McCain Least Worst Alternative?

Thomas Barnett damns John McCain with faint praise saying, essentially, that his foreign policy would be reckless but not as bad as the alternatives.

Both Clinton and Obama, if elected, present the frightening spectacle of a pandering Democratic White House looking for easy wins with an angry citizenry on protectionism because getting such wins on Iraq will be almost impossible. Both Clinton and Obama now bash NAFTA, China and oppose the free trade pact proposed with Colombia, the rejection of which would constitute one big F.U. to Uribe and the magnificent effort he’s put in despite our still foolish, supply-side-focus on the drug “war.”

McCain would scare me on many levels, but a Dem prez plus strengthened Dem majorities in both houses? Yikes, that’s got Smoot-Hawley written all over it, and that would be significantly more damaging to world stability than even nuking Iran–I kid you not.

Barnett is at the point I was at months ago, before the first primary, in proclaiming McCain my “least unfavorite” of the Republican alternatives. My best guess — and really, it’s no more than that and never is with these things — is that none of these candidates is as bad as Barnett suggests.

He’s absolutely right on the dangers of radical protectionism and China bashing but I simply don’t believe a President Obama (or, much less plausibly, a President Hillary Clinton) would actually push forward with the policies they’re now campaigning on. Once enmeshed in the interagency process and taking advice from more than a handful of idealists, presidents tend to morph out of their candidate mode and conform to their new role as chief executive. And even if they’re stubborn, they’ve got to deal with the checks and balances the Framers put in their path.

Similarly, however deserved McCain’s reputation as a hothead may be, his course of action vis-a-vis Iran would be similarly constrained. While there’s a consensus that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable” and even the likes of JCS Chairman Mullen is saying we “will have to deal with Iran in the very near future,” I’ve come across precisely zero people who simultaneously 1) know what they’re talking about and 2) think there are any good military options.

Barnett’s right, though, at a basic level: few of us are going to have our ideal candidate on the ballot in November. As always, we’ll have to weigh the options and decide which of the expressed candidate policy preferences we dislike we can either most live with or think least likely to be enacted.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, World Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Thomas Barnett damns John McCain with feint praise saying, essentially, that his foreign policy would be reckless but not as bad as the alternatives.

    If, as I suggested at the time of your first post on the topic, we hold government as a nessesary evil, don’t elections invariably come to the least of the evils?

  2. Dantheman says:

    “Thomas Barnett damns John McCain with feint praise”

    Does that mean the praise wasn’t real, but designed to get the Democrats to move in the direction Barnett pretends to go, while he actually goes in another direction? Or did you really mean “faint”?

    The latter. Fixed! – jhj

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    Think carefully about what you are saying. That you prefer to believe that the left’s candidates (Hillary and Obama) are lying rather than take them at their word because the logical result of their word is to terrible to contemplate. Are you dealing with reality or what you want reality to be?

  4. Jim Henley says:

    So Barnett says that we should decide our Presidency based on the greatest good for the greatest number of Uribes? That’s . . . insane.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I simply don’t believe a President Obama (or, much less plausibly, a President Hillary Clinton) would actually push forward with the policies they’re now campaigning on

    That’s how I take solace at this point, James. As I mentioned on the show this week I think that Hillary Clinton’s stump speeches are pretty shocking on the subject of China, for example.

    I don’t think it’s so much that they’re lying, yaj, as that they (particularly Obama) are overestimating the amount of latitude they’re likely to have as president.

  6. M1EK says:

    If you think a president is constrained so much on foolish foreign policy, how on earth can you explain the Iraq war?

    Economic policy, yes. The president can’t do anything particularly important on that front without the cooperation of Congress. But foreign policy?