John McCain's next comeback

Willie Grace | 12/23/2014, 4:08 p.m. | Updated on 12/23/2014, 4:08 p.m.
As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain will hold the White House to account for what he sees ...
Few people know McCain as well as Kerry, who endured another tongue lashing from his old sparring partner in November.

It's been an odd kind of political purgatory, since it's rare there's a day he's not on cable TV. McCain has also had some victories, helping torpedo Obama's preferred pick for secretary of state, Susan Rice, and ridiculing White House political appointees for ambassadorial posts, including a soap opera producer dispatched to Hungary.

But he has been unable to change the substance of Obama's foreign policy.

The President has ignored McCain's calls for the United States to align much more closely with moderate rebels in the cauldron of Syria's civil war. His hawkish recommendations on confronting Vladimir Putin have also gone unheard. His searing criticism did not stop Obama pulling out of Iraq, though Republicans claim vindication following the rise of ISIS.

But McCain will come out of the wilderness in January. In the interview, he decried a "vacuum created by the lack of American leadership which has been filled in by evil influences."

"Countries no longer believe in American leadership, so therefore, they are making their own accommodations, not only in the Middle East but also in what used to be eastern Europe," he said.

It's a worldview reflected on the walls of McCain's Senate conference room, which features letters and photos from the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, leaders who drew firm ideological lines and didn't suffer critics gladly.

At times, McCain's moral outrage over Syria or Ukraine seems to burst out of him and contrasts with the cold-eyed realism of a President who believes he was elected to end wars, not to get into new quagmires.

'Immoral'

"We are watching one of the great episodes of genocide certainly in our century," McCain said, when asked to assess Obama's Syria policy. "Two hundred thousand people dead, 3.5 million refugees, 150,000 still languishing in (Syrian leader) Bashar al-Assad's prisons."

He added: "We have basically sat by and done very little ... what we are doing is not only unworkable, it's immoral."

Democrats see McCain as the embodiment of a Republican reflex to respond to every global problem with military force, which led America into misadventures like the war in Iraq.

Some Obama aides also believe McCain never truly accepted his loss in 2008, and see him as now more interested in political fireworks than serious legislating.

Obama clearly had the likes of McCain on his mind when he mounted a defense of his foreign policy with CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday.

"There is this knee jerk sense on the part of some of the foreign policy establishment that shooting first and thinking about it second projects strength. I disagree with that," Obama said.

Prospective Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, fighting claims he is an isolationist, meanwhile said at a Wall Street Journal forum this month that McCain wants 15 more wars.

In recent months, McCain's fury has spilled out in committee hearing showdowns with top officials including Secretary of State John Kerry and his new deputy, Tony Blinken.