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Radicals for Interventionism

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Fareed Zakaria, an intelligent fellow, lets hyperbole get the best of him in the Washington Post, in a discussion about John McCain's big foreign policy speech last month:

It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years…. [T]hat the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries.

Why is this hyperbole? Because kicking the Russkies out of an international talking club is not remotely as radical or consequential as, say, articulating a doctrine for pre-emptive war across multiple fronts several years before it occurred to George W. Bush.

Zakaria goes on to make a good point and an arguable point, respectively:

We have spent months debating Barack Obama's suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain's proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous–that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

Why, this almost seems like a bracing slap across the kisser of a man who foreign-policy chin-strokers like Zakaria usually adore! Until you read the next paragraph:

I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.

Here's a new experiment for our journalistic pals: Try to write a piece about John McCain as if you didn't greatly admire him, and instead had only to go from his actual words, votes and initiatives. (In a few months, we'll repeat the exercise with Barack Obama.) One probable result: There would be much less of this alleged neoconservative/realist "schizophrenia," since there ain't been much of anything "realist" about McCain's foreign policy in over a decade. (And indeed, Zakaria provides zero evidence of "realism" from McCain's speech.) It's funny; "neocon" has become so debased and misused a term, that I bet there are many people who just find it impossible to believe that it can very accurately apply to someone they actually admire.

My reaction to the first wave of silly reaction to McCain's foreign policy speech here.

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  1. McCain’s foreign policy summary:

    “Get outta my yard you damned kids…The cops are on the way.”

  2. To work, the above requires a recognition that McCain thinks his neighbor’s yard is his yard.

  3. It’s funny; “neocon” has become so debased and misused a term, that I bet there are many people who just find it impossible to believe that it can very accurately apply to someone they actually admire.

    It’s easy. Anytime someone uses “neocon” in a sentence, attempt to replace it with “psychotic Wilsonianism”. If it fits, it’s being used properly. If not, then perhaps a better label should have been used.

  4. NM,

    McCain is akin to the bitter old guy who has nothing better to do but sit on his front porch and call the cops if anything happens within his imaginary fiefdom, which is anything he can see from his porch. Didn’t you have one of those in your neighborhood as a kid?

  5. Welch’s obsession with McCain gets more bizarre by the day. Zakaria rips McCain and that still is not good enough for McCain because Zakaria has the nerve to still admire him. Apparently, only distain on the most personal level is good enough for Welch. Mere policy criticism is not good enough. Here is a suggestion for you Matt; why don’t you stop worrying about whether Zakaria hates McCain enough and start worrying about whether he has a point? Is kicking Russia out of the G8 a bad idea? I sure can’t tell from your post. Just what the hell do you get paid for Matt if not to at least give some opinion and analysis on an issue like that? Yes, we know you hate McCain. You tell us that about 15 times a day. We got it. At what point do the Reason editors step in and make you write something else that you know might actually add something to the debate? As it is, you just could have linked to the Zakaria piece and left it at that because I can’t figure out what your prose added other than reaffirming your hatred for McCain.

  6. Expel Russia and invite China. China, as we all know, has a far better human rights record than China.

  7. Replace the last China with Russia

  8. McCain can’t throw Russia out of the G8 by himself. He can scream and holler, but it ain’t gonna happen.

    Nor should it. It has nothing to do with human rights or democracy — it’s about economics.

  9. How about expeling Russia and replacing it with India? India doesn’t have the human rights problems Russia has. It also is a hell of a lot more important economically than Russia. Russia only got on the G8 because of its military power. It has never been an economic power. Why should it continue to be rewarded with membership as it continues to deny basic rights to its citizens and continues to threaten its neighbors especially at the expense of India who does none of those things?

  10. “Nor should it. It has nothing to do with human rights or democracy — it’s about economics.”

    Fair enough. What does Russia contribute economically besides selling oil and obsolete military equipment? Hell, Saudi Arabia is more important economiclly than Russia.

  11. John — I admire McCain greatly, but I do not let such admiration cause me to write things about McCain’s foreign policy that aren’t true. Hence, the blog post.

    And good Christ, 15 times a day? It’s been 19 days since I’ve blogged about McCain here. Go check out The Corner blog, and see if Jonah Goldberg has avoided talking about Liberal Fascism for any 19-day stretch this year. And Woodrow Wilson isn’t even running for president!

  12. John, I second the motion to replace Russia with India. The motion is now on the table in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order.

  13. Matt,

    I still would like to know if you think Zakaria is right or not? Who cares what he thinks about McCain? I sure don’t. There just seems to be this personal tone to your posts about him that I don’t get. It strikes me as odd that Zakaria could rip McCain on a very substantive matter and all you can complain about about is the fact that Zakaria still claims to like the guy. Maybe he does. I like a lot of people whom I think are totally full shit on a lot of issues. I am not so sure Zakaria is right about this. Russia is a recalcitrant police state that has done nothing but cause us mischief on any number of issues from the Balkins to Iran. Why the hell not kick them out of the G8? What has engaging them gotten us lately?

  14. Will we expel Russia from the G-8 before, or after, we complete the missile array along their western border?

  15. John,

    India doesn’t have the human rights problems Russia has.

    Are you sure about that? For example, I have read that in both nations that torture is regularly used by the police in both nations against those under arrest.

  16. In Soviet Russia, the G-8 expels you!

  17. lmnop,

    Is there any difference between “psychotic Wilsonianism” and “regular Wilsonianism”? I always thought they were the same thing.

  18. Why the hell not kick them out of the G8? What has engaging them gotten us lately?

    Because pointlessly antagonizing a nominal “ally” and oil producer about something we can do nothing about is stupid and counterproductive?

  19. John — I admire McCain greatly, but I do not let such admiration cause me to write things about McCain’s foreign policy that aren’t true.

    You do? Why?

  20. Why isnt anyone happy that McCain has the balls to stand up to Czar Putin and his Kremlin cronies?

  21. “Why isnt anyone happy that McCain has the balls to stand up to Czar Putin and his Kremlin cronies?”

    I am no McCain fan but I am happy about that.

  22. You do? Why?

    We all wait with bated breath.

  23. Neil,

    Maybe McCain can see into Putin’s soul.

  24. It strikes me as odd that Zakaria could rip McCain on a very substantive matter and all you can complain about about is the fact that Zakaria still claims to like the guy.

    No, it’s that his liking of the guy led to a significant foreign policy distortion coming from (allegedly) one of our eminent foreign policy analysts — that McCain is divided between Neoconservatism and Realism. McCain is NOT divided in any such way. Portraying him as such does a disservice to the discourse. And it is my observation that such distortions are a direct result of journalists believing that the old fella’s heart is in the right place, because they like him. Do you see how that works now?

    As for kicking Russia out of the G8 — I didn’t think they should have been invited in the first place, and I think Putin’s a wretched, despotic ass. However, I see marginal benefit at best from petulantly expelling a Big Nasty from an unimportant talking shop, and large potential downside. I’d much rather save anti-Russia bullets for holding the line against their Near Abroad meddling and keeping the NATO door open to deserving countries in their neighborhood, if indeed there ever are any.

  25. You do? Why?

    Because he served with distinction and leadership as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, because he’s a genuinely interesting character in a line of business that produces very few, because he co-wrote two very interesting books, and because he’s at least the kind of hawk who puts his own skin — and his chidren’s — in the line of fire of his own creation.

  26. It sounds more like you respect him, Matt, as opposed to admire.

  27. T,

    Didn’t you have one of those in your neighborhood as a kid?

    Of course.
    You just did a better job describing what I was trying to describe.

    Russia only got on the G8 because of its military power.

    True enough.

    Also why it is pretty silly to antagonize them needlessly.

    How does their membership have a downside for us?

    Engagement of Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Argentina, etc. makes more sense than attempts to isolate, imho. Any club, like the G8, that provides another forum for that engagement is at least a neutral and probably a positive.

  28. John, I second the motion to replace Russia with India. The motion is now on the table in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order.

    Motion to carry by unanimous consent?

    Russia is an inward-gazing shell, an economic basket case without the capacity to rattle a sufficiently large saber anymore.

    Personally, though, I try to avoid use of “neoconservative” as a matter of personal style (much as I don’t use “liberal” to describe a modern Democrat, preferring “leftist” or “progressive” in hopes of, at least in my own eye, preserving the meaning of a classical liberal)… “neoconservative”, much like “reactionary” or “fascist”, has become a word that once had objective, substantial meaning but is now a catch-all for “I don’t like that guy’s politics”.

  29. “Neoconservative” if I recall correctly, came into being at the hand of self-described “liberals mugged by reality,” which would probably exclude J McCain. McCain was certainly mugged by reality, but I don’t think he was a liberal at the time.

  30. lmnop,

    Is there any difference between “psychotic Wilsonianism” and “regular Wilsonianism”? I always thought they were the same thing.

    Yeah, but it’s like Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. One’s crazy, while the other is *crazy*.

    See? Different levels of emphasis.

  31. “Neoconservative” if I recall correctly, came into being at the hand of self-described “liberals mugged by reality,”

    I dont think so. It was a term created by Trotskyites looking for a new party.

  32. lmnop,

    Yeah, but it’s like Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes. One’s crazy, while the other is *crazy*.

    See? Different levels of emphasis.

    Gotcha. I just have to say, in both groupings, I will take the *crazy*.

    Not that I want any of the 4. But *crazy* is more fun.

  33. Not that I want any of the 4. But *crazy* is more fun.

    On that we are agreed.

  34. How about expelling Russia and replacing it with India?

    I wouldn’t mind that, but I think that truly economically developed/advanced democracies like South Korea, Australia, and Spain may have better cases for inclusion than, say, India and Brazil.

  35. It’s a good strategy to use against McCain, though; it’s one thing to say the guy was a fraud all along, but much easier to say that McCain used to be a good guy, but then drank the neocon koolaid and is now unrecognizable and out of control.

    I bet we see a lot more of this kind of argument in the next few months.

  36. The point of the G7 (or G8) was not to act as an alliance, but as a forum to hash out economic differences between economically substantial countries. Rationally, it never made sense to include Russia, but now its oil and gas resources do have an impact on several member states, so inviting the Russkies to the party isn’t all that much a stretch.

    For me, multi-lateralism is always suspect. Attempting to reward or punish states by holding out membership in debating societies or threatening not to have the Secretary of State show up for a photo-op is the height of silliness. In that sense, Obama is correct. There is nothing inherently wrong with the president picking up the phone if Chavez or Ahmadinejad calls. My main concern is whether Obama has the backbone to deal with such unsavory characters if he can’t even handle the Clintons.

  37. The G7 was the group of major industrialized democracies. When Russia joined in 1997, Russia was a democracy. Russia no longer qualifies, so Russia should be removed.

  38. Matt Welch | April 28, 2008, 9:53am | #

    John — I admire McCain greatly, but I do not let such admiration cause me to write things about McCain’s foreign policy that aren’t true. Hence, the blog post.

    And good Christ, 15 times a day? It’s been 19 days since I’ve blogged about McCain here. Go check out The Corner blog, and see if Jonah Goldberg has avoided talking about Liberal Fascism for any 19-day stretch this year. And Woodrow Wilson isn’t even running for president!

    Matt, it is just like joe, Juanita/Jennifer and highnumber (Neil) saying that I bring up my journal every 5 min. Just consider the source and ‘move on’.

    Especially with that reporter chick reminding all that she is a ‘journalst’ on every thread she visits.

    Pretty darn funny when you step back a bit 🙂

    Warmongering Lunatic,

    The G7 was the group of major industrialized democracies.

    Then why was france in there?

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