Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hasn’t been shy about criticizing President Obama on Iran, human rights, Egypt and most every aspect of the administration’s foreign policy. But nothing has topped his latest barrage, delivered on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You were one of the first who called for the United States getting involved in this. Are you satisfied with the — how the administration is handling this?
McCAIN: I am not because we have taken a backseat role. The president has, quote, “withdrawn from NATO.” I’d like to remind you that NATO is an organization of 28 countries. Now with — with Italy, there’s now seven of them actually in the fight. They don’t have the assets that the United States of America does. America — United States — is NATO . . . . So the British and the French, God bless them and others, they don’t have the assets. They are running out of some of their munitions. And we need to get back in the fight. We applaud the Predator being added . . . [but] a very bad outcome here would be a stalemate, which would then open the door to al-Qaeda.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what — what do you want the president to do?
McCAIN: . . . We should not use ground troops. United States’ air assets and many other assets should be brought into the fight. We should recognize the Transitional National Council, thereby freeing up money so that they can start financing their operations and providing people with the things they need — humanitarian efforts, communications capability . . . . Kick Qaddafi off television. . . .
McCain was equally blunt on Syria:
I think it’s going very badly for the people of Syria. I think it’s clear that Bashar al-Assad is willing to slaughter his own people. The question is, is what can we do to affect the outcome? And, frankly, I don’t see a military option. Libya, they had a — a group of people who were at least semi-organized that we could support. The situation lent itself very much to the use of air power. Obviously, increased sanctions, whatever pressures we can bring to bear. But it’s going to be a very bloody time, I’m afraid, in Syria. And any illusions we had about him [being] a, quote, “reformer” let’s not talk about that anymore.
And more broadly, McCain articulated what has become a common criticism of Obama, a lack of international leadership:
I respect the president, and sometimes it’s very inappropriate for me to second-guess. Obviously, I lost to him in the presidential election. But American leadership is vital in the world. There’s no country like America. We should be leading. We should not be following. We should not be behind. We should be saying, “Look, we’re going to help the Egyptians set up a — a government and a democracy. We’re going to help Tunisia. And we are going to help the Libyan people in ways that are viable and reasonable to do.” Americans are war-weary. They don’t want to get us into another ground war, and we shouldn’t. But we have to, for example, again in NATO, we are NATO. And we should be leading. And that’s what I would like to see the United States of America do. Only the United States is capable of helping these people in the most seismic and most incredible period in the world’s history. This Arab Spring is not confined to the Arab countries, but how we handle it will determine the entire 21st century.
That, I would suggest, is not only the correct line of attack on the merits for the 2012 presidential candidates; it is also an effective political theme that extends to domestic policy as well. Obama seems to be operating in neutral, or at times, reverse. His budget assumes an ever-larger debt. His foreign policy seeks to minimize the degree to which America stands out. His campaign appears to be based on nostalgia — for his cult of personality and for a Great Society approach to domestic policy. No where is this more evident in his willingness to see the dollar plummet. The Republican candidate who can explain all that to the American people and offer an specific, alternative version, I would suggest, can win the election. We’ll have to see if anyone in the GOP camp has it in him.