July 30, 2008 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

European tour or vacation?

Though much of the media likes to clamor about the importance of the "Fairness Doctrine," "fair" was not exactly how one would describe Sen. John McCain's treatment in the press last week, when his Democratic opponent's trip to the Middle East and Europe sucked just about every ounce of media oxygen out of the air. The "Fairness Doctrine" was not much in evidence either when the New York Times declined to run Mr. McCain's op-ed after it had run his rival's piece. If "fairness" is taken to mean equal time or space, it certainly has flown out the window in this presidential campaign.

Of course, conservatives do not believe in any such thing like the "Fairness Doctrine," but only in the free market of ideas and media. If the majority of the media chose to follow Sen. Barack Obama slavishly and sycophantically around on his foreign trip, so be it. Still, one could wish that Mr. McCain had been a little more forceful in taking the initiative to grab some of the headlines during the Obama media extravaganza.

(As it happened, Mr. Obama's extraordinary presumption addressing the "citizens of the world" before even being formally nominated by the Democratic Party combined with the pain felt by high energy prices at home did tend to deflate the impact on opinion polls here at home.) In fairness, therefore, let's look at some of the elements of Mr. McCain's foreign policy in an attempt to draw a comparison. Granted, Mr. McCain has produced nothing like Mr. Obama's grand call from Berlin for the world to "tear down walls" of every imaginary kind, but he does have policies even if they are far less widely covered.

Interestingly enough, there are even certain similarities between the two candidates. On Mr. McCain's side, this can perhaps best be ascribed to his attempt at distancing himself from President Bush on the issue of multilateralism.

Mr. McCain is not beyond appealing to grand visions, though the coverage of said visions has been a bit scant. In a May 2007 speech to the Hoover Institution (whose tower hardly compares for visual effect with the Prussian Victory column in Berlin, of course), Mr. McCain appealed to global cooperation glowingly, and to global institutions: "We can't build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we don't want to. We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact, a league of democracies that can harness the vast influence of more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests. At the heart of this compact must be mutual respect and trust."

In May of this year in Denver, Mr. McCain called for talks with Russia on reducing tactical nuclear arms in Europe and on disarmament generally. He did not go so far as to call for their immediate, total, global elimination, but he did call for "the lowest number possible, consistent with our security requirements and global commitments." While favoring the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, he also called this "a distant and difficult goal." On Russia and Afghanistan, he has also struck similar themes talking about reaching out to Russia and about winning in Afghanistan, which will demand that we ask for greater help from our NATO allies. Mr. McCain has long been an ardent supporter of environmental causes, though he has fallen short of calling climate change a national security concern, as did Mr. Obama in Berlin.

Perhaps this is really the main difference. While Mr. Obama flies off on the wings of his own rhetoric to ever-more-soaring and incoherent heights, Mr. McCain remains at least mindful of the necessities of America's national security interests (though he hardly sounds like a conservative either). This makes sense for someone like Mr. McCain, who spent years in solitary confinement in Vietnam thinking about what his country meant for him. His unyielding determination for the United States to remain in Iraq until the job is done is one such example.

The extremely terse statement made by the McCain campaign during his rival's visit to Europe was a lot shorter than one might have expected from a presidential candidate when his opponent was flying high. But it did make a relevant point - "John McCain has dedicated his life to serving, improving and protecting America. Barack Obama spent an afternoon talking about it."

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in the Washington Times