First it was "maverick". John McCain could not be mentioned without reference to his "maverick" status in the Republican Party.
Then it was "war hero". No one could utter the name John McCain with out the addendum, "war hero".
Now it's his "strong foreign policy experience". If one listens to any commentator one is forced to conclude that the major "problem" the Democrats face in this election cycle is John McCain's "strong foreign policy experience".
I got to wondering just what they were talking about and started digging around to find out exactly what foreign policy experience McCain does, in fact, have.
Turns out it's a mite thin.
The Official biography on Senator John McCain's web site is short and slick.
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1958, John McCain began his career as a Naval aviator. In 1982, he was elected to Congress representing what was then the first congressional district of Arizona. In 1986, he was elected to the United States Senate to take the place of Arizona's great Senator Barry Goldwater. Senator McCain is currently the senior senator from Arizona.
In 2000, Senator McCain ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. He is currently the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. He also serves on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Wikipedia is more fulsome.
McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958, and became a naval aviator, flying attack aircraft from carriers. John McCain's pre-combat duty began when he was commissioned an ensign, and started two and a half years of training as a naval aviator at Pensacola . There he also earned a reputation as a party man. Graduating from flight school in 1960, he became a naval pilot of attack aircraft. McCain was then stationed in A-1 Skyraider squadrons on the aircraft carriers USS Intrepid and USS Enterprise, in the Caribbean Sea and in the Mediterranean Sea. He survived two airplane crashes and a collision with power lines.
He sailed the Caribbean and Mediterranean on aircraft carriers. He kept breaking the toys they let him play with, but surely this qualifies as "foreign policy experience", does it not?
During the Vietnam War, he almost lost his life in the 1967 Forrestal fire. Later that year, while on a bombing mission over North Vietnam, he was shot down, badly injured, and captured as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese. He spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war, experiencing episodes of torture. McCain retired from the Navy on April 1, 1981, as a captain and headed west to Arizona. His military awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and National Order of Vietnam (Republic of Vietnam).
That's an impressive list of decorations, and there is no doubt he experienced torture and dreadful treatment as a POW. But it is not clear to me what "foreign policy experience" that might have provided, unless, it was to hate, and mistrust the North Vietnamese.
McCain served as the Navy's liaison to the U.S. Senate, beginning in 1977. He would later say it represented "[my] real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant". McCain played a key behind-the-scenes role in gaining congressional financing for a new supercarrier against the wishes of the Carter administration.
His job was to force through purchase of unwanted, and unneeded hyper-costly equipment that the Military-Industrial-Complex found desirable. How does this equip him to negotiate foreign policy, unless it taught him to value big boats, with big guns? Not a major advantage in understanding the cultural and economic complexity of world affairs now, is it?
Upon entering the Senate, McCain became a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, with whom he had formerly done his Navy liaison work.
He moved from pushing military hardware to approving its purchase. Where does "foreign policy strength" enter this equation?
As a member of the 1991–1993 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, chaired by Democrat and fellow Vietnam War veteran John Kerry, McCain investigated the fate of U.S. service personnel listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War. The committee's unanimous report stated there was "no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia." Helped by McCain's efforts, in 1995 the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations with Vietnam. McCain was vilified by some POW/MIA activists who believed large numbers of Americans were still held against their will in Southeast Asia; they objected to McCain not sharing their belief and his pushing for Vietnam normalization.
He did make several trips to Vietnam during this period to negotiate access to records of former POW's and track down rumors among the population as to where former military men might be buried.
At last! A bit of foreign policy experience, negotiated by the State Department and the Defense Department, and under the watchful eyes of the entire American government apparatus.
McCain also sat on the Commerce Committee, Indian Affairs, and worked with Senator Russ Feingold to craft the McCain/Feingold Act on campaign spending which was filibustered and never came to a vote. In March 2002, McCain-Feingold finally passed in both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bush. Seven years in the making, it was McCain's greatest legislative achievement.
Seven years to complete his "greatest legislative achievement", and certainly not an accomplishment that contributed to his "foreign policy strength".
But, there is more in the way of non-foreign policy activities.
He was instrumental in pushing through approval of the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, which gave the president power to veto individual spending items. It was one of McCain's biggest Senate victories, although in 1998 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional.
Thus, one of his biggest "victories" was subsequently declared unconstitutional.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, McCain supported Bush and the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in discussions over proposed U.S. action against Iraq, McCain was a strong supporter of the Bush administration's position. He stated that Iraq was "a clear and present danger to the United States of America", and voted accordingly for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002. He predicted that U.S. forces would be treated as liberators by a large number of the Iraqi people.
Wow. Here was his chance to demonstrate "strong foreign policy experience" and he got it absolutely, completely, wrong!
From breaking his toys, to shilling for the MIC, to an inability to negotiate his famous piece of bipartisan Campaign Finance legislation for 7 years, to passing his famous unconstitutional Line Item Veto bill, McCain has, at best a checkered career in the US Senate.
When you add to that his attempts to shield Jack Abramof from his nefarious dealing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and his refusal to dig deeper into the Marians Islands violations of human rights when he served on the Commerce Committee, we are left with a picture of a man who is careless, incompetent, and severely challenged.
Again, I ask. Where is all of this "strong foreign policy experience" that has become inexorably linked with the name of John McCain? Is this just another case of our vaulted Free Press demonstrating an inability to do their homework. Are they accepting, uncritically, the "talking points" handed out on the Straight Talk Express?
Is the press under the delusion that being a US Senator and sitting on the Armed Services Committee insures that you will develop the complex world view, and negotiating skills, needed to deal with the mess we're in? Are they really that gullible - that naive?
It is time to drop the framing that would cast Senator John McCain as a man with "strong foreign policy experience".
Perhaps in his own mind, but not in the real world.