Undiplomatic Banner
15th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 am

While We Were Putting Lipstick on That Pig. . .


One of the tragedies of the current campaign is that the two candidates have not yet had a serious debate about America’s role in the world.  Both McCain and Obama have laid out very different visions — to oversimplify, McCain’s robust nationalism versus Obama’s effective internationalism.  But instead of debating the future of American foreign policy, the campaign has degenerated into discussions about such salient topics as lipstick, pigs, celebrities, and bridges.

Jeffrey Goldberg over at The Atlantic suggests that this isn’t a coincidence — McCain is pursuing a vicious campaign because he knows his worldview won’t get him elected.

Like many people who have covered John McCain, I think of him as a deeply serious man, preoccupied with America’s defense and its position in the world. So I’ve been confused for the past few days, trying to figure out why he’s allowing his campaign to make a circus of this election, leveling unserious and dishonest accusations about Barack Obama’s positions on sex education and Sarah Palin.

Then it came to me: The answer can be found in. . .John McCain’s philosophy of war, and in particular with the doctrine of preemption, which McCain still endorses. . . . McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.

So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.

I think this is largely true.  Thanks to the Bush Administration, preemption isn’t exactly a popular concept right now.  It’s not merely intellectually bankrupt, it’s also despised by the rest of the world.  What McCain, Bush, Cheney, and I presume, Palin (once they explain everything to her) view as America asserting its interests is viewed in the rest of the world as exceptionalism and even imperialism.

Four more years of such a policy may destroy what’s left of American power and credibility in the world.  Right now, Russia is asserting itself, and they’re doing it by using the Bush playbook.  While no one is paying attention, Venezuela is quite effectively building a new anti-American bloc in Latin America (more on this in a future post).  Erstwhile American allies are beginning to reevaluate whether it makes sense to continue to make friendship with a weakened, angry, and often bellicose United States a priority in their foreign policy.  And perhaps most troubling of all, a strong and assertive China is confidently asserting itself — not merely by hosting the Olympics, but in a number of other ways, most notably through massive foreign assistance projects that just happen to give China access to the natural resources it needs to continue to grow.

Let’s be blunt:  nobody is really that impressed with us anymore.  We’ve become the annoying guest who insists on dominating the conversation but who has little of value to contribute to the conversation.  We’re on the verge of becoming the kid who was a star athlete in high school but who never reaches similar heights in adulthood.

It’s not only that we’re despised.  It’s that we’re increasingly a laughingstock.  If McCain is elected, it could be a tipping point.  Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and a number of lesser states will see no reason not to organize in opposition to our interests.  We will find it harder to assert ourselves, or even to be heard.

To be clear, I’m not interested in appeasing or even appealing to such states.  But I’m also not interested in poking all of them in the eye with a sharp stick, especially when we do it constantly and frequently simultaneously.  McCain doesn’t seem to understand that there are a finite number of states you can anger before people start seeing you as the problem — even when you’re in the right.

It’s almost as if McCain wants to go it alone.  After all, that’s what has worked for him in campaigns.  Why not turn it into a foreign policy?

This entry was posted on Monday, September 15th, 2008 at 10:45 am and is filed under foreign policy, politics. It is tagged under , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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