Media report that McCain now insists on respect for U.S. allies -- but ignore 2003 smears of Germany and "aging movie actress" France

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Several media outlets reported Sen. John McCain's assertion, in his March 26 foreign policy speech, that "[w]e need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies," without nothing that, during the run-up to the Iraq war, McCain made statements that suggested the opposite of "respect" for the views of U.S. allies. For example, in February 2003, McCain likened France, which opposed the invasion, to an "aging movie actress in the 1940s who's still trying to dine out on her looks, but doesn't have the face for it."

In reports on Sen. John McCain's March 26 foreign policy speech, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and NBC's Nightly News reported all or part of McCain's assertion: "We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them." But the reports did not note any of the statements McCain made during the run-up to the Iraq war about France, Germany, and Belgium, which suggested that McCain did not "respect" their "collective will" and was not "willing to be persuaded by them." Indeed, as the blog Think Progress noted, in a February 16, 2003, appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, McCain asserted that the French "remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who's still trying to dine out on her looks, but doesn't have the face for it," adding, "[T]he cynical role that France is playing proves that if -- if you are not -- you cannot be a great nation unless you have great purpose."

Similarly, in a February 10, 2003, interview on CNN's Inside Politics, McCain asserted that then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's opposition to the invasion was a case of him "us[ing] an anti-American card to get reelected." McCain continued:

McCAIN: And what I say is both the French and Germans and Belgians have vetoed, for the first time in history of the alliance, a planning for the emplacement of defensive weaponry in Turkey. I mean, that is unheard of. It's so far over the line that we've never seen anything like it. They've made clear their intentions to use whatever means to block our military action in Iraq no matter what we do. So they have to be, I think, treated for what it is, a -- an election ploy on the part of the German leader. And in the case of French, simply kind of classic French misbehavior.

Also, in a February 13, 2003, speech, McCain asserted that "Gerhard Schroeder's Germany looks little like the ally that anchored our presence in Europe throughout the Cold War. A German Rip Van Winkle from the 1960s would not understand the lack of political courage and cooperation with its allies on the question of Iraq exhibited in Berlin today." In that speech, McCain also said of former French President Jacques Chirac: "President Chirac, who once approved the sale to Iraq of a nuclear reactor knowing that in a country floating on a sea of oil it could have only one real purpose, today says he sees no irrefutable proof of Iraq's WMD program." In a February 8, 2003, speech, McCain said:

McCAIN: The French and German objection, for reasons of calculated self-interest -- a very flawed calculation, I fear -- to a routine American request to the North Atlantic Council to upgrade Turkey's defenses against the military threat from Iraq was a terrible injury to an Alliance that has served their broader interests well. For nearly three weeks, the United States, with fourteen of our eighteen European allies in the North Atlantic Council, has supported this necessary action, but has confronted a new unilateralism conceived in Paris and Berlin, a unilateralism that exposed the sneering in those capitals about the impulsive cowboy in the White House for the vacuous posturing and obvious misdirection it is.

[...]

Foreign Minister [Joschka] Fischer recently warned against "primitive anti-Americanism." I thank and commend him for his statement. But I am concerned, we should all be concerned, not only with the "primitive" anti-Americanism of the street that resents America's successes, exults in our misfortunes, and ascribes to us motives that one must be a fool or delusional to believe. We should also be concerned with the "sophisticated" anti-Americanism, or perhaps more aptly, the "cynical" anti-Americanism of political leaders who exploit for their own ends the disinformed, "primitive" hostility to America voiced in some quarters of their societies; to further their ambitions to govern or to inflate perceptions of their international influence.

Just as some Arab governments fuel anti-American sentiment among their people to divert them from problems at home, so a distinct minority of Western European leaders appears to engage in America-bashing to rally their people and other European elites to the call of European unity.

Moreover, in a February 13, 2003, article, The New York Times reported that McCain said: "The Lord said the poor will always be with us, and the French will be with us too. ... This is part of a continuing French practice of throwing sand in the gears of the Atlantic alliance."

In addition, in a March 27 article on McCain's speech, The New York Times reported: "[A]nother [McCain] adviser, Richard S. Williamson, an assistant secretary of state under Mr. Bush's father and a former representative to several United Nations bodies, said Mr. McCain recognized that in relations with allies, there was a 'need to exchange views, not just bludgeon people with our own views.' " But the Times did not note McCain's previous comments about France and Germany.

From the Post's March 27 article:

In the speech, McCain renewed his call for a "global compact -- a League of Democracies" that would unite the world's free countries against tyranny, disease and environmental destruction. As he did in Europe last week, he played down unilateral action and stressed cooperation on global warming, torture of prisoners and trade.

"We need to listen -- we need to listen -- to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies," McCain said. "When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them."

Bush's foreign policy approach has moderated significantly in his second term, with greater outreach to European allies and a willingness to strike deals with countries such as North Korea. In essence, McCain suggested he would embrace Bush's policies on terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan while extending his willingness to meet allies halfway.

From the Los Angeles Times' March 27 article:

Recalling his military experience -- and that of his father and grandfather, who were admirals -- McCain declared: "I detest war. ... It is wretched beyond all description." When Americans believe military or diplomatic action is needed, he said, "we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we in return must be willing to be persuaded by them."

He said the struggle against terrorism was not primarily about military force, but instead about winning over moderate Muslims through development aid, diplomacy and trade.

From the AP's March 26 article:

Republican John McCain on Wednesday called anew for the United States to work more collegially with democratic allies and live up to its duties as a world leader, drawing a sharp contrast to the past eight years under President Bush.

"Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed," the likely presidential nominee said in a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. "We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies," McCain added.

Coming days after his trip to the Middle East and Europe, McCain's speech was intended to signal to leaders abroad -- and voters at home -- that he would end an era of what critics have called Bush's cowboy diplomacy. McCain never mentioned Bush's name, though he evoked former Democratic Presidents Truman and Kennedy.

From the March 26 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): Now to the McCain campaign. While the Democrats engage in this back-and-forth hand-to-hand combat, John McCain can aim for the general election audience, explaining who he is and who he's not. That's what he tried to do today. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell traveling with him in Los Angeles tonight.

Kelly, good evening.

O'DONNELL: Good evening, Brian. Part of John McCain 's goal today was to take on two big perceptions about him: his views on the war and his ties to President Bush. He continues to support both, but much of what he said was really aimed at voters beyond the Republican Party base.

[begin video clip]

O'DONNELL: There was something different about John McCain today in Los Angeles. Known for his continued support of the Iraq war, McCain revealed a part of himself seldom seen in public.

McCAIN: I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are.

O'DONNELL: More emotional words intended for those who want a swift end to the war, and also those with loved ones in uniform. McCain recalled the long absence of his father after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

McCAIN: My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed as commander of a United States submarine. I rarely saw him again for four years.

O'DONNELL: And described the sudden loss when his grandfather returned from World War II.

McCAIN: Came home from the war exhausted, from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day.

O'DONNELL: Acknowledging the costs, McCain then argued for the current U.S. strategy, and against what he called a premature withdrawal from Iraq.

McCAIN: We have incurred a moral responsibility in Iraq.

O'DONNELL: Beyond the war to America's role in the world, McCain claimed he could improve the nation's standing. While McCain did not criticize President Bush by name, clearly he set out to distance himself in key areas, rebuffing what critics have described as "cowboy" diplomacy.

McCAIN: Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want.

O'DONNELL: Trying to appear more aggressive than Mr. Bush on climate change.

McCAIN: The risks of global warming have no borders.

O'DONNELL: And more measured on the treatment of detainees.

McCAIN: We can't torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured.

O'DONNELL: Though McCain has voted to permit the CIA to use some harsh techniques.

McCAIN: We need to listen. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies.

[end video clip]

O'DONNELL: As for those allies, McCain says that Russia no longer deserves to be considered a big industrial democracy. And he encouraged Western nations to really be wary because of the changes in Russia to view that as a potential threat. All part of what could be McCain doctrine -- Brian.

WILLIAMS: Kelly O'Donnell in Los Angeles.

From the February 16, 2003, edition of CBS' Face the Nation (transcript from Nexis):

DANA PRIEST (Washington Post staff writer): What do you think it will -- will mean for a post-Iraq reconstruction if we've so alienated the French and the Germans, who, after all, make up three-quarters of the peacekeeping forces in the Balkans? Are they going to be willing to help the United States in the long reconstruction in Iraq, do you think?

McCAIN: I'm sure they will because it's in their interests to do so. The French have a long commercial connection with the Iraqis, and let -- let me just say a word about the French. They remind me of an aging movie actress in the 1940s who's still trying to dine out on her looks, but doesn't have the face for it. The cynical role -- the cynical role that France is playing proves that if -- if you are not -- you cannot be a great nation unless you have great purpose. And they've lost their purpose. And it's very unfortunate, and perhaps Churchill and Roosevelt made a very serious mistake when they decided to give France a veto in the Security Council, following -- when the United Nations was organized.

PRIEST: So you don't think that people who disagree with the administration can have legitimate differences of opinion over, for instance, the link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein? There seems to be a lot of people who have questions about that. Are you totally convinced with the administration's position?

McCAIN: I'm totally convinced of one thing: Given Saddam Hussein's record of using weapons of mass destruction, of slaughtering his own people, that there's not a doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to a terrorist organization, because they have common cause in trying to destroy the United States of America. So there's no doubt in -- in my mind as to what he would do. I don't know the connection that exists right now between the two, but I know they have common cause.

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