Two of America's leading presidential candidates came to political life with Soviet Russia as their lodestar of evil. John McCain was the loyal son of a conservative Navy family with a Curtis LeMay streak; Hillary Clinton canvassed in pigtails for Barry Goldwater in 1964. But the future senators diverged and took different Cold War paths. Hillary mellowed and moved left-ish; McCain signed up to drop bombs on the commie bastards. While Hillary was soaking in New Politics juice at Yale Law, McCain was cheering on Nixon's Christmas bombings as they shook the concrete walls of his Hanoi prison cell, where he spent six years undergoing anger anti-management counseling.
McCain claims to have put his Vietnam War demons to rest. And he's probably telling the truth. He was an energetic proponent of normalized relations with Vietnam, and says he bears no ill-will toward the Vietnamese people. He's even stopped using the word "gook," at least with journalists in the room. He still thinks America should have triumphed in that insane conflict, but at least he understands the war is over. He has always had a bad relationship with the advocacy nuts waving black POW/MIA flags.
And yet, McCain still has Cold War instincts, even if he doesn't have obvious Rambo issues. These residual instincts become most inflamed not over China—the Vietcong's primary patron—but Russia. Distrust of Russia and a hard-line against the Kremlin have been motifs of McCain's career. In the late-80s, he was one of the skeptics that, having completely missed the coming changes in the Soviet system, steadfastly refused to accept the massive reality-shift in front of his very eyes. When Gorbachev unilaterally announced a major drawdown of Soviet troops in Eastern Europe less than a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, McCain's first thought was, "Don't trust the lying commie bastard."
In a New York Times interview in 1988, McCain opined, "[Reducing Warsaw Pact forces in Eastern Europe] is clearly a very intelligent move on the part of Gorbachev. I don't think it poses an immediate impact on the defense budget, but over time it can certainly have a significant effect if the perception of the Soviet threat is diminished.'' He was never excited about that damn "peace dividend" and continues to rail against it, urging a return to Cold War-levels of military spending.
During the 90s, McCain was a gung-ho William Safire conservative on missile defense and Western aid. McCain's current stable of pet issues includes kicking Moscow out of the G-8 and establishing a League of Democracies, which would basically be a League of America's Best Friends. McCain is a big fan of new, more selective alliances. He's also proposing a new quadrilateral security partnership in Asia that includes Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. The purpose of both the G-8 and LoD plans is to shore up Western solidarity to Cold War levels (a comparison he has explicitly made) and sideline Russia (and China) by attacking the legitimacy of important forums in which they are equal members.
How dangerous is John McCain's notoriously short fuse?
Exile experts forecast various scenarios and outcomes
|Event ||President McCain's Response ||Reason |
|Russia recognizes Abkhazia ||President McCain lodges protest, warns Russia to resolve crisis with international community
|In line with McCain's presidential style of seeking dialogue, but not backing down |
|Russia cuts gas supply to Ukraine ||President McCain announces "Kiev airlift," drops thousands of propane tanks from C-130s which kill and maim dozens of grateful Ukrainians
|Was in a bad mood after being served vietnamese spring rolls for lunch that day |
|Medvedev-McCain summit in the Grand Canyon ||While rafting together down the Colorado River, McCain shoots Medvedev with a crossbow
|"I looked into Medvedev's eyes and I saw four letters: 'G.O.O.K.'" |
|Snags hold up new Russia-America Student Exchange Program ||Orders US 6th Fleet to shell and "strangle" Taganrog; orders Special Forces to parachute into Ussuriisk and slaughter every man, woman and child ||A quick booze-run into the White House wine cellar triggered a powerful flashback of dark Hanoi prison box
|Russia caught delivering advanced MiG jets to Iran ||President McCain speaks before the UN, agrees to a roundtable summit with Ayatollah Khamenei and President Medvedev to resolve crisis ||In a good mood after his wife surprised him with a new George Foreman Double G Grill & Griddle Family Sized Grill
—Mark Ames & Yasha Levine
McCain hasn't let go of a deeply ingrained animosity toward Russia. He's remained suspicious, if not outright hostile in a deranged sort of way. Even China bothers him less. Indeed, in 2006 McCain flew to Georgia to lend support to Saakashvili's drive to join NATO; while there, he took time out to denounce the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, wrongly labeling them as little more than Kremlin projects.
Given all this, it's easy to imagine a President McCain would not only ratchet up tensions on already tense fronts like missile defense and Kosovo, but would also needlessly pour fuel on the tension-fire with G-8 expulsion, the League of Democracies, X-treme NATO expansion, and more. If Pat Buchanan is correct in calling McCain's foreign policy "Bush on steroids," then as president he would share the general neocon impatience with insubordination, with a good part of his petulance set aside for Russia. (McCain has publicly mocked Bush for his friendship with Putin.)
But presidents don't make policy alone, and to the extent that we know who's advising McCain on foreign affairs, the picture is less clear. McCain takes advice from his neocon friend William Kristol, but also his close friend Henry Kissinger, the corpulent doyen of realpolitik, who is the honorary co-chairman for McCain's presidential campaign in New York.