McCain: Who are you calling an "interventionist"?

You’ll be pleased to know he managed to get through this without insulting Rand Paul, who told Mike Huckabee earlier today, with eloquent understatement, “I treat Sen. McCain with respect, I don’t know if I always get the same in return.” The key bit comes at 6:25 when Shep presses him, with barely concealed disdain, about his interventionist record; the fact that McCain takes umbrage at the use of that term is maybe the best evidence yet of a rising isolationist tide inside the GOP. We’re a long way from 2003 if the “super-hawk” of super-hawks feels obliged to distance himself rhetorically from intervention — although the invocation of Reagan is no surprise. Read George Will’s piece on that from 2011, back when McCain was demanding that America wade into Libya in Reagan’s name. Reagan, who pulled out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing.

But let me focus on something else. Either he’s misunderstanding Paul on drones or I am, because this sounds like a non sequitur:

“About what is [Paul] confused?” Smith asked McCain.

“No one is going to be struck by a Hellfire missile, from a drone, that is not an enemy combatant,” McCain asserted. “That’s just a fact. By the way, the reason why we use Hellfire missiles overseas in places like Yemen, we don’t have the ability to capture them. We want to capture these people, not kill them.”

He’s begging the question. Paul’s not worried about noncombatants being deliberately targeted. He’s worried that an American citizen might be declared an enemy combatant erroneously and then summarily executed by the president before he can contest that designation. In order to be on the safe side and make sure that never happens, Paul’s offering a bright-line rule that even a bona fide enemy combatant should receive due process if he’s a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil (unless, of course, he’s engaged in an attack when the feds finally catch up to him). Frankly, I’m not sure why he’s drawing the line at America’s borders; if you’re worried about an American being targeted in error, you should want due process for him no matter where he’s located. But that’s Paul’s concession to political reality, I think. He’s not putting up a fuss about Awlaki, a U.S. citizen killed in Yemen, because (a) the public’s happy on balance that Awlaki was taken out and (b) he’s more likely to raise awareness about executive overreach by painting a picture of Hellfires being fired at someone on a street in your neighborhood. He’s content, at least for now, to have some constitutional limit imposed on O’s counterterror powers, even if the scenario he’s drawn is unlikely. If McCain disagrees with that, if he really wants zero constitutional restraints on the commander-in-chief’s ability to name someone an enemy and then make war on him, even inside the United States, then he’s gone way beyond interventionism. We’ll know soon: Paul and Ted Cruz are trying to get a Senate vote on an amendment that would end Obama’s drone power inside the U.S. against American citizens in the next few weeks.

Maybe Katie Pavlich will press McCain on this when she primaries him in a few years. Exit question: If McCain’s for “peace through strength” rather than “intervention,” can he name a circumstance in which, given a choice to intervene or not, peace through strength would be better served by not intervening? When was the last time he opposed U.S. intervention, in any form, when it’s been on the table?