Thursday, March 27, 2008

America is in a nasty deep hole; Electing McCain President means we keep digging it deeper.

What does John McCain really think when asked what a McCain administration would do about foreign policy or the current disaster in the American economy? Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post, unlike most of the McCain-besotted media, tells us what McCain's core beliefs are. Unsurprisingly, they are extremely right-wing conservative. Take his demonstrated beliefs about how to keep America secure:
As early as 1999, McCain was recommending "rogue state rollback" as our policy toward such nations as Iraq. He remains an unabashed advocate of preventive war, as his comments on bombing Iran have made clear, and of permanent war, as his comments on remaining in Iraq have made clear. His advocacy of a missile defense system is rooted in a preference for military unilateralism -- though it may stimulate a new arms race -- over diplomacy. If you liked Bush's foreign and military policy, you'll love McCain's.
Consider this along with the comment published on talking points memo March 20:
McCain has the personality of a Navy pilot, which is to say he is focused like a laser on tactics and maneuvering and has little grasp of overall strategy, nor does he want it; and that is coupled with a total enthrallment of his own rightness.

The guy's point was -- the skills of instant two-step-ahead (but no more) thinking and total faith in one's decision-making are what keep you alive in a cockpit, but it doesn't serve you well in politics (or leadership). It leads to what Josh was noting - an inability to grasp strategy or nuance, and a general lack of self-awareness that comes from self-questioning.
This is quite descriptive of a lot of fighter pilots. It does not mean that many of them are incapable of learning strategic thinking. But McCain got out of the Navy before he ever had any command that required such thinking, and he has certainly never demonstrated a great grasp of the overall picture. As his lack of understanding of the simple distinction between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims demonstrates, he has no knowledge of the general social, historical or cultural environment in what is today America's largest foreign policy problems. Like a fighter pilot, he will fly where the air traffic controller tells him to and then react to the situation he finds there. But he has no real interest in or understanding of what the overall picture that caused him to be sent there is. That's a decision someone else makes, and the pilot just has to trust that they did their job.

So the good fighter pilot can read the immediate situation and react to it optimally, but he has no interest in actually changing the situation before he gets there. Strategic thinking would be to change the situation to one that the pilot who finally got there had major advantages over his opponents. For that, a strategic thinker has to look a long way beyond immediate threats and decisions on who and what to bomb.

Interestingly, fighter pilots can be quite charming. The laser-focus on the immediate tactical situation and the lack of self-questioning makes them fun to be around. But it doesn't turn them into strategic thinkers or strategic-level leaders. But that's just the National Security problems America faces. America now faces economic problems at a level that even the Libertarian Alan Greenspan says are the worst since WW II.

So what would McCain do about the current economic problems? Harold Meyerson also addresses this issue:
On economic matters, that may be because he doesn't seem to have devoted much time or energy to thinking about the economy. That dearth of thought was apparent yesterday [March 25, 2008] in his speech on the financial crisis. Even some of the barons of Wall Street, looking at the mess they've made, have been recommending stepped-up regulation of financial practices and institutions, but not McCain, who called for "removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital." Never mind that a leading cause of our liquidity crisis is that so many financial institutions are exempt from the regulations that would require them to back their investments with actual assets or would enable them just to value the assets that are on their books.
With his laser-like tactical focus, John McCain is looking at his immediate problem, which is getting nominated and elected President. His tactical problem right now it to pull together the fractured Republican coalition behind his candidacy. He will do that the way he has been working to get the Social conservatives on board behind him - he will find out what they want and he will give it to them. He has found out what the social conservatives want by sitting down and asking their leaders, and then he has gone out and presented their positions as his own.

As a navy pilot he knows what foreign policy works. You bomb people until they give up and do what you want. As for economic policy, you step back and let the bankers and financial experts do as they wish without interfering. That's obvious. What would happen to a fighter pilot in combat if he made a decision to quickly fly left and up to avoid an enemy missile and some outsider froze his controls and said "No!"

But economics and banking are not tactical flying. Bankers operate in an artificial man-made environment, and that environment has to be managed for the individuals within it to know how to do their jobs. But that would be strategic thinking, something that John McCain has demonstrated no aptitude for.

Could McCain learn strategic thinking on the job? He has shown no interest or aptitude for it, and at his advanced age (age 72 as of August 26, 2008) he is unlikely to make major changes in his basic thought and behavior patterns.

If you liked Herbert Hoover as a President as he consistently refused to dealing with the Great Depression, you'll love John McCain dealing with the current economic difficulties. Hoover's refusal to deal with the Great Depression had a lot to do with how deep it was and how long it lasted. And if you think that the Cheney-Bush administrations method of dealing with national security threats to America by attacking Iraq instead of the real threats to America and by refusing to understand or deal with the people and cultures with which American is having problems except at the barrel of a gun or by bombing them, then you will similarly love McCain. He is one of the foremost advocates of Gunboat Diplomacy. There is little likelihood that his views will change, either. When told that something he wants is not workable, his reaction is probably going to be to lose his famous temper at whoever is telling him that. McCain's temper is quite famous, (See also Here and here.) and so is his certainty in his own judgment.

A President who loses his temper at being told things he doesn't like cannot deal with things he doesn't like. And with a President, you can't go shopping for someone else to deal with problems because the President is unique. The problems no one else can solve end up on his desk.

So what does this add up to? McCain has little understanding of or interest in the big picture, either in national security or economics. He is also quick to decide things in a tactical, non-strategic way, and quite certain of his own judgment. When disagreed with or otherwise frustrated he resorts to his temper to intimidate those he sees as questioning his judgment, and his immediate reaction to big problems he cannot deal with is either to ignore them (the economy) and let the "experts" deal with them, or bomb them. Since he does not understand the environment the problems come form and has no interest in learning it (like the history, culture and economics of the middle east), his immediate reactions are unlikely to change the situations he faces.

That's why I don't think John McCain is suited to become President. He is a tactical thinker trying to get a strategic thinker's job, and if he gets it America will suffer at least as badly as it has under George Bush.

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