Obama vs. McCain – Foreign Policy and the Iraq War

By Vidya Pradhan

It has long been a political cliché that Democrats are stronger when talking about the economy and Republicans own the foreign policy arena. This year, the Democratic candidate, bolstered by his prescient opposition to the war in Iraq, is taking on the Republicans on their home turf saying famously, “If George Bush and John McCain want a debate about protecting the United States of America, that’s a debate I’m happy to have, anytime, any place, and that is a debate that I will win, because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for,” As I write this piece, Senator Obama is in the Middle East, seeking to shore up his credentials against an opponent who is a veteran of the Vietnam War. 

With astonishing serendipity, recent events on the ground, notably Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s support, are bearing out Senator Obama’s longstanding policy position, namely that a withdrawal in Iraq is necessary if terrorism is to be combated in Afghanistan. A poll conducted on July 22nd showed that 60% of Americans agree about a timetable for withdrawal.

Here are the two candidates on foreign policy and Iraq.
Barack Obama


•    Supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions
•    Willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe. He will do the careful preparation necessary, but will signal that America is ready to come to the table.
•    Will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and he will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal.
•    Will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years and crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions.
•    Would insulate the Director of National Intelligence from political pressure by giving the DNI a fixed term, like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
•    will convene a bipartisan Consultative Group of leading members of Congress to foster better executive-legislative relations and bipartisan unity on foreign policy. This group will be comprised of the congressional leadership of both political parties
•    Strongly supports the U.S.-Israel relationship, believes that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel.
Iraq War
•    Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war.
•    Safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months.
•    A residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. He will not build permanent bases in Iraq.
•    U.S. must apply pressure on the Iraqi government to work toward real political accommodation.

•    Voted to fund war until 2006; now wants no blank check. (Nov 2007)
•    Spending on the Cold War relics should be for the veterans. (Jun 2007)
•    Voted YES on redeploying US troops out of Iraq by March 2008. (Mar 2007)
•    Voted NO on redeploying troops out of Iraq by July 2007. (Jun 2006)
•    Voted YES on investigating contract awards in Iraq & Afghanistan. (Nov 2005)
•    Opposed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which says we should use our military presence in Iraq to counter the threat from Iran.
•    Joined Senator Dick Lugar in passing a law to help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.
•    Joined Senator Chuck Hagel to introduce a bill that seeks to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

On opposing the war– “I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda….I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.” – 2002.

On talking to rogue states – "The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous." CNN YouTube debate July, 2007.

On John McCain’s proposal to create a new G8 excluding Russia and China – “It would be a mistake. Look. If we're going to do something about nuclear proliferation — just to take one issue that I think is as important as any on the list — we've got to have Russia involved. The amount of loose nuclear material that's floating around in the former Soviet Union, the amount of technical know-how that is in countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain — without Russia's cooperation, our efforts on that front will be greatly weakened.China is going to be one of the dominant economies — already is — and will continue to grow at an extraordinary pace. The notion that we don't want to be engaged in a serious way with China, or that we would want to exclude them from the process of creating international rules of the road that are able to maintain order in the financial markets, that are able to address critical issues like terrorism, that are able to focus our attention on disparities of wealth between countries — that does not make sense.” – July 13, 2008.

On Islamic extremism –“ …what we also want to do is to shrink the pool of potential recruits. And that involves engaging the Islamic world rather than vilifying it, and making sure that we understand that not only are those in Islam who would resort to violence a tiny fraction of the Islamic world, but that also, the Islamic world itself is diverse. July 13, 2008.

On withdrawing from Iraq –“…., we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010…
In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected. We would move them from secure areas first and volatile areas later. We would pursue a diplomatic offensive with every nation in the region on behalf of Iraq’s stability, and commit $2 billion to a new international effort to support Iraq’s refugees." July 14, 2008.

John McCain:


(Not available on website – following information is from a 2004 questionnaire Senator McCain filled out for Project Vote Smart. He refused to fill out the 2008 questionnaire which is called the Political Courage Test.)
•    The United States should support the creation of a Palestinian state.
•    The United States should not withdraw its troops from Iraq. The funds that have already been authorized and appropriated should be dispensed. We must financially support the reconstruction effort. We need to be prepared to spend what it takes to assure success.
•    The United States should use diplomatic and economic pressure to encourage North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program; all opportunities should be exhausted before military force is used.
•    The United States should increase financial and military support to Afghanistan.
•    The United States should maintain its financial support of the United Nations and commit troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions, when defense of our national interests and values calls for such action, provided the U.S. maintains operational control of our forces.
•    The United States should not lift the travel ban to Cuba.
•    The United States should increase its financial support to Colombia to combat "the war on drugs."
•    Supports aid to African nations for AIDS prevention programs fund distribution of contraceptives and abstinence education.
•    Supports the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
•    Supports the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
•    Supports U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
•    Does not agree that a nation's human rights record should affect its normal trade relations (most favored nation) status with the United States.
•    Supports the trade embargo against Cuba.
•    Trade agreements should not include provisions to address environmental concerns and to protect workers' rights.
Iraq War
•    Believes it is strategically and morally essential for the United States to support the Government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people.
•    Strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred.
•    Has been a leading advocate of the “surge” and the counterinsurgency strategy carried out by General David Petraeus.
•    Will continue to press their politicians to show the necessary leadership to help develop their country.
•    Get Iraq’s economy back on its feet.
•    Call for international pressure on Iran and Syria -no unconditional dialogues with these two dictatorships from a position of weakness.

•  Congress has no authority to cut off funds for Iraqi use. (Jan 2007)
•  Voted NO on redeploying non-essential US troops out of Iraq in 9 months. (Dec 2007)
•  Voted NO on redeploying troops out of Iraq by July 2007. (Jun 2006)
•  Voted NO on investigating contract awards in Iraq & Afghanistan. (Nov 2005)
•  Voted YES on requiring on-budget funding for Iraq, not emergency funding. (Apr 2005)
•  Voted YES on $86 billion for military operations in Iraq & Afghanistan. (Oct 2003)
•  Voted YES on authorizing use of military force against Iraq. (Oct 2002)
•  Voted NO on allowing all necessary force in Kosovo. (May 1999)
•  Voted YES on authorizing air strikes in Kosovo. (Mar 1999)
•  Voted YES on ending the Bosnian arms embargo. (Jul 1995)
•  Supports $48 billion in new spending for anti-terrorism. (Jan 2002)


During the run up to the war –"There's no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone that we will be welcomed as liberators." Hardball, MSNBC, MArch, 2003.

On lack of troops for the war -"The problem is that they don't have enough resources. There's not enough of them, and we are in a very serious situation, in my view, a race against time. We need to spend a whole lot more money to get the services back to the people. We need to get the electricity going, the fuel, the water. And unless we get that done and get it done pretty soon, we could face a very serious situation." Meet the Press, August, 2003.

On the course of the war – "I'm confident we're on the right course….It's very, very difficult. But I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we'll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this." ABC News, March 2004.

On withdrawing from Iraq – Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because— if it was an elected government of Iraq— and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi
people. – June 2004.

On benchmarks for withdrawal – "They'd have to be specific, and they (Iraqi government officials) would have to meet them," …. "I think everybody knows the consequences. Haven't met the benchmarks? Obviously, then, we're not able to complete the mission. Then you have to examine your options.”  Jan 2007.

On President Bush's plan to stay for 50 years in Iraq – "Make it a 100…We’ve been in South Korea … we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me." Townhall meeting, January, 2008.

More recently on timetables on withdrawal from Iraq -"No, but that's not too important. What's important is casualties in Iraq… Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That's all fine. American casualties, and the ability to withdraw. We will be able
to withdraw. … But the key to it is we don't want any more Americans in harm's way." June 2008

After Maliki’s comment about being ready for a 16 month withdrawal -"His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out," said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The military says 'conditions based' and Maliki said 'conditions based' yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders."from the campaign. July 2008.

After Mr. Maliki agreed with Obama's plan for withdrawal in 16 months(II)-"He said it's a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground. I think it's a pretty good timetable, as we should — or horizons for withdrawal. But they have to be based on conditions on the ground." July 2008.

On the need for the surge – "Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history." July 2008 ( Making a gaffe, as the Anbar awakening preceded the troop escalation known as the "surge" by several months.)

On the gaffe – "First of all, a surge is really a counterinsurgency strategy, and it's made up of a number of components. And this counterinsurgency was initiated to some degree by Colonel McFarland in Anbar province relatively on his own….So I'm not sure, frankly, that people really understand that a surge is part of a counterinsurgency strategy." July 2008

On a new G8 -"We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia." March 2008.

Finally, John McCain on Iraq – the video(courtesy JedReport)

1 thought on “Obama vs. McCain – Foreign Policy and the Iraq War

  1. Pingback: What are Obama and McCain going to do about the War? | stoffolla's Blog

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