Don’t you wish John McCain would just shut his yap, already?
Sorry. That’s not a very nice way to speak of a man who has given so much of his life to public service: in the Navy, as a prisoner of war, then as a congressman, senator, and presidential candidate. But while other failed candidates move onto some other second act to prove their love of country—Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as Secretary of State, Al Gore as the King of Climate Change, Bob Dole as elder statesman—McCain has seemed dedicated to proving that Americans were wrong in 2008: He, not Barack Obama, should be president.
Mostly, he keeps proving the opposite.
And he was doing it again this weekend, appearing on Fox News Sunday to castigate the President for not intervening forcefully in Syria, where a civil war between government and rebel forces has claimed at least 60,000 lives.
“I think they’re writing one of the most shameful chapters in American history,” McCain said on the show. “Sixty thousand people have been massacred.”
He added that Obama’s decision to stay out of the conflict shows “a lack of experience and knowledge that is very dangerous to America’s national security interests.” It’s this last comment that shows that McCain’s aim here is to relitigate 2008: A lack of experience and knowledge was the Republican Party’s most salient argument against Obama then, but after four years in office, it no longer really applies—Obama has ended the war in Iraq, is drawing down in Afghanistan, helped topple a regime in Libya, killed Osama bin Laden, and generally tried to avoid getting the U.S. enmeshed in another big war that occupied most of our last decade. There’s plenty of experience there, now.
In Syria, McCain has been urging that the U.S. take military action for months now. Which is the same thing he did in Libya, and of course, the same thing he did in Georgia. Not much on the public record suggests McCain has ever resisted the siren call to war—or the siren call to escalation, once America has committed to war. If it were up to him, the country would’ve spent even more blood and treasure intervening abroad over the last decade.
If he’d been elected president, it would be up to him.
Meanwhile, McCain has the gall to suggest that this President, of all presidents, isn’t militaristic enough. At a Senate committee hearing last week, McCain castigated the President for overruling recommendations that the U.S. arm Syrian rebels abroad, criticizing Obama for ignoring “ the senior leaders of his own national security team, who were in unanimous agreement that America needs to take greater action to change the military balance of power in Syria.”
Which suggests that McCain’s conception of the presidency is all wrong. It’s the president, often in cooperation with Congress, who decides if the United States goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy—not the men and women he hires to advise him. That would make the president a rubber-stamp leader, with the country’s real power belonging to an un-elected military council. Who, exactly, wants that?
It’s not as though there aren’t good reasons for not wanting to intervene. For one thing, as long as war with Iran is a possibility, it’s somewhat wise of the United States not to get bogged down elsewhere in the Middle East. For another, there’s no guarantee that the “good guy” rebels of today’s Syria won’t end up being the “bad guy” supporters of Al Qaeda with a few American-supplied weapons of their own. It’s happened before, hasn’t it?
There’s a lot not to love about President Obama’s foreign policy. But John McCain has spent the last four years selling Americans on the prospect of perpetual war. They keep rejecting it, as does President Obama. McCain keeps litigating 2008, but the conclusion remains the same: It’s a good thing for America he lost.