Sen. John McCain leaves the Senate chamber, March 5, 2014.
J. Scott Applewhite/Getty

McCain’s Cold War confusion

Updated
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made his latest Sunday show appearance yesterday, having just completed a trip to Ukraine, and though much of the senator’s rhetoric was expected, there was one thing that stood out for me.
 
Not surprisingly, McCain is concerned about the crisis and sees Crimea’s departure from Ukraine as “a fait accompli.” But the Arizona Republican also told CNN he does not want to see a “re-ignition of the Cold War.” McCain added:
“[W]e need to give long-term military assistance plan, because, God knows what Vladimir Putin will do next, because he believes that Ukraine is a vital part of his vision of the Russian empire and we need to understand that and act accordingly.
 
“And again, no boots on the ground. It is not the Cold War over again.”
Wait, so McCain doesn’t believe this is the Cold War all over again?
 
Keeping track of the senator’s competing postures is getting a little confusing. It wasn’t too long ago, for example, when McCain declared, “The Cold War is over.”
 
Last week, he changed course, telling msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell, “[Obama administration officials] have been near delusional in thinking the Cold War was over. Maybe the president thinks the Cold War is over, but Vladimir Putin doesn’t. And that’s what this is all about.”
 
And then yesterday, McCain apparently went back to his old position, pulling off the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip – which, in all likelihood, will have no bearing on his Beltway credibility. How can he accuse the White House of being “delusional” on March 7 for having the same belief McCain endorsed on March 16?
 
On a related note, the senator had a 1,000-word op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend, complaining that President Obama “has made America look weak.”
For five years, Americans have been told that “the tide of war is receding,” that we can pull back from the world at little cost to our interests and values. This has fed a perception that the United States is weak, and to people like Mr. Putin, weakness is provocative. […]
 
Mr. Putin also saw a lack of resolve in President Obama’s actions beyond Europe. In Afghanistan and Iraq, military decisions have appeared driven more by a desire to withdraw than to succeed. Defense budgets have been slashed based on hope, not strategy. Iran and China have bullied America’s allies at no discernible cost. Perhaps worst of all, Bashar al-Assad crossed President Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in Syria, and nothing happened to him.
This is a deeply odd take on a variety of levels. Of particular interest. Obama has said many times that “the tide of war is receding,” in reference to two of the longest hot-war conflicts in American history: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ending these conflicts has made the United States appear “weak”?
 
It’s hard not to get the sense that McCain believes Vladimir Putin’s aggressive moves in Ukraine are the result of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
 
As for the rest of the op-ed, McCain proceeded to urge the Obama administration to take a series of steps, which can generally be broken down into vague platitudes (the United States “should work with our allies” and “reassure shaken friends”) and steps the president is already taking (“boycotting the Group of 8 summit meeting in Sochi”).
 
It’s an underwhelming perspective.
 

John McCain, Russia and Ukraine

McCain's Cold War confusion

Updated