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Neo-McCainism: The Highest Stage of Neoconservatism?

It is difficult to imagine, but there was a time when pundits in Washington were tagging John McCain as the ultimate unneoconservative Republican figure whose nationalist yet pragmatic approach to foreign policy was being viewed with suspicion by your average global democratic crusader—not to mention the members of what Pat Buchanan described as Israel’s Amen Corner.

When, as a freshman Arizona Republican representative, McCain warned that, by virtue of our involvement in Lebanon, the U.S. military could be drawn into a Middle Eastern quagmire, he was attacked by the hawks in his party.  But his position was eventually embraced by the Reagan administration and Congress after suicide bombers blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut.

McCain’s contrarian views on America’s post-Vietnam global strategy became even more evident after he replaced Barry Goldwater in the Senate, when he expressed concerns about President George H.W. Bush’s plan to send ground troops to the Persian Gulf to force Iraq’s Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in August 1990.  “If you get involved in a major ground war in the Saudi desert, I think support will erode significantly,” McCain told the Los Angeles Times.  “Nor should it be supported.”  And he made a point that sounds familiar to antiwar critics today: “We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American...

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