“A Flamethrower in a Fireworks Factory”

That’s what a John McCain presidency would be, according to Glasgow Herald political correspondent Iain MacWhirter:

It seems incredible, but as the Democrats gather in Denver to anoint Barack Obama, America could be on course to re-elect a Republican as their President. Not just any Republican either, but a belligerent 71-year-old who can’t remember how many houses he owns, would happily nuke Iran and whose answer to global warming is to drill for oil in environmentally sensitive areas off the coast of America which don’t even have much oil. But according to the polls, John McCain is drawing level with Barack Obama, and even pulling ahead.

Really, America is a strange, strange country. After a disastrous and illegal war, in which 4000 American soldiers have died, in the middle of an economic crisis largely caused by the investment houses that finance the Republican party, you would have thought it almost inconceivable that the Republicans could be re-elected. Could any political brand be more toxic? Has any party in history deserved to be thrown out at an election more than the Republicans in 2008?

George W Bush has been recognised even by many neo-conservatives as the worst US President in modern history. Ten million people risk losing their homes over the next two years as a result of the credit crunch. Real wages have been declining in America for the past five years. The country is awash with credit card debt.

America’s image in the world, so vibrant after 9/11, has been seriously tarnished by a series of epic foreign policy mistakes under the Republicans, the worst of which is, of course, Iraq. Yet enough American voters believe that John McCain might have the answers for him to become a serious contender. Which is scary. McCain is not an unknown quantity – he is a highly excitable politician with a notoriously short temper, who would bring his impetuous and confrontational style into American foreign policy. With the world entering a global economic slump, and old enmities raging in Europe, John McCain as President would be like a flamethrower in a fireworks factory.

A conversation with Robert Kagan brought home to MacWhirter just how scary a McCain presidency would be:

I got an insight into the McCain worldview last week at the Edinburgh Book Festival in a session I did with Robert Kagan, McCain’s leading foreign affairs adviser, and author of The Return of History and the End of Dreams. The good news is that the war against terror is past tense, it seems, because he didn’t mention al Qaeda once. The bad news is that America might be about to revisit, not the cold war, but the era of nineteenth-century great power rivalry, which is how Kagan characterised the current state of international affairs.

He believes the great faultline is between America and an axis of authoritarianism represented by China and Russia. There is a new era of geopolitical confrontation, according to Kagan, as Russia re-arms and China builds the biggest army in the world. America has to step up. “The future international order will be shaped,” he says, “by those who have the power and the collective will to shape it.” No prizes for guessing whether John McCain is up to the military challenge. Europe, which Kagan dismissed as an irrelevant entity in the new world of hard power, would get trampled in the rush.

Shorter Kagan, via Cernig: “McCain[‘s] foreign policy would consist entirely of looking for reasons to fight with Russia and China.

The neocons finally have their wet dream. No longer do they have to hype up a bunch of ragtag misfits hanging out in Pakistan’s wilds or an “existential threat” from Iran that is anything but. They’ve got an enemy worthy of their ideology, their notion that America shows itself best when in a war for its very existence. They want to take on the two largest rival military powers in the world, both at once. And they don’t want to do it by diplomacy, containment or any of that other pantywaist stuff. Oh no – they’re want to use “hard power’ – that’s a euphemism for war, folks – and they believe McCain is just the angry old duffer they can lead by the nose into providing it.

“Scary” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Completely batshit insane would be better. In case anyone doesn’t remember, the era of nineteenth-century great power rivalry led directly to the Great War and WW2, the first of which began over a tiny incident that lit the fuse on the powderkeg. How comforting is it to know that, under a McCain presidency, the neocons would actively go looking for a new spark?

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