Watching John McCain and his Cold Warriors parry on the crisis in Egypt has been telling -- they spent the last few weeks awkwardly dithering over how to respond to a new era emerging in the streets of Cairo. Their ambivalence illustrates both how fast the world is changing and how far behind our politicians are falling. As the turmoil in Egypt enters its 17th day, its time we accept that we cannot use stagnant foreign policy strategy which was designed for a world in 1989.
Last week on the Sean Hannity show Senator McCain warned that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed el Baradei, the most likely man to lead a transitional government in Egypt was "no friend of the United States." This was presumably because as the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Baradei spoke out (correctly) predicting the absence WMD's in Iraq and challenging the United States' (non-existent) rational for invasion. The self defeating sore loser attitude, in a moment when the world is looking to American leaders for sound judgment, shows just how lost in time many of the foreign policy old guard are.
The Cold War clique has been making the rounds criticizing the administration's failure to back America's long time ally (and despot) Hosni Mubarak. They lament the dangers of free elections in a Muslim country and clamor on about bombing Iran. These old-school hawks also relish calling those who disagree naïve, invoking their aged wisdom -- and lifetime experience supporting dictators worldwide to fight the Cold War.
The scrambled reaction to Egypt reminded me of another classic McCain moment, when in the 2008 debates he decried Obama's willingness to engage unfriendly states in dialogue as (subtext: youthful) naïveté. McCain declared that Obama "would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition." It was a cheap shot, but it was also telling - when McCain had to pick the three countries in the world that posed the greatest risk to America he picked Cuba. His answer was a spot on -- for 1962.
Of course it's tempting to fall back on the old paradigm -- we haven't actually come up with a new one. When the Soviet Union fell, America went from being a grandmaster at the chessboard to another kid on field day (albeit the biggest and richest kid) but our policies never evolved. With no monolithic enemy to stare down we faced a slew of newly significant unpronounceable countries -- countries with their own ambitions, histories, and oh yes, piles of weapons we sold them during long proxy wars. Many of these countries have things we want, some have ideologies we fear, and all speak a language our Cold War style leaders just don't understand.
The complicated truth many in power deny is that we cannot just tweak our Cold War lens. The very basics of our defense and security strategy just don't work anymore. While politicians of yesteryear took comfort in neat words like force ratio and mutually assured destruction, today Al Qaeda doesn't care about our nukes. All the tanks and guns in the world can't stop avian flu from crossing our borders. And in the new globalized marketplace no amount of military might can shield us from the powerful math skills of Estonian children - who now out-test our own kids.
Furthermore, technology has made information -- and the power it engenders -- accessible to people the world over. Egypt is just one more sign that dictators and the American politicians who love them may have met their match in the millennial generation.
Not only are John McCain and his pals making policy for a world that is long gone, they're also blocking the road to reform. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, in a desperate effort to freeze time, has spoken out against National Science Foundation funding for political science research.
We are stagnating when we should actually be embracing change as good news. With a fresh view the new alignment is promising -- our globalized planet presents opportunities for prosperity on a scale unimaginable 50 years ago. Peace, democracy, and freedom abroad mean more security and prosperity at home. We should appreciate the challenge -- America is uniquely positioned to build a better world for generations to come.
As the Egyptian crisis grew and it became apparent protesters weren't going home Senator McCain (bizarrely) announced his call for President Mubarak to abdicate, via twitter:
"@SenJohnMcCain: Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres. Mubarak 2 step down." Whether that was McCain, or as I suspect a quick-thumbed millennial staffer, it was just too little too late. So here is my twitterized response to the once impressive statesman Senator McCain:
@EricaPayne: u were g8 n thx for ur service bt regrettably time has come 4 ppl still living in coldwr 2 plz step down. #SenJohnMcCain