Yesterday in Europe President Bush petitioned NATO countries to commit more of their troops to the war on terror in Afghanistan. As I write, no more than five of the 26 NATO countries have agreed to send additional troops. My first response to hearing this news was that it’s incumbent on NATO countries, which benefit from the blanket of protection we provide, to participate in their own defense. While I believe that’s true, an attempt to look at the issue from their point of view gives me pause.
You don’t suppose NATO countries are reluctant to commit troops to a conflict they’re not particularly interested in, they haven’t been consulted much about and which they perceive the U.S. to be losing interest in as well, do you?
Governor Mike Huckabee once characterized the Bush foreign policy as having a “bunker mentality.” Whether that specific characterization is fair doesn’t diminish the fact that it was at least a shot at the correct target. The Bush administration has had little desire to seek the opinion of our allies, to be willing to listen to alternative courses of action and to LEAD a coalition as opposed to acting unilaterally. First and foremost, the U.S. President should always have American interests as his primary objective, but it is generally true that what is good for the world is good for the United States.
That, perhaps, is what John McCain had in mind when he said to an international group in Los Angeles on March 26, “Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want; nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.” It should never surprise us, for example, if creative solutions to Iraqi problems come from, say, Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq. Allies around the world with differing perspectives and experiences are assets to the creation of effective foreign policy not deterrents to the implementation of outdated policies.
What still alludes President Bush is an awareness of the concept that, “it’s not WHO’S right, it’s WHAT’S right.” He has, in a one-superpower world, assumed that as the strongest power we are also the only nation from which viable ideas and initiatives can originate. We have ignored the world, blasting into the 21st century as if our agenda was without fault resulting in cynicism in the minds of a world that sees the U.S. provoking international tensions with our obdurate behavior.
The socialist C. Wright Mills said, “Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them — and then, the opportunity to choose.” Leadership, moreover, is the willingness to embrace those opportunities, the ability to make those choices and the strength to stand behind them. The United States continues to be the greatest nation in the world and, if only grudgingly, is the de facto leader of the free world with still enough moral authority to make these types of choices.
This is why John McCain’s comments should find receptive ears both here and abroad. He rightly remains committed to what the U.S. has started and yet is announcing the dawn of a new era in which the United States once again LEADS a coalition of respected and capable teammates.
The real missed opportunity in Europe yesterday is that President Bush didn’t take Senator McCain along with him. Having Senator McCain present would have accomplished three important goals for the country and the Republican Party. First, it would have provided a refreshing context with which to combat European cynicism towards American motives. Without Senator McCain, President Bush looks to be asking for Europe to commit to help the U.S. fight a war its own people no longer support. With waning support at home, he is forced to petition NATO to play a larger role, when seven years of experience shows them that this request is for his benefit not theirs. Having Senator McCain present would have signaled that, with a change of administration under a year away and McCain as the presumptive Republican candidate, Republican governments are prepared to enact Senator McCain’s philosophies. This would provide Europeans with reasons to review President Bush’s request under new auspices, mainly that U.S. foreign policy is interested in the active participation of all or our allies.
Second, having Senator McCain by his side would have reinforced the senator’s foreign policy credentials. It would have been a great opportunity for him to engage our allies on an executive level mission and to be seen as having a valuable and credible influence in the development of U.S. foreign policy going into the future.
Third, it would have been the type of election year coverage that no amount of advertising could ever buy. Taking Senator McCain would have been the best use of the current GOP Presidency to influence the outcome of the election in November. Additionally, it would have bolstered the view of the GOP as the party best able to lead this country in the area of foreign policy over the next eight years, with the additional benefit of demonstrating the party’s willingness to adapt. The request for NATO members to commit more troops, in the context of Senator McCain appearance, would have been a major demonstration of the GOP’s willingness to acknowledge the failures of the past and a desire to be a party of change.
“Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment,” I like to say. President Bush’s request of NATO seems like a perpetuation of bad judgment. Had Senator McCain traveled with President Bush, his presidency could begin to be viewed as useful set of experiences that a McCain presidency could draw upon to demonstrate good judgment in the coming years. That, my friends, is turning your weaknesses into strengths.