September 30, 2008

The Language of McCain's "Foreign Policy"

After the American Century

The recent debate between Senators McCain and Obama has been discussed widely in the media, and the consensus seems to be that while there was no clear winner, Obama strengthened his position. A Rasmussen Poll found that on all the main issues Obama improved against McCain.

The debate was supposedly about foreign policy, yet most of the world was entirely ignored. McCain did not say anything about the two most populous nations on earth, China and India, both of which have economies that have been growing far more rapidly than the US. Japan was also completely left out of the debate, as were all the nations of Latin America and Africa. Europe received cursory mention twice, but no nation there was actually discussed.

Instead, McCain focused on a few countries. McCain mentioned Iraq the most (18 times), but also was worried about Russia (17), Iran and Afghanistan (12 each), Georgia (9), Pakistan (7), Israel (6), and North Korea (5). The debate thus was not really about foreign policy at all, but about military policy. This is to a considerable degree the fault of those who made up the questions, but it shows how American political debate has been militarized. To hear it, one would think there are no problems between the US and most of the world, and that only 7 nations in the greater Middle East posed difficulties.

Since the debate was so narrowly focused, I learned nothing new about either candidate's views. But I did begin to notice that McCain's language was extremely bellicose. If one ignores the sentences and looks only at the words employed, he appears to be a man obsessed with combat. He frequently was thinking about strategy (mentioned no less than 17 times), and was deeply concerned about failure (12 times) and defeat (11). When giving particulars in his answers he often spoke of troops (11) and the military (6). He appears to think about the world in terms of confrontations, as he frequently spoke of fighting (10) and security (6). He seems deeply concerned about honor (6) and he wishes to appear proud (4) and tough (4). His world is dominated by a sense of danger (4) and crisis (5), as exemplified by 9/11 (5), which makes defense (8) his central concern. He is ready to kill (4) if necessary.

McCain thinks only occasionally and in the short term about success (4) and peace (5), because he lives in a world of threats (8), aggression (4), violence (2), and genocide (2), where war (8) is often unavoidable and which it is essential to win (7). In this mental universe love (1) scarcely matters, and it is seldom useful to negotiate (1). It is a world without hope (0), with no reference to the future (0) and no interest in global warming (0) or ecology (0).

McCain's choice of words reflects a martial outlook and indicates his lack of interest in the arts of peace or the friendly relations that might be created through trade (0), cultural exchange (0), or international educational agreements like the Fulbright Program (0). McCain's choice of words strongly suggests a mind ill-equipped to deal with subtlety or shades of gray. Couple that mind with an impatient temper and the result might be a man better suited to taking military orders than to wrestling with hard policy choices. Unfortunately, this world view is yoked to a personality that is impatient with authority and that delights in being unpredictable.

All this is highly speculative, based on the words he chose to use during one debate. Yet are not these words a key to understanding his mental makeup?