I read Arianna's lament about Sen. John McCain with empathy. I too fell for the Straight Talk Express in 2000. I never committed to voting for him in the general election, but I temporarily switched my party registration to support him in the GOP primaries, thinking that he would at least be less dangerous than Bush.
I see now how wrong that vote was. Not because McCain has changed in any significant way (though both Arianna and Ari Melber have noticed some unpleasant changes), but because of what has stayed the same.
People wonder why McCain flacks so vigorously for the Iraq War. It's because it was his idea.
During one of the 2000 debates between Bush and McCain, McCain laid out his foreign policy vision:
"I would ... revise our policies concerning these rogue states: Iraq, Libya, North Korea - those countries that continue to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. ... I'd institute a policy that I call 'rogue state rollback.' I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments. As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, I am convinced that he will pose a threat to our security."
He also described his foreign policy philosophy during that debate, and afterwards, as being "Wilsonian," as in Woodrow Wilson. That's how neoconservatives characterize themselves to give their unilateralist views a phony democratic, idealistic veneer. (Fareed Zakaria once dubbed them "Armed" Wilsonians.)
Furthermore, Bill Kristol -- who heads the neocon think tank Project For The New American Century and runs the neocon mag The Weekly Standard -- supported McCain in 2000 specifically because of his foreign policy views. As Kristol said in 2003:
"I was not a big Bush supporter in the primaries ... I knew George W. Bush, now President Bush, at that time, and hadn’t really been that impressed by him. I preferred McCain in the primaries, mostly because of foreign policy, because McCain articulated something much closer to what has now become the Bush Doctrine, in terms of a muscular internationalist American foreign policy that addressed both American interests and American principles."
We know now what supporting forces "from without" means, and what "muscular internationalism" means. It means backing exiles like Ahmad Chalabi and Iyad Allawi, who have no grassroots support in their homelands. It means imposing sham democracy at the point of a gun to serve our narrow self-interests, instead of fostering credible democracy through multilateralism to serve the long-term interests of all (as Wilson championed).
In turn, we are better able to see through McCain's shtick: appeal to Dems and independents with candor (like yesterday on Meet The Press, when he chided Paul Wolfowitz for claiming the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil), and with a few liberal positions such as campaign finance reform, higher fuel efficiency standards and opposition to torture.
But on the biggest issue of them all, the overall direction of our foreign policy, which affects the safety and stability of America and the world, John McCain is as right-wing as they come.
His potential to lure Dems and independents into unwittingly voting for a continuation of our disastrous foreign policy course is what makes him the most dangerous man in America.
In 2000, people like me weren't even thinking about foreign policy, and McCain's attacks against Clinton and Gore's "feckless, photo-op foreign policy" were shrugged off. 2008 will be a different story, and we must make sure that all voters know what McCain really has in store for us and the world.