When Greatness Began


The New York Times this weekend ran a pretty good primer on the development of John McCain's foreign policy over the past 13 years. The basic frame won't come as a surprise to readers of my book, but the reporters harvested some fresh quotes regarding the influence of the William Kristol/David Brooks National Greatness project on the late-'90s McCain:

It was during the Balkan wars that Mr. McCain and his advisers read a 1997 article on the Wall Street Journal editorial page by William Kristol and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard—both now Op-Ed page columnists at The New York Times—promoting the idea of "national greatness conservatism, defined by a more activist agenda at home and a more muscular role in the world.

"I wouldn't call it a 'eureka' moment, but there was a sense that this is where we are headed and this is what we are trying to articulate and they have already done a lot of the work," said John Weaver, a former McCain political adviser. "And, quite frankly, from a crass political point of view, we were in the making-friends business. The Weekly Standard represented a part of the primary electorate that we could get."

Soon Mr. McCain and his aides were consulting regularly with the circle of hawkish foreign policy thinkers sometimes referred to as neoconservatives—including Mr. Kristol, Robert Kagan and Randy Scheunemann, a former aide to Mr. Dole who became a McCain campaign adviser—to develop the senator's foreign policy ideas and instincts into the broad themes of a presidential campaign.

One of the many reasons to admire former reason editor Virginia Postrel is that she, along with James Glassman, blew National Greatness out of the water within days of the Kristol/Brooks joint setting sail.