Concerned about what they consider an isolationist and fearful drift in both of their parties, Kerry (D-Mass.) and McCain (R-Ariz.) are advocating an even more forceful role for America in the world. Although the two men disagree on troop levels in Afghanistan, they see U.S. military might as necessary to maintaining world order and U.S. business investment as a key to reviving the economies of many Middle Eastern states.
Kerry and McCain are leading the fight in Congress to shore up support for U.S. action in Libya, trying to counter efforts by members of both parties to restrict activity there by introducing a resolution last week in support of the air campaign against Moammar Gaddafi’s regime.
The elder statesmen are also hoping to forge something resembling a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, aiming to spur massive private-sector investment across a region remade by revolution. The pair traveled to Egypt last weekend with eight Fortune 500 executives in an attempt to ignite investment in a country that has struggled since the February fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
In the twilight of their careers, Kerry and McCain have never held more sway. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has become an adjunct member of President Obama’s national security team, parachuting into trouble spots to deliver messages to world leaders. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the de facto GOP leader on all military matters.
The battle for Kerry and McCain now is to use their stature to convince war-weary lawmakers in both parties that the United States must take even more of a leading role in the world, not pull back from it.
So far, they have had limited success — the House rejected their Libya resolution in a bipartisan vote Friday. But the measure was approved Tuesday in Kerry’s Foreign Relations Committee on a bipartisan vote of 14 to 5 and now awaits action on the Senate floor.
The senators say they’ve seen tougher fights before.
“John and I are old warriors, old sailors, who have been down the same trails with different consequences,” Kerry, 67, said in an interview.
“We’ll succeed over time because events will prove us correct,” McCain, 74, said in an interview before his Middle East trip, which began Friday in Tunisia before meeting up with Kerry in Cairo.
Johnny and John Boy
Aside from policy, friends said they are relieved to see McCain and Kerry working together again, after a years-long feud driven by the Iraq war and their unfulfilled presidential ambitions. McCain now sometimes shows up unannounced in Kerry’s office to talk strategy. Kerry is fond of calling his old friend “Johnny,” while McCain tosses “John Boy” around, friends say.