The Wikileaks of President McCain
To be sure, Wikileaks' release this weekend of a quarter million diplomatic cables is a devastating blow to the national security interests and foreign policy of the United States. And the secret assessments they contain regarding U.S. allies and potential partners like Germany's Angela Merkel ("avoids risk and is rarely creative"), Nicolas Sarkozy ("emperor with no clothes") and Russia's Dmitri Medvedev ("Robin" to Putin's "Batman") are not merely embarrassing; they jeopardize U.S. relations with Paris, Berlin and Moscow. Of course, it could have been worse with President McCain in the Oval Office. After all, John McCain insults American allies in public.
None more so than France. In the run-up to and aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Senator McCain couldn't conceal his disdain for the French.
As President Bush prepared to pull the trigger on the Iraq war in February 2003, John McCain was at the forefront of those browbeating the Chirac government for France's refusal to back the U.S. at the United Nations. On February 10, 2003, McCain declared on MSNBC's Hardball:
"Look, I don't mean to try to be snide, but the Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too."
The next day on February 11, 2003, McCain co-sponsored a Senate resolution praising 18 European nations backing U.S. enforcement of UN demands for Saddam's disarmament. In his press release, McCain echoed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in thundering at the France and Germany of "old Europe:"
"The majority of Europe's democracies have spoken, and their message could not be clearer: France and Germany do not speak for Europe...most European governments behave like allies that are willing to meet their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security in defense of our common values. We thank this European majority for standing with us."
McCain's venom towards the French was on full display two days later during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On February 13, 2003, McCain warned of "new threats to civilization [which] again defy our imagination in scale and potency" portrayed Iraq as "threat of the first order." He proclaimed that "the United States does not have reliable allies to implement a policy to contain Iraq" and pointed the finger squarely at France:
"Compare our great power allies in the Cold War with those with whom we act today in dealing with Iraq.
France has unashamedly pursued a concerted policy to dismantle the UN sanctions regime, placing its commercial interests above international law, world peace and the political ideals of Western civilization. Remember them? Liberte, egalite, fraternite...
...Gerhard Schroeder's Germany looks little like the ally that anchored our presence in Europe throughout the Cold War. A German Rip Van Winkle from the 1960s would not understand the lack of political courage and cooperation with its allies on the question of Iraq exhibited in Berlin today."
Here's how influential Senator John McCain sees the French.
JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN SENATOR: They remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it.
NORMAN HERMANT: Many in Washington are now saying relations with France have been a problem going all the way back to the end of World War II.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Perhaps Churchill and Roosevelt made a very serious mistake when they decided to give France a veto in the Security Council when the United Nations was organized.
But when it comes to Russia, McCain's language isn't merely petty, it's downright dangerous. After all, candidate John McCain promised to eject Russia from the G-8 and proclaimed, "We're all Georgians now."
McCain's tough talk starts - but doesn't end - with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Back in the 2001, Senator McCain was asked by Chris Matthews about President Bush's meeting with then-President Putin in which Bush famously remarked that he had "looked the man in the eye" and got "a sense of his soul." Bush, McCain responded, earned "very high marks."
"The president did a good job in his European trip...On Russia, I d-I give him very high marks...I-I give him an A. I'd give him an A."
Alas, as he approached the presidential election of 2008, John McCain took a different view of Bush's personal diplomacy - and Vladimir Putin. As McCain put it in 2007 and repeatedly throughout the campaign:
"When I looked into Putin's eyes and I saw three letters: a K, a G and a B."
No doubt, President McCain's initial meeting with Russian President Medvedev would have been a frosty one.
In November 2007, candidate McCain penned an article in Foreign Affairs in which he announced his intent to expel Russia from the G-8. In a March 26, 2008 speech, he made his plan crystal clear:
"We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia."
But facing almost universal condemnation from foreign policy analysts who characterized booting Russia from the G-8 as logistically impossible and just plain "dumb," the McCain campaign quickly disowned it. On June 25, 2008, Reuters reported that an anonymous McCain adviser claimed the policy towards Russia was no longer operative:
He also dismissed McCain's comment last October on Russia and the G-8 as "a holdover from an earlier period," adding: "It doesn't reflect where he is right now."
Yet one month later, John McCain was back on the trail, calling once again for Moscow to get the heave-ho. Appearing on ABC This Week with George Stephanopolous on July 27, McCain insisted it was back on:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about your position to exclude Russia from the G-8. How are you going to get that done? Every other G-8 nation is against it.
MCCAIN: Well, you have to take positions whether other nations agree or not, because you have to do what's best for America...
Of course, more important to John McCain was what was best for John McCain. So looking for political advantage as Russian and Georgian forces clashed the following month, McCain took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to declare, "We Are All Georgians." Two days earlier, Americans might remember, McCain announced to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on their behalf:
"I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, 'Today we are all Georgians.'"
Earlier this year, John McCain was honored by the country he put first - Georgia. But In the fall of 2009, a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union found that Georgia "started unjustified war." While the EU analysis placed blame on both Tbilisi and Moscow for what transpired, it rejected the Georgian government's explanation that the attack was defensive. As the BBC reported:
"The shelling of Tskhinvali (the South Ossetian capital) by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia," the report says.
It adds later: "There is the question of whether [this] use of force... was justifiable under international law. It was not."
What also wasn't justifiable was Senator John McCain's bashing of America's friends and future partners. And as bad as the secret Wikileaks revelations are to U.S. relations with allies around the globe, they could have been worse. It could have been President McCain explaining them to the nations he ridiculed in public.