Not so smart on foreign policy

Earlier this week I was musing that John McCain is not nearly so smart on foreign policy as he is generally given credit for.  Now, Slate's Fred Kaplan strongly makes the case for why this is so (clearly, I inspired him):

That was the big nail-biter: Would Obama, the first-term senator and
foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The
nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to “the Iraq-Pakistan border,” or call the Czech Republic “Czechoslovakia” (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

of course, it was Obama's opponent, John McCain?the war hero and
ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee?who uttered these
eyebrow-raisers. “Czechoslovakia” was clearly a gaffe, and
understandable for anyone who was sentient during the Cold War years.
What about the others, though? Were they gaffes?slips of the tongue,
blips of momentary fatigue? Or did they reflect lazy thinking,
conceptual confusion, a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions?

If Obama had blurted even one of those inanities (especially the one
about the Iraq-Pakistan border), the media and the McCain campaign
would have been all over him like red ants on a wounded puppy.

Kaplan nicely points out that how this fits into the most pervasive biases of press coverage.  Journalists craft a narrative or conventional wisdom for campaigns, and then despite all potential evidence the contrary, they stick with it. 

McCain caught almost no hell for his statements?they were barely noted
in the mainstream press?most likely because they didn't fit the
campaign's “narrative.” McCain is “experienced” in national-security
matters; therefore, if he says something that's dumb or factually
wrong, it's a gaffe or he's tired. Obama is “inexperienced,” so if he
were to go off the rails, it would be a sign of his clear unsuitability
for the job of commander in chief.

It may be time to reassess this narrative's premise?or to abandon it
altogether and simply examine the evidence before us. Quite apart from
the gaffes, in formal prepared speeches, McCain has proposed certain actions and policies that raise serious questions about his
suitability for the highest office. As president, he has said, he would
boot Russia out of the G-8 on the grounds that its leaders don't share
the West's values. He would form an international “League of Democracy”
as a united front against the forces of autocracy and terror. And
though it's not exactly a stated policy, he continues to employ as his
foreign-policy adviser an outspoken, second-tier neoconservative named
Randy Scheunemann, who coined the term “rogue-state rollback” and still prescribes it as sound policy.

If you are curious as to why these particular policies are unsound, you can read the rest of the article.  I'm sold.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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