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Barack Obama’s victory inflamed Republicans, not necessarily because he was black, but rather because he was viewed — rightly as it transpired during his terms of office — as a representative of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Upon Obama’s taking the oath of office, with his policies yet to be implemented, Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell already made it clear that he would do everything to undermine the Obama presidency.

John McCain nevertheless proved to be an exception to the attitude that far too many Republicans displayed toward the new administration. Although he differed sharply with most of Obama’s domestic and foreign policies, he continued to reach out to Democrats as he had done prior to his electoral defeat. As he had done in the past, he always invited Democratic colleagues to join him on his frequent overseas travels. They would join him when he met foreign leaders, as well as when he participated in international conferences. He would share the stage with Democrats, notably at the Halifax Security Forum, where he would delight the assemblage with his well-worn jokes. Moreover, even after Lieberman retired from the Senate, he would include him in his travels and in pre-conference planning meetings that he would organise for his delegations. One leading Democratic Senator told me that he would attend conferences just to demonstrate his solidarity with John.

McCain did not practise bipartisanship purely for its own sake. He was not only a committed internationalist, he also advocated a muscular American national security policy that went beyond merely increasing defence budgets. He chaired the International Republican Institute, which was committed to advancing democracy worldwide by helping to develop the effectiveness of both democratic activists and national political parties. To that end, he supported IRI’s close cooperation with its political counterpart, the National Democratic Institute. Not surprisingly, the IRI would incur the wrath of authoritarian regimes such as Russia and Cuba, against which McCain, in his inimitable style, would fulminate at every opportunity.

At the same time, however, McCain did not hesitate to criticise Democrats who opposed a strong national security posture. In particular, he lashed out at Democrats, as well as members of his own party, who opposed George W. Bush’s controversial 2007 surge of American forces in Iraq. McCain’s instincts proved to be correct, as, ironically, they had also been accurate when he opposed Ronald Reagan’s initial decision to deploy American forces to Lebanon. Moreover, McCain was also prescient when he fought against Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw American forces from Iraq by the end of 2011; just as the surge had changed America’s fortunes in the war for the better, the withdrawal paved the way for the emergence of IS and for the redeployment of American troops to that embattled country.

By the time the 2016 presidential election took place, McCain was the acknowledged leader of those who favored American intervention abroad, whether they were Republicans who identified with neo-conservatives or Democrats who were liberal interventionists. Yet even those in both parties who did not necessarily adopt his strongly-held views about the employment of American power abroad shared his commitment both to active American leadership of its long-standing alliances, and to friends such as Israel, as well as his hostility to authoritarian regimes.
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untenured
October 5th, 2018
10:10 AM
Let's pretend the U.S. political system is not a kleptocracy that values its gerontocracy above all. The stench of corruption pervades every process. Rotten to the core, but not a cause for concern.

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