" />

Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

A Nowhere Foreign Policy Debate

This year’s race to the White House has been billed as a thing of historic proportions, and in terms of who will end up in the Oval Office, it certainly...

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This year’s race to the White House has been billed as a thing of historic proportions, and in terms of who will end up in the Oval Office, it certainly is. But when it comes to foreign policy, judging by last Friday’s presidential debate in Ole Miss, it seems that voters won’t have much of an actual choice. Not only did the two presidential candidates fail to advance any new foreign policy ideas, but in many respects they seem to share a similar vision of America’s position in the world.

 

Like most members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, both Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) want Washington to continue pursuing an interventionist foreign policy, based on their shared definition of U.S. national interests. Both believe that the United States is obligated to continue serving as the so-called hegemon of last resort in the international system and to ensure that no regional or global player—Iran in the Middle East; Russia in the Caucasus and Europe—challenges this dominant U.S. position worldwide.

 

Though the ends are the same, the means are different; Obama would prefer to achieve this ambitious task through diplomatic means, while McCain is more inclined to flex American military muscle. But tellingly, at a time when the U.S. economy is facing what could become a devastating crisis, neither candidate explained how the country could continue to embrace such costly foreign policy goals while relying on the resources of foreign players—including the financial institutions of China, Japan, South Korea, and oil states in the Persian Gulf, and even Russia—to finance America’s expanding current-account deficit. The candidates’ lack of answers to this significant question was perhaps one of the most important take-away points to observers listening closely for hints about a future U.S. foreign policy.

 

Moderator Jim Lehrer provided the debaters with ample opportunity to explain their prescriptions for resolving the U.S. financial crisis before he moved the talk on to “pure” foreign policy and national security issues, the designated topics of the first debate.

 

Both McCain and Obama merely reiterated their support for the negotiations over the Bush administration’s proposed (and now rejected) $700 billion plan to bailout out U.S. financial institutions. Obama stressed that he supported more “oversight”; McCain stressed the need for Americans to reduce dependence on “foreign oil.” Each candidate had a line of the day: Obama blamed deregulation for the crisis, and McCain bashed congressional earmarks. But Obama, an early critic of the Iraq War, tied ballooning defense spending in Iraq to the growing government and current-account deficits, suggesting that ending the war would help put America’s financial house in order. Neither candidate, however, used the opportunity to flesh out how their economic visions corresponded with their broader views of America’s role in the world.

 

When Lehrer asked what lessons the two candidates had drawn from the U.S. experience in Iraq, McCain repeated his argument that the “surge” had proved enormously successful and added that America is winning in Iraq; Obama said that Iraq is a diversion from the struggle against terrorism and emphasized again the costs of the war. There was nothing new in either of these arguments, and by this point in the debate it was fast becoming clear that viewers and listeners hoping for new thoughts or fresh insights on foreign policy were in for disappointment.

 

McCain’s debate-mode modus operandi was to challenge Obama’s foreign policy credentials and stress several times that his competitor “didn’t understand” national security issues. But Obama responded strongly with the memorable line that McCain had been “wrong” again and again on Iraq when he said that we knew where the WMD were hidden and that we’d be greeted as liberators. Obama argued that McCain sounded as if he thought the Iraq War started after the “surge”; McCain suggested that the important issue was not the history of the Iraq War but the current handling of the situation there. While some viewers may have given either candidate more style points for delivery, there was again little new or insightful from either on this issue.

 

The candidates also failed to provide fresh perspectives on the increasingly problematic situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, repeating the same bickering back-and-forth they have engaged in outside the debate. On Iran and its nuclear ambitions, viewers witnessed the predictable agreement that, yes, Israel is a valuable U.S. ally, and, yes, should Iran go nuclear, it would be an unacceptable threat. Both candidates sought to assure viewers of their allegiance to Israel. McCain invoked the language of the Holocaust and criticized Obama’s willingness to talk to Iran; Obama blamed Bush administration policies for strengthening Iran and noted that McCain’s foreign policy advisor Henry Kissinger advocated diplomatic dialogue.

 

If they were on shared ground regarding Israel, when U.S. policy toward Russia emerged as the topic a Democratic-Republican strategic consensus was accentuated yet again. Both candidates depicted Russia as the aggressor in the recent conflict with Georgia. One of the evening’s only unexpected comments was McCain’s cryptic instruction to, “Watch Ukraine. This whole thing has got a lot to do with Ukraine.” (Another surprise was McCain’s confused comment on the Nunn-Lugar program, which he seemed to assert involves wrangling nuclear waste. It does not; Nunn-Lugar is a cooperative threat reduction program with Russia to eliminate nuclear weapons fuel—a very different beast.)

 

The post-debate conventional assessment is that the debate was something of a draw. But what was hinted at in the debate (with Lehrer’s urgent digressions into financial territory) and is clear in recent polls is that the state of the economy has become Americans’ top priority this election season. The Iraq War, relations with Iran, the resurgence of Russia—all these important subjects have been pushed to the background by the more immediate threats to voters’ finances. With foreign policy closer to the bottom of the public’s agenda, and with the complete lack of new ideas presented during the first debate, significant changes to the course of U.S. foreign policy in any new administration seem unlikely.

 

Leon Hadar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (https://rightweb.irc-online.org/), is author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (2006). He blogs at globalparadigms.blogspot.com.

Citations

Leon Hadar , "A Nowhere Foreign Policy Debate" Right Web (Somerville, MA: PRA, 2008). Web location:
https://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/4956.html Production Information:
Author(s): Right Web
Editor(s): Right Web
Production: Political Research Associates   IRC logo 1310 Broadway, #201, Somerville, MA   02144 | pra@publiceye.org

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and two-time failed presidential candidate, is a foreign policy hawk with neoconservative leanings who appears set to become the next senator from Utah.


Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and longtime “superlobbyist” who has supported numerous neoconservative advocacy campaigns, has become embroiled in the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.


Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran. He is an outspoken advocate for aggressive action against Iran and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share