Arizona Republican Senator John McCain opened a new front Monday in his fight to become champion thorn in the side of the Trump Administration. In an op-ed for the New York Times, McCain took issue with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks to State Department employees about American values, in the context of foreign policy.
In addition to willfully misrepresenting Tillerson’s intent, McCain offers up an argument that is both contradictory and unrealistic.
At the heart of McCain’s latest beef with the administration is Tillerson’s suggestion that America’s foreign policy cannot be dictated by American values. During his speech Wednesday, Tillerson told department employees “In some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals.”
McCain’s disingenuous interpretation of those remarks suggest a complete abandonment of human rights concerns, in favor of America’s political and economic interests. “With those words,” McCain writes, “Secretary Tillerson sent a message to oppressed people everywhere: Don’t look to the United States for hope.” The senator is rightly pointing out that, when the American government speaks out in support of oppressed people in some foreign land, it gives those people hope.
“…and hope is a powerful defense against depression,” McCain writes. Such purple prose, however, are meaningless nonsense; whilst hope may inspire people to resist their oppressors, it does nothing to defend them. As the saying goes, don’t bring hope to a gun-fight. Only someone who has spent far too many years in the Washington cocoon could utter such empty platitudes.
In McCain’s defense, it may be a prerequisite of writing an opinion piece for the New York Times that one omits certain facts. In order to meet that requirement, the Senator left out the part where Tillerson said “It doesn’t mean that we will leave those values on the sidelines. It doesn’t mean that we don’t advocate for and aspire to freedom, human dignity and the treatment of people the world over.” He went on to say:
I think it’s really important that all of us understand the difference between policy and values and, in some circumstances, we should, and do, condition policy engagements on people adopting certain actions as to how they treat people.
McClain’s op-ed was full of idealism but devoid of any alternative approach. Thus, it is unclear what point he is trying to make. Perhaps not unusual for McCain. Self-indulgence, along with a desperate need to stay relevant by occupying column inches in a national newspaper, appear to have been his only real motivation.
Many nations and governments, around the world, do not share America’s values – yet we must deal with them, on one level or another and for varied reasons. McCain himself has never allowed a disregard for human rights to interfere with his own activities; in the early months of the Syrian civil war, he wasted no time in rushing off to that ravaged country to be photographed glad-handing with the rebels. Those same Rebels care nothing for American values. As recently as February, McCain met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, for what was reported – by the United Arab Emirates newspaper, The National – as a discussion of the friendly ties between two nations. According to a March 2016 Bloomberg report, the McCain Institute Foundation received, in 2014, a $1 million donation from the Saudi government. Perhaps the senator has failed to notice, but American values are completely alien to the Saudi Kingdom.
There is no other country on earth that so readily embraces the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans. Our understanding of human rights is also alien to many nations, for good or bad. It is unthinkable that America should – or could – impose these values upon every other nation; as wonderful as it looks, when viewed through rose-tinted glasses, such an undertaking would ignite chaos and war across the globe, on a scale never before seen.
More importantly; how far does such a premise extend? Would not, for example, we eventually demand that all countries adopt our constitutional republican form of government, complete with same Bill of Rights? After all, most oppression begins with authoritarian government. What better way to eradicate oppression, then, than to condition our diplomacy, trading relations and military cooperation upon fundamental restructuring of governmental systems by our prospective international partners?
Senator McCain is a globalist and it could be that he believes America has the right to impose its values upon all nations of the world. That is neither true, nor practical – nor even morally defensible. Unless the United States is prepared to either close itself off entirely from the rest of the world or impose its will upon all other nations, it must continue to deal with governments that do not share our notions of freedom and human rights. John McCain describes himself as a realist. Perhaps he should learn to think, and write, like one.