Let’s focus on foreign policy

In 2008, presidential candidates are not giving sustained emphasis to foreign policy, but those concerns are present and candidates do make regular references to the wider world. In the Democratic debate in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, Hillary Rodham Clinton took a swipe at Barack Obama’s declared willingness to meet with dictators.

During the Jan. 30 Republican debate at the Reagan Library, Mike Huckabee employed foreign policy in denouncing current tax-rebate proposals. He stressed such action will only increase federal debt, placing us further in hock to other countries. Huckabee singled out China as a buyer of our bonds and also a security threat, steadily expanding in military as well as economic power.

During the same debate, Ron Paul stressed lack of respect for the Constitution in Washington. He regularly chides fellow members of Congress for failing to have a formal declaration of war before we use armed forces overseas. In his view, Iraq is only the latest of a series of disturbing examples.

Of course, neither Huckabee nor Paul is a front-runner. That distinction goes to John McCain, followed by Mitt Romney. The recent South Carolina and Florida primaries, along with New Hampshire earlier in January, were all won by McCain.

None of these contenders stresses foreign policy in the very emphatic manner, for example, that John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon did in their 1960 contest. Nixon used international travel and analysis greatly to expand the modern vice presidency. His running mate that year, Henry Cabot Lodge, was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. For years, Lodge received almost daily national visibility thanks to television coverage of U.N. sessions, including intense Soviet-American debates.

The first Kennedy-Nixon debate was supposed to focus on domestic matters, but Kennedy unilaterally changed the rules by comparing the U.S. economy to the allegedly stronger Soviet Union’s, then repeatedly emphasizing Cold War considerations. A clearly nonplussed Nixon did not complain, and neither did the panel of journalist questioners, who probably personally favored Kennedy. In those days, reporters were much more likely to be partisan Democrats (though not necessarily liberals). Kennedy, who had worked briefly as a journalist, was also far more accessible than the remarkably aloof Nixon.

Yet in more subtle ways, foreign policy remains a very significant part of presidential election politics. McCain is an authentic American hero, a Navy pilot shot down over North Vietnam who spent years as a prisoner of war. A Vietnamese plaque at the pond in Hanoi where he came down after parachuting from his crippled plane respectfully honors the courage of this enemy.

The McCain campaign has made special efforts to appeal to the military and to veterans groups. At rallies, he often recognizes individuals who have served. An estimated 30 percent and 40 percent of Republican voters in the South Carolina and Florida primaries, respectively, are veterans or affiliated with the military.

In reality, there is no escaping foreign policy. For approximately a quarter-century, the Republicans have been viewed by many Americans as the more reliable party on national security. That is a benefit to McCain, and to win the White House Clinton or Obama must address that reality.

(Arthur I. Cyr is a professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” He can be reached at acyr(at)carthage.edu.)


  1. Pablo

    Apparently john mccain didn’t learn enough from his honorable military service. Many veterans grow from the war experience in a way that makes them abhor war, but not mccain, no, he takes it very lightly, even makes jokes about it like bush jokes about people he is sending to be executed. Mccain is not a man with a mission to help this country, however, a politician, and the mission of a politician is to get votes and power. If mccain really had a deep concern for the veterans he would bring them home; he wants their votes. Mccain is a threat to our country. I fear he will be the next president, as hillary is just so disliked that she would sorely lose, and they will put Obama throught the meat grinder, slyly playing the race card and ripping him apart on past drug use and lack of experience. Mccain has supported this war from the start, even though it was based on lies, is running our economy into the ground, destroying American and Iraqi families, and leading to increased resentment against our country. Although all this is bad, very bad for our country, mccain , hillary, and all those deeply involved with the military-industrial complex will prosper. They know how to use the simple fear formula on the sheeplike masses:

    More fear = More aggression for the purpose of eliminating threat = More terrorism = More threat = More military expenditures = More campaign contributions = More fear propaganda = More fear etc…..

    The republicans have been viewed as more reliable on national security by so many because people are naïve and are easily frightened and controlled by the right-wing fear-based deceptions. The christian masses are too easily convinced that the best defense is not to reach out to our neighbors with a sense of cooperation and goodwill, but to attack first, ask questions later, to go off on the offensive to eliminate any potential threat, and to NEVER look into the mirror (that would be unpatriotic). The approach supported by our “Christian” nation often makes me wonder: Who would Jesus bomb? Mccain and hillary, I fear, would answer Iran.

  2. Carl Nemo

    Hi Pablo…

    Eloquent, spot-on, commentary as usual!

    You referenced frightened Americans. All I can say is “wut a bunch of candy-butts”…! Modern day, post WWII Americans are so soft and seemingly brain-dead, that even perceived, low level, threatening circumstances cause them to wet their collective undies…!

    These everso frightened, little people are then evidently getting the government they so sorely deserve; ie., a government of very hungry, evil wolves circling a flock of sheep!

    Their real problem is they are having so much fun stuffing their faces with greasy, junk food, engaging in endless feelgood, “flushtoilet level” sexual encounters, partying hearty, playing video games, and watching endless pap on the boob tube 24/7/365 that they are mostly fearful that their collective amusement park experience might be curtailed and they’ll have to buck-up to the realities and the responsiblities of maintaining their freedom…no?! 😐

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. Pablo

    It appears we both see what is going on. Candybutts! That was the word I was looking for!

    I think the question remains of when the wolves will quit circling and get down to some real business. They’ve now been spending much time forming that group of sheep into a tight, frightened, pliable, easily accessible ball. Perhaps right before the election? I don’t know, but I think the next few years are going to be interesting. I believe things are going to get much worse before they get better, as, shown by the final list of candidates, the sheep are not learning anything yet. Americans don’t seem to catch on without a big stick against the head. Unfortunately that is about the only language any bully will listen to.

    I guess all we can do is hold on!


  4. Flapsaddle

    I’m sure that it is just wishful thinking on my part, but I long for the days before the Spanish-American War – when the policy of the US was essentially to have no foreign policy whatsoever.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle