Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analysts Compare Foreign Policies of Presidential Candidates

U.S. foreign policy usually reflects the particular strategic and security interests of the Administration in power. As the November 2008 presidential elections near, experts are speculating on the changes a new president is likely to bring to U.S. foreign policy. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi prepared this report (voiced by Rob Sivak) on some of the factors that could influence those foreign policy changes.

All the major candidates in the 2008 presidential election campaign have been talking about their foreign policy agendas, in their debates, media interviews and speeches on the campaign trail. The likely Republican Party nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, and the rival Democratic Party candidates, Senators Barak Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York, have each tried to suggest how they plan to make America stronger and safer, and to improve its image in the world.

Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says there has been a significant difference, historically, between how Republicans and Democrats have viewed the world. Beinart predicts that U.S foreign policy after the new president is inaugurated in January, 2009, will depend very much on party affiliation.

"Democrats [are] more open to the idea of a world of cooperation with common interest between countries," Beinart says. "Republicans believe that the world would be defined by conflict, and the important thing is to make sure that we have more power on our side than the other guys do."

Beinart believes Republican foreign policy is often focused on figuring out which countries are against the U.S. and which countries are allies to create a balance of power designed to keep our major enemies at bay.

Beinart thinks that if the Republican candidate wins, he will likely zero in on creating a balance of power against Iran and, to a lesser degree, against China and Russia. He says a Democratic president, on the other hand, is more apt to pursue international cooperation than confrontation in dealing with global security concerns.

The candidates' campaign rhetoric suggests fundamental differences between the two parties on the Iraq war. Beinart expects the American presence in Iraq to be the most challenging foreign policy issue to face the new president.

"If McCain wins, which I think is unlikely, he will face the very difficult situation of having to sustain America's large presence in Iraq, which he is very devoted to," he says, adding he will face "a Congress which will almost certainly be more heavily Democratic and more eager to withdraw American troops from Iraq."

On the other hand, Beinart says, "If a Democrat wins, they will face a very difficult choice, which is whether to withdraw troops rapidly from Iraq. It will hurt the Democrats if they withdrew quickly and Iraq seems to go up in flames."

Other analysts give the Republican candidate better odds of winning the White House. David Frum is a former Speechwriter for President Bush and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He believes Senator McCain stands an excellent chance to be the next U.S. president, and predicts that foreign policy in a McCain Administration would differ only slightly from his predecessor's.

He believes McCain would continue the current policy in Iraq "that leads to the suppression of the level of violence and that support the authority of the central state."

In addition, Frum predicts McCain, if elected, would "re-dedicate himself much more seriously than President Bush has done in the past couple of years to preventing Iran from nuclearizing." And he says building a relationship with India "is going to become a very important priority for a Republican administration in the 21st century."

Frum says the national security aspect of American foreign policy – which he believes helped President Bush win reelection in 2004 – will remain a key concern for a Republican president.

Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace at the University of Maryland, believes that regardless of whether the next president is a Republican or a Democrat, he or she will be driven by two inescapable priorities. The first, being Iraq.

"I think even if you talk about withdrawal, there is no such thing as rapid withdrawal," Telhami says, "so if you are going to disengage and even logistically pull out, you are talking about pretty much the entire first administration of the presidency."

The second priority, Telhami says, is the economy. "We have a structural problem in the global economy and the American place in the global economy. So economy and Iraq would be top priorities for any president."

Telhami says there will also be strong international pressure on the next American president to reshape U.S. foreign policies in two other critical areas.

He says nuclear proliferation is important "in the way Americans see it clearly connected to Iran." He also believes the next president needs to "reformulate" the war on terrorism. "There is a war on Al-Qaida, and that is a priority for American foreign policy, but a war on terrorism that combines all the groups as if they put forth the same kind of threat to the U.S., that would warrant the kind of money and effort and energy that we expend, that makes absolutely no sense."

Telhami believes that a Democrat in the White House would deal with these issues very differently than would a Republican.

He notes that resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict has not been a priority issue in the Bush administration. But it's more likely to be a priority for a Democrat who has promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

In order to do so without leaving political chaos behind, Telhami says the new U.S. president will need to focus on ways of stabilizing the Middle East, by trying to resolve simmering regional tensions and by achieving the elusive two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.