Will McCain Wield the Big Stick?

by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis


Barack Obama says he’s happy to see his primary race with Hillary Clinton continue right up to the bitter end. But there is deepening worry in this overwhelmingly Democratic Party city that the fratricidal battle between Obama and Clinton is tearing apart the party and boosting Republican hopes of victory in November.

Obama leads by almost every measure, but not decisively. Hillary Clinton appears determined to fight right up to this summer’s party convention. Many senior Democrats fear she will wreck her party’s chances rather than gracefully withdraw. As a result of the damage caused to the images of both Obama and Clinton by their bitter fight, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain is now the front-runner for president.

Republicans are praying Clinton will defeat Obama. There are rumors Republicans may even be secretly helping finance her campaign. Polls show McCain would defeat Clinton, whose very high negative rating among men more than offsets her strong support by older women and feminists. If Clinton wins nomination through back room deals by party super-delegates, many angry black American will boycott the November vote, ensuring a Republican victory.

What would McCain’s foreign policy look like? This week, he made a major policy address in Los Angeles that gives a preview.

On the most important issue, Iraq, McCain still insists he backs the five-year-old war that has so far cost nearly 40,000 American dead and wounded, and untold Iraqi casualties, and created 4 million refugees as a result of ethnic cleansing of Sunnis by Shia militias which the US did nothing to stop.

Sen. McCain insists US troops must stay in Iraq until it becomes a "peaceful, stable, democratic state." Battered, strife-torn Iraq is as far as one can get from McCain’s goal.

The Iraqi Humpty Dumpty is broken and unlikely to be repaired. The US occupation has caused Iraq to split into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish mini-states. The US-installed Baghdad regime controls nothing but the Green Zone. Real power is held by the Iranian-backed Shia Islamic Supreme Council and its Badr militia which was fighting across Iraq this week with the Shia Mahdi Army.

The US created and armed Sunni militias who will one day fight their Shia foes. The Kurdish region is independent in all but name and is flirting with Israel. There is no real Iraq. It has ceased to exist.

Iran now dominates 60% of Iraq, and its power there continues to grow. Meanwhile, the war is costing cash-strapped Washington at least $3 billion weekly at a time when it owes China $1.3 trillion in loans. McCain says he’s not strong in economics. He clearly has no understanding of how much this war is costing. Latest estimates put the bill at nearly $1 trillion by next year. This is all borrowed money. The administration has refused to finance the war by normal budgetary means, instead choosing emergency allocations.

McCain is proposing a continuation of the Bush/Cheney mess in Iraq. The big question is, will the Bush White House stage a serious military incident with Syria, Lebanon or Iran soon before November elections to mobilize votes for the Republicans. There is increasing talk in the Mideast of an Israeli attack on Syria and Lebanon, designed to punish Hezbullah for its success in last year’s mini-war and to boost Republican fortunes in the United States.

Senator McCain did make a very welcome call to end Bush/Cheney’s unilateralism and begin working with allies and international organizations. But then he snarled at "revanchist" Russia, warned of Moscow’s aggressive designs, and called for its eviction from the G8 group of nations. His bellicosity is ominous. McCain sounds like he wants to restart the Cold War — and probably does.

McCain’s recent Mideast trip also offered more of Bush’s policy, but perhaps even harder line. McCain strongly supported Israel’s expansionist rightwing parties, vowed Washington would never pressure Israel into a peace deal it did not favor, and denounced Saudi "autocrats." He called for their removal without explaining who or what should replace them.

All the while Sen. Joseph Lieberman, often called "Israel’s senator in Washington," was whispering lines into McCain’s ear. When McCain foolishly claimed Iran was in cahoots with al-Qaida, Lieberman had to sort him out. Other neocons have also flocked to McCain’s banner, meaning if he wins, any real Arab-Israeli peace appears unlikely. Look also for possible further US military action against Israel’s enemies.

McCain tried to sound moderate and statesmanlike in his speech. So did President George Bush when he first came into office, decrying "nation building" and foreign entanglements. But a genuine moderate statesman does not sing "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" in public and call for perpetual war in Iraq.