For all practical purposes, John McCain is the equivalent in our culture to those ancient robed ayatollahs in Iran we damn for standing in the way of democratic change.
The 77-year-old McCain parlayed his suffering as a Vietnam War POW into one of the more durable political careers in Washington. In his heart, he may feel he should be President of the United States instead of his 2008 opponent Barack Obama. Thanks to all this political history and current US cultural realities, McCain plays the role of a wise, spiritual “ayatollah” of militarism. Instead of peace-making and the progressive change that would strengthen the nation from the bottom up, we get elite militarist braggadocio that strengthens the top ranks of an already top-heavy order and ratchets up costly war fever.
For many, McCain’s old-warrior message is mythic and laden with spiritual gravitas. Like the ayatollahs do on the international stage, McCain takes the pulse of our imperial culture, then assumes a hard and fast line that intensely polarizes conditions and, in doing so, taps into all the usual American symbols of exceptionalism. He just did this masterfully in a New York times op-ed that plays shamelessly to the far-right imperial class.
It also ratchets up a condition of belligerence and reminds me of the slogan from Veterans For Peace that always resonates with me at times like this: “Wars are easy to start and very difficult to stop.” As we know, that was true in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. None of those adventures ended well or in our favor. All that this kind of easy militarization of an international problem does is, one, appease hyperventilating militarists and, two, slow the demonized enemy down a little.
Chances are the exact same less-than-perfect ending of such military adventures could have been reached through diplomacy. The militarist right will, of course, chuckle confidently that this is naive liberalism, even appeasement. The trouble is a diplomatic alternative entails some element of humility, which is unknown to the elite militarist class. So the diplomatic option never is given a chance to work. It’s damned without ever being tested.
Given the history of Crimea from the Crimean War of 1854 to the fact the population of Crimea is 58 percent Russian, it is a no-brainer that Russia has a legitimate stake in Crimea. Certainly as much of a stake as the British had in the Falklands and that the United States has in Puerto Rico.
Sabre-rattlers like McCain like to demonize President Putin by calling him a “thug” and ridiculing his narcissistic penchant for going shirtless in macho poses. If being a narcissist and, even, a culturally-successful sociopath is grounds alone for damnation, our side with Wall Street and the Pentagon can go mano-a-mano with Russia any day of the week.
You gotta hand it to McCain, though. The following from his NYT op-ed has to be the best Putin-bashing we’ve seen.
“The United States must look beyond Mr. Putin. His regime may appear imposing, but it is rotting inside. His Russia is not a great power on par with America. It is a gas station run by a corrupt, autocratic regime.”
As Ukrainians did with President Viktor Yanukovych, McCain says Russians will run out Vladimir Putin. The US must “demonstrate that the tide of history is with … the political values of the west.” If we are bold, the Russian people will see this and “begin to ask, ‘Why not us?'”
The thrust of this irresponsible op-ed, thus, becomes exactly the same our-way-or-the-highway demand for regime change that framed the Iraq War with Saddam Hussein and made any other policy (like containment) out of the question. The US did the same with Muammar al-Gaddafi and is doing it now with Bashar al-Assad. The United States, McCain says, should no longer be weak like it is under President Obama; the US should now effectively seek the overthrow of President Putin. “We must prepare for that day now,” he writes. Diplomacy won’t work because it amounts to “vacillation [that] invites aggression.” In other words, anything short of a brutal US capitalist attack on the Russian economy or a military response is out of the question.
I’m not a psychiatrist, but in my mind this kind of easy belligerent talk at a time America is clearly weary of war amounts to the deceptively lucid ravings of a madman.
Since it’s so easy to ratchet up for war but so hard to ratchet down, is it time for courageous, sane political figures in America to take off the gloves and, war hero or not, treat this man as he should be treated — like a raging whack-job. McCain’s POW experience and his advancing age may place him psychologically close enough to the grave that he no longer fears death or apocalypse and will advocate anything to preserve his vision of past glory.
The sane people of the world should put McCain, Putin and Khamenei in a room and lock the door. And leave it locked. That might give the human race a chance to get on with making a better world.