John McCain 'Realistic Idealist' on US Foreign Policy
By Cindy Saine
13 June 2008
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, says he is a "realistic idealist" on U.S. foreign policy positions and goals. Experts say his military background and experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam keep him focused on protecting the United States from its enemies.
John McCain (file photo)
Senator John McCain says hard experience has made him a "realistic idealist" on U.S. foreign policy. Experts agree that his military background and five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam keep him sharply focused on national security. McCain laid out his views in a speech in Los Angeles in March, defending his unfaltering support of the Iraq war.
McCain said, "I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know too that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later on."
Senator McCain disagrees with his Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama on the Iraq war. Obama says he plans to withdraw U.S. combat troops if he is elected in November.
McCain has also ridiculed Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with the leaders of nations hostile to the United States, such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Cuban President Raul Castro.
Peter Beinart, a US foreign policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says McCain's background leads him to rely on U.S military power and to be wary of threats.
Beinart adds, “I think that John McCain is in a tradition, the conservative tradition, that he fundamentally sees the world as a realm of conflict, not of cooperation, which leads him to naturally focus more on potential military threats and less on issues."
At many of his speeches, Obama asserts that McCain is, in effect, running for a third term of the Bush presidency. McCain dismisses the idea: “I am not running on the Bush presidency, I am running on my own service to the country."
McCain, with a strong military background and experience as a prisoner of war, also enjoys his role as an independent 'maverick'
Helle Dale, a U.S. foreign policy expert at The Heritage Foundation, says while McCain does share some major goals with Bush, such as winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is harder to pinpoint on the ideological spectrum.
Dale explains, “I think it is a little hard to put a label on him honestly because in some respects he is not a conservative at all. I think you almost have to look at it on an issue by issue basis. If you look at what he is advocating for Iraq, Afghanistan or the promotion of democracy worldwide, which he has spoken about, he falls probably closer to the neo-conservative thinkers. But when it comes to things like climate change and cooperation with the European Union and other multi-lateral bodies, that certainly is not particularly conservative positions at all."
Dale says McCain has stirred controversy within his own party for some of his positions, and enjoys the role of an independent "maverick."
She adds, "With McCain there is an instinctive pull towards multilateral institutions, which I do find kind of interesting because he does have a lot of neo-conservatives who have been advising his campaign and this is not a position they would feel naturally coming to them either. But he is a very single-minded individual, as I think we will all find out even more than we already know."
John McCain is respected by many in both parties for his military service, his physical and mental toughness, and his strong personality. McCain is likely to remind voters again and again of his decades of military, foreign policy and national security experience as he battles for the White House in November.