Bhasin: John McCain and Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy Choices: Different Bottles, Same Wine

Madhavi Bhasin writes in an IC Guest Editorial:

The race to elect the successor to President George W. Bush is attracting more attention from across the globe than any previous Presidential contest in the United States. The next occupant of the White House is expected to manage the consequences of the infamous Bush Doctrine of Pre-emption. Hence the foreign policy choices of the Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates are being widely scrutinized. Detailed analysis reveals that the foreign policy principles of John McCain and Barak Obama cut across party lines to represent the American dream to be a world leader. Political realism rather than party ideology appears to be guiding the foreign policy campaigns of the two presidential candidates.

In his Address at the Hoover Institution on American Foreign Policy in May 2007, John McCain repeatedly referred to ‘America as a nation endowed with a purpose’. He emphasized the apparent U.S. mission of fighting the terrorist networks and emerging autocracies around the globe. While cautioning the audience with regard to the policies of China and Russia, Senator McCain strongly criticized Iran and North Korea as countries threatening a peaceful order of democratic nations. In order to meet these challenges McCain has suggested overhauling the nation’s foreign policy, defense and intelligence agencies. The basic tenet of this transformation, enunciated in his speech, is building partnerships among the democratic nations. McCain does not rule out the military option for meeting prospective challenges, but refers to widening the military capabilities to meet these challenges more effectively. In his words, “We must never again launch a military operation with too few troops to complete the mission and build a secure, stable, and democratic peace. When we fight a war, we must fight to win.”

Partnership based on the element of democratic solidarity is McCain’s mechanism of shifting the burden of American foreign policy adventures onto other democratic nations. He seeks to further refine the strategies of George W. Bush by institutionalizing such a partnership so that other member states come to shoulder an automatic obligation for the decisions taken by the U.S. Any challenge to the prospective U.S. policies and operations is countered by disqualifying China and Russia from such a grouping. His expectation that the new alliance would act where the U.N. has failed clearly demonstrates his design to insulate the U.S. policies from the control and scrutiny of the world body.

McCain’s rhetoric reflects the status of the U.S. as ‘first among equals’ when he asserts that “to be a good leader, America must be a good ally”, but qualifies his statement by emphasizing on the fact that America’s partners need to be good allies too and accept an equal responsibility to build peace and freedom in the world. While promising to call a Summit of world democracies during his first year as the U.S. President, McCain proudly refers to his new venture as ‘The League of Democracies’.

The foreign policy advisers of Barack Obama happen to be pioneers and supporters of the concept of ‘Concert of Democracies” fashioned on lines similar to McCain’s League of Democracies. Ivo Daalder and Anthony Lake, Obama’s advisers of foreign policy, have favored the creation of an Anglo-American Democratic Alliance to meet emerging challenges. Ivo Daalder has co-authored an article, “Democracies of World Unite” published in American Interest, where he emphasizes the value of institution based multilateralism instead of the ad hoc problem oriented multilateralism of the Bush Administration.

In his view a Concert that brings established democracies together into a single institution would be best suited for countering the new global challenges. In referring to the obstacles of the U.N., exclusion of Russia and China and espousal of the objectives of the Concert, Ivo Daalder’s vision has a lot in common with McCain’s proposed League of Democracies.

The final report of the Princeton Project on National Security favors the idea of a Concert of Democracies for carrying out military interventions around the world, outside the framework of the UN Security Council. Interestingly Anthony Lake is one of the Co-Chairs of the Project. In an article in the July/August 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs, Barak Obama stated that America cannot meet this century’s challenges alone; and the world cannot meet them without America; an indirect reference to the continuation of global crusade under American leadership.

In his speeches Obama has discreetly support the idea of a Concert of Democracies by calling for need to strengthen institutions and invigorate alliances and partnerships for meeting the global threats. He seeks to build an America that fights immediate evil, promotes an ultimate good and leads the world. Does this sound any different from the promises made by President Bush and reasserted by Senator McCain?

The global implications of this analysis are obvious: No matter who becomes the next President, the U.S. will continue its policies of political, economic and strategic intervention in countries that appear threatening, while courting greater support from its allies. With either a Democratic or Republican President at the helm of affairs, the U.S. may be expected to continue a policy of ‘aggressive internationalism’.

Madhavi Bhasin is a Doctoral Researcher at the Jadavpur University, India. Her research areas include conflict resolution, South Asia and Middle East. Currently based in California and working on Indo-U.S. Missile Defense Cooperation and India’s Public Diplomacy Strategy.