- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Critics of Republican presidential nominee John McCain often point to his inconsistent stance on military intervention as a sign that he is not the straight-talking maverick he presents himself to be. An examination of McCain’s stances on intervention, however, reveals not mixed signals but a steady transformation of worldview. The young Vietnam vet who once vocally opposed military overreach has become the elder statesman who passionately advocates the need for military action. Here’s a look at the stances McCain has taken on some of the major U.S. military operations of the past few decades.
Stance: As a freshman congressman, John McCain broke with President Ronald Reagan and most of his party to oppose invoking the War Powers Act to extend the deployment of U.S. peacekeepers in Lebanon.
Statement: “The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave. We will be trapped by the case we make for having our troops there in the first place.” Sept. 29, 1983
Iraq (Operation Desert Storm)
Stance: McCain worried about the prospect of an extended deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq and hoped to limit the U.S. action to a bombing campaign.
Statement: “If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly. Nor should it be supported. We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood.” Aug. 19, 1990
Stance: After a failed operation that led to the death of 19 U.S. soldiers, McCain proposed cutting off funding to the U.S. mission in Somalia in order to force the Clinton administration to bring the troops home. He later wrote that he regretted this stance.
Statement: “I’ll tell you what can erode our prestige Mr. President. I’ll tell you what can erode our viability as a world superpower, and that is if we emesh ourselves in a drawn-out situation, which entails the loss of American lives, more debacles like the one we saw with the failed mission to captured Adid’s lieutenants using American forces and that then will be what hurts our prestige.” Oct. 14, 1993
Stance: Like most congressional leaders at the time, McCain opposed sending U.S. troops to Haiti in 1994 to assist the return of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide back in power.
Statement: “I don’t think our vital national security interests are at stake… In Haiti, there is a military government we don’t like. But there are other governments around the world that aren’t democratic that we don’t like. Are we supposed to invade those countries, too?” July 10, 1994
Stance: McCain initially strongly opposed intervention in Bosnia, but after the signing of the Dayton accords in 1995, he changed his stance and cosponsored a resolution supporting the U.S. peacekeeping mission.
Statements: “If we find ourselves involved in a conflict in which American casualties mount, in which there is no end in sight, in which we take sides in a foreign civil war, in which American fighting men and women have great difficulty distinguishing between friend and foe, then I suggest that American support for military involvement would rapidly evaporate.” April 23, 1993
“Our troops are going to Bosnia. Congress should do everything in our power to insure that our mission is truly clear, limited and achievable, that it has the greatest chance for success with the least risk to the lives of our young men and women. The resolution that the majority leader and I have offered does not ask senators to support the decision to deploy. It asks that you support the deployment after the decision had been made. It asks you further to condition your support on some important commitments by the President.” Dec. 13, 1995
Stance: McCain not only favored the use of force to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but pressed the Clinton administration to send ground troops into Serbia.
Statement: “If we lose this war, the entire country and the world will suffer the consequences. Yes, the President would leave office with yet another mark against him. But he will not suffer that indignity alone. We will all be less secure. We will all be dishonored.” May 9, 1999
Stance: McCain strongly supported the U.S. operation to defeat the Taliban and attempt to capture Osama bin Laden.
Statement: “[W]hat we need to understand is that we may have to put large numbers of troops into Afghanistan for a period of time, not a long period of time, but for a period of time, in order to effectively wipe out these terrorists’ nests and track down Mr. bin Laden. In other words, it’s going to take a very big effort, and probably casualties will be involved, and it won’t be accomplished through air power alone.” Dec. 28, 2001
Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom)
Stance: McCain has been among the most vocal supporters of the initial invasion of Iraq and last year’s troop surge. His stance on these issues has largely defined his presidential run.
Statement: “Only an obdurate refusal to face unpleasant facts — in this case, that a tyrant who survives only by the constant use of violence is not going to be coerced into good behavior by nonviolent means — could allow one to believe that we have rushed to war… Our armed forces will fight for peace in Iraq — a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East. Even more important, they will fight for the two human conditions of even greater value than peace: liberty and justice. Some of our soldiers will perish in this just cause. May God bless them and may humanity honor their sacrifice.” March 12, 2003