Senator McCain gave the second of his major speeches today. After discussing the economy yesterday, he turned to foreign policy. Most of the reports I've seen so far (here's one)stress that McCain has distanced himself from Bush and promised to listen to "democratic allies." I'd find the reports more convincing if McCain had cited any decision Bush made that he would have made differently after consulting with the allies. The fact that McCain went on to declare Islamic extremism a "transcendent" threat that must be defeated makes me doubt whether he would have done anything differently.
What is a transcendent threat, anyway? I've heard people talk about "existential" threats, one of which is allegedly "radical Islamic extremism" or "Islamofascism." Perhaps McCain means something similar. Maybe he believes that al-Qaeda is a credible threat to the existence of the United States, or to western civilization itself. He may think they can physically destroy our government through terrorist attacks, or that they could overthrow the Constitution and impose a caliphate on America. Any nation with nuclear weapons is an existential threat in the former sense, and any number of isolated lunatics may be considered existential threats in the latter sense. Does McCain consider any madman or men who declare bad intentions for this country to be an existential threat? Is his the same mentality that leads to our arresting any band of idiots like the "Seas of David" who stumble into contact with an FBI agent? Or is he still fishing for the right scare word to get people to think of Islamic terrorists the same way they used to think about the "international communist conspiracy" or the Nazis.
McCain argues that those who deny the "transcendent threat" represented by Islamic extremism are unfit for the presidency. Regrettably, I don't think he has anything to worry about. Senators Clinton and Obama give every indication of believing in the "Islamofascist" bogeyman. Even I don't doubt that there's an international terrorist network, motivated by Islamic fervor, that would like to conduct more mass-casualty attacks on American soil. But the notion that this band that hasn't managed to do squat here in the last six years (and probably not because Homeland Security is so good) is a transcendent or existential threat to me and my country would be laughable if it didn't carry the perpetual risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.