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Opinion

Opinion: McCain's simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach

Senator McCain's personal attack against German Foreign Minister Steinmeier is derogatory and imprudent. But the bigger problem is that indicates the mindset of swaths of the Republican Party, says DW's Michael Knigge.

Let's start with the positive. After John McCain's

tirade

against Berlin's top diplomat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Arizona senator never became president. It's probably best not to imagine everything that could have happened if the American people had ever put him in the position where he could act on his impulses as commander in chief of the world's most powerful military.

That's because McCain, the head of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, not only has a one size-fits-all approach to foreign policy, but he is also prone to emotional outbursts. It is a noxious mixture for a leader, let alone an American president.

Military might

McCain's foreign policy approach can be summed up in three words: Use the military. It actually dates back to before the terror attacks of 2001 that are often invoked to explain hawkish sentiment.

Deutsche Welle Michael Knigge

Michael Knigge reports on transatlantic relations

Asked about his foreign policy while campaigning for the Republican Party's nomination in a debate in February 2000, McCain responded: "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."

That has been his motto ever since. If there is a difficult foreign policy problem, it is likely McCain will have advocated to solve it militarily. Whether the conflicts are in such different places as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria or North Korea - he has always opted for the use of force. Not only does this one-dimensional stance not do justice to the complexity of the world, it is also intellectually lazy.

McCain's one-size fits-all approach also applies to his view of history. If the military option is discarded, McCain is quick to shout appeasement. He did so way back in 1994 to criticize then-President Bill Clinton's refusal to use the military against North Korea and has done many times since. Russia and Iran particularly get his goat. He lashed out even against Republican President George W. Bush, certainly not a peacenik, when he refused to take on Russia over its conflict with Georgia in 2008. In that sense, McCain's latest outburst against Steinmeier is nothing unusual - the tone is perhaps just shriller.

The world in 1-D

The bad news, however, is that McCain's confrontational worldview is shared by many in the Republican Party. Senator Ted Cruz, who - unlike McCain - is a rising star and possible presidential candidate, echoed the Arizona senator's sentiment on Thursday. Cruz compared the West's current policy on Iran to the appeasement of Nazi Germany. Another presidential hopeful, Senator Marco Rubio, called the Obama administration's change in Cuba policy "just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost."

That doesn't bode well for the upcoming presidential race. Instead of presenting policy alternatives, leading Conservative voices are espousing a black-and-white view of foreign affairs. Today's world is complex. Far too complex for politicians whose toolboxes only contain hammers and see every problem as a nail.

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