What interests me about McCain's position is not so much the content as the tone. Check out the video above. McCain clearly believes that a nasty spat in the Caucasus is somehow the defining struggle of the next generation. He speaks in ominous tones about Russia, a state he obviously regards as some dark menace on the verge of dominating the planet. He speaks of faraway countries about which we know nothing in the manner of some Wilderness Years Churchill worrying about Hitler.There is, of course, one sense in which this is just business as usual. Nationalism sells in political campaigns, and it always has. Candidates are forever insisting that we need to "get tough" with someone or another, fully aware that they can afford to say stuff like this because they aren't in office and don't have to back it up. Just as routinely, though, their actual foreign policy tends to become more realistic if they win. (Remember how disappointed the hawks were with Bush when he declined to go to war with China over that downed EP-3 a couple of months after taking office?)
But McCain is different. Sure, a bit of this is campaign season posturing, but only a bit: he's dead serious about most of it. McCain's instincts have always been almost entirely martial and combative, and his focus is nearly always on playing global games of chicken — deliberately looking for ways of increasing tensions instead of easing them. After all, he's been shooting from the hip about the glories of a punitive Russia policy for years (a fact of which he keeps reminding us), and while French president Nicolas Sarkozy was busy trying to ratchet things down in Georgia, McCain was busy trying to ratchet things up — and pretty clearly reveling in it. That's a dangerous temperament for a president to have.