Correcting Black

I finally got around to reading the actual Fortune article that provided a stark contrast that I remarked on yesterday.  Or, at least, I read most of it.  Okay, maybe some of it.

The point being is that while I came to the article ready to absorb the whole thing, I kind of tripped up on a single point that I think needs to be corrected now, and frequently throughout the remainder of the campaign.

While many have focused on McCain staffer Charlie Black’s admission that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a political boon for McCain, I find myself more intrigued by the following:

On national security McCain wins. We saw how that might play out early in the campaign, when one good scare, one timely reminder of the chaos lurking in the world, probably saved McCain in New Hampshire, a state he had to win to save his candidacy – this according to McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an “unfortunate event,” says Black. “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us.”

To which I think the proper correction to be added here would be “But the perception of his knowledge…”  Because, when it comes right down to it, that is about all that McCain is truly running on; the perception of a mastery of foreign policy.

Why is this?

Well, for one, surprisingly, it’s because he’s a Republican.  Despite what George W. Bush has done to the Republican brand, I think we have yet to see unrest regarding the war in Iraq appreciably translate into a more general disdain for the dangerous ideology that drove it.

Or at least, not the kind of sea change that one would hope for.

In general, I think where we are at in this country is that, of course, most Americans disagree with the Iraq war, many have allowed their view on the Iraq war to perhaps influence how they look at the way foreign policy is addressed on a broader scope, but far too many still believe that Military Might and Manifest Destiny are enough, they just happened to kind of fail America in Iraq, probably because George W. Bush isn’t all that competent.

There is undoubtedly a significant shift away from Republicanism as it stands today, but I remain unconvinced that such a shift is one that is deeply ideological as opposed to more superficial and related to the occurences of the immediate present.

Should we find ourselves under attack again, in any form, whether that be conventional military attack, or the far more complex terrorism attack, Americans are going to want to see boots on the ground somewhere, and they are going to want to be able to watch missiles blowing up some foreign city.

Of course, this only leads to the perception of knowledge, not actual knowledge, much like, and actually related to McCain’s military past.

It is McCain’s Naval career, and specifically his time as a POW that seems to give him the bulk of his foreign policy credentials.  The logic, however flawed that logic may be, is that because McCain served honorably during the Vietnam war, he has a firm grasp on American foreign policy and national security across the globe as it exists today.

In truth, such credentials don’t even pass the most basic of logical tests, as the two experiences are vastly different in nature.

McCain’s time in the military provides him a working knowledge of military culture from decades back.  It doesn’t even necessarily grant him working knowledge of the military culture as it exists today.  Indeed, there have been a number of occurences both broad and subtle that have changed the very nature of the military in its modern form, and interestingly enough, many of those changes have arisen as a direct result of the military culture that was in place DURING the Vietnam War.

Outside of that conflict, there has also been Tailhook, an vast integration of women throughout the uniformed services, major quality of life overhauls, image and cultural adjustments (such as the Navy’s Alcohol Deglamorization program), and a concerted push to have a more college educated force.

Still, some things remain the same, and some traditions have been kept alive, and I expect John McCain to have a first hand understanding of such things.

But the problem is that the military is only a small portion of both our endeavors in National Security and Foreign Policy, or, at the very least it SHOULD only be a small portion.  And this is where McCain tends to fall pretty flat on the National Security issue.

After all, Iraq IS his national security platform.  That’s about it, oh, and beefing up the military.  There is some talk about anti-terrorism within the McCain platform on his website, however, that discussion is rather slim, and shows little indication that McCain’s anti-terrorism policies would be significantly different than those of President Bush’s.

Indeed, when we look beyond the perception of McCain’s foreign policy “knowledge” what one sees is a strange string of confusions and gaffes, commonly made errors in a subject that many suggest should be well within McCain’s wheelhouse, such as the frequent confusion over Sunni and Shia.

In truth, all that seems to exist is a perceived expertise, no actual expertise.  One can flog his credentials endlessly, but outside of those credentials, or even a second, closer look at said credentials, reveals no real significant experience on fighting terrorism, and most certainly no independent and original thought on creating an anti-terrorism program that would refrain from, to use a word from his own site, actions that “impinge” upon our rights as Americans, but at the same time keep us safer from terrorism than we are now.

I don’t necessarily begrudge Charlie Black for making the assertion; he’s attempting to positively define his candidate, and that’s his job.  But the question needs to be asked, repeatedly and to satisfaction, not whether or not McCain is strong on National Security and foreign policy, but instead how and why?

Note: Obama campaign’s response (courtesy MSNBC’s First Read blog, linked below)

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton writes in response: “Barack Obama welcomes a debate about terrorism with John McCain, who has fully supported the Bush policies that have taken our eye off of al Qaeda, failed to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and made us less safe. The fact that John McCain’s top advisor says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a ‘big advantage’ for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change. Barack Obama will turn the page on these failed policies and this cynical and divisive brand of politics so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose to finish the fight against al Qaeda.”

More at Memeorandum:   Washington Wire, Crooks and Liars, The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, TPM Election Central, The New Republic, Think Progress, Marc Ambinder, AMERICAblog News, FiveThirtyEight.com, Top of the Ticket, Salon, Jonathan Martin’s Blogs, Swampland, Spin Cycle, Fox News, The Carpetbagger Report, MSNBC, Too Sense, Political Radar, Raw Story and Betsy’s Page

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