March 29, 2008

Two Conservative Views of McCain's Foreign Policy

Following Abu Muqawama's controversial declaration that Barack Obama's combined plan for Iraq and Afghanistan was more responsible than John McCain's (Obama, alone, has a realistic plan for winning in Afghanistan), here are two rival views of John McCain's foreign policy from a conservative perspective:

One, David Brooks makes the eloquent case that John McCain's vision will not simply be four more years of the Bush Doctrine. "Anybody who thinks McCain is merely continuing the Bush agenda" he writes, "is not paying attention."

Two, Andrew Bacevich makes the case for Obama in the American Conservative. Bacevich, who lost his son in Iraq but was an outspoken critic of the war from Day One, seethes with rage when he writes of the neoconservatives:

So why consider Obama? For one reason only: because this liberal Democrat has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq. Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival.

To appreciate that possibility requires seeing the Iraq War in perspective. As an episode in modern military history, Iraq qualifies at best as a very small war. Yet the ripples from this small war will extend far into the future, with remembrance of the event likely to have greater significance than the event itself. How Americans choose to incorporate Iraq into the nation’s historical narrative will either affirm our post-Cold War trajectory toward empire or create opportunities to set a saner course.

The neoconservatives understand this. If history renders a negative verdict on Iraq, that judgment will discredit the doctrine of preventive war. The “freedom agenda” will command as much authority as the domino theory. Advocates of “World War IV” will be treated with the derision they deserve. The claim that open-ended “global war” offers the proper antidote to Islamic radicalism will become subject to long overdue reconsideration.

Give the neocons this much: they appreciate the stakes. This explains the intensity with which they proclaim that, even with the fighting in Iraq entering its sixth year, we are now “winning”—as if war were an athletic contest in which nothing matters except the final score. The neoconservatives brazenly ignore or minimize all that we have flung away in lives, dollars, political influence, moral standing, and lost opportunities. They have to: once acknowledged, those costs make the folly of the entire neoconservative project apparent. All those confident manifestos calling for the United States to liberate the world’s oppressed, exercise benign global hegemony, and extend forever the “unipolar moment” end up getting filed under dumb ideas.