John McCain and foreign policy expertise

Should we listen to John McCain when he states his opinions about foreign policy matters? According to the political director of NBC News Chuck Todd:

MR. RUSSERT: McCain had some problems when he was in Jordan, he talked about al-Qaeda being trained by the Iranians.
MR. TODD: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And then, then Lindsey Graham, who he was with, and then Joe Lieberman both tried to say to him, al-Qaeda is Sunni, not trained by the Shiite Iranian government. Does that kind of stumble hurt a McCain candidacy?
MR. TODD: . . . You know, he's -- because of the age issue, he can't ever look like he's having a senior moment. So instead, he's better off going ahead and saying, you know, OK, so he misspoke. Even if he gets dinged on the experience stuff, "Oh, he says he's Mr. Experience. Doesn't he know the difference between this stuff?" He's got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it. I mean, the irony to this is had either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama misspoke like that, it'd have been on a running loop, and it would become a, a big problem for a couple of days for them.[emphasis in blog post]

Here's Howard Kurtz's explanation as to what John McCain's foreign policy expertise consists of:

I think to say he doesn't have experience in this area is simply not true. He has more than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined when they were presidential candidates. He led a Navy squadron during the Vietnam War. He's been in the forefront of national security debates for two decades. He just completed his eighth visit to Iraq. He was a major proponent of the surge.

Okay, let's take these one at a time. Does he have "more" than three other past candidates? Sure, but remember, G.W. Bush ran two oil companies, Arbusto and Spectrum 7, before becoming President. Crude oil went for $16.45 a barrel in November 2001 and went for $84.70 in January 2008 and goes for $101.73 today (March 25). So I very much question what "experience" means examined in isolation from other factors. As the administration's press spokesperson points out, Bush's policy on oil prices leaves quite a bit to be desired:

MS. PERINO: Well, as the President said yesterday, he would have liked OPEC to have made a different decision. He is disappointed that they decided not to increase production. He does not think it's a good idea for their biggest customers, such as the United States, to have an economic slowdown, in part contributable to -- because of high gas prices. We know that there is high global demand and there is tighter supply. So what we would like is to see an increase in supply from OPEC.
Obviously they decided not to do that this time. In the meantime what we need to continue to do is have more domestic exploration and production here, in environmentally friendly ways, and to do what the President just said two hours ago, which is to constantly look for alternatives in renewable energies that can help power our economy in a way that would help take the pressure off of prices.

Alternative energy would me a marvelous idea. Sure would be nice if the US actually pursued that idea.

McCain's Navy experience: Not really sure this constitutes "foreign policy experience." He flew an A-4 Skyhawk back during the Vietnam War, dropping bombs on targets in Vietnam. Now, had he been a Green Beret, dealing with Vietnamese up close and personal, that might legitimately be called "foreign policy experience."

Taking part in foreign policy debates: This certainly counts to a degree, but as with Bush's energy company experience (Remember, Arbusto and Spectrum 7 both went bankrupt) the specific details are hugely significant. Was McCain right in his predictions?

Meanwhile, in discussions over proposed U.S. action against Iraq, McCain was a strong supporter of the Bush position.[117] He stated that Iraq was "a clear and present danger to the United States of America,"[117] and voted accordingly for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002.[117] He anticipated that the U.S. forces would be treated as liberators by most of the Iraqi people.[126] In May 2003, McCain voted against the second round of Bush tax cuts, saying it was unwise at a time of war.[119] By November 2003, after a trip to Iraq, McCain was publicly questioning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying that more U.S. troops were needed;[127] the following year, McCain announced that he had lost confidence in Rumsfeld.[128]

I certainly agree that Rumsfeld was a grossly incompetent Secretary of Defense, but I reached that conclusion during the sacking of Baghdad in April 2003, that opinion was cemented by the break-up of Saddam Hussein's army in May 2003, which Rumsfeld signed off on. And yes, I also agree that it was and remains an awful idea to have lower taxes in wartime. Wartime is a time for sacrifice by all concerned. If the US is going to spend $3 trillion to fight the Iraq War, that payment should be made up-front and not passed on to future generations. But I don't think McCain's position on Iraq has proven to be a wise one. At best, he was overly trusting of the Bush Administration's 935 lies as to why the war was needed.

McCain's' eight visits to Iraq: I'll let Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) answer that one:

“Have you been to Iraq?” Graham responded.

“You haven’t been to Iraq, Lindsey,” Webb riposted. “You go see the dog and pony shows, that’s what congressmen do.”

As Jonathan Finer explained: "Prescient insights rarely emerge from a few days in-country behind the blast walls."

Major proponent of the "Surge": Juan Cole explains that the "Surge" (Really an "escalation") is nothing to write home about.

But the troop escalation has failed to stop bombings in Baghdad, and the frequency and deadliness of attacks increased in February and March, after falling in January.

So, in short, I'm not really sure that Howard Kurtz makes a convincing case that McCain really has anything "in the bank" when it comes to foreign policy expertise.


How Insane Is John McCain? said...

McCain doesn't have anything in the bank when it comes to foreign policy except a bunch of contradictory statements and a healthy dose of insanity.

Anonymous said...

This is just further evidence of Senator McCain's weakness in the areas of national security and foreign policy. TPM and Acropolis Review provide more for debunking that essential media driven myth: