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McCain delivers major policy speech at the Hoover Institution

Posted by Stephen on May 5, 2007

About a month ago, former Secretary of State George Shultz, a distinguished fellow and moral leader of the Hoover Institution, endorsed Senator John McCain (R-Az.) in his bid for president. “John McCain is a passionate leader who believes in the inherent benefits of freedom and liberty,” Shultz said, adding, “He understands the enormous threat terrorism poses to our way of life and is prepared to fight and win the war from the first day he steps foot in office.”

President Bush received tremendous support from Shultz and the Hoover Institution. In fact, in 1999 Bush met current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was Stanford University’s Provost at the time. Several fellows from the Institution played prominent advisory roles in the president’s campaigns in both 2000 and 2004.

The Hoover Institution has been busy during this early portion of the 08 nomination process for GOP hopefuls. In February, Hoover Senior Fellow John Cogan signed on as co-chair of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s economic advisory team and Senior Fellow Michael Boskin joined former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s Presidential Exploratory Committee.

For McCain, the appearance marked an opportunity to articulate policy positions and outline his plan to create a new “League of Democracies,” while trying to capture the energy that was associated with his campaign in 2000. That was a campaign in which he battled President Bush. Today, he finds himself trying to strike a balance between support for the President while distancing himself on certain issues, namely the management of the war in Iraq.

In the speech McCain stated that he would never start a war with too few troops and that he would reach out to Democrats in Congress. His proposal for a new multilateral institution of democratic states seemed to purposely contrast President Bush’s use of unilateral action in Iraq.

“When we fight a war, we must fight to win,” he said. “We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves. Nor do we want to.”

Hoover research Fellow Bill Whalen seemed impressed saying, “McCain was trying to stake out a clear position in the Republican field.”

“It was a policy speech, not a political speech, and you don’t get too many of those in campaign years,” he said. “He showed a serious sense of gravitas. He was talking about solutions and progress. That’s presidential.”

Attempting to bring back the voice of Teddy Roosevelt, the speech took a hard line stance on Russia and China, criticized unilateralism, and called on the democratic nations of the world to “strike a new grand bargain for the future.”

“New dangers have arisen, great powers are emerging and seek to shift the international balance of power, and we are in the midst of two wars whose outcome will shape our future,” he said. “Today the talk is of the war on terror, a war in which we must succeed. But the war on terror cannot be the only organizing principle of American foreign policy.”

The highlight of the speech was his idea for the creation of a “League of Democracies.”

“This would not be like the universal-membership and failed League of Nations of Woodrow Wilson but much more like what Theodore Roosevelt envisioned: like-minded nations working together in the cause of peace,” McCain said. “The new League of Democracies would form the core of an international order of peace based on freedom. It could act where the UN fails to act.”

Analysts at the Hoover Institution were critical of the plan stating that the Senators outline left many questions unanswered, like who would decide what countries are democracies, what would happen when a country became repressive and how would the international community respond to an initiative spearheaded by the United States.

“It’s not enough just to fight authoritarianism and wave the flag of democracy and human rights around the world,” said Political Science Prof. Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Hoover, who added, “Once we get democratic breakthroughs, we have to figure out how to make democracy work to deliver just, accountable, effective government. McCain has virtually nothing to say about that. And sadly, neither, so far, do any of the other candidates.”

McCain disputed the idea that he was being overly idealistic. In his speech McCain said “It is the truest kind of realism.”

He concluded, “Today, as in the past, our interests are inextricably linked to the global progress of our ideals. The vision of a new era of enduring peace based on freedom is not a Republican vision. It is not a Democratic vision. It is an American vision.”

In a crowded field of GOP contenders, McCain was able to take advantage of a rare opportunity to provide policy positions instead of the 30 second sound bites that most candidates are afforded. Now the Senator will have to see if he is able to capitalize on the chance and breath new life into his campaign.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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