McCain's emphasis on his experience with national security issues could do him more harm than good in the general elections in November. But the more important question is whether it will harm the country.
While he is well respected for his heroics, his positions on the most critical national security issues facing the United States do not majorly differ from those of neoconservatives in the White House who have led the nation into two wars, fostered terrorism throughout the Middle East, alienated U.S. allies with arrogant unilateral behavior, and left no hope for peace anytime in the near future.
McCain's campaign is based on fear strategy, just like Bush's was. His tough stance on fighting Islamic fascism is essentially the same strategy the Bush doctrine is based on. In speeches, McCain puts Islam in the same bag as terrorism as a tool to scare up support among U.S. voters. The human tragedies of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, water-boarding, and the Surveillance Act are just part of what this fear has engendered in recent years. This rhetoric will enhance America's difficulties with millions of Muslims who relate terrorism to many other issues, but not to Islam. The reliance on this magnified fear leaves many problems on the table -- Osama bin Laden is still free and once in a while releases a menacing tape, the Taliban are resurging in Afghanistan, insurgents are flowing through Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Iraq, and prospects for the Middle East peace process are muddy.
Therefore, relying on McCain's experience in foreign policy means sending another war president to the White House. His efforts to show loyalty toward conservative principles will push him toward the neo-conservative warmongering discourse that president Bush has pursued. And as recent history has shown, this definitely will not help the U.S. get out of its current crisis.
While the United States' foreign policy might be more successful if it were based on bringing different parties together in the Middle East in order to isolate terrorists and fight terrorism effectively -- as well as supporting any multilateral actions taken toward solving global problems -- McCain has instead decided to become more bellicose. He warns us new wars are coming and threatens Iran:
"It's a tough war we're in. It's not going to be over right away. There's going to be other wars. [...] I'm sorry to tell you, there's going to be other wars. We will never surrender but there will be other wars."
McCain is trying to keep the political discussion centered on foreign policy, and off the economy and domestic issues, but his experience, while not necessarily worsening the situation, will not solve anything. His remark that U.S. forces could be in Iraq for the next 100 years also reflects a take on conservative military policy that is heavily weighted towards combat.
This is why McCain's recent vote against Congress' torture ban came as no surprise. On the path he is taking, torture and many other unsavory actions are inevitable. If this is the outcome of being experienced, it seems it is better to bring fresh ideas into the White House to change the way the world's views the U.S. and the values institutionalized in its constitution.
Follow Omid Memarian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/omid_m