Just days after the massacre in Orlando, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted that President Obama was “directly responsible” for the deadliest mass-shooting in national history. The senator later walked that back, but only a little – clarifying that America’s foreign policy, not America’s president, should be blamed for the murders.
Late last week, as the Huffington Post reported, McCain did it again, telling a Pakistan television station that deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan should also be blamed on the United States.
McCain, apparently interviewed in his office this week ahead of a July 4 trip to Pakistan, was asked by interviewer Moeed Pirzada whether the current president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, is too technocratic and isolated to deal with the resurgent Taliban and other threats in his country.“Do you think Taliban are the only issue or is something else needed in Afghanistan?” Pirzada asked.“I believe that I have to be very frank,” McCain said, explaining that he believed Ghani, who took office in 2014, was a vast improvement on his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. “I don’t blame Ashraf Ghani. I blame the United States of America for not consolidating the gains that we made,” McCain said. “And this president has this idea for the last eight years that if we pull out of conflicts, those conflicts end.”
Yes, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told a foreign news outlet – in Pakistan, where opinions of the United States are in need of improvement – that blaming Americans for violence in Afghanistan is the right and responsible thing to do.
McCain went on to connect the recent attack in Istanbul to ISIS’s strength in Afghanistan. The senator wants Pakistanis to know, “I don’t blame Pakistan for that. I don’t blame Ashraf Ghani for that. I blame this president of the United States, who is a failed leader.”
If this sounds familiar, note that two years ago, when Ukrainian separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 people, McCain declared – literally the next day – that President Obama’s “cowardly administration” bore responsibility for the attack.
As a substantive matter, John McCain’s sincere belief that perpetual wars prevent violence is a misguided approach to foreign policy and national security. But in this case, there’s a rhetorical angle that matters nearly as much: the Republican senator is letting his contempt for President Obama get the better of him, to the point that McCain, without regard for reason or consequence, keeps blaming the United States for evil acts around the globe.
As regular readers may recall, in 1984, during the Republican National Convention, Jeane Kirkpatrick delivered a speech that included a catchphrase she repeated five times: “They always blame America first.” Referring specifically to Democrats and the left, she went on to condemn the “blame-America-first crowd.”
It was an ugly line of attack, but it caught on and became a favorite of the right, which still uses the line from time to time.
There’s no point in casually throwing around such obnoxious attacks on other Americans’ patriotism, and it certainly shouldn’t be directed at people like John McCain, who served their country heroically and sacrificed so much.
The senator and his colleagues should pause, however, to appreciate that the more they instinctively blame the United States for every international crisis – and take that message to foreign audiences – the more they open the door to the toxic criticism they once reserved for their rivals.