Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested that President Donald Trump is ruining the U.S.’s reputation as world leader during an interview over the weekend. That he’s criticizing Trump isn’t a surprise. What is a little confusing, however, is that McCain can’t seem to remember anything that’s happened over the past two decades.
The Arizona senator, in an interview with The Guardian, left no question that he believes the former administration better portrayed the U.S. on the world stage.
From the report published Sunday:
Senator John McCain, a prominent Republican voice on foreign policy, was visibly irked when asked by the Guardian what message Trump had sent to the United Kingdom, one of America’s most enduring allies.
“What do you think the message is? The message is that America doesn’t want to lead,” McCain said, while adding of the rest of the world: “They are not sure of American leadership, whether it be in Siberia or whether it be in Antarctica.”
Asked if America’s standing on the global stage was better under Barack Obama, McCain, a fervent critic of the previous administration’s foreign policy, responded: “As far as American leadership is concerned, yes.”
McCain, seemingly just realizing what he really said, is now walking back the remarks.
On Tuesday, McCain told The Daily Caller that he “never said such a thing,” when asked if he truly believed Obama’s foreign policy better than Trump’s.
“A thousand times I said, ‘Look at the world in 2009 and look at it today.’ Of course, I never said [that]. If I did I was joking,” he added, according to the DC.
Thinking that the world had more respect for the United States under President Obama’s leadership than it does today certainly is a joke. But forgetting Obama’s global apology tour followed by the decision to continue failed foreign policy agendas that only further entangled the U.S. in one unending quagmire after another is no laughing matter.
It’s also not at all funny that McCain has been along for the ride the entire time. Despite calling Obama’s foreign policy “feckless” at one point and, at another, giving the former president an “F” in foreign policy, McCain supported many of the administration’s dumbest moves.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) did a nice job of summarizing McCain’s support for the Obama foreign agenda during a 2015 POLITICO interview centered on his critiques of Senate hawks like the Arizona lawmaker and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.
“They supported Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya; they supported President Obama’s bombing of Assad; they also support President Obama’s foreign aid to countries that hate us. So if there is anyone who is most opposed to President Obama’s foreign policy, it’s me. People who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama’s foreign policy — they just want to do it ten times over,” he said at the time.
McCain, remember, has repeatedly criticized Paul over the years, claiming the Kentucky lawmaker has a naïve foreign policy view.
Just this spring, McCain refused to even respond to Paul’s criticism of the Trump administration’s decision to launch attacks on a Syrian airfield following reports Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in the fight against rebels in the country.
“I don’t really react to Senator Paul. We’re just too different, and he doesn’t have any real influence in the United States Senate,” he said in March.
Paul, unfortunately, doesn’t have the influence McCain has enjoyed over the past two decades. But at least he hasn’t been involved in influencing every bad foreign policy decision the U.S. has made since the Clinton administration.
That sounds like an exaggeration—but it isn’t.
In fact, the only criticism for interventionism McCain reserves is when the carnage doesn’t go far enough.
When President Clinton decided the U.S. needed to conduct high altitude bombing over Serbia, McCain complained that the U.S. didn’t send in ground troops.
When President George W. Bush, already dealing with huge troubles in the Middle East, ruled out bombing North Korea, McCain lamented that force was the “only means to prevent North Korea from acquiring a nuclear arsenal.”
During a campaign stop in 2007, McCain told another of his jokes and sang for a crowd, “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.”
In 2008, as it became apparent that the Iraq War wasn’t working out, McCain was asked what he thought about the prospect of U.S. troop involvement in Iraq for the next fifty years.
“Make it a century,” he replied.
The senator’s biggest criticism of both the Bush and Obama administrations with regard to Iraq was that the U.S. didn’t have enough soldiers there, creating what he calls a power vacuum.
Never mind that McCain’s only plan to avoid a power vacuum is a 100-year occupation.
And even after seeing that the U.S. population wasn’t in the mood for the sort of total war he would like to see in the Middle East, which would provide massive political complications to sending the necessary number of troops to intervene without risking later chaos, McCain supported every regime change and destabilization effort in the region since Iraq.
Meanwhile, McCain is a leading critic of Russia and one of the biggest proponents of any military maneuver with the potential to aggravate the U.S.’s Cold War foe. In recent years, he’s never passed an opportunity to call for intervention in Ukraine or Syria to stifle Russian objectives. More recently, the Arizona lawmaker accused Sen. Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin” because the Kentucky Republican objected to an attempt to bring Montenegro into NATO, despite the small, corrupt country having no strategic value to the U.S.
What does McCain’s perfect world look like? His combined wishes over the years sound like a plan for the U.S. to lead military occupations that never end in as many theaters as possible. If that’s his definition of good U.S. leadership, there isn’t a single sane person in the country who wants to lead.
But McCain misses the point anyway. He’s had too much “influence” in the Senate for far too long. Too much bad experience and too much exposure to corruption have made it impossible for the aging senator to remember that the president was never intended to lead any other portion of the world in the first place.
Consider what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his 1801 Inaugural address:
I believe this … the strongest government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order, as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels, in the forms of kings, to govern him?
Let history answer this question.
Let us then, with courage and confidence, pursue our own federal and republican principles; our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others, possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation…
In other words, if folks are concerned about a lack of U.S. influence, whether it be in Siberia or whether it be in Antarctic, we must be doing something right. Maybe if Trump can undo the influence of people like McCain and accomplish the massive reductions in U.S. foreign involvement he promised as a candidate he really will make America great again.