Now, it's not easy to draw lessons from history, but one of the clearest lessons that there is is that military power is almost always based on economic might and the one-military power-seldom long outlives a country's economic power. And what that tells us is that fiscal soundness-whether a country's budget is in order, whether it has chronic current accounts deficits and stuff like that is a much bigger deal than any one weapons system, even any one small conflict like we have in Iraq
Marshall goes on to explain that McCain is almost pathologically incapable of dealing with foreign policy in any way beyond as a question of short-term military strategy, and certainly not as part of the integrated whole of governing which includes maintaining the nation's fiscal health as part and parcel of its geopolitical strength.
As I was listening to this, I kept recalling McCain's repeated line that he was a "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution." As Dick Cheney apparently told Paul O'Neill, Reagan's lesson was that deficits don't matter. It seems as if McCain has internalized that message completely: Fiscal recklessness is no vice if it is perpetrated in pursuit of a noble foreign policy goal. And the emergency in the middle east is such a noble goal-as was victory in the Cold War.
The problem with the analogy is that the two conflicts are wildly different. Every dollar spent on bigger, louder, more destructive, more frightening weapons in the cold war could logically be justified as forcing the other side, which was economically less sound, to spend an equal amount on their own super destructo machines to keep pace. You can argue about whether that was what worked, but as a strategy, it at least made sense.
However, the current war is asymmetrical. We could spend every last cent we have on weaponry that'd make Darth Vader weep with envy and the other side would still be busily stocking up on small explosives to build IEDs and hatching plans to kill us with our own airplanes. In other words, whether we drain the treasury to build a doomsday device or space nukes or invisible fighter planes, the enemy will still be doing what it is currently doing.
The way to maintain military superiority is to wield that power judiciously and to carefully tend our economic resources. It is not to pour money into foolish, destructive quagmires in the middle eastern desert. George Bush's, Dick Cheney's, and John McCain's bellicose tunnel vision has the equation precisely reversed. And in reverse, the equation seems to be devastating our military, our standing in the world, and after five years, the economy itself.
Whatever McCain's differences with Bush, the fact that he has internalized this brutally wrongheaded lesson from the Reagan era tells me that he will be every bit the disaster Bush has been. I hope anyone thinking "I could never vote for (Obama/Clinton)-if (he/she) wins the nomination, I'm just gonna (stay home/vote for McCain/vote for Nader/vote for McKinney)" thinks long and hard and honestly about just how much another four years like the last eight would suck.