As befits a presidential candidate who had a cameo in “Wedding Crashers” (2005), John McCain’s foreign policy also comes from the movies. He’s doing a real-life impersonation of the character Ben Stiller played in “Mystery Men” (1999): Mr. Furious, the “ticking time-bomb of fury.” Other line: “Don’t mess with the volcano my man ’cause I will go Pompeii on your … butt.” Just like John McCain.
Mr. Furious, when he becomes furiously angry, has super-strength. Or, more accurately, it’s reported that he acquires super-strength. Why, he supposedly lifted a bus once. But it was really more of a push than a lift, and the driver did have his foot on the accelerator — but that was just in the beginning, to get it going. Maybe.
It’s like how McCain is so very, very serious about foreign policy when his solution to every conceivable problem is to become really, really angry, then bomb.
Matt Welch pulled the quotes for Reason magazine. McCain’s never met an issue that isn’t our greatest challenge — until the next one, which is then our greatest challenge, until the next one. In 1990, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait imperiled “the peace and security of the world for future generations” and required that “the world community act decisively to end the Gulf crisis now.”
Then in 1994, North Korea’s nuclear program was “the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today” and “there can be no serious doubt that our vital national interests are imperiled.”
Five years later in 1999, McCain said, “America’s most important values — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — are under vicious assault by the Milosevic regime.” He called for “an immediate and manifold increase in the violence against Serbia” including “infantry and armored divisions for a possible ground war.”
Last year, McCain claimed that we faced a new “transcendent issue of our time, the battle and struggle against radical Islamic extremism.” In case you missed the seriousness of the threat, McCain added, “This is a transcendent struggle between good and evil. Everything that we stand for and believe in is at stake here.”
But that was last year’s transcendent, existential threat; now we have a new version, just off the production line. McCain says that Russia’s invasion of Georgia was “the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War.” Never mind the list of McCain’s previous serious crises — which is seriously deficient, because it omits Afghanistan and Iraq, which were and are still actual wars, being fought while McCain lurches to the next transcendent, existential threat.
It’s serial exaggeration of absolutely everything. The latest problem is always an existential crisis, the newest dictator is inevitably evil incarnate, and trying to work things out short of sending the troops and bombs is infallibly the latest Munich. Instead, the real solution to everything is to get really, really angry. The McCain manifesto is to speak loudly and carry a small stick. As Mr. Furious says, “Right now, I’m kinda like a powder keg, and you’re the match.”
Max Bergmann noted that McCain’s habit of rhetorical overreach, exaggeration, and anger make for good television — but what works on TV (one-liners, over-the-top rhetoric) isn’t good governance and is terrible foreign policy. McCain would lurch from crisis to crisis, shooting off manifestos and demanding results, which is great if it works, but if not, then what? Cooler heads wouldn’t make threats they couldn’t back up, but to McCain, perpetual brinksmanship isn’t a flaw, it’s how he wants to govern.
We’ll spend the next four years threatening everybody, and when they don’t do what McCain tells them, well, there’s always the next transcendent, existential crisis.
As Matthew Yglesias put it, “McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It’s a hysteria-based foreign policy.” It may get good press, and the chattering classes may indeed consider it “serious.”
But we’re just finishing eight years of George W. Bush, who also shoots first and aims later. Why would we want four more?