I wanted to thank Tomas for the slew of fantasy-paranoia pieces he has shared with all of us to our delight. To balance out the comic, low-brow approach to thinking about the current presidential race, and the deep conlicts in our polity each candidate represents, I thought I would include this article from the NY Times.
(I'd have included it as a link but to read on the NY Times site you have to have registered).
October 23, 2008
Rivals Split on U.S. Power, but Ideas Defy Easy Labels
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — John McCain has said his worldview was formed in the Hanoi Hilton, the jail where as a prisoner of war he learned to stand up to his country’s enemies and lost any youthful naïveté about what happens when America shows weakness.
Barack Obama has written that his views began to take shape in the back streets of Jakarta, where he lived as a young boy and saw the poverty, the human rights violations and the fear inspired by the American-backed Indonesian dictator Suharto.
It was there, Mr. Obama wrote in his second autobiography, that he first absorbed the “jumble of warring impulses” that make up American foreign policy, and received a street-level understanding of how foreigners react to “our tireless promotion of American-style capitalism” and to Washington’s “tolerance and occasional encouragement of tyranny, corruption and environmental degradation.”
As the campaigns tell the story, those radically different experiences in different corners of Southeast Asia have created two men with sharply different views about the proper use of American power.
Mr. McCain’s campaign portrays him as an experienced warrior who knows how to win wars and carries Theodore Roosevelt’s big stick, even if he occasionally strays from Roosevelt’s advice about speaking softly. Mr. Obama’s campaign portrays him as a cerebral advocate of patient diplomacy, the antidote to the unilateral excesses of the Bush years, who knows how to build partnerships without surrendering American interests.
But as the campaign has unfolded, both men have been forced into surprising detours. They may have formed their worldviews in Hanoi and Jakarta, but they forged specific positions amid the realities of an election in post-Iraq, post-crash America — where judgment sometimes collides with political expediency.
The result has included contradictions that do not fit the neat hawk-and-dove images promoted by each campaign. As spelled out in presidential debates, in written answers provided by their campaigns, and in an interview with Mr. McCain in January, some of their views appear as messy and unpredictable as the troubles one of them will inherit.
For example, it is Mr. McCain — the man who amended the words of a Beach Boys song last year to joke about bombing Iran’s nuclear sites — who says he could imagine a situation in which Iran’s behavior changes so much that he would be willing “to consider” allowing Iran to enrich its own uranium, producing a fuel that could be used for nuclear power — but only under highly restrictive conditions that ensure it could never be used for weapons.
Mr. Obama, the candidate who has expressed far more willingness to sit down and negotiate with the Iranians, said in an e-mail message passed on by an aide that in any final deal he would not allow Iran to produce uranium on Iranian soil, the same hard-line view enunciated by the Bush administration.
Consider the delicate issue of Pakistan, where it is Mr. Obama who has been far more willing than Mr. McCain to threaten sending in American troops on ground raids. Mr. McCain, by contrast, argues that Pakistan must control its territory. “I don’t think the American people today are ready to commit troops to Waziristan,” he said, months before Mr. Bush signed secret orders this summer authorizing ground raids in Pakistan, including the violent sanctuaries of North and South Waziristan.
Mr. McCain, now the Republican nominee, agreed to an interview during the primary campaign. Obama aides answered questions at length, but Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee, citing the pressures of time in the campaign, declined requests dating to June to be interviewed in detail on how he would handle potential confrontations beyond Iraq that could face the next president.
It is worth remembering that presidential campaigns are usually terrible predictors of presidential decision-making. John F. Kennedy said virtually nothing about building up troops in Vietnam in 1960, nor did Richard M. Nixon talk in 1968 about engineering an opening to China. George W. Bush, in an interview at his ranch 10 days before his first inaugural in 2001, lamented that sanctions against Saddam Hussein looked like “Swiss cheese” but did not appear, at that time, to be heading toward a military confrontation with him.
New Look at Engagement
With the endgame slowly playing out in Iraq, the potential confrontation over neighboring Iran and its nuclear program has emerged as the No. 1 case study in how Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain would use diplomacy and the threat of military force against a hostile state. Based on their careers and their statements, Mr. McCain’s threshold for pre-emptive military action seems lower than Mr. Obama’s.
For each candidate, the debate over Iran has been somewhat treacherous. Mr. Obama knew his interest in pursuing diplomacy could leave him vulnerable to criticism as a potential appeaser; Mr. McCain, known for his “Bomb Iran” ditty, had to demonstrate that he would not be trigger-happy.
In the end, both men have proved more comfortable in declaring that they would never allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state than in explaining how they would obtain the leverage to stop Iran’s nuclear program peacefully. And neither has dealt publicly with the harder question of what to do if Iran assembles all the fuel and components needed for a weapon but stops just short of actually making one.
Mr. Obama’s declaration that he would engage Iranian leaders without preconditions has dominated the debate and opened him to Mr. McCain’s accusation that he is a naïf, willing to give legitimacy to the Iranian regime. Mr. Obama has backtracked a bit, arguing that he never suggested that the first meetings would be at the presidential level, and that preconditions are less important than “careful preparations.”
When pressed, Mr. Obama has said that “we will never take military options off the table” and that he would not give the United Nations “veto power” over deciding to strike nuclear facilities.
The harder question is how to force Iran to give up its uranium enrichment quickly, before it produces enough material to build a weapon — a threshold American and European intelligence officials say may be crossed fairly early in the next presidential term. Mr. McCain has been more vociferous in emphasizing that “we have to do whatever’s necessary” to stop Iran from obtaining a weapon. In 1994, when North Korea was at a similar stage in its nuclear weapons program, Mr. McCain said on “Meet the Press” on NBC that if diplomacy failed to shut down the country’s production facilities within months, “then yes, military air strikes would be called for.”
But in a post-Iraq world, Mr. McCain has been more circumspect. He no longer talks about “rogue state rollback,” the phrase he used in 2000 to describe a strategy of undermining governments like those in North Korea, Iran and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Mr. McCain said in interviews last year and early this year that risking military action against Iran might be better than “living with an Iranian bomb.” Recently, he has expressed more interest in changing Iran’s behavior than changing the government, and has said that his Beach Boys ditty was a bad attempt at humor: “I wasn’t suggesting that we go around and declare war.”
But the main prescription Mr. McCain has offered relies on gradually escalating economic sanctions, the same path taken by the Bush administration. So far that strategy has been a complete failure: Iran has 3,800 centrifuges, up from a few hundred experimental centrifuges when the administration began, and enough, in theory, to make a bomb’s worth of fuel in a year.
Questions to both campaigns in the past few weeks have yielded another example of role reversal. While Mr. McCain seems willing to consider that Iran might someday be trusted to produce its own nuclear fuel, Mr. Obama does not. The director of foreign policy for the McCain campaign, Randy Scheunemann, said that if Iran was in compliance with United Nations resolutions, “it would be appropriate to consider” letting it produce uranium under inspection, which Iran has said is its right.
Mr. Obama’s position is closer to the zero-tolerance approach adopted by the Bush administration. “I do not believe Iran should be enriching uranium or keeping centrifuges,” he said in an e-mail message passed on by aides.
Mr. Obama does seem more willing to dangle in front of the Iranians a “grand bargain” that would spell out benefits — diplomatic recognition, an end to sanctions — as a reward for halting its enrichment of uranium and allowing full inspections of the country. Richard J. Danzig, considered a candidate to be secretary of defense in an Obama administration, said Mr. Obama was willing to “put out a more positive side to the agenda to lead the Iranians toward making the right choices here.”
But Mr. Obama has also been more specific in describing the kind of sanctions he might reach for if the Iranians continue on the current path. “If we can prevent them from importing the gasoline that they need, and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost-benefit analysis,” he said.
Some experts have counseled caution about such an approach, one that the Bush administration has stopped short of taking. A blockade, however, could constitute an act of war, and most experts believe Iran could respond in kind by cutting off oil exports, increasing prices and leading to shortages.
When to Intervene
While Mr. McCain reminds audiences that he vowed to do whatever it took to win in Iraq, he has been extraordinarily reluctant when it comes to the war in Afghanistan to advocate cross-border attacks into Pakistan, even though top military commanders have publicly said that is a prerequisite to victory. Mr. McCain has dismissed Mr. Obama’s advocacy of military action inside Pakistan as unwise, saying his rival does not appreciate how Pakistanis would react to an incursion by an ally, even into ungovernable territory Pakistan itself has never really controlled.
That was Mr. Bush’s view as well until July, when he issued secret orders allowing American Special Operations forces to conduct ground incursions into Pakistan, to keep insurgents from forming a safe haven. Mr. McCain has not condemned Mr. Bush’s action, but he has suggested that such operations should never be discussed in public and that Mr. Obama had made a rookie’s mistake by raising the possibility.
“The last thing we should be doing is telegraphing to Pakistan that we are going to violate their sovereignty,” Mr. Scheunemann said last week, when asked if Mr. McCain was opposed to military action over the border, or just opposed to talking about it. “Senator Obama’s stubborn insistence on publicly threatening to attack targets in Pakistan and limit military assistance is swagger, not statesmanship.”
Mr. Obama has frequently said he would send American personnel over the border to kill leaders of Al Qaeda. In his speech at the Democratic convention, Mr. Obama accused Mr. McCain of focusing on the wrong war — Iraq — and he vowed to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants.
But American policy since the attacks of Sept. 11 has backed hunting down Qaeda members anywhere, including inside Pakistan. A harder question is whether to go into Pakistan to hunt down Taliban or other militant groups using the sanctuary to mount attacks against Americans in Afghanistan or to strike the Pakistani government. On that question, Mr. Obama has been ambiguous, and his campaign has declined to clarify his statements.
When it comes to sending troops to protect the oppressed, it is Mr. Obama who has sounded a lot more like an interventionist than Mr. McCain.
Mr. McCain has long been a skeptic of sending American troops on humanitarian quests — whether for peacekeeping, peacemaking or missions that morphed from one to the other. He has reminded voters that he opposed military interventions in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia in the 1990s. He has often asked what good American troops can do in a single year when the conflict they are parachuting into has roiled for centuries, and he has often demanded to see an exit strategy before troops were committed.
Mr. Obama has praised what the United Nations calls a “responsibility to protect,” a doctrine that elevates aiding oppressed populations over respecting national borders. Mr. McCain has agreed, but both men have emphasized the need for case-by-case judgment.
In Foreign Affairs, Mr. Obama laid out a position that is the opposite of President Bush’s attitude in 2000 but sounds much like his attitude now. Mr. Obama wrote that he would use the military to “support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations or confront mass atrocities.” But he cited the first President Bush as the example to follow in gaining “the clear support and participation of others.”
In a debate in early October, Mr. Obama said that in Darfur the United States “could be providing logistical support, setting up a no-fly zone, at relatively little cost to us” if it had help from other nations. But when pressed, Mr. Obama’s aides said that he would be hesitant to commit American ground troops, who are in short supply because of the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dealing With Great Powers
Within hours of the Russian attack on Georgia in August, Mr. McCain was on the phone to his foreign policy advisers, seeking to calibrate the right response. It was a critical moment for a man who has surrounded himself with members of both warring camps in the Republican Party — the neoconservatives nursing their wounds after Iraq went bad, and the pragmatists who rose again in Mr. Bush’s second term.
“He had people telling him, ‘John, you want to think about the long term — we need the Russians on Iran, and the Georgians sort of invited this,’ ” a friend who talked to him in that period said. But in the end, Mr. McCain stepped out with a strong defense of Georgia, while Mr. Obama issued a more even-handed statement, calling for all sides to return to the uneasy status quo that had prevailed in South Ossetia.
While Mr. Obama’s reaction was much closer to the Bush administration’s, Mr. McCain seized on the moment to portray Mr. Obama as weak. Mr. McCain’s friends say his criticism of Russia was a direct outgrowth of his prisoner-of-war experience and his cold war upbringing. He regularly reminds voters than when he looks into the eyes of Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, he sees three letters: K.G.B.
The difference has also played out in how Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have embraced a proposal by four prominent cold warriors — former Senator Sam Nunn, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, and former Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and Henry A. Kissinger — toward reducing the American nuclear arsenal to zero. Both candidates have said they support the goal, but Mr. McCain has sounded less enthusiastic, saying he would reduce nuclear weapons “to the lowest level we judge necessary.” Many conservatives also object to deep cuts in the arsenal, saying that could harm the country’s ability to remain the world’s dominant superpower and encourage nuclear challengers to build up to American levels.
By contrast, Mr. Obama, who was only 28 when the Berlin Wall fell, has argued that unless the United States and Russia radically reduce their stockpiles, they will never persuade smaller nations like Iran and North Korea to forgo their nuclear weapons programs.
Both men say they share the goal of keeping the United States the most powerful nation on earth. Mr. McCain emphasizes hard power first, though his advisers say that on global warming, among other issues, he has shown a flexibility that President Bush rarely demonstrated. More than any previous presidential candidate, Mr. Obama has emphasized the idea of soft power — the ability to lead by moral example and nonmilitary action — and his challenge if elected, his advisers acknowledge, is to convince the world that an untested young senator also has a steely edge.
Ni ange, ni bête