NEW YORK - As the presidential race goes down to the wire, many people are asking me which presidential candidate would have the most positive effect on America’s foreign policy and global image.
Sen. John McCain has stated he intends to `confront’ Russia and Iran, which he warns are increasingly menacing powers. One readily recalls McCain’s joyous singing of, `bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ at a political rally, surely a first for a presidential candidate. North Korea is also on McCain’s confrontation list.
McCain has proposed a hard line towards China to keep its growing power contained. Cuba, says McCain, with Cold War déjà vu, will be kept under tight embargo.
McCain has put the oleaginous Sen. Joseph Lieberman in charge of Mideast policy and surrounded himself with other pro-Israel neocon advisers. Sen. McCain vows to battle Lebanon’s Hezbullah, Hamas in Palestine, al-Qaida and its allies, Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, Islamist Somalis, and all other Muslim `terrorists,’ as he calls them.
McCain and Lieberman strongly back Israel’s rightwing parties, notably Likud, who reject any meaningful land for peace deal with Palestinians and are determined to keep colonizing the West Bank. Elections are imminent in Israel, and Likud could come out the winner.
If McCain wins the election, his carte blanche to Israel’s right means there is little prospect of a real Arab-Israeli peace agreement even though half of Israelis, and a majority of American Jews, support such an agreement.
No peace agreement in the Mideast means more violence and more troubles for the United States. The men who flew airliners into New York and Washington on 9/11 made it clear they were motivated by Palestine. Expect what the west calls `terrorism,’ and the Muslim world calls `resistance to oppression,’ to continue, or worsen.
Sen. McCain insists he won’t leave Iraq until a regime obedient to Washington is secure, no matter how long it takes. That could mean a decade. He vows to send more troops to Afghanistan. Estimated war costs for 2009: $250 billion. In short, a continuation of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, but with an even harder hand.
If McCain really believes all this, and it’s not just electoral bombast aimed at arousing the party’s war-loving Christian fundamentalist core voters, McCain needs be warned he can’t take on Russia, China, North Korea, and the Muslim world when the US is bankrupt and financing its wars by borrowing from China and Japan. The American Raj has run out of cash.
European and Asian governments view McCain and his ignorant running mate, Sarah Palin with deep unease and skepticism. `More of Bush, but maybe worse,’ one senior French official told me. Insurance firms will tell you that a 70-year old person’s chances of living to 80 are only 25%. The prospect of President Palin gives Europeans and Asians the horrors.
Sen. Barack Obama vows to send 15,000 more US troops to Afghanistan and threatens to attack Pakistan. Both ideas are foolhardy. The Afghan War can only be settled by peace talks, not more troops. More US attacks on Pakistan could blow that crumbling, bankrupt nation apart. Obama needs some tutorials on South Asia, and fast.
Regarding the volatile Mideast, Obama, caught up in election fever, quickly adopted the hard line policies of the US pro-Israel lobby, which speaks for Israel’s rightwing parties. They reject any land for peace deal.
Obama’s Mideast stance quickly diminished once avid support for him across the Muslim world, and deeply worried Europe which is struggling for a peace deal in Palestine.
However, Obama’s calls for a rapid pullout of US troops from Iraq has been positively greeted around the globe. But now, Obama, stung by McCain’s charges of defeatism, has been backing away from a quick withdrawal pledge and hedging his position on Iraq.
In a move that worries Canada, America’s largest trading partner, Obama has given the impression that he may seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is strongly – and wrongly – opposed by US labor unions, a key constituency of the Democratic Party. Traditional Democratic Party protectionism and equally counter-productive `tax the rich’ policies are coming back to life.
Obama is dead wrong about raising taxes for the wealthy and small businesses, who pay the lion’s share of taxes. McCain is wrong when he wants to maintain Bush’s tax cuts while refusing to slash government deficit spending and the ruinous wars in Asia.
If the world could vote in next week’s US election, Obama would win by a landslide, as this column reported from Paris last April. People abroad see in Obama everything they hope the US will become after the dark Bush years though his foreign policies still remain vague and his experience limited. John McCain is right when he says he spent more time in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp than Obama has spent in the Senate. But after eight years of catastrophic Republican mismanagement and flirtation with neo-fascism, the Democrats should by all rights win by a monster landslide, though polls say otherwise.
Obama projects a positive image of America. His intelligence, eloquence, social consciousness and dignity stand in contrast to the bumbling Bush and the sinister Cheney, who were detested around the globe. But non-Americans do not yet see how much Obama has already become prisoner of Washington’s powerful special interests. Money, not ideology, remains the lifeblood of American politics.
Despite his flawed Mideast and Afghan policies, Obama offers a return to more moderate US foreign policy that does not entirely rely on military power to advance its goals. His election would show the world that America’s principals of equality and equal opportunity really exist. An Obama victory will raise America’s worldwide standing and begin repairing the monumental damage inflicted on US overseas interests by the Bush administration.
Whoever wins on Tuesday, will inherit the financial tsunami that has been ravaging the entire globe. Do not envy a new president who will be expected to deal with titanic problems that are, in many cases, way beyond even his enormous powers to resolve. The winner will have to level with Americans and tell them what they do not want to hear: `start saving and stop living on credit. The party is over.’
This column admires both McCain and Obama. Each represents the best in America, though in very different ways. But McCain is surrounded by the same neocon ideologues of the far right who drove America’s foreign policies onto the rocks during the Bush years, undermined the Constitution, and forgot their first loyalty is owed to the United States.
For this reason, McCain, however attractive personally, is not acceptable as the next president. Better the devil we don’t know very well than the one we know too well.