Republican nominee-apparent John McCain is at increasing pains to show that his presidency would not be a third term of George W. Bush’s presidency. And, in a major speech on foreign policy, he emphasized that his administration would substantially differ in tone and outlook. He would not be the go-it-alone cowboy as Bush has been caricatured by foreign leaders.
“Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the power and wisdom to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies,” he said.
With the glaring exceptions of the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq, Bush was never quite the unilateralist he seemed. He was quite willing to work with other nations, the European Union and the United Nations on such problems as North Korea, Iran and the Mideast. But his cocksure, even flip attitude put off many foreign leaders and many of his own constituents as well.
McCain promised to be a different kind of leader, “a realistic idealist,” and in doing so he sounded much like another Bush, George H.W. Bush. McCain’s speech indicated that had he had to fight Gulf War II it would have looked much more like the grand coalition that fought Gulf War I.
He promised an activist foreign policy — free-trade agreements, cooperation on fighting AIDS and environmental degradation, creation of a League of Democracies to advance the cause of democracy and, somewhat out of left field, kicking Russia out of the G-8 club of industrial democracies.
On the biggest foreign-policy issue, McCain did not flinch from the Iraq war’s increasing unpopularity. He would continue to fight that war, only smarter and better than the Bush administration, and do so on moral grounds. Abandoning Iraq would be “morally reprehensible.” A hasty withdrawal, he said, “would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation.”
In essence, McCain is pledged to win the war George Bush could not.