Sen. John McCain has exhibited personal courage, but his geopolitical judgment is uniformly awful. Over the last 30 years there has been no war or potential war that he has opposed.
In 2008 he wanted to confront nuclear-armed Russia over its neighbor Georgia, which started their short and sharp conflict. It would have been ironic had the Cold War ended peacefully, only to see Washington trigger a nuclear crisis in order to back Georgia as it attempted to prevent the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from doing what Kosovo did with U.S. military aid: achieve self-determination (by seceding from Georgia).
Now Senator McCain is banging the war drums in Libya. But he seems to have trouble remembering who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.
Although now crusading against Moammar Qaddafi, two years ago he joined Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham in Tripoli to sup with the dear colonel. There the three opponents of tyranny whispered sweet nothings in the dictator's ear, offering the prospect of military aid. After all, the former terrorist had become a good friend of America by battling terrorists.
Andrew McCarthy reported on the sordid tale from the WikiLeaks disclosures:
A government cable (leaked by Wikileaks) memorializes the excruciating details of meetings between the Senate delegation and Qaddafi, along with his son Mutassim, Libya's "national security adviser." We find McCain and Graham promising to use their influence to push along Libya's requests for C-130 military aircraft, among other armaments, and civilian nuclear assistance. And there's Lieberman gushing, "We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi." That's before he opined that Libya had become "an important ally in the war on terrorism," and that "common enemies sometimes make better friends."
Obviously, that was then and this is now. Along the way Senator McCain and his fellow war enthusiasts realized that Qaddafi wasn't a nice guy after all. Who knew? I mean, he had only jailed opponents, conducted terrorist operations against the United States, and initiated a nuclear weapons program. So earlier this year they demanded that the United States back the rebels, the new heroes of democracy.
Until now, anyway.
Anyone who has covered civil wars won't be surprised to learn that the insurgents aren't always playing by Marquess of Queensbeerry rules. Indeed, the opposition is united only by its hatred of Qaddafi. It includes defectors, including Qaddafi's former interior minister who was just assassinated under mysterious circumstances; jihadists and terrorists, some of whom fought against U.S. forces in Iraq; tribal opponents of Qaddafi; and genuine democracy advocates devoted to creating a liberal society. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the good guys will win any power struggle certain to follow Qaddafi's ouster.
The Obama administration claimed to enter the war to protect civilians. Yet NATO has occasionally threatened to bomb the rebels if they harm civilians. Reports of summary executions and looting by insurgent forces have emerged. Now Senator McCain has written the opposition a letter--more polite than sending a drone, I suppose--demanding that the Transition National Council stop being mean to former Qaddafi supporters.
In his letter to the TNC, dated 20th July, Senator McCain, writing as "your friend and supporter," pointed out "recent documentation of human rights abuses committed by opposition figures in the western Libyan towns of al-Awaniya, Rayayinah, Zawiyat al-Bagul, and al-Qawalish". He continued: " According to Human Rights Watch, a highly credible international non-governmental organisation, rebel fighters and supporters have damaged property, burned some homes, looted from hospitals, homes and shops, and beaten some individuals alleged to have supported government forces.
"I am confident you are aware of these allegations.... It is because the TNC holds itself to such high democratic standards that it is necessary for you and the Council to take decisive action to bring any human rights abuses to an immediate halt."
Who would have imagined that a civil war could be nasty and that not everyone who opposes a dictator is a sweet, peace-loving liberal? Certainly not John McCain.
The point is not that Qaddafi is a nice guy. The world would be a better place if he "moves on," so to speak. But there's no guarantee that a rebel victory will result in a liberal democracy dedicated to international peace and harmony. And there's nothing at stake that warrants involving the United States in yet another war in a Muslim nation--the fifth ongoing, if one counts the extensive drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, along with Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Senator McCain urges Washington to bomb or invade the sixth Islamic state, which is inevitable given his past behavior, it would be worth remembering how he has managed to be on every side of the Libya issue, supporting tyranny before he opposed it. When it comes to war, the best policy is to do the opposite of what he advises. Only then will America find itself finally at peace.
This post first appeared at Cato@Liberty.