When it comes to foreign policy,
particularly as it relates to the Middle East, there is not a whole lot of separation
between the Democratic and Republican Parties. Republicans tend to be more bellicose
in their statements, but Democrats have more than made up for that with their
steely resolve to take the fight to the enemy wherever he might be. Both Republicans
and Democrats reflexively support Israel, and nearly all candidates are in agreement
on a number of other areas, including an aggressive policy toward Iran.
This unanimity is not particularly surprising as there is little
or no serious debate on foreign policy and many of the leading candidates' advisers
are graduates of the same school of thought, i.e., that the United States must
use its military power to impose certain standards on the rest of the world.
Neoconservatives and neoliberals are really quite similar, so it doesn't matter
who gets elected in 2008. The American public, weary of preemptive attacks,
democracy-promotion, and nation-building, will still get war either way.
The key to understanding the direction that candidates will take is to examine
their foreign policy advisers. The candidates themselves, with one or two exceptions,
know little about the world and its problems. They operate on a basis of packaged
responses to set questions and are essentially looking for quick, soundbite
solutions that will enable them to be characterized as strong on national security.
Apart from that, most would be quite willing to leave the subject alone. How
they think is processed and filtered by their advisers, most of whom appear
to believe that the American public has an unending appetite for overseas adventures
in spite of the fact that such policies have brought nothing but grief for the
past 15 years. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are shy about using force.
Bill Clinton enforced sanctions on Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of
thousands; he killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians when he bombed
Serbia; and he was more than willing to use cruise missiles against civilian
targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. George Bush has accepted a rather broader
mandate, invading two countries and bombing several more, resulting in hundreds
of thousands dead.
The two leading Democratic candidates for president are undeniably Hillary
Clinton and Barack Obama. Hillary is regarded as by far the more conservative
candidate in that she has carefully triangulated her potential supporters and
is unwilling to say that her vote in the Senate in support of the Iraq war was
a mistake. She has also positioned herself with the Israel lobby through her
pledge to disarm Iran by whatever means necessary and her threat to use nuclear
weapons on terrorists. Her foreign policy advisers are a who's who of neoliberal
hawks, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who famously
believed that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions was "worth
it." Clinton is also being advised by Richard Holbrooke, who is reported
to be close to Paul Wolfowitz. Holbrooke is a possible candidate for secretary
of state if Clinton is elected president. Holbrooke has been a supporter of
the Iraq war, and he was an architect of the 1999 bombing of Serbia. Strobe
Talbott, who advised Bill Clinton and was also involved with the bombing of
Serbia, is reported to be another Hillary adviser.
Barack Obama is somewhat more enigmatic, but his recent ill-advised pledge
to attack Pakistan if Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf does not do something
about the Taliban and al-Qaeda shows that he is working hard to catch up. Obama's
key advisers who speak for him on foreign policy include Gregory Craig, Anthony
Lake, and Samantha Power. Craig is a leading Washington lawyer who was a White
House special counsel under Bill Clinton and defended the president in his impeachment
trial. Lake was also a Bill Clinton adviser who was involved in the Bosnian
conflict. Power is an Irish-born Harvard professor from the Kennedy School who
is regarded as an expert on Third World issues. None of the three is considered
to be particularly partisan on any foreign policy issues but genocide, which
Power has written a book about, but Obama is also accelerating his efforts to
woo Jewish donors and to improve his standing with AIPAC, which has been suspicious
of him because of youthful indiscretions that included expressions of sympathy
for the plight of the Palestinians. He recently appointed Eric Lynn to develop
an aggressive program of outreach to the Jewish community on his record of support
for Israel, which he claims is unwavering. Obama fully endorsed Israel's invasion
of Lebanon last year, and he has also cited his more recent sponsorship of the
Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of May 2007, another irresponsible piece of legislation
by Congress that will increase the suffering of the Iranian people while doing
nothing to change the country's leadership. He has pledged that Iran will not
be allowed to threaten Israel through its nuclear program, but he is vague on
exactly what he would do to stop it.
Giuliani heads the pack of Republicans in terms of sheer neocon manpower. His
appointment of Norman Podhoretz to his team of foreign policy advisers might
be a shrewd bid to compete with the Democrats for Jewish money for his campaign,
but it might also be reflective of a genuine inclination toward a policy of
all aggression, all the time. Giuliani has endorsed the use of force to disarm
Iran, including using nuclear weapons. Podhoretz has called for a World War
IV against Islamofascism, which presumably means a war against all Muslim countries
until they surrender. Giuliani is also being advised by Martin Kramer, a leading
neocon who is associated with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East
The other two serious Republican contenders, John McCain and Mitt Romney, are
also being advised on foreign policy by neoconservatives. McCain is supported
by Robert Kagan, a noted American Enterprise Institute chickenhawk and the author
of the surge policy, and former CIA director Jim Woolsey, who, like Podhoretz,
has called for a World War against Islam. Leading neocon lobbyist Randy Scheunemann,
who headed the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and was on the board of
the Project for the New American Century, completes the McCain foreign policy
and security team. There are reports that McCain will lose some of his advisers
as his campaign is in trouble and that they might gravitate to Romney and Giuliani.
McCain also had considerable interaction with neocon elder statesman Richard
Perle in the early days of his campaign, but Perle has decided that McCain cannot
win the nomination. Perle is deferring judgment on where he should go next.
Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and Henry Kissinger are also reported
to be giving McCain advice.
Mitt Romney is being advised by Dan Senor, former AIPAC staffer who graduated
to the post of official spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in
Baghdad. He is also relying on J. Cofer Black, former chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism
Center and now head of Total Intel, a Beltway bandit that provides security
services to the government.
Dark horse and undeclared Republican candidate Fred Thompson is being advised
by Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the vice president, and Mark Esper, a Lebanese
Christian who is one of the few neocons from an Arab background.
All of the Republican and Democratic presidential aspirants appear to believe
that a hard line on foreign policy makes them less vulnerable to attack in their
run for the nomination. It is very discouraging to note that the advocates of
the Iraq war, which is almost universally seen as Washington's greatest foreign
policy blunder of the past hundred years, are continuing to play a major role
in the shaping of policy for the next generation of political leaders of both