McCain’s Gauntlet Speech
By Lee Cary
McCain’s recent speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council delivered many important messages. Some were aimed at the upcoming general election campaign. Others were international messages directed toward friends, foes and those in the middle.
McCain spent his first 300-plus words disclaiming an image that the MSM will eventually try to tag him with: an old, trigger-happy, fighter pilot. Far from trigger-happy – he knows the horror of war.
Then he obliquely juxtaposed his self-descriptive label of realistic idealist with an implied one of naïve idealist to be applied later to whoever becomes his opponent. Why did he not apply the label to both Democrat candidates now? Because he’ll make the realistic versus naïve comparison directly if Obama is the nominee, and indirectly if it’s Clinton, for whom he has more respect. Premature to make it now.
Assume that Obama is the nominee, as is likely. Merely labeling him a naïve idealist won’t be enough. McCain will have to do what President Bush has not done well. He’ll need to make a more compelling case for not withdrawing from Iraq too soon. In this speech he took an articulate step in that direction by linking the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with “the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”
“In the troubled and often dangerous region they occupy, these two nations can either be sources of extremism and instability or they can in time become pillars of stability, tolerance, and democracy…And whether they eventually become stable democracies themselves, or are allowed to sink back into chaos and extremism, will determine not only the fate of that critical part of the world, but our fate as well.”
In the context of linking the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with radical Islamic terrorism, McCain set a cornerstone for how he’ll differentiate himself from either Democrat opponent.
“Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House, for he or she does not take seriously enough the first and most basic duty a president has – to protect the lives of the American people.” (emphasis added)
When Obama criticizes McCain for supporting Bush’s war in Iraq, McCain can say:
Maybe you didn’t notice that I repeatedly called for the removal of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and a new strategy in Iraq. A strategy we eventually adopted, by the way, and is yielding success.
When Obama calls for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, McCain will play the Irresponsible Statesmanship Card mentioned in his speech:
“It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our national character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing, and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible, and premature withdrawal.”
Obama will remind us again and often that he was against the war from the beginning. In response, McCain can say:
That’s the past, Senator Obama. Today we’re talking about the future, and a hope that the Iraqis can believe in. Because when it comes to our success in Iraq — Yes We Can, and Yes We Will.
His Los Angeles speech laid the groundwork for all these retorts and others.
Either Democrat nominee will equate a McCain victory with a Bush Third Term. Countering that in advance, McCain reminded us that he’s not been a Bush sycophant. He’s noted how he’s been against torture, inhuman treatment of prisoners, and wants to close Guantanamo. In that run of issues he included words some conservative critics may have glossed over: “…work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control.” Message: Our allies will be responsible for helping us deal with these “dangerous” people because criticism from a distance without helping to solve the problem is counterproductive.
As soon as the MSM begins to support the Bush Third Term theme, McCain can say,
Look my friends, a little straight talk here: As early as 1999, the New York Times was referring to me as a “maverick.” In fact, they ran a story about me in July that year entitled ‘The Mantle of the Maverick Suits McCain.’ They’ve continued to apply that label to me ever since. Just last January, the Times ran an article entitled “McCain, Long a G.O.P. Maverick, Is Gaining Mainstream Support.” So, if I’ve been such a maverick for so long, how can I now be a reincarnation of President Bush?
Now, to briefly review some of the international messages aimed at friends, foes and those in the middle.
TO All Nations: We’ll continue to lead, but with a style that will not project what some of you have perceived as arrogance.
This message angered some conservatives, but it was necessary for our friends to hear it, regardless of whether we’ve accepted or rejected their criticism.
TO Hugo Chavez and Fidel’s little brother: You have a choice to make. Isolate yourself further or embrace this future:
“Ours can be the first completely democratic hemisphere, where trade is free across borders, where the rule of law and the power of the free markets advance the security and prosperity of all.”
TO Russia: Consult your English dictionary as I note the danger you pose by being “revanchist.” I think Brazil and India have more business being in the G-8 that you do. And, I plan to grow NATO right up to your front door. You feel me, Putin?
I had to look it up: Revanchist: One who follows a policy seeking to retaliate, especially to recover lost territory.
TO China: To really become a true friend of ours, you’ll need to be a more responsible world citizen, make your military intentions clearer, and stop trying to elbow us out of Asia.
TO Africa: It’s time some of you become more responsible nations. And, it’s time we help you eradicate malaria on the African continent.
TO Iran & N. Korea: Be advised that we’re closely watching your efforts to attain nuclear weapons, and that I plan to further involve our friends in that watching. No threats at this time.
TO Islamic Terrorists: Don’t expect a McCain administration to be any less aggressive against you than was Bush’s. And maybe more so.
TO Selected Middle East Countries: You know who you are. We’re done relying on your out-dated autocracies as the safest path to the future of the Middle East.
TO Other Democracies: Let’s form a “new global compact” – a League of Democracies.
This message is a shot across the bow of the U.N. Among all his international messages, this one is most noteworthy.
“We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact – a League of Democracies – that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.”
TO the United Nations: I am prepared to engage your bias, corruption and incompetence. You’re on notice.
That last message alone should atone for any perception on the part of some conservatives that John McCain is another John Kerry.
Lee Cary is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.