Fareed Zakaria calls John McCain’s Foreign Policy Vision Radical

I won’t be posting much over the next week or so as grading and exams are taking up most of my time. I did want, however, to alert my students to this interesting article by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria on Republican Presidential candidate John McCain’s foreign policy philosophy. Zakaria agrees with Pat Buchanan and others at the American Conservative magazine that McCain’s foreign policy views are a radical break with past administrations (Democratic and Republican). Zakaria writes:

On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

I guess that’s because the American media knows what the real issues are–Barack Obama refusing coffee for orange juice at a diner in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton doing shots in a Pennsylvania bar (were they body shots?), and lapel flag pins.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama’s suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain’s proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

This is bang on. Hillary Clinton and others, who have tried to trash Obama on his views about dialogue with putative enemies would do well to remember that it was ultimately dialogue with China and the Soviet Union that lessened tensions between these states and the United States. What McCain wants to do is to return the world to the situation ex-ante, for what strategic reason I’m not sure. This is, in the immortal words of Chazz Michael Michaels, “mind-bottling!”

I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

How many of these questions do you think will be asked at the first Presidential Debate? My over/under is one. Zakaria is right that McCain’s foreign policy vision is a triumph of ideology over strategy. Here is where McCain would most clearly take the mantle from George Bush and embark upon a third term for the ideological and policy goals of the current administration. “The King is dead…long live the king!”

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