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American Legion Speech Reflects McCain’s Neocon Influences « The Washington Independent

PHOENIX, Ariz. — During Sen. John McCain’s speech to the American Legion national convention here this morning, McCain unveiled a new approach for criticizing Sen. Barack Obama on foreign policy. Rather than paint Obama simply as inexperienced, as he has many times, McCain hammered the presumed Democratic nominee for being overconfident in himself, while being insufficiently confident in American power. From McCain’s prepared remarks:

Aside from McCain’s reference to his prisoner of war experience — which he supposedly doesn’t like to talk about — and his comment about Obama — which the Obama campaign is decrying as an attack on the Illinois senator’s patriotism — McCain’s speech today is noteworthy because it explicitly reflects the neoconservative view of America’s role in the world for which some of McCain’s most prominent advisers are known. It’s no secret that McCain’s team of foreign policy advisers includes high-profile Neocons Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan and Randy Scheunemann, all of whom signed on to the Project for a New American Century, which advocates a muscular, aggressive American foreign policy that uses America’s military strength to advance values like democracy and justice in other countries.

In today’s speech McCain resurrects the language of “liberation” of Iraq and Afghanistan — a favorable term preferred by many who advocated the invasion of Iraq. Though McCain discusses both conflicts at just about every campaign event at which he appears, I can’t recall him talking about them in this way in the last couple of months. In the last paragraph, “Confusion about such questions only invites more trouble, violence and aggression” sounds strikingly familiar to the statements of Donald Rumsfeld — another Neoconservative — first in 1984 and then again in 2001 in his testimony to the 9/11 commission, that “weakness invites aggression.”

Perhaps this shift in rhetoric reflects a new McCain campaign strategy, now that Obama has chosen Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Obama’s go-to answer for questions of foreign policy is to call for more international cooperation. The New York Times‘ recently described Biden — the current chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee — as a like-minded partner to Obama:

Mr. Biden is widely seen as a liberal-minded internationalist. He has emphasized the need for diplomacy but has been prepared at times to back it with the threat of force. An early advocate of military action to quell the ethnic fighting in the Balkans, he has not been averse to American military intervention abroad. As the debates over Kosovo and later Iraq showed, he has been loath to give the United Nations a veto over American policy decisions. But he has also sought to ensure that the United States acted in concert with other nations.

Despite the fact that neoconservatism has a bruised reputation in light of the events of the last seven years, McCain may be preparing to contrast himself against his more liberal opponents as a candidate who will not put America’s security in the hands of international organizations. His tough rhetoric on Russia of late — which as Reason’s Matt Welch, author of the McCain book “Myth of a Maverick”, notes is consistent with McCain’s historical reactions to many international crises — indicates he favors maintaining an aggressive foreign policy. If this is the case, it appears that, at least in this respect, a McCain administration may very well mirror that of his predecessor.

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