Moreover, creating a "League of Democracies," McCain's signature proposal for how the U.S. should relate to its democratic allies, is likely dead on arrival. Similar ideas have been suggested many times in the past by both liberal and conservative foreign policy intellectuals. (The first presidential candidate to propose it was Pat Robertson in 1988.) When liberals propose it, they generally hope to strengthen the multilateral architecture that already exists by adding a new international institution. But when conservatives like McCain do, it is rightly perceived as an end run around the U.N. Security Council--little more than another way of giving multilateral legitimacy to the use of force when the others fail. Many Europeans would likely interpret the League of Democracies this way and would resist it out of fear of undercutting the U.N. and supplanting NATO. Even the British and the French, who both sit on the U.N. Security Council, would likely object to the creation of an organization that gives them such a privileged international position. Additionally, many emerging democracies, such as Brazil, would probably see it as a U.S.-dominated organization that is merely an attempt to further institutionalize the idea of "a coalition of the willing." 2. Russia. McCain's hard-line stance toward Russia has already raised eyebrows. He frequently says of Vladimir Putin, "I've looked into his eyes, and I saw three letters--K.G.B." Couple that saber-rattling with his desire to kick Russia out of the G-8--a provocative and perhaps reckless action that would signal to the world's second greatest nuclear power that the United States views it as an enemy--and the U.S. would likely have a massive diplomatic crisis on its hands. Plus, European countries, such as Germany, that are dependent on Russian gas, are seriously concerned about redrawing Cold War lines and once again having a hostile nuclear armed power in their backyard. 3. Iran. McCain's approach to Iran is no more comforting. He recently said that Iran was "obviously pursuing nuclear weapons," directly contradicting the National Intelligence Estimate released in December, which concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program and is significantly further away than previously thought from being able to develop the bomb (although it continues to enrich uranium). At a campaign stop last year, McCain joked about bomb, bomb, bombing Iran, and in 2006 he introduced a resolution in the Senate calling on FIFA to ban Iran from the World Cup--a silly little stunt meant to score cheap political points, but not one befitting of a presidential candidate. Perhaps most worryingly, McCain has surrounded himself with advisors--like Bill Kristol and James Woolsey--who have been staunch advocates of striking Iran, and his Iran policy has been endorsed by none other than Vice President Dick Cheney. "I would guess that John McCain and I are pretty close to agreement [on Iran]," Cheney said last February.If McCain were to follow through on one of his many threats to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, it would likely cause a diplomatic crisis as grave as the one that preceded the war in Iraq. Our European allies--especially the Germans, French, and British, who have worked hard to both pressure and negotiate with Iran--would likely balk at military action. And it is unlikely that our Arab allies in the Persian Gulf would relish the idea of an escalation of violence in their neighborhood, particularly if it could lead to a naval conflict in the Persian Gulf, further choking off the world's oil supplies. In the end, a U.S. attack would probably be just that--a unilateral attack. (This to say nothing of the fact that bombing Iran's nuclear facilities would likely: fail to eliminate its nuclear program in the long-term; result in a massive Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in Iraq; and leave us more isolated in the world.)4. North Korea. In 1994 McCain attacked Bill Clinton's agreement with North Korea, arguing, "I know what they understand, and that is the threat of extinction." He hasn't dropped his hawkish line toward the Hermit Kingdom since: He supported President Bush's decision in 2001 to cut off discussions with North Korea, and when six years of failure led to a North Korean nuclear test in 2007, his response was to lead the charge in blaming the Clinton Administration. While Kim Jong Il certainly isn't worthy of our coddling, this type of saber rattling will find little audience with two important partners: South Korea and China. China has played a central role in the negotiations surrounding North Korea's nuclear weapons, but some of McCain's past comments over his frustration with its role cast doubts over his ability to engage effectively. In 2006, McCain called China "immature" over its lack of effort in addressing North Korea and threatened, "If [China] continue[s] to vacillate as they have all last week in the United Nations, then there are consequences in our relationship." Meanwhile, the new South Korean government has actively sought to improve diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor and would seem an unlikely supporter of McCain-style "diplomacy."
Try as he might to distance himself from George Bush's abrasive foreign policy, John McCain has too long of a record to outrun. On Russia, Iran, and North Korea, he will have a policy of confrontation and escalation. His dismissive approach towards international institutions (and at times our closest allies), as well as his long history of verbally belittling other countries, cast real doubt on his ability to handle delicate diplomatic situations. In short, John McCain's claim that he is the right man to break with the Bush administration and build a "global coalition for peace and freedom" simply strains credulity.