McCain/Obama: the two candidates examined

What does the choice of US President mean for the world of tomorrow?

, by Ronan Blaise, Translated by Kate Robinson

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

McCain/Obama: the two candidates examined

The presidential elections this coming November 2008 are clearly a great source of fascination for observers, particularly for those in Europe and France. They will, after all, mark the end of an eight year Bush administration which has, to say the least, been controversial.

But do we really know, at present, what the two main candidates fighting for the next “Potus” have to offer, at least as far as foreign policy, world governance and international relations (notably with Europe) go?

Do we really know what possible consequences the American vote – whatever it may be – could have on our current and future relations with the United States of America?

What will be the future administration’s attitude towards the United Nations? What form will its relations take towards its American neighbours? What form will transatlantic relations towards Europe take? What part, in short, will the USA play in the so often discordant chorus of nations?

John “Firm” McCain vs Barack “Flexible” Obama?!

Faithful to the current Washington administration’s rhetoric of full frontal confrontation and power struggle, the republican candidate John McCain, a former strong advocate of the American intervention in Kosovo during Bill Clinton’s time in office, offers an aggressive stance towards the countries stigmatised by Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan as part of the “Axis of evil” or as “outposts of tyranny”: Russia (former Soviet Union), Belorussia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Burma (or ‘Union of Myanmar’), even communist China, etc.

McCain offers an aggressive stance towards the countries stigmatised as part of the “Axis of evil”

During the 2000 election campaign (for which he had already put himself forward for republican nomination…), McCain had already proposed a Foreign policy known as ‘Rogue State Rollback’ which would offer political and material support for local forces both inside and outside the Rogue States (focusing notably on Iraq, North Korea and Serbia) in order to “overthrow those regimes which posed a threat American interests and values.”

Within this policy framework of “international pressure” against “rogue states”, the republican candidate John McCain has already announced that he could easily envisage the exclusion of a “neo-imperialist” Russia from G8 or the Security Council; even going as far as to propose Russia’s replacement by democratic States (and, as one might imagine, new preferred allies of the USA) such as India or Brazil.

In the event that the UN does not respond more favourably to US interests, McCain has even proposed the introduction of a ‘League of Democracies,’ using the coalition currently deployed in Iraq as a model.

Regretful of the absence of American soldiers in the prevention of the Rwandan genocide, and supporting the principle of military intervention in Darfur, the republican candidate John McCain has affirmed that, in the event of a humanitarian crisis such as these, he would prefer the intervention of such a structure (international and not just western) over and above that of NATO (too Western in his eyes) or of the UN blue berets (notorious for their powerlessness in the face of crisis.)

This ‘League of Democracies,’ which would bring together the NATO states and many other democratic regimes from across the globe, “could act where the UN fails to act, to relieve human suffering in places like Darfur. It could join to fight the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and fashion better policies to confront the crisis of our environment. It could provide unimpeded market access to those who share the values of economic and political freedom…”

Unilateralism or Multilateralism?

This is a proposal which has been criticized as one of many attempts by the USA to bypass the UN, here practically accused of third-world ‘tropism’ and of weakness towards dictatorships.

Nevertheless, the former Vietnam war hero John McCain (who in fact nearly left the republican party on at least two occasions – in 2000 and in 2004 – before snatching the presidential nomination for the coming November elections) does not share the same radical interventionist (or isolationist) rhetoric of defiance (or even rejection) found amongst the right wing of the republican party (or amongst the ‘Libertarian Party’ of candidate Ron Paul: openly in favour of a unilateral American withdrawal from the UN structures, and a definitive rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.)

the democratic candidate Barack Obama appears more flexible with regards to “dialogue” with the rogue states

In contrast, the democratic candidate Barack Obama appears more flexible with regards to “dialogue” with the rogue states (but still remaining firm on principles of democratic values), announcing his willingness to meet with Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, Raul Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad and, amongst others, the North Korean leaders, to discuss problem areas freely with them.

The stated aim here is to try to integrate these countries, bit by bit, into international institutions so that they will progressively accept the necessary constraints. As for NATO, both candidates appear to agree on the basics: the Atlantic alliance needs to be reformed in order for it to function more efficiently and in order for it to be more flexible in its military command. And, moreover, in order to involve the Europeans to a greater extent in decision making in the Atlantic alliance (going as far as asking them to get more involved in Afghanistan and Iraq?). For both candidates, opponents to be, the time seems to have come to share out the work with the European ‘Allies.’

There are nonetheless differences in attitude between the two candidates for the November elections, and Barack Obama seems to demonstrate more respect towards the allies and notably with the countries of the so called ‘Old Europe’ so distrusted by the Bush administration (and in particular by the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.)

Thus on questions of crucial strategic importance such as the deployment of missiles and the positioning of strategic radars in central Europe (like the project recently seen in Poland and the Czech Republic…), all members of the alliance would be consulted, not simply those countries whose territory would be directly implicated.

John McCain the Free-Trader vs Barack Obama the protectionist?

As the candidate with ties to big business, and as an advocate of the idea that free trade creates more employment than it destroys, the Republican Candidate John McCain is in favour of the creation of a vast transatlantic economic market tightly linking NAFTA and the EU.

The republican candidate thus presents himself as an unwavering supporter of free trade agreements and, on the 26 March 2008, effectively declared his desire to negotiate a treaty of Free Trade between NAFTA and the EU.

McCain thus harks back to the free-trade propositions made in the 1960s by the former Republican leader Alf Landon, the (unsuccessful) candidate to the White House during the November 1936 elections, opponent to the democratic candidate (and then president to be) Franklin Roosevelt.

On the other hand, the democratic candidate Barack Obama, more sensitive to the criticism coming from the main trade unions and/or civil society, recently confirmed that he would condemn (and propose a complete renegotiation) of the international economic agreements signed within the framework of NAFTA, working in the interests of social well-being and stricter environmental demands.

The democratic candidate here makes the big leap between the protectionist (and trade unionist) tendencies of the American employees of the large historic industries of the Great Lakes region (automobile, steel industry) who are often victims of ‘globalization’, and the free-trade preservation tendencies of the high added value industries of the states of the great North American South-West (i.e. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California) for whom Mexico (with its cheap labour force and famous ‘maquilladores’) will serve as the industrial backbone.

Yet how could it be possible to win the much disputed presidential elections as an advocate of both protectionism and free-trade? In order to have a chance of winning, every democratic candidate imperatively has to try to put a stop to the slow ‘political migration’ (which began over half a century ago) of the American working class towards the Republican Party. Especially when we know that this phenomenon directly and particularly concerns those famous ‘Battleground states’ (or ‘Swing states’) that are, for example, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota: states which are susceptible to topple the next presidential poll in an absolutely decisive way.

Environmental issues?

It is worth highlighting that on issues relating to the environment, both candidates seem to be in agreement about the basics: the Republican candidate John McCain agrees with the Democratic candidate Barack Obama on the future necessity to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, to limit greenhouse gases, to work on the elaboration of a new international treaty dealing with all of these questions, and to try to encourage India, China (and their reticent allies such as Australia) to follow in their footsteps.

This makes the environment question one of the most agreed-on questions of the current presidential campaign, which makes a stark change from the completely autistic attitude of the current republican administration on this subject: hostile in principle, in the name of industrial competition, to any constraining environment policy and to all international pressure on the USA on this subject.

It’s true that the Democratic candidate Barack Obama was a very lively critic of Bush’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol; and that during this Administration we saw Hurricane Katarina (which ravaged New Orleans in August-September 2005), as well as the Nobel Peace Prize recently given (in 2007) the former (Democratic) Vice President Al Gore (the very one who almost became President of the USA in November 2000).

But let’s not have any false hopes about the results…

Whatever happens, putting ‘Obamania’ to one side, Europeans must not delude themselves too much about the presumed friendliness of the Democratic candidate, if perchance he is elected this coming November, towards the Old World Order in general and towards Europe in particular. In fact, despite being chairman of the Senate’s Sub-Committee on Europe, Obama never really seems to have stepped foot here on political business (apart from perhaps a brief stop-off in London.)

Europeans must not delude themselves too much about the presumed friendliness of the Democratic candidate

In this way, the democratic president is typical of a new generation of American leaders at the head of a new America: lacking any real roots in Europe, and having no family history tying them clearly to the Old Continent, this generation will no doubt have a much more distanced attitude towards Europe. It is, therefore, highly probable that Europeans must in turn give up on their attempts to create more emotional ties to the Americans.

In any case, whatever the decision of the American electorate this November, it is clear that we here in Europe must get used to the idea of an America which is ever more distant from Europe and which desires, more than ever, come what may, whatever form its rhetoric may take, to have a great, unique weight in international relations.

It is for this very reason that, whatever the result of the next presidential poll in the States, it would nonetheless be preferable for the European people in the future to be just as capable as they are today to contemplate their possible role as a pacifying force in the international relations with regards to the future involvement of the USA in the impending ‘international disorder’...

Image: Source: “Z Truth” :

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