The UN, too, would be shunted aside to make room for McCain's new League of Democracies. Though the concept is couched in soothing rhetoric, the "league" would provide an alternate way of legitimizing foreign interventions by the United States when the UN Security Council won't authorize force. Five years ago, on the eve of the Iraq War, McCain said bluntly before the European Parliament that if Security Council members resisted the use of force, or if China opposed US action against North Korea, "the United States will do whatever it must to guarantee the security of the American people." Among the targets McCain cites for his plan to short-circuit the UN are Darfur, Burma, Zimbabwe, Serbia, Ukraine and, of course, Iran--and he has already referred to "wackos" in Venezuela. According to Scheunemann, it's an idea that bubbled up from some of McCain's advisers, including Peters and Kagan, but it alarms analysts from the realist-Republican school of foreign policy. "They're talking about a body that essentially would circumvent the UN and would take authority to act in the name of the international community, sometimes using force," says a veteran GOP strategist who knows McCain well and who insisted on anonymity. "Well, it's very easy to predict that the Russians and Chinese would view this as a threat."
McCain seems almost gleeful about provoking Russia. At first blush, you'd think he'd be more nuanced, since many of the foreign policy gurus he says he talks to emanate from the old-school Nixon-Kissinger circle of détente-niks, including Henry Kissinger himself, Lawrence Eagleburger and Brent Scowcroft. Their collective attitude is that as long as Moscow doesn't threaten US interests, we can do business with it. But there is little evidence of their views in McCain's policy toward Putin's Russia. "I think it's fair to assume that he's most influenced by his neoconservative advisers," says the GOP strategist.
"We need a new Western approach to...revanchist Russia," wrote McCain in Foreign Affairs. He says he will expel Russia from the Group of Eight leading industrial states, a flagrant and dangerous insult, one likely to draw stiff opposition from other members of the G-8. He refuses to ease Russian concerns about the deployment of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, saying, "The first thing I would do is make sure we have a missile defense system in place in Czechoslovakia [sic] and Poland, and I don't care what [Putin's] objections are to it." And he's all for rapid expansion of NATO, to include even the former Soviet republic of Georgia--and not just Georgia but also the rebellious Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Since Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17, which was opposed by Russia, Moscow has said it intends to support independence of the two Georgian regions, making McCain's goal of expanding NATO provocative, to say the least. "McCain says [NATO] ought to include Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are not under the control of the current Georgian government," says a conservative critic of the Arizona senator. "Which, if not a prescription for war with Russia, is at least a prescription for conflict with Russia."
Earlier in his Congressional career, McCain was reluctant to engage in overseas adventures unless American interests were directly threatened. He opposed US involvement in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and in Haiti and the Balkan conflicts in the early 1990s. But as the post-cold war environment seemed increasingly to promise unchallenged American hegemony, McCain took up the neocons' call for interventionism. His views crystallized in a 1999 speech, when he called for the United States to use tough sanctions and other pressure to roll back "rogue states" like Iraq and North Korea, adding, "We must be prepared to back up these measures with American military force if the existence of such rogue states threatens America's interests and values." In referring to "values," McCain indicates his support for the notion that a selective crusade allegedly on behalf of freedom and democracy can provide a rationale for an aggressive new foreign policy outlook.
"He's the true neocon," says the Brookings Institution's Ivo Daalder, a liberal interventionist who conceived the idea of a League of Democracies with Robert Kagan. "He does believe, in a way that George W. Bush never really did, in the use of power, military power above all, to change the world in America's image. If you thought George Bush was bad when it comes to the use of military force, wait till you see John McCain.... He believes this. His advisers believe this. He's surrounded himself with people who believe it. And I'll take him at his word."
Not surprisingly, the center of McCain's foreign policy is the Middle East. "He's bought into the completely fallacious notion that we're in a global struggle of us-versus-them. He calls it the 'transcendental threat...of extreme Islam," says Daalder. "But it's a silly argument to think that this is either an ideological or a material struggle on a par with [the ones against] Nazi Germany or Soviet Communism." For McCain, the Iraq War, the conflict with Iran, the Arab-Israeli dispute, the war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani crisis and the lack of democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are all rolled up into one "transcendent" ball of wax.
More than any other politician, McCain is identified with the Iraq War. From the mid-1990s on, he and his advisers were staunch supporters of "regime change." Scheunemann helped write the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, which funded Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress; joined Bill Kristol's Project for the New American Century; and helped create the neoconservative Committee for the Liberation of Iraq in 2002, with White House support. Together with Joe Lieberman, Sam Brownback and a handful of other senators, McCain emerged as a major cheerleader for the war. Like his fellow neocons, McCain touted what proved to be faked intelligence on the threat posed by Iraq. Echoing Vice President Cheney, McCain said on the eve of the war, "There's no doubt in my mind, once [Saddam] is gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators." He pooh-poohed critics who argued that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's war plan was too reliant on technology and too light on troops, saying, "I don't think you're going to have to see the scale of numbers of troops that we saw...back in 1991." When Gen. Eric Shinseki warned, a month before the war started, that occupying Iraq would require far more troops, McCain was mute.