Sunday, June 22, 2008

Foreign Policy Remains Center Stage in Presidential Race

Iraq Female Suicide Bomber

Despite tremendous public attention to domestic economic problems, foreign policy issues are likely to remain a powerful focus in the presidential campaign.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

It's not just the economy, stupid.

National security and foreign policy may have taken a backseat to pocketbook issues for many voters, but they're still very much in the car this campaign season, with presumptive nominees Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama continually sparring over who would be the better commander in chief.

McCain backers like 45-year-old Karen Katalinich of Howell say he's got the experience to lead and that Obama is too eager to talk to our enemies. Obama supporters like 61-year-old Tom Wilson of Detroit say he offers a fresh perspective on policy and an openness America needs.

"We can't continue to go around and force our will on the rest of the world," said Wilson, a 61-year-old physical education teacher. "You can't open up another country's mouth and pour democracy down their throat."

The message coming out of the two camps about the other's candidate could not be more clear:
McCain, the Obama camp suggests, is a Cold War-style warrior and President George W. Bush-wannabe who is more geared for saber-rattling and fear-mongering than real solutions that aid U.S. interests abroad.

Obama, the McCain camp argues, is a naive liberal newcomer to the ugly realities of world politics, too ready to talk to America's enemies and ill-prepared to take the tough steps to protect the United States from terrorists.

Their records and proposals, however, paint a more nuanced picture.

For instance, while Obama has staked a unique position far more grounded in open discussions with world leaders -- including enemies in Iran, North Korea and Cuba -- he has been downright hawkish on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying as president he would take unilateral military action there if necessary to pin down Al Qaeda terrorists.

And while McCain, the 71-year-old former Navy pilot who spent five years in a Vietnamese POW camp, takes a hard-line approach with U.S. enemies, he has shown a moderate stance on issues such as climate change, calling for a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia and creation of a League of Democracies to tackle problems worldwide.

Helle Dale, director of foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, says both candidates have their contradictions.

"It's more like a menu approach to foreign policy," Dale said. "It could be what we're seeing is the shifting ground of U.S. foreign policy in the 21st Century."

The article continues with a discussion of the Iraq war, where voters will see the "starkest" differences between the candidates.

I've written about this many times, so readers know how I feel about Obama's positions on the war.

Question for Readers: How important a role will foreign policy play in an election environment likely to be dominated by news on the economy?

Photo Credit: "Female Suicide Bomber Kills 15 in Iraq."