“the obligations of international leadership”

So many people are praising this speech by John McCain.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

I’m not so impressed.

Let me remind you that McCain has been a loyal Republican apparatchik for decades. He was elected during Reagan’s term, and was an ardent supporter of Reaganomics and military adventurism — his only ‘virtue’ is that he was willing to negotiate with countries after we’d bombed them. This is the man who joked, Do you know why Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? – Because Janet Reno is her father. This is the man who ran for president with Sarah Fucking Palin as his running mate. He likes to pretend that he is a “maverick”, when really he is consistently conservative and dedicated to propping up the status quo.

That speech reeks of hypocrisy. He’s arguing against nationalism because it’s not patriotic? Nuts. He’s promoting the tired old claim that America has been idealistic for the last three quarters of a century, that we are the ‘the last best hope of earth’? Tell that to the people of Vietnam and Cambodia that we napalmed, to the countries of Latin America where we have supported dictators, to Cuba that we embargoed when they didn’t support American imperialism, to the people of Iran where we maintained a tyrant to protect our oil interests until a theocratic revolution cast him down, to the nations of Africa that suffered under our exploitive neglect, to South Africa where we aligned ourselves with the perpetrators of apartheid, and on and on and on. This is the America that still treats Henry Kissinger as a distinguished elder statesman. This is a nation that lashed out with violence and war in response to a terrorist attack, and demolished a country that had not been involved. America is a country that enables war criminals and then reveres them as heroes.

His speech is just more American exceptionalism, and it will be well-received by the yahoos and the journalists who will praise it as statesmanlike. Notice, though, how he assumes that we possess “international leadership” — that of course we run the world, so we must continue to bear the paternalistic burden of solving everyone else’s problems. The problem is just that one bozo currently in office…but never forget, that bozo is the epitome of Republican policy. And that McCain is a loyal Republican who has contributed so ably to our descent into madness and corruption.

What our country needs is a different virtue: a little humility. A recognition that we are one among many. That we don’t get to claim our idealism when we haven’t lived up to it. That we have to earn respect rather than demand it at the point of a massive military machine. We have to notice that our country is on the road to being a failed state, and has lost all authority to tell the rest of the world that they must follow our lead.


  1. davidnangle says

    “the last best hope of earth” ripped off from Babylon 5? The U.S. isn’t protecting the world from some deadly danger. The U.S. itself is the deadly danger.

  2. davidnangle says

    Republicans seem to like quoting people that would have fought them bitterly. Lincoln, MLK, probably Samuel Clemens. Jesus, if he had been real…

  3. says

    He was willing to sell out the world for a shot at the presidency. Now he suddenly grows a conscience, just in time to rehabilitate his memory? How fucking convenient.

  4. brett says

    McCain’s like Paul Ryan, in that spending years glad-handling the press in the 2000s has given him a mostly undeserved reputation (although unlike Ryan, McCain isn’t a total hack – he probably believes all of that stuff about the ideals abroad).

  5. rietpluim says

    Where the hell did the United States of America get that smug sense of superiority that makes them think they are the leader of the free world? That’s just as half-baked, spurious fucking nationalistic. We can lead ourselves good enough without you, thank you.

    If it wasn’t for some good folks like people on this blog, I would have said “Fuck you, America” a long time ago.

    People in the Middle East already did.

  6. cartomancer says

    It’s nowhere near as eloquent, but it has all the self-satisfied Imperialistic haughtiness of Pericles’ funeral oration from Thucydides book 2. Athens is an education to all Greece, don’t you know, because of its wonderful democratic constitution, the courage of its citizens and their commitment to logic, rationality and reasoned debate. (And the self-effacing silence of its women, if you’re interested, but you’re probably not). Thus do all the peoples of Greece respect and honour Athens, which does no wrong thanks to the spirit of respect and solemnity that pervades its commitment to the rule of law.

    Pay no attention to all the extortion of the Delian League allies, the massacres of cities which switch sides to the Spartans, the spending of league contributions on lavish public buildings, the doing what we want while you suffer what you must. Athens is right and good and noble by definition, so be proud of being an Athenian and hop to the glorious sacrifice in battle for Athens’s sake like this last lot of schmucks we’re remembering here today…

  7. unclefrogy says

    the only good thing about the speech is that it probably irritated added a little to the irritation of our dear leader.
    The only memory he has any control of is his own, history will have it’s own judgment ,
    uncle frogy

  8. says

    Pretty sure “the ideals [the USA has] advanced around the globe,” the self-serving assumption of “international leadership,” and the disgustingly patronising assumption that the country represents “the last best hope of earth”—claims which are made whilst the country acts like a schoolyard bully, stomping around the world and destroying the governments and/or economies of anyone foolish enough to not want their countries to be run for the financial gain of US corporations—are amongst the many reasons most of the rest of the world would be quite pleased if the USA would piss off and mend its own problems before even thinking of commenting on what the rest of us should do.

  9. monad says

    This is the great opportunity given by Trump: to sell your poisoned water in opposition to his bubbling tar, and have people who would normally have none choke it down as a result.

  10. Rich Woods says

    He also abandoned his anti-torture policy

    That was a necessary precursor to inflicting Sarah Palin on his fellow citizens. See, he does have some integrity!

  11. says


    Apparently believes in American exceptionalism, to the point of giving a fairly high-profile speech about it, bragging about a basically-fictional past much of which was definitely screwed up by the very policies this idiot promoted. Occasionally talks about the economic burdens of the ordinary citizen, but is blatantly in the pockets of rich interests — particularly the banks — and will reliably work for them over the ordinary citizen. Is popularly supposed to have a nuanced view of foreign policy, but in fact has not seriously opposed a single war — proposed or actual — since getting into office, talks a lot about “supporting the troops” but loves to put them in harm’s way — at vast expense which further undermines any claim to economic responsibility, spent a lot of time saber-rattling about Iran — and is still stuck in Cold War anti-Russian mode much of the time. Got the party’s nomination because “it’s their turn” (i.e. the party kept rejecting this candidate until all the other options had been tried), and then chose a running mate who was supposed to broaden their appeal, but really just normalized the party’s badly-behaved right wing while turning off a large section of the base, which led to losing a relatively close race to somebody who the party, one would imagine from historical examples, would turn out solidly to oppose. Career was certainly assisted by a fortunate marriage — some suggest that it would have ended decades ago otherwise. Had a famous change of heart over a major issue but despite the high-profile cries about being good from now on, did not actually do much of anything about it. Occasionally makes public statements which demonstrate a total lack of understanding of what life is like for the non-rich.

    I never in a million years would have believed, a few years ago, that I would ever say this, but: PZ, I think that most of “the left” no longer has grounds to criticize McCain. You can say all of the above about Hillary Clinton as well.

  12. says

    Christ, Vicar. Let it go. Even in the face of the ongoing debacle that is the Trump presidency, you insist that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ. Stop now. It’s tiresome.

  13. rietpluim says

    Wow Vicar, that is one big pile of straw you’re trying to knock down. Do you really think you’re telling us something new? Clinton is not left. The Democrats are not left. Stop pretending “the left” are supporting them. We explained this to you so many times, your comprehension skills must be seriously flawed.

  14. quill says

    Whether John McCain is generally a good Senator or a bad one doesn’t really impact the merits of a particular position or speech he may take. Reading that excerpt, in light of Trump’s behavior and statements, Senator McCain is more correct than not.

    Trump seems to favor an America without allies which views every interaction with another country as a zero sum transaction. While the United States has a long list of sins to answer for, the undeniable fact is that American alliances and security guarantees with NATO, Japan, South Korea and the Gulf States have underpinned a largely peaceful and prosperous world; and steadfast American leadership with bipartisan support brought the Cold War to a successful and peaceful end. We can pretend that we are one among many, but we’re not. There are only a handful of countries with real international influence and only two that are truly capable of global leadership.

    We tried it Trump’s way after World War I…it didn’t work very well. McCain’s opposition to Trump’s worldview should be welcomed.

  15. methuseus says

    @rietplium #7:

    If it wasn’t for some good folks like people on this blog, I would have said “Fuck you, America” a long time ago.
    People in the Middle East already did.

    I’m not really sure what’s holding you back from saying “Fuck you, America”. I’ve been saying that for years and I live here! Having some good people living here doesn’t really mean you have to be nice to the country as a whole.

  16. Ichthyic says

    Wow Vicar, that is one big pile of straw you’re trying to knock down.

    tada. I’ve been saying this for years now.

    it’s simply not worth paying attention to anything he says on politics any more.