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McCain: Who Are You Calling an Interventionist?

It’s a bit odd that someone who incessantly calls for military intervention is offended when he is described as a reliable supporter of military interventions. John McCain was talking to Shepard Smith last week, and took issue with being called an interventionist, which he said was “absolutely false”:

It’s true that advocates of military intervention overseas don’t usually call themselves by this name, but it seems to me to be as close to a neutral term to describe their position as one can hope to have. There are many more pejorative and abusive names that could be used to describe McCain’s foreign policy views that would be comparable to the isolationist label that he flings at the end of the clip. It might be understandable if he objected to one of those, but an interventionist is undeniably what McCain is. This is someone who has called for or supported some form of U.S.-led military intervention in at least five countries in the last fifteen years*, not counting missile strikes in various countries and his “we are all Georgians” folly. His first instinct is typically to demand or threaten U.S. military action in response to a crisis or conflict. Would he prefer militarist or jingoist instead? Perhaps warmonger is more to his liking?

An old profile [1] of McCain from 2008 summed up his position on military intervention this way (via Justin Logan [2]):

Most American politicians, of course, would immediately dismiss the idea of sending the military into Zimbabwe or Myanmar as tangential to American interests and therefore impossible to justify. McCain didn’t make this argument. He seemed to start from a default position that moral reasons alone could justify the use of American force, and from there he considered the reasons it might not be feasible to do so. In other words, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy, while most politicians looked at injustice in a foreign land and asked, “Why intervene?” McCain seemed to look at that same injustice and ask himself, “Why not?”

It’s impossible to miss that McCain’s career since the mid-’90s has been defined by his eagerness for the U.S. to project power, use force to “transform” and “shape” the politics of other countries, and to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of other nations. There may be occasions when even McCain recognizes that military intervention would be ineffective or impractical (apparently Zimbabwe is a bridge too far even for him), but he starts from the assumption that the U.S. should intervene militarily all over the world and only then (and only some of the time) does he consider whether it could achieve anything.

The most preposterous thing in this clip is McCain’s insistence that he believes in “peace through strength,” which is what every hawkish interventionist says when he won’t or can’t defend his real policy views. If he believed in “peace through strength,” he wouldn’t be constantly trying to find reasons for the U.S. to start or join wars. The reality is that his preferred foreign policy is one of exhausting strength through constant warfare.

* Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "McCain: Who Are You Calling an Interventionist?"

#1 Comment By Uncle Vanya On March 10, 2013 @ 11:23 am

McCain has become a self-parody. He should have left the stage when he was at the top of his game…about 30 years ago. His friends and family shouldn’t let anyone with a camera get near him.

#2 Comment By Michael O’Connor On March 10, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

Senator McCain is a mence to our country with his incessant warmongering.

#3 Comment By Mike On March 10, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

The classic “peace through strength” line only forget the peace and ultimately surrender the strength as well.

#4 Comment By Gordon Hanson On March 10, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

Thank you for this superb post, Mr. Larison. You have captured the views of Senator John McCain perfectly.

#5 Comment By tbraton On March 10, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

“Interventionist”? Why everbody knows that McCain is purely and simply a “maverick.” Oops, I forgot. Please scratch that appellation. [3] Why not simply refer to McCain as “a person who graduated fifth from the bottom of his Naval Academy class, who lost five planes during his Naval air career and who tends to strongly favor kinetic military activity”?

#6 Comment By Clint On March 10, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

“It wasn’t long after arriving in Pensacola that McCain racked up the first of his five crashes, beginning in 1958, on his way to becoming a “reverse ace.” As told by Timberg, “McCain was practicing landings; his engine quit and he plunged into Corpus Christi Bay. Knocked unconscious by the impact, he came to as the plane settled to the bottom.”

There was, however, no engine failure with the aircraft. According to one of McCain’s former flight instructors, “The engine was removed from the aircraft that afternoon, mounted on a test stand and a new propeller installed. [It] was flushed with fresh water and started. It ran just fine. So the theory of engine failure was proven false.”

The instructor added that McCain was “positively one of the weakest students to pass our way, and received consistently poor marks and a number of Dangerous Down grades assigned by more than one instructor. He had no real ability and was clearly out of his element in an airplane, and way over his head even as a junior naval officer.”

#7 Comment By scottinnj On March 10, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

I think the ‘Facepalm” meme was invented for a moment like this.

#8 Comment By Charlie On March 10, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

If he believed in “peace through strength,” he wouldn’t be constantly trying to find reasons for the U.S. to start or join wars. The reality is that his preferred foreign policy is one of exhausting strength through constant warfare.

I can’t remember which “National Greatness Conservative” it was (I think William Kristol). But one of my first inklings that this foreign policy philosophy was going to get us into trouble was reading an article where the author argued that we had to be tough with the Arabs, because they only respect and understand strength. This reminded me of a previous article by the same author where he’d argued that we had to be tough with the Chinese, because they only respected and understood strength.

One of my personal rules is, if I run into more than one a**hole during my morning commute I need to chill, because there’s a good chance I’m the one being an a**hole. I think a similar rule applies to people like McCain–if you claim to be a pacifist who’s constantly being goaded into violence by people who “only understand and respect strength,” maybe you’re the one who lacks respect for the weak, and doesn’t understand how to resolve disputes without resorting to violence.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 10, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

I doubt there was any evidence of McCain lieing about his aircraft. There are a myriad of reasons why an aircraft or motorized vehgicle would lose power.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 10, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

I hate to defend those with whom I have policy disputes. But a rebulit engine after a dump, that starts after rthe rebuild, does not mean the pilot is lying – not even close.

An engine was mounted the day after a dump, before a thorough investigation — sounds extremelt dubious.

Peace through stregnth is a common phrase made popular during the cold war. It does not mean that one isn’t able to defend his position.

My enemies go to great legnths to make me out a liar — and as is the case here, it is generally based on some innoccuous phrase or event that has only been entitled to one sided interpretation. I think that McCain’s position is very clear:

Iran, is antagonsitic to the goals of the US in the region.
Our history with Iran is rife with negative events.
Senator McCain would rather see them destabilized and therefore ineffective or a complete ‘democratic’ revolution, peaceful or by force.
There is no evidence that Sen McCain is operating soley on a MIC agenda. There is no evidence that his motives are insincere. If one wants to challenge policy, then challenge the policy and its foundations. But I find it very disconcerting that in addressing policy matters, there is no lack of character assassination.

And I have my issues with Sen. McCain and even if he has dealt underhandedly, I think there is value in taking the high road.

#11 Comment By Charlie On March 10, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

I just think it muddles the policy debate to allow McCain to co-opt the phrase “peace through strength” to describe his own policy preferences. “Peace through strength” is a more or less accurate description of the old Powell doctrine; Albright asked Powell if there was a point to having a very strong military if you didn’t intend to use it, and Powell’s position was that a strong military served as a powerful deterrent.

Even giving McCain all the credit in the world for his sincerity, and even acknowledging, for the sake of argument, that his positions may be correct, I think it’s wrong to let him say he favors “peace through strength” when that’s a phrase that more accurately describes a foreign policy outlook that he detests. If McCain doesn’t like being called an interventionist he should come up with a label for his views that’s flattering and also accurate.