By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Friday, October 31, 2008 4:20 PM PT
Election '08: In foreign policy, John McCain talks experience, and Barack Obama promises change. The latter gets support abroad, but his old and amateurish ideas are less likely to effect change than his cutting-edge rival's.
IBD Series: Obama vs. McCain — The Great Divide
Assuming both candidates intend to advance U.S. interests abroad, it bears looking at how McCain and Obama would conduct foreign policy, , that everyday diplomacy that affects how the U.S. is viewed and can influence other states.
McCain is the ace in foreign policy, not the much-applauded Obama. McCain has played pivotal roles in opening Vietnam to trade, passing the North American Free Trade Agreement and encouraging the color revolutions of Eastern Europe. He's visited most countries and knows that foreign policy works by keeping one's word first, not by projecting an ideology or personality. It will work.
Obama, by contrast, shows neither interest nor experience in foreign affairs, and defers to 300 advisers, mostly from left-wing think tanks. In the Senate, he's done nothing. He's recently traveled only to the warhorse trails of foreign policy in Europe and the Middle East, and not the emerging new democracies visited by McCain. It's inadequate and won't work.
Both candidates say they will work with partners. But how will their ideas play out?
For Obama, multilateral cooperation means reliance on the United Nations, even as dictators run U.N. operations for their own ends and the Security Council is deadlocked in the face of real threats. He'll get rolled because the U.N. system is institutionally weak.
For McCain, cooperation means supporting friends and recognizing enemies. In that realism, he proposes a new league of democracies to give free states a stronger voice. In advocating this, America increases its pool of like-minded allies to work with.
Obama, by contrast, blurs distinctions between friends and enemies. He discards coordination with allies in favor of going it alone with enemies. Example: His suggestion that he would press Iran to end its nuclear program by talking directly to its tyrants, never mind the coordinated effort with Europe now in place.
To allies, that comes across as arrogant, a faith in one's own charisma trumping the coordinated pressure. Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already recognized its amateurism, hitting Obama with preconditions of his own for talks, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy decried Obama as "utterly immature" with "formulations empty of all content," Haaretz reported.
Obama showed the same careless disregard for allies in saying he would break the NAFTA treaty and rewrite it on his own terms, alarming not only Mexico and Canada, but other partners too.
McCain, however, grasps how foreign policy comes of consensus and spans administrations. Getting NAFTA took consensus — not only of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but their equivalents in Mexico and Canada. He sees it to be built on, not dropped.
On human rights, both candidates say yes, and McCain has a long record to back it up. But Obama has a different point of view. Already he is using it as a weapon against America's allies, pointing the bony finger at Colombia on human rights and denying it free trade. At the same time, he downplays the atrocious human rights record of Cuba and says he will hold talks with its dictators. McCain keeps friends encouraged and enemies on notice — his rapid stance in defense of invaded Georgia last August was typical.
On global poverty, both vow to end it, but Obama's approach is outdated: doubling aid to $50 billion, as if welfare ends poverty instead of institutionalizes it. McCain proposes partnerships and trade treaties so that the poor can rise up through opportunity.
Obama's focus on personality also may affect the sinews of U.S. power — his congressional allies are proposing cutting military spending by 25%. With no military to back his plans, it's naive to think personality will trump a capacity to project power abroad.
McCain believes in the one U.S. policy that history shows has always worked: speaking softly and carrying a big stick. If defense is strong, the need to use force is low.
Only McCain's ideas are likely to enhance America's leverage and prestige abroad. Obama's proposals were last tried during the Jimmy Carter era; they left America at the nadir of its global influence. Obama's inexperience is why he defaults to such old ideas. McCain shows that experience gives you a cutting-edge awareness of what works.