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January 22, 2008

John McCain: next leader of the free world? Brendan Simms argues that John McCain will be the next President of the United States - because he is the toughest nut in town

Posted by Brendan Simms

Brendan Simms - Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society - explains why he believes that John McCain will be the next President of the United States.

It has been customary in certain circles to speak of the "stolen election" of 2000, because George W. Bush eventually carried Florida by a very small and disputed margin. But the real heist of 2000 was the Republican nomination itself, which the maverick frontrunner John McCain saw snatched from him by an ugly campaign of defamation at the primary in South Carolina.

This writer incidentally was one of those who lamented the fall of McCain and was cheering for Gore on election night. Like many on this side of the Atlantic who were unnerved by George W.'s talk of making America a more "humble" nation, I thought Gore much sounder on "humanitarian intervention" and the robust promotion of democracy. It turned out differently. There were and are many things wrong with George W. Bush, but his determination to see the democratic transformation in Iraq through to the end is not in question. I doubt I would have been happier with Gore, admirable though his interventionist stance in the 1990s over ethnic cleansing in the Balkans had been.

The more interesting counterfactual, though, is what would have happened if McCain had survived South Carolina, secured the nomination and ultimately the presidency.

The last eight years would have turned out very differently. The broad outline of policy might have been much the same: Saddam Hussein would almost certainly have been removed. But the execution would have been much more professional. For one thing, McCain would have insisted on the deployment of many more troops to Iraq in 2003, perhaps avoiding the avoidable anarchy which followed the liberation. His early and outspoken support for the controversial but successful "surge" strategy last year strongly suggests that McCain's handling of national security affairs would have saved many lives, Iraqi and coalition.

McCain's victory in South Carolina last Saturday is not only about banishing the ghosts of the past; it also points to the future. Many of those who voted for Bush in 2004 held their noses on domestic issues, because they thought him stronger on national security. This time the boot is on the other foot, but the motivating force is the same.

There are two overlapping, but essentially distinct core Republican constituencies in South Carolina: the evangelical and the military. In 2000, in peace time, both voted for Bush on moral grounds. In 2008, while America is at war, most of the military and many evangelicals voted for McCain. It is not therefore, that the state has become a kinder and gentler place, but that voters submitted to the primacy of foreign policy. And if even South Carolinans backed McCain on that basis, then how much better will he do nationally, where he commands by far the strongest support.

The appeal of McCain is hard to explain. He is by all accounts a cussed man, and his stump speech, though folksy, lacks the charisma of Obama or the new-found glitz of Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, McCain will beat either of them.

There are some bad reasons for this. Many white southerners and latinos will never vote for a black man. Moreover, the Clinton wars of the 1990s have left Hillary a deeply polarising figure, and there are many chauvinists, male and female, who will never vote for an outspoken woman; and the nastiness of the primary struggle against Obama may drive some black democrats to abstain.

McCain, on the other hand, is the least nationally polarising Republican across party lines; and he is lucky that otherwise abstentionist Republicans will be galvanised by the prospect of Hillary or Obama. He may look old against Obama, but voters will be reminded of Ronald Reagan's quip when confronted with the same issue. He did not, he said, want to make an issue of his rival's youth and inexperience.

Besides, McCainiacs regard their candidate as grizzled rather than old in the best (Hollywood) Western tradition. One can plausibly see the man from Arizona not only beating his younger and slicker rival to the draw, but also walking off with the girl as the credits roll.

McCain, in fact, is the PR man's dream. Of course nobody is perfect. McCain is guilty of bad judgment over the Savings and Loans scandal, of bad taste in his karaoke performance in support of pre-emptive action against Iran, and there are moments in his personal life which he himself is not proud of.

But none of this will hurt him much, nor should it. Most of the other candidates are rather one-dimensional, while Obama gives the impression of having being crafted by committee.

McCain, on the other hand, is a complete original. He is broad-church without being bland. His stance on campaign finance reform and against the Tobacco industry shows that he stands above lobbies. His courageous record in Vietnam proves that he is ready to serve; but he is not servile, as his cantankerous performance at war college demonstrates. He is popular but not populist, willing to take controversial positions in support of immigration and rapprochement with Hanoi.

In short, McCain is simply the toughest nut in town. As we all face the continuing sponsorship of international terror from Teheran, and perhaps of nuclear proliferation as well, McCain's national security credentials make him the number one candidate not only for the US presidency but for the leadership of the free world which goes with it.

Dr Brendan Simms is Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.

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would dr simms agree to a wager?

were mccain president already he'd have launched a nuclear attack on iran: remember his puerile beach boys' imitation of 'barbara ann' as 'bomb iran?' considering how many americans regret the iraq war, how popular might that have been outside of the remaining neo-cons and the rest of the 30 percent who still support the iraq incursion?

next, mccain appears to be psychologically unstable and, should he win the republican nomination, the leftwing media will ensure that we hear his every blow-up, every string of howled invective in the senate lobby, every outburst that makes one doubt whether he is stable enough to be trusted as commander in chief of the american military. his bravery is obvious, but he is emotionally immature and possibly unwell.

it is only a guess, but part of the reason why mccain is so loved by Big Media is that he's a pushover for hillary clinton. so, up for a little flutter, dr simms?

Posted by: s masty at January 25, 2008 05:53 PM

The big problem with McCain is that he never misses a chance to stick his thumb in the eye of the conservative base. He voted against the Bush tax cuts, invoking Democrat class war rhetoric about the rich getting richer; he tried repeatedly to shove amnesty for illegal immigrants down the throats of an unwilling public (McCain-Kennedy); he has no regard for the first amendment and its free speech guarantees (McCain-Feingold); and he deliberately cut the throat of his own party in blocking Bush's judicial nominees (Gang of Fourteen). He's an anti-capitalist and has apparently drunk the Kool-Aid as regards global warming. In short, no matter how much lipstick is slathered on this particular pig, I cannot fathom how any conservative could support his nomination.

Posted by: K Lawson at February 1, 2008 06:41 PM
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