight is going on over John McCain's soul," said Lawrence Eagleburger, a secretary of state under the first President George Bush, who is a member of the pragmatist camp. "But if it's not a fight, I am convinced there is at least going to be an attempt."

Eagleburger is a little behind. If there was a fight, the realists lost a long time ago.

Matthew Duss explained, "The competition for McCain's foreign policy soul is over. The neocons cleaned up, took the trophy, and went for beers (or maybe wine spritzers.) Of course McCain is still going to seek and take advice from a gallery of venerated foreign policy wise men, but the idea that there's actually a conflict between the neocon and realist camps for John McCain's attention is nonsense."

I'm surprised the Times would even characterize this as an open question. Look who has McCain's ear and tell me he's not a neocon. As Matt Yglesias concluded, "You'll find that McCain Senate and campaign staffs both contain a ton of people whose resumes include stints at The Weekly Standard and/or the Project for a New American Century -- that's the network he's tied into."

And that's who'll be shaping foreign policy in a McCain administration.

By Steve Benen

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