THE BLOG
10/21/2008 11:36 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

John McCain Has Repeatedly Failed the Commander-in-Chief Test

There is no doubt that the next President of the United States will be tested by an international crisis, as Sen. Joe Biden said this weekend. In times of crisis it is essential that a leader have the temperament and judgment to guide America with a steady hand. Obama's temeperament and judgment have been clear political winners for him. So the fact that the McCain campaign would "pounce" on Biden's comment is really really bizarre considering how erratic and reckless McCain has been when responding to past and present crises.

Yesterday the McCain campaign held a conference call with Rudy Giuliani and Randy Scheunemann, which argued that Obama was not ready for a crisis and they even compared him to John F. Kennedy (hmm... not sure that's a political winner). McCain also said that "Sen. Obama won't have the right response, and we know that because we've seen the wrong response from him over and over during this campaign."

In reality, it is Sen. McCain's response in times of crises that has been erratic and reckless. During this campaign, McCain's reaction to the global financial crisis and the outbreak of war between Russia and Georgia led many conservatives like George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Colin Powell, and even the Wall Street Journal to question his judgment and his temperament.

Additionally, McCain's reaction to past international crises, such as the attacks of 9-11, the run-up to the Iraq war, and the war in Afghanistan have been characterized by reckless and flawed judgment. Following 9-11 McCain advocated attacking four different countries and said Saddam Hussein was behind the Anthrax attacks. He was the biggest cheerleader for the Iraq war, saying Iraq was rushing to develop WMD and that Iraq had close links to Al Qaeda. Just as the war in Afghanistan started, McCain had declared victory and was looking to move on to other countries. He later said we could simply muddle through. McCain's erratic and reckless responses to past and present international crises raise real doubts about his temperament and his ability to lead America through a crisis with a steady hand.


McCain's reaction to the financial crisis was erratic and reckless.
As the economy went into free fall, McCain on September 15th declared that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong." After being vigorously attacked for his out of touch comment, McCain later in the week suddenly called for the Chairman of the SEC, Christopher Cox to be fired. McCain was unaware that the President does not have the authority to fire the chairman of the SEC. George Will described this as: "Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated." The Wall Street Journal said that this was an example of McCain "untethered." The following week McCain suddenly decided to "suspend" his campaign and threatened to pull out of the first debate so that he could go back to Washington and deal with the financial crisis. Only McCain did not return to Washington immediately, instead he conducted an interview with Katie Couric on CBS News, stayed the night in New York, and delivered a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative in New York the following day. When McCain finally returned to Washington, his arrival was seen as politicizing the crisis, and he failed to rally his party to support the rescue bill as more than two-thirds of House Republicans voted against it. This Sunday, General Colin Powell said: "I found that he was a little unsure as to how to deal with the economic problems that we were having and almost every day there was a different approach to the problem. And that concerned me, sensing that he didn't have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we had." Even Ken Adelman, a fixture in the Republican foreign policy establishment for decades, said: "When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird." [Washington Post, 9/15/08. George Will, 9/23/08. Wall Street Journal, 9/19/08. MSNBC, 10/19/08. Washington Post, 10/20/08]

As crisis erupted in the Caucuses in August, McCain - without waiting for the facts - blamed Russia and made extensive commitments to Georgia. "McCain took a remarkably -- and uniquely -- more aggressive stance, siding clearly with Georgia's pro-Western leaders and placing the blame for the conflict entirely on Russia." The Politico assessed that "while virtually every other world leader called for calm in Georgia last Thursday morning, John McCain did something he's done many times over his career in public life: He condemned Russia." Henry Kissinger also noted that McCain got it wrong, "We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side." Conservative foreign policy experts, including former Secretaries of State Kissinger, Shultz, Baker and Powell, also dismissed McCain's knee-jerk response and called for a business-like response to Russia. A recent op-ed, penned by Shultz and Kissinger (McCain's own advisor) warned that the "drift toward confrontation must be ended," and admonished that "[i]t is neither feasible nor desirable to isolate" Russia. [Politico, 8/10/08. Politico, 8/13/08. CBS, 8/12/08. CNN/CNAS, 9/15/08. Washington Post, 10/08/08]

After 9-11, John McCain reacted recklessly, suggested striking at Iraq, Iran and Syria and with no evidence even accused Saddam Hussein of being behind the anthrax attacks. "I have very little doubt in my mind -- after bin Laden is either taken prisoner or killed and his network is destroyed, then what's next? Obviously, Iraq is still bent on -- Saddam Hussein is still bent on developing weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, the Iranians are still supporting terrorist organizations, as are the Syrians." McCain with no evidence even falsely accused Iraq of being behind the anthrax letter attacks, saying "Some of this anthrax may -- and I emphasize may -- have come from Iraq." [MSNBC, Hardball, 10/3/01. NY Times, 8/16/08]

During the run-up to the Iraq War, John McCain hyped the threat, was a cheerleader for the Bush administration, and falsely claimed Iraq was linked to Al Qaeda. Before the Iraq invasion, the Bush administration and John McCain justified their plans by pointing to false claims that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9-11 and that Iraq was hell-bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In 2002, McCain mimicked the Administration's claims: "We are confronting Saddam Hussein today because we cannot kick the can down the road... waiting until he possesses nuclear weapons, as North Korea now does, thereby constraining our ability to respond to a developing danger. We cannot allow Iraq to become the North Korea of the Middle East." He went further in 2003, drawing up false connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda: "Sept. 11, 2001 showed that al-Qaeda is a grave threat. Saddam Hussein has the ability to make a far worse day of infamy by turning Iraq into a weapons assembly line for al-Qaeda's network." McCain even recently insisted that Iraq was connected with the 9-11 attacks, even though in 2004, the 9-11 commission found no evidence of a collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and the 9-11 planners. [Washington Post, 10/24/02. USA Today 2/13/03. Huffington Post, 10/13/08. Washington Post, 6/17/08]

In a sign of his poor judgment, McCain pushed for the U.S. to turn from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2001 and has consistently ignored and misjudged the situation in Afghanistan. McCain has put Afghanistan on the back-burner for 6 years, with disastrous results. Immediately following September 11th, McCain's attention was fixed not on the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but Iraq, when he asked "What's next?" In 2003, McCain claimed that "nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America and nobody is running terrorist training camps to orchestrate attacks on the United States of America." His complacency worsened later that year, when he said before the Council on Foreign Relations that "in the long term, we may muddle through in Afghanistan." In the three major foreign policy speeches of his presidential campaign, he mentioned Afghanistan only seven times, and before July 15 his website contained no plan for Afghanistan. Today, he continues to view Afghanistan through the lens of Iraq, with no plan beyond indiscriminately applying Iraq tactics onto the Afghanistan theater. His lack of leadership and judgment has had severe consequences for the U.S. Attacks have risen in Afghanistan 30% in 2008, and yesterday AP reported that "at least 546 members of the U.S. military" have died since 2001. [John McCain, 10/3/01. John McCain, 4/10/03. John McCain, 11/5/03. John McCain, 3/26/08. John McCain, 4/15/08. John McCain, 6/02/08. John McCain.com, 7/15/08. AP. 10/20/08]