Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 13: Terrorism and Diplomacy

This is the thirteenth of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday.

Terrorism. Diplomacy.

McCain. Obama.


(Keep in mind that there is a separate forum for Iraq.)

Next week: Education

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16 Responses

  1. […] Posts Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 13: Terrorism and DiplomacyVP Choices: Biden and … Romney?Fold Your Arms and Be Reverent!Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 12: Age […]

  2. This should be interesting to hear the perspectives of who will be better on foreign policy.

    As a non-American, I can tell you that for the world outside of America, it’s not even close. Obama wins by a landslide and I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that they would prefer McCain as president, precisely because of foreign policy. The rest of the world is so disgusted and disgruntled with US relations with the rest of the world (i.e. friendly allies like Canada and western Europe), and the state of the world in general, that Obama tends to be looked at like a saviour — maybe not because everyone has such great confidence in him, but because it’s hard to imagine things getting much worse. And to non-Americans, McCain = Bush 3rd term. Even if that’s not entirely true, it’s certainly the perceived truth.

    America got (and deserved) the world’s sympathy after 9/11. But she lost it when Bush invaded Iraq.

    Now with the Georgian-Russian crisis, people abroad are once again seeing Bush going down the wrong path. In American media, Russia is painted as the bad-boy perpetrator of the crisis, but it’s much less black and white in Europe. Russia no doubt flexed its muscles too hard, but Georgia is far from innocent. In fact, I think Georgia had it coming. But now the Cold War is being revived thanks to poor diplomacy and foreign relations as the Bush administration paints Russia in a way that I don’t feel is entirely justified.

    And then there’s Iran….. yikes….

  3. I found the following cartoon instructive. The Georgian leader has been crushed by a bear. Nearby is George Bush hiding behind a tree. On the ground are the instructions he left for his ally: “Take stick. Poke Bear.”

  4. FD makes important points. What the world thinks about us matters. However, two points must be remembered.

    1. The world doesn’t get to vote in the US elections. We don’t choose their leaders, and they don’t choose ours. Ultimately, we choose a president because we believe he/she will best protect our interests, domestically and internationally. This means that they may not best represent the interests of another country, but that’s just tough.

    2. In the long run, Bush isn’t the problem. Yes, he has been exceptionally belligerent and damaging to our image, and we should seek to address that. But there was anti-Americanism before Bush and it will continue regardless of who gets elected. The world hates America because it has great power to protect and further its interests. Europeans didn’t seem to mind when the US used its tremendous power to rebuild and protect Europe (due to a war started by Europeans); but now that the US has created a world in which Europe doesn’t have to defend itself, Europeans want the US to act like Europe. In the long run, the world hates America because we have the ability to do what most others cannot do. Pretending that Obama will somehow fix this is naive. The world (and half of America) are still in the honeymoon stage with Obama, because he has yet to try fulfilling his big promises (like changing the behavior of dictators and reversing the rise of the oceans – give me a break). When Obama starts to accept foreign policy realities as president, the world’s enchantment with him will slowly fade and the same old America bashing will resume.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t like Obama – he gets more appealing all the time, especially with his absolutely brilliant VP selection. During the primaries, Biden made Obama (and the others) look like a first grader when it comes to international relations (but, as Biden said of Obama, “he’s learning”.

    I firmly believe that we should seek good relations with the world, especially Europe (as I’ve argued here). However, when our interests part ways with theirs, I expect our president to act in the interests of the US.

  5. Ryan,

    I agree with everything you just said.

    In regards to Europeans and Canadians, I think most of the anti-Americanism stems not just from the reasons that you stated (which I think are pretty accurate), but also because of the fact that the average American knows so little about the world outside of America. Not ALL Americans, but many. I’m from a border town with Michigan and worked in a travel office where almost everyone who came in was American. Although I can say that the vast majority were friendly and wonderful people, they were also for the most part extremely clueless. Some thought they were entering a different time zone just by crossing the border, or that Canadians drove on the left side. Many had no clue what kind of currency we used, much less how the exchange rate worked. (One member of the Church asked us if we used the Euro in Canada. Seriously!) They had no idea what a province was or how the metric system worked and we’re your huge neighbour to the north! I heard a story about some guy who got pulled over for driving 100 MPH on the highway because he didn’t understand that in Canada, it means 100 KM, not miles. Canadians and Europeans generally know lots about each other and America, but it baffles us how Americans know so little about us — often not even just basic stuff. The reason could lie in American schools, that perhaps they are failing to educate people about the rest of the world, but many interpret the ignorance as arrogance or just plain apathy to the world that goes on outside of US borders.

    I think that every country does (and should) worry about its own internal matters first. However, being a superpower, what America does tends to affect the whole world and people resent it when America makes unilateral decisions that have an impact on their lives. I believe Bush made a comment once about the UN being “irrelevant,” which did not go down well with those who feel that the UN was set up for a purpose and not just to be relevant when convenient.

    Diplomacy goes a long way and the problem with Bush is that he lacks just that. I think people realistically expect America to put its interests first, but the way it goes about doing that is often the difference between having allies or enemies. Obama already has an automatic boost among old allies, simply being labelled as “the opposite of Bush.” I agree though, that the honeymoon will eventually end. It always does. :)

  6. TFD:

    I agree that Americans are quite clueless when it comes to other countries. I think that much of this comes from a U.S.-centric education.

    I’ll play the devil’s advocate just a little bit, though — while affirming that I am in general agreement with everything you’ve said. But I think that some of the issue is simply that the U.S. is New York City and Canada is, say, Minneapolis (sorry for the U.S. centric analogy). Nearly every American knows a whole lot about New York City simply because it’s such a populated and culturally significant icon. Compare that with places like Minneapolis — or even better, states like Utah or Idaho — about which Americans are totally clueless. Unless you are from these areas, they rate very low on the average American’s radar screen. We can say the same thing about the U.S. and Canada. There are lots of reasons for the U.S. to be huge on the average Canadian’s radar screen (some positive, some negative), but not vice-versa.

    You’ll have to forgive my ignorance (I am an American after all), but I’ve heard a high percentage (90%?) of Canadians lives within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Imagine if the scenario were the other way around. Also, if I recall correctly, the U.S. is ten times the population of Canada. That’s like comparing Salt Lake City with Brigham City. Clearly the former is going to be the dominant focus. It’snot totally fair for the person from Brigham City to say, “I know a ton about your city, and you know so little about mine.” The reason for this is in large part because SLC is such a part of both person’s worlds, but not vice-versa. I would argue the same for the U.S. and Canada.

    Moreover, the U.S. is such a bigger player in world events — and this, as we know, is for good and for ill.

  7. Dennis,

    Agreed. Population-wise, Canada can’t compare. It’s true that the majority of Canadians live in close proximity to the US border and the entire country has about 32 million people. So I definitely don’t expect all Americans to know where Moose Jaw or Thunder Bay are. However, I would expect that they would know that Toronto isn’t the capital of Canada and that Quebec is a province about 5 times the size of Texas. I think that kids should be taught more than just the bare minimum (or nothing) about the countries that neighbour their own. And that goes for every nation, not just America.

    It’s only natural that the US becomes the dominant because of population and the fact that American media is virtually worldwide. Even here in Norway, most of what is on TV or played on the radio is American.

    Yes, the US is a big player in world events, but so is, for example, the EU. Just as an example, different nations in the EU have contributed greatly to NATO and peacekeeping efforts in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan. A fair number of Brits and Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan, as were 10 French soldiers just a few days ago. Many lives have been lost in such operations.

  8. I agree with both of you (FD and Dennis). In addition to the reasons stated by Dennis, I think travel factors in as well. When I lived in New Zealand (mission), several people told me they had heard that very few Americans have a passport while most Kiwis do – the implication being that ignorant, US-centric Americans don’t care to see the world. This is valid to a point, but we’re talking about very different countries. There are many more travel options within the US than there are in NZ (roughly the size of Colorado with a smaller population), or even Canada. Europe is very expensive for Americans (I desperately wish I could go there, but my college budget just won’t allow it right now). I think many Americans would love to see and learn about the world, but for various reasons we don’t. This combined with Dennis’ reasons about population and world importance leads me to think that Americans are world-ignorant by circumstance, not so much by choice (though we should choose to do better).

    This isn’t an excuse for schools, however. Both of you are right that US schools fail to teach a world literacy. For several semesters, I have been a TA for a freshman international relations class. The first day of class we hand out a brief quiz about basic world issues – who is the Sec. Gen. of the UN, which territories were returned to China in 1997 and 1999, who is the PM of Italy, etc. The answers are quite shocking. I don’t think it is intentional, but I do agree that we need to do more to educate our public in a globalizing world (I have similar opinions about economics, a crucial subject taught in few high schools).

    FD, for the record, I have been to Canada and it is one of my favorite places. We could learn much from our northern neighbors.

  9. This comment isn’t an argument with anyone – just something adding to my thoughts about American policies across administrations and the anti-American sentiment that accompanies.

    For those who read a lot about international relations/national security, you will already be familiar with Robert Kagan. If not, you should read some of his stuff. His latest book provided a great backdrop for the current Georgia crisis (my review of the book here). He is what in FP literature is called a Realist, so he would agree more with conservatives than liberals. But, I wish conservatives would read more Kagan and less Hannity/Beck/Coulter/The rest.

    Regardless, last week he wrote a great piece about the American worldview and Bush. He argues that the current status of the American superpower isn’t just Bush’s baby – this started with the fall of the Berlin Wall (another great book on this subject – meaning, the change that occurred in 1989 and US foreign policy in the 90s – is reviewed by me here. These books are absolute must-reads, my favorites of the summer). A great quote by Clinton’s SoS Albright: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. . . . We see further into the future.” Sound like something that could come out of the Bush Admin?

    Says Kagan:

    The irony, one of many, was that Bush came to office hoping to pare down U.S. global pretensions. Foreign policy realism was in vogue. When asked in the presidential debates what principles should guide U.S. foreign policy, the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, said it was “a question of values.” Bush said it was a question of “what’s in the best interests of the United States.” Gore said the United States, the world’s “natural leader,” had to “have a sense of mission” and give other peoples the “blueprint that will help them be like us more.” Bush said the United States should not “go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be,” that this was “one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American.”

    Kagan also reminds us that the motives of the rest of the world aren’t always as pure as they want to pretend. I’m reminded of France’s opposition to Iraq, and remember that they were caught illegally trading airplane parts with Iraq despite sanctions they had agreed to. More importantly, think about Europe’s unwillingness to address the Bosnia/Kosovo crisis or Germany’s complete impotence in the face of Russia’s belligerence in Georgia. All countries pursue their interests; America just makes bigger waves when it does so.

    Another great quote:

    Judged on its own terms, the war on terror has been by far Bush’s greatest success. No serious observer imagined after September 11 that seven years would go by without a single additional terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Only naked partisanship and a justifiable fear of tempting fate have prevented the Bush administration from getting or taking credit for what most would have regarded seven years ago as a near miracle. Much of the Bush administration’s success, moreover, has been due to extensive international cooperation, especially with the European powers in the areas of intelligence sharing, law enforcement, and homeland security. Whatever else the Bush administration has failed to do, it has not failed to protect Americans from another attack on the homeland. The next administration will be fortunate to be able to say the same — and will be contrasted quite unfavorably with the Bush administration if it cannot.

    This all said, Kagan believes the biggest problem with Bush has been his adoption of the “war on terror” as the central paradigm of American grand strategy. This is an insufficient paradigm because, while we have focused completely on terror, autocracies like Russia and China have steadily increased their influence. Further, I think that the terror focus has enabled the Iraq War debacle to hijack foreign policy dialog, allowing Obama to get away with ignorance on crucial issues like Georgia and NATO because he can harp on Americans’ fears about Iraq.

    I don’t think Bush is as stupid as his enemies argue. Rather, I think that 9/11 allowed the hawks in his admin to hijack policy – cabinets matter! – and now we have this War on Terror paradigm that is failing to protect us from other threats.

    Dennis, I know this is a bit scattered for this post – and I’m not meaning to hijack it. What I am saying is that American paradigms matter. Every state is acting in its own interests in the world. America has always angered the world when it throws its weight around – sometimes justified and sometimes not – because, as FD said, American actions affect everyone. What matters for our presidential election is this: no matter what we do, we will anger the world. What we should be asking is, is the amount of anger we’re creating worth the interests we protect with our policies? In the case of the Iraq War decision, we gained little for national interest and made a lot of people angry. It was not worth it (though future Iraq policy is a separate issue). How we respond to Russia’s recent belligerence, however, will be absolutely crucial to our security, so we can’t screw it up. I want a candidate who worries more about effectively protecting our interests and less about making the world love him (though it is often in our interests to cooperate, as I’ve said many times before). I believe that McCain, despite his flaws, understands the world power structure better than Obama. Yes, he was wrong about the Iraq War. But, he was right about the surge. More importantly, he immediately understood the Georgia situation while Obama stalled for time. The Iraq War will pale in importance to the future power struggle between the West and the autocracies.

    That all said, I feel that Biden has a similar understanding to McCain. So, for all my rambling, I am not sure who to side with on this one.

  10. McCain may have been quick to react to the Georgian-Russian crisis, but I question his judgment. If you read this statement by McCain, it’s not hard to figure out whose side he’s on and who he thinks is the aggressor: http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/08/11/1259345.aspx

    That Russia acted “belligerantly,” I can agree. In fact, I wouldn’t expect much less from Russia based on their record. However, the crisis is not as one-sided as McCain or many US media sources would like to think and even the US ambassador to Russia departed from the Bush administration by admitting that Moscow’s first military response in Georgia was legimitate. (I’ll post a couple of references below which you can read if interested.)

    So I think that McCain’s quick, harsh statement showed more a tendency to jump the gun and potentially damage diplomatic relations, more than it showed how “experienced” and ready he is to tackle the world’s problems. I’m not saying that Obama is more ready, but I think that McCain is simply demonstrating what’s to come under his administration: more questionable Bush-like judgments and lack of diplomacy — and with Russia, of all countries!



  11. I definitely agree that Russia’s entrance into South Ossetia was legitimate. It’s the making promises and failing to keep them while occupying a sovereign state and targeting civilians that needs a response. Russia isn’t even trying to pretend that it is acting responsibly.

    How would you better handle the situation? Russia has been planning this for some time, as is apparent from the quick, large mobilization and the passport handouts. They are now doing the same in Crimea. This is not about Georgia and Russia. This is about a resurgent Russia with zero respect for international law and commitments (and the comparisons to the US/Iraq debacle are just superficial and naive). How will the West handle this? What we learned over and over again during the Cold War (and the last month) is that Russia walks all over appeasement, such as the statements made by Obama.

    So what was it that McCain said that was wrong? Are we to play appeaser and let autocracies walk all over us and our allies? How will this affect the way our allies trust us? Think back to the Cold War, especially the Kennedy years when we failed to respond to things like the Berlin wall. Germans were scared to death that we wouldn’t protect them, and France decided that it must build a nuclear arsenal because they knew Americans wouldn’t have the guts to keep defense commitments in Europe (and they were probably right, then and now, judging from the rhetoric of those on the left).

    Bush has become an easy scapegoat for every problem. But just because the world hates and cariacatures him doesn’t mean he is always wrong. In fact, he has handled this problem with considerable restraint. It’s so easy now to pretend McCain is just like Bush and Bush is a complete idiot, but that does nothing more than dumb down the debate and play into His Hopeness’s hands – by not forcing him and his supporters to actually explain his positions.

  12. I think the main problems lies in the rhetoric:

    “Russian aggression against Georgia is both a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States of America.”
    (OK, but what about the Georgian aggression in South Ossetia? Has that become totally irrelevant now?)

    “Following fraudulent parliamentary elections in 2003, a peaceful, democratic revolution took place, led by the U.S.-educated lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili.”
    (Why is it relevant to this crisis that he’s US-educated? Does it somehow make him more American and therefore more democratic?)

    “Whatever tensions and hostilities might have existed between Georgians and Ossetians, they in no way justify Moscow’s path of violent aggression.”
    (I can only partially agree with him because by this statement, he is totally dismissing the possibility of any justification for Russia’s entrance being legitimate. He is saying absolutely “no way” to any justification.)

    “We must remind Russia’s leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world.”
    (Once again, he is making it sound so one-sided, as if Russia was the instigator and lone aggressor. I think he could have added “and Georgia’s leaders” to that sentence.)

    So I see what you’re saying, Ryan, I honestly do. I will even agree that Bush has become too easy a scapegoat for the problems of the world. I probably don’t trust Russia any more than you do and I think it’s generally a wise thing to react to everything Russia does with some skepticism. That being said, how a leader says certain things can mean the difference between war and peace and this statement by McCain uses some strong language that seems a tad lop-sided to me.

  13. Why is national interest the fundamental assumption of foreign policy? I am pretty sure we can choose to act differently. In fact I am pretty sure some countries do so, at least some of the time. Doesn’t the Book of Mormon seem to suggest that the best “foreign policy” is righteousness?

    On a different point, I think it should be noted that the United States is the biggest weapons dealer in the world. Like it or not this reality has a huge effect on our foreign policy both directly and indirectly. Russia is the world’s second biggest arms dealer, It’s not exactly surprising that we haven’t been getting along lately.

  14. Go McCain- He is a person I CANT TRUST STAND UP AND BE AN AMERICAN!!! GO MCCAIN!!♥☺

  15. like i mean Obama i know he won pres. but GET REAL!

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