Neocon President John “Bomb Iran” McCain?
There’s no doubt, for the Republicans the funfair-like ballyhoo of the candidate-shooting-gallery, aka primaries, is over and the hard slog of winning the party’s faithful has begun. John McCain is their nominee, whether they like it and whether Mike Huckabee will one day resign himself to the evident or not (truth-denying seems to have become a synonym for passionate conservatism in this GOP). Time to start contemplating on what a future Iraq and Iran policy of a McCain presidency may bring.
I’ve been repeatedly asked if President Whitman in The Writing on the Wall is a barely disguised John McCain. Truth be told, while I may remotely have had John McCain at the back of my mind as a role model, my prime concern was not to dwell on clichés and stereotypes of Cheney-like warmongers and Pat Robertson-like Elmer Gantrys but have my Republican president be a battle-hardened honest broker most Americans can sympathize with. At the end of the day, Jim Whitman is manipulated into aerial strikes against Iran by a coalition of aching-for-Armageddon televangelists and big oil. Whether Whitman resembles McCain or not, the burning and troubling question is, does it require Machiavellian puppeteers and Iagonian manipulations to get McCain giving American B-2s flying orders for Tehran at all?
As soon as McCain has risen from the dead the question has occupied the political blogsphere to what extent he is the neocon reincarnate. This can be answered verbosely but vacuously as in Philip Giraldi’s John McCain and the Neocon Resurgence, more thoughtfully but yet not satisfactorily as in Jacob Heilbrunn’s John McCain, Neocon, or in terms of a historic retrospection as in John Judis’ dated but excellent Neo-McCain. I’m not George Bush, I don’t claim to be able to realize someone’s soul by looking deep into his eyes; but I’m a historian, and I believe that more than forty years in public and military service in the national limelight should provide us at least with some clues to make a few cautious assumptions about someone’s future behavior.
Judis does a remarkable job in portraying McCain’s changes from a young firebrand, gung-ho interventionist to a prudent realist after his return from Vietnam, and back to aggressive idealism or militant Wilsonianism in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union:
“In the months and years that followed, McCain, seeking to differentiate his views from those of other Republican presidential aspirants and from the growing isolationism of House Republicans, would place his new interventionist instincts within a larger ideological framework. That ideological framework was neoconservatism … The senator’s embrace of neoconservatism was accompanied by a reevaluation of his childhood hero, Theodore Roosevelt. McCain had long admired Roosevelt’s adventurous spirit, but Kristol – as well as other neoconservative writers like Robert Kagan and David Brooks – was busy building the former president into something more: a model for “national greatness conservatism,” a philosophy that linked the development of American character to the exercise of power overseas.”
Here, in the years after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the descent of a dozen of new nations in Europe and Central Asia, yearning for individual freedom and Western-style democracy, lies the natal hour of John McCain the neocon, best illustrated in his chairmanship of the International Republican Institute. More telling than his 100-years-in-Iraq comment and his stubborn support for the surge, is his biblical hate for Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, together with his and IRI’s behind-the-scenes activities in Eastern Europe. Hans Werner Klausen from the Berliner Umschau provides us with an exhaustive list of McCain’s neocon supporters, advisers and dogsbodies – this eye-opening compilation together with McCain’s personal Damascus experience of the victorious First Gulf War in combination with the democratization of the Ukraine, Georgia, Poland et al. leads me to believe that the true neocon in the White House is yet to come. Heilbrunn is right in his Washington Post op-ed: George Bush has never been a neocon, but John McCain is to the bottom of his heart. For him the democratization of the Middle East, by force if necessary, is not a pretense you can seek refuge in if the damn WMDs turn out not to exist; for John McCain and the neocons this is the essence of American exceptionalism, her raison d’etre in the twenty-first century.
And Iraq is where they will take up a stance. They have tied their entire ideological concept to success there. Worse, in John McCain’s case, I can’t help myself but fear that he seeks to cure his own personal Vietnam trauma at the banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris.
And this is where my book proves outdated. The Iranian nuclear program no longer is the sticking point; except for Israeli hawks it does not even suit as an official casus belli anymore. The issue over which John McCain and Tehran will clash is the future of Iraq and the latter’s sway over it. A weakened, lame duck George Bush may have had to grin and bear it by reluctantly greenlighting talks on ambassodarial level between the U.S. and Iran. For a reinvigorated John McCain and his neocon team, endowed with a public mandate to fight the “War on Terror” and elected on a national security ticket, this is no option. That smells too much of the Paris Peace Accords and Kissinger-détente. Neither is containment or harsher sanctions, as still nonsensically considered a better than nothing response to Iran’s stubbornness on the nuclear issue, a viable approach here. It would only postpone the inevitable confrontation.
I never get tired of referring to Peter Galbraith’s brilliant analysis of the situation in Iraq on Salon.com from last year: Iran is the major gainer of George Bush’s war in Mesopotamia, and Tehran is the one who dictates terms there now. Something the neocons are all too aware of. Given this predicament of their let’s-make-the-world-free-for-democracy crusade having played into the hands of the hated mullahs better than dealing them a Royal Flush, any future American administration is left with two choices: you either start all-issues-on-the-table, no precondition talks with Iran trying to get them to adopt a constructive role in Baghdad with a healthy combination of incentives and threats – which, of course, would result in America having to make painful sacrifices and accepting Iran as a regional power – or you take Iran out of the Iraqi equation. To John McCain, the former would be like losing Vietnam again. If yielding to his Vietcong guards was out of the question, abandoning a people America has liberated to an Islamist theocracy and state sponsor of terrorism certainly is. Then rather go down in flames in defending freedom’s cause and Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy.
No, we should make no mistake, John McCain is no Jim Whitman. He doesn’t need to be manipulated into war with Iran.
Hannes Artens is the author of The Writing on the Wall, the first anti-Iran-war novel.
Hannes Artens February 22, 2008 – 10:29am