Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made yet another Sunday-show appearance yesterday and offered some historical perspective that stood out as interesting. Asked about the disagreement over foreign policy between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), McCain replied:
“So I’m not particularly interested in getting between Senator Paul and Governor Perry, but I do believe that the things we’re seeing in the world today, in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime, is a direct result of an absence of American leadership.”
Now, for McCain, the “absence of American leadership” roughly translates to “we’re not engaged militarily in enough foreign countries,” so this is obviously easy to dismiss.
But to believe the world is in “greater turmoil” than at any time in McCain’s lifetime is an amazing claim. I suppose there’s some subjectivity to this – one observer’s turmoil may be another’s unrest – but John McCain was born in 1936.
I mention this because his lifetime includes the entirety of World War II and the beginning, middle, and end of the Cold War. McCain wants to talk about global “turmoil”? We can have a spirited chat about Hitler taking swaths of Europe while Japan invaded China. That’s “turmoil.” By comparison, today’s global stage is almost tranquil.
McCain added in the same interview, “I would argue that given conditions in the Middle East, this might be more dangerous than any time in the past.”
Really? Any time? Conditions are more dangerous now than during any Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian revolution, the Egyptian revolutions, every Islamic uprising and civil war of the 1970s, and the rise of al Qaeda?
This is not to say the Middle East is a model of stability right now, but to say that it’s “more dangerous” than at “any time in the past” is a little over the top.
Let’s also note that McCain has made curious historical arguments like these before. In 2008, at the height of his presidential campaign, the senator said the conflict between Russia and Georgia was the first “serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War” – overlooking 9/11, both wars in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, two conflicts in the Balkans, multiple crises in Israel, Darfur, and the rise of a nuclear North Korea, among other things.
But it seems this general train of thought is nevertheless common. The Wall Street Journal reports today:
A convergence of security crises is playing out around the globe, from the Palestinian territories and Iraq to Ukraine and the South China Sea, posing a serious challenge to President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and reflecting a world in which U.S. global power seems increasingly tenuous. […]The chaos has meant that the Obama administration finds itself in the middle of a second term reacting to rather than directing world events.
Remind me, when was this era in which U.S. officials were capable of “directing world events”? Here’s a hint: there was no such era. This is an ahistorical Republican talking point working its way into a purported news story.