ABC News has picked up on the John McCain-Niall Ferguson connection, long after "Hawkeye" Dave Weigel did here and in an entry on Andrew Sullivan's website. Dave called Ferguson a "brilliant financial historian turned foaming-at-the-mouth national greatness conservative," and went on to observe that McCain, in particular, was "a class-A neoconservative and more hawkish than Bush. A president with Niall Ferguson on his shoulder is a president who'll stretch our military even thinner across the globe."
I beg to differ with Dave, if very belatedly. As an economic historian, Ferguson is more aware than most that "stretching the military even thinner around the globe" could bring financial calamity. Forgive my quoting myself here, but as I wrote in a Reason review of Ferguson's Colossus,
Ferguson ends his book with an intriguing hypothesis: that America's decline will come not from outside but "as it came to Gibbon's Rome, from within." He argues the empire is more likely to collapse because of a ballooning fiscal crisis nourished by the American propensity to consume much and save little than because of motley "barbarians at the gates." The U.S., he warns, faces an impending Social Security crisis because Americans are living longer and the fiscal system remains entirely inadequate to pay for future generations. The self-defeating ways to deal with this, he continues, are to engage in massive increases in income and payroll taxes, to slash Social Security benefits by equally dramatic amounts, or to cut discretionary spending to zero.
That's not to say that Ferguson is not for an American empire, but he's aware of how spending a lot of money can bring empires to their knees. His argument is not normative or ideological: what he essentially argues is that an American empire already exists (a view that jars with that of the neoconservatives, who do not generally subscribe to the "imperial America" argument), therefore that it had better act like a successful one, or the international system will suffer from U.S. incompetence. His criticism of the conduct of the Iraq war is very much in line with this rationale. The left doesn't care for Ferguson because he leans their way in admitting there is an imperial America, but undermines their views by saying that the U.S. can be a cornerstone of international stability. The American right is uneasy, because they have trouble accepting the implications of America's taking on an imperial burden.
I find that Ferguson's argument is convincing inasmuch as, like many a libertarian, I agree with his reading of imperial American power, but also appreciate the deft way he works himself out of the dilemmas implicit in the arguments of the left and right, as described above.
(Since disclaimers are necessary when agreeing with anybody, I must add that I consider Ferguson a friend, if not a sufficiently close one: I recall that he graciously sent me the first piece I edited for the Daily Star's opinion page, for a pittance, and was a delightful drinking partner one evening in Beirut. I can add more, but won't.)