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MIDDLE EAST: Would McCain really 'bomb, bomb Iran'?

March 17, 2008 |  9:14 am


U.S. senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain is now on a tour of the Middle East and Europe, presumably to shore up his foreign policy credentials ahead of November  elections.

McCain talks tough on foreign policy, brandishing a style that appeals to hardcore Beltway neoconservative supporters of Israel and Republican military hawks. He depicts himself as someone committed to keeping troops in Iraq and taking a tough line on Iran.

But as Los Angeles Times' diplomatic correspondent Paul Richter points out in an incisive page-one Sunday analysis, McCain's foreign policy track record is far different than his meat-and-potatoes rhetoric:

McCain has on many occasions resisted calls for use of U.S. troops. Even now, he adopts positions that are closer to those of traditional, pragmatic Republicans than the more hawkish neoconservatives.

Richter describes a factional foreign policy rift within the McCain camp.  "Both sides believe they have assurances from McCain that he would largely follow their path," he writes.

In fact, Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, published a lengthy summary of McCain's own views on America's place in the world late last year. In that piece, he affirms his commitment to keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, strongly backing Israel and taking a tough line against Iran.

But his views sound pretty old school. Take how he would confront Iran on its continued drive toward obtaining sensitive nuclear technologies:

If the United Nations is unwilling to act, the United States must lead a group of like-minded countries to impose effective multilateral sanctions, such as restrictions on exports of refined gasoline, outside the UN framework. America and its partners should also privatize the sanctions effort by supporting a disinvestment campaign to isolate and delegitimize the regime in Tehran, whose policies are already opposed by many Iranian citizens. And military action, although not the preferred option, must remain on the table: Tehran must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world. 

On the other hand, during more off-the-cuff forums, McCain has shown a kind of hyper-charged bragaddaccio that makes Dick Cheney sound like Cindy Sheehan.

There was of course the time at a campaign stop last year when he started singing, "bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." He dismissed the incident, captured in the video above, as a joke. But how about this comment on Larry King in 2000:

Our policies concerning rogue states: Iraq, Libya, North Korea --those countries that continue to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. I’d institute a policy that I call "rogue state rollback." I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments.

Which McCain would American voters and the world get if he were elected president?

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, center, walks with Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, right, commander of Multi-National Division-North, Lt. Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, left, commander of Ninewah Operations Command, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, third from right, after his arrival at a Mosul, Iraq air base on Sunday. Credit: Patrick Lair/U.S. Army via Getty Images