In the Arena

McCain’s Speech

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Although I’ve disagreed with John McCain pretty vehemently about Iraq recently, this is a very good foreign policy speech, delivered today at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council–a quantum leap toward sanity and away from the prevailing idiocy of the Bush Administration.

In fact, McCain’s distance from George W. Bush seems greater than from the Democrats in some key sections:

America must be a model citizen if we want others to look to us as a model. How we behave at home affects how we are perceived abroad. We must fight the terrorists and at the same time defend the rights that are the foundation of our society. We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured. I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control.

There is such a thing as international good citizenship. We need to be good stewards of our planet and join with other nations to help preserve our common home. The risks of global warming have no borders. We and the other nations of the world must get serious about substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years or we will hand off a much-diminished world to our grandchildren. We need a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner. We Americans must lead by example and encourage the participation of the rest of the world, including most importantly, the developing economic powerhouses of China and India.

McCain is on his best behavior in the Iraq section. He refrains from his foolish, inaccurate “Al-Qaeda-is-Gonna-Take-Over” rhetoric of the recent past…indeed, he repeats the more temperate phrases used by his aide, Mark Salter, in a press release last week:

If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, as various factions of Sunni and Shi’a have yet to move beyond their ancient hatreds, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda. Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions.

Of course, civil war in Iraq could easily descend into some very nasty fighting–as we’re seeing in Basra–even with a massive U.S. presence in country. And McCain is ducking some of the most important questions, like whether this monumentally stupid invasion was a good idea in the first place. He says nothing about the duration of the U.S. occupation–especially whether he believes permanent bases are necessary or advisable (which was what he was implying when he said we could stay in Iraq for 100 years). He refrains from sabre-rattling with regard to Iran–although I have no doubt the sabre is at the ready and will be unsheathed frequently on the campaign trail. I suspect that there is much he chose not to say, especially about the region and the role of Islam, because this was to be a “thoughtful,” “sober,” “serious” address.

The key question is the one that Barack Obama has been fond of asking: Has McCain shed the “mindset” that led him to be one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the war in Iraq? Which is the real McCain? The thoughtful, mainstream foreign policy wonk who delivered this speech…or the seething neoconservative who has, from the start, been prone to cavalier and extreme statements about the war and the nature of the enemy? We can only hope that this speech marks the beginning of the Republican Party’s journey away from pre-emptive unilateralism…and toward a reunion with the world community.