Senator John McCain is nothing if not consistent. From his vociferous and unyielding support of the Iraq war, to subsequent calls for military intervention in Iran, Georgia, Libya, and now Syria, Senator McCain is arguably the most pro-war politician in Washington.
As a decorated Vietnam veteran and former prisoner-of-war, Senator McCain is undoubtedly an American hero. From his military service to his 26-year career in the United States Senate, there is no denying the fact that McCain has been an important figure in American history.
However, in recent years Senator McCain, despite witnessing the atrocities of war firsthand, has thrown caution out the window as he consistently urges the U.S. to take military action all over the globe. In fact, as his Republican colleague Senator Rand Paul poignantly put it, McCain seems to think "the whole world is a battlefield."
From an utter disregard of legality during the 1999 bombing of Serbia, to his push for preemptive bomb strikes in Iran a decade later, it seems as though Senator McCain is always leading some ragtag band of war hawks into yet another military entanglement. While a few of these interventions have been successful, such as the U.S. involvement in Bosnia in 1995, many remain unresolved and have left entire regions, particularly the Middle East, in tumultuous disarray.
To add insult to injury, Senator McCain is entirely unwilling to accept shortcomings and failings in his hawkish military strategies. When asked in 2008 about previous comments by the Bush administration suggesting that we leave troops in Iraq for 50 years, McCain callously responded, "Make it a hundred."
During the confirmation hearings for fellow Vietnam veteran and current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Senator McCain once again displayed his bullheadedness as he demanded that Hagel voice his support for the 2007 Iraq surge. When Hagel insinuated that the surge may not have been necessary but suggested that we defer the final judgment to history, McCain grew irate and definitively proclaimed, "History has already made the judgment about the surge, sir. And you're on the wrong side of it”"
For nearly every international conflict since 1983, Senator McCain's response has been to urge the U.S. to exercise military force — but the question is why? Perhaps it is because he is a genuine humanitarian hawk at heart. Or maybe it is because he feels that the United States has a unique ability to solve all of the world's problems with a few extra weapons or a no-fly zone here and there. Only Senator McCain knows the answer to that question, but honestly, the answer doesn’t even matter.
With recent news that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel forces, the Obama administration has decided to side with Senator McCain and will soon begin to send weapons to the disparate Syrian rebel army.
Syria has been in the midst of an ongoing sectarian war that has resulted in over 93,000 total casualties over the last two years. The news that President Assad has used chemical weapons on at least 150 of his own people is merely a confirmation that the carnage of this war is truly devastating.
However, President Obama’s decision to arm the rebels in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons has many foreign policy experts questioning the efficacy of this strategy. Most experts believe that this move is too little, too late, and will not be a significant game-changer on the ground in Syria. In fact, Politico reports that this effort may be "just enough to preserve the president's international credibility."
Herein lies a major problem with United States foreign policy. Thanks to decades of war mongering by Senator John McCain and other powerful leaders in Washington, President Obama, like others before him, is starting to feel as though military action is the only viable solution to international conflict. Even if this influx of weapons is expected to be largely ineffective, it appears as though the Obama administration feels compelled to take such military action anyway.
Over the next few weeks, the way we choose respond to the crisis in Syria may define the next generation of U.S. foreign policy. One option is to revert to Senator McCain's infamous policies of old, where we blindly throw our military might behind a group whose history, culture, and future goals we do not fully understand. Or instead, we can choose to seek out an alternative — whether it be a full-scale humanitarian rescue, serious diplomatic negations with Russia, China, and Iran, or a variety of other options.
If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, it is that the hawkish policies favored by pro-war politicians such as Senator John McCain have not been successful. The time has come for the United States to stop blindly exerting its military force in the middle of regional conflicts. Years ago, there used to be an important distinction between displaying American leadership, and engaging in military intervention; it's about time that we remind ourselves of that distinction.