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The Foreign Policy of the 2008 US Presidential Election Candidates


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The 2008 US Presidential election is fast approaching and candidates are expressing their foreign policy perspectives with more openness. The foreign policy perspective of John McCain is very much different from that of Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate; here is a summary of their foreign policy views:

Senator John McCain, if elected will be the oldest serving US president with an age of 71. His approach to foreign policy is largely derived from his military background in the US military. Senator McCain spent five and half years of his life as a prisoner of War inside a Vietnamese prison during which he was allegedly tortured. His policy towards the leading issue of US foreign policy, ‘The War on Terror', is very similar to the current president George W. Bush. His rhetoric towards the war is also very similar to the current president. McCain strongly supports the war in Iraq and also the recent troop surge. He is quoted as saying that America will stay in Iraq for a hundred years if needed. Although he has said that he believes the Iraq War has been mismanaged by the current administration. With regards to Iran he indicates that he will pursue a harsh policy in order to allegedly prevent Iran from going nuclear. McCain has a much more negative view with regards to Russia compared to the other candidates and even compared to Bush, stating that the US should be careful in dealing with the “dangerous" Vladimir Putin.

Barack Obama a senator from Illinois will be the first black US president if elected. Many Americans believe that his policies are a sharp break from past policies. While this is true to some extend (at least as far as he verbally indicates so far), his rhetoric is similar to past moderate US president like Jimmy Carter. For example on the ‘War of Terror’ he has indicated that he believes that Bush incorrectly came up with a military solution to form America's response to 9/11. Instead he believes the United States should support forces of moderation especially in the Middle East by “access to education and health care, trade and investment". Although like Clinton he has indicated that the US should work hard in preventing terrorists from obtaining Weapons of Mass Destruction. On Afghanistan and Pakistan he believes that the US should take a stronger as well as a harsher policy, with more counter terrorism efforts in Afghanistan. On Pakistan he has indicated that “if we have actionable intelligence about high-value targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will. " With regards to Iran Obama has said that the Iranian nuclear program does pose a serious threat to the USA as well as to Israel and the international community. In dealing with this problem however he has indicated that the US should engage in direct negotiations with Iran without any preconditions. A statement that has brought a lot of criticism for the young Senator

While the two candidates do defer on major issues in US foreign policy however I believe that their policies have to be seen in the larger context of the strategic interests of the United States. Both candidates want to sustain and advance US primacy in the world. They have difference of opinion however in how to reach this objective. While McCain believes in strong unilateral action, including military action when needed, Obama supports the traditional view of the Democratic Party which believes in multilateral action to reach US objectives with the backing of US allies. They believe that military action should be left as a last resort and that keeping the positive image of the United States in the world should be strongly considered when formulating US foreign policy. With regards to US policy towards countries like Iran, Syria and North Korea both candidates view them as significant threats to the USA and the international community. However their preference on how to deal with these threats is different. Obama believes that the United States should engage in direct negotiations with these countries while McCain calls this approach as “naive" and thinks that negotiating with these countries would only strengthen their position instead of containing them. I believe that Obama's policy is based more on the ‘Realism’ foreign policy school of thought while McCain's policy is more liberal and idealistic. Considering that the United States is already involved in two wars in the Middle East, McCain's foreign policy approach might entangle the US even further in the Middle East, something that is contrary to US interests.

In the end it should also be noted that what the candidates specify as their foreign policy during election time does not necessarily translate into actual policy when they take office. After all George W. Bush had stated during the 2000 elections that he would restore humbleness to US foreign policy if he became president, something that never happened when he took office.


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