McCain the Anti-War Warrior?

In the cover story of the new American Prospect, Matt Yglesias describes John McCain thusly:

The candidate who, despite his protestations in a March speech that he “hates war,” not only stridently backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq but has spent years calling on the United States to depose every dictator in the world. He’s the candidate of ratcheting-up action against North Korea and Iran, of new efforts to undermine the United Nations, and of new cold wars with Russia and China. Rather than hating war, he sees it as integral to the greatness of the nation, and military service as the highest calling imaginable.

But this is wrong in almost every sense imaginable.

Can anyone seriously doubt that a man who spent 5-1/2 years being tortured by the Viet Cong hates war? But one can simultaneously hate war and think it preferable to allowing despots to gain nuclear weapons.

I’m not sure undermining the United Nations, which has been virtually useless at preventing wars or enforcing its own Security Council mandates, is necessarily inconsistent with hating war. Regardless, McCain isn’t seeking to undermine it but rather augment it with a “League of Democracies,” which he has described as a “SEATO-type” ad hoc coalition of states with similar values. Indeed, pressed by this author on the question, he specifically said that he did not envision this as a military alliance ala NATO. Whose existence, oddly enough, hasn’t undermined the UN.

Nor has McCain advocated “new cold wars with Russia and China.” Rather, his critics, like Fareed Zakaria, have posited that as a likely outcome of the League of Democracies.

Now, I agree with Matt that McCain is the neo-cons’ neo-con who “truer version of the faith during the early years of hubris that followed September 11.” He’s a “national greatness conservative.” I’d prefer a president with a little less confidence in our ability to make the world a better place through the force of arms and a little less interested in shaping the internal politics of far-away lands, period. But that’s not likely. We’ve alternated between hawkish Republicans and interventionist idealist Democrats since the end of the Cold War. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are also interventionists, just stressing different places to intervene. And Hillary Clinton was for the war in Iraq before she was against it. Or, rather, before the political winds shifted.

McCain, at least, is unlikely to intervene half way, as John Kennedy did in the Bay of Pigs, Jimmy Carter did in Desert One, and Bill Clinton did pretty much everywhere. Or, for that matter, as George W. Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan. If military interventionism is inevitable — and I believe it is — then we might as well at least do it right.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    Can anyone seriously doubt that a man who spent 5-1/2 years being tortured by the Viet Cong hates war?

    Oh, one most certainly can doubt. One can imagine that such an experience would give someone serious anger and frustration issues, a bad temper, and an eye towards seeing war as a surrogate for vengeance.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    Wouldn’t the logical equivalence be that Yglesias loves dictators. Since Yglesias is railing against someone who has wanted to depose dictators, then he is making it harder to depose dictators. How can Yglesias not love dictators and say what he says?

  3. Michael says:

    Can anyone seriously doubt that a man who spent 5-1/2 years being tortured by the Viet Cong hates war?

    I’m with legion, I would believe that he hates torture, and I would believe that he hates the Viet Cong. But at that point, he was out of the “war” itself. His torture started when, and in some way was a result of, his involvement in the “war” ending.

    This, I think, is a better explanation for McCain’s seeming desire to use war to prevent despotism. That without “war”, there will be violence that you cannot prevent, and it is better to have violence that you have some say in, than violence that you don’t.

  4. Bithead says:

    You’re missing it, guys.
    Anyone who has been involved in a war… any warrior, hates war. The difference is, they know that there are some things worse than war.