Controversial Historian In McCain's Orbit

For instance, Ferguson's 2004 book, "Colossus -- The Rise and Fall of the American Empire," argued that the United States should face up to its status as a de facto empire. His intention, he said, was to encourage America to become an "effective liberal empire" that learned "humility" from the mistakes of its British forbear.

His resulting thoughts on the Iraq war received a fair amount of attention in Britain. Ferguson wrote that America's practice had all too often been to "fire some shells, march in, hold elections, and then get the hell out -- until the next crisis." At the start of the war, he encouraged America to commit more resources to Iraq, and stay the course.

However, Ferguson has also expressed increasing dismay at the manner in which the war is being run, and often stresses that America must maintain its democratic credentials through its actions around the world.

This determination to protect American values may have been what brought him into McCain's unofficial orbit of influences. During the discussion last year about U.S torture practices, Ferguson wrote that, "The White House should shut up and back Sen. John McCain's bill, which would unequivocally ban torture by American military or intelligence personnel."

This was the second time in two months that Ferguson had mentioned McCain in his weekly column for Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper. The first occasion may even provide a potential insight into foreign policy under a putative President McCain.

In that passage, comparing America to ancient Rome, Ferguson noted the geographical similarity between present-day American foreign interests and the conquests of the Roman emperor Trajan. Quoting from the 18th century historian Edward Gibbon, Ferguson then turned his attention to how Trajan's successor, Hadrian, dealt with the "over-extension of the empire" that he inherited from his predecessor.

"By every honorable expedient, [Hadrian] invited the friendship of the barbarians; and endeavored to convince mankind that the Roman power, raised above the temptation of conquest, was actuated only by the love of order and justice."

Ferguson concluded this sounded like "a straightforward enough foreign policy for Mr. Bush's successor," before noting that he hoped that successor would be John McCain.

Neither Ferguson nor McCain responded to inquiries for this article, so the nature of their relationship, if any, is unclear. What is clear, however, is that McCain has tapped a controversial academic to be a member of his virtual "kitchen cabinet." There is, of course, an old saying that goes, "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen." Ferguson has shown he is more than able to stand the heat, and given his reputation, there will surely be much more of it to come.

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