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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 of McCain from 2008 summed up his position on military intervention this way (via Justin Logan):

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.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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