"He's the true neocon," says the Brookings Institution's Ivo Daalder, a liberal interventionist who conceived the idea of a League of Democracies with Robert Kagan. "He does believe, in a way that George W. Bush never really did, in the use of power, military power above all, to change the world in America's image. If you thought George Bush was bad when it comes to the use of military force, wait till you see John McCain.... He believes this. His advisers believe this. He's surrounded himself with people who believe it. And I'll take him at his word."
I would also add this, from the same article:
More than any other politician, McCain is identified with the Iraq War. From the mid-1990s on, he and his advisers were staunch supporters of "regime change." Scheunemann helped write the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, which funded Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress; joined Bill Kristol's Project for the New American Century; and helped create the neoconservative Committee for the Liberation of Iraq in 2002, with White House support. Together with Joe Lieberman, Sam Brownback and a handful of other senators, McCain emerged as a major cheerleader for the war. Like his fellow neocons, McCain touted what proved to be faked intelligence on the threat posed by Iraq. Echoing Vice President Cheney, McCain said on the eve of the war, "There's no doubt in my mind, once [Saddam] is gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators." He pooh-poohed critics who argued that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's war plan was too reliant on technology and too light on troops, saying, "I don't think you're going to have to see the scale of numbers of troops that we saw...back in 1991." When Gen. Eric Shinseki warned, a month before the war started, that occupying Iraq would require far more troops, McCain was mute.
Today McCain portrays himself as a critic of how the war was fought, but his criticism did not emerge until long after it was clear that the United States faced a grueling insurgency. From the fall of 2003 onward, against a growing chorus of critics who called for US forces to withdraw, McCain repeatedly called for more troops to secure "victory." By late 2006, when the bipartisan Iraq Study Group called for pulling out all combat brigades within fifteen months, McCain, Lieberman and a hardy band of neocons, led by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and joined by Cheney, persuaded Bush to escalate the war instead. Asked if McCain directly lobbied Bush to reject the ISG's recommendations, a McCain aide says, "There were many encounters with the President's senior advisers and with the President on this issue." Fred Kagan, the surge's author and Robert Kagan's brother, told McClatchy Newspapers, "It was a very lonely time. He went out there for us."
In January McCain famously said US forces might end up staying in Iraq for a hundred years. It's clear that for McCain the occupation is not just about winning the war but about turning Iraq into a regional base for extending US influence throughout the region. According to the original neocon conception of the war, as promoted by people like Perle and Michael Ledeen, Iraq was only a first step in redrawing the Middle East map. Gen. Wesley Clark said recently that on the eve of the war he was shown a Pentagon document that portrayed Iraq as the first in a series of operations to change regimes in Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Lebanon.
When The Nation asked Scheunemann why US forces would have to stay in Iraq so long, he explicitly linked their presence to the entire Middle East. "Iraq might be stable, but what about the region?" he responded. "Other countries could be in turmoil; other countries could be threatening Iraq. It could be an external threat that we need to have troops there for, à la South Korea, à la Japan." He added, "I understand your readers may think it's some sort of malevolent imperialist conspiracy." Conspiracy or not, it's clear that McCain sees our presence in Iraq as a permanent extension of US power in the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
Malevolent imperialist conspiracy? Now, what could give anyone that idea (.pdf)?