Americans head to the polls today to decide on a successor to President Bush, and if the multi-hour long lines at polling places across the country early today are any indication, the turnout will be enormous. And while the foreign policy positions of the two major party candidates are far from polar opposites, they do differ in some key ways which will impact America’s assorted wars over the next two years.
Senators McCain and Obama ran virtually opposite campaigns on Iraq during the primary season, with Sen. McCain calling for an open-ended military commitment and Sen. Obama calling for a more or less immediate withdrawal.
As the primaries turned into the general election season however, both candidates met somewhere in the middle, with Sen. Obama’s withdrawal now predicated on the recommendations of military commanders, and Sen. McCain speaking openly of the possibility of most US troops being home by 2012. In the end, neither candidate seems likely to make immediate changes after inauguration anymore, rather following the Bush policy and reacting to the changing situation on the ground.
Both candidates have called for an increase in the number of US troops in Afghanistan, and Senator Obama’s position on the reduction of troops in Iraq has gone from opposition to a failed war to shifting excess forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Beyond that, both candidates sent aides to a secret briefing by the Bush Administration on the situation in Afghanistan in mid October. The differences between the two seem again, minimal, though Sen. Obama sees Afghanistan as the center of America’s war on terror, as opposed to just one of many fronts, making him perhaps more inclined to increase the number of troops on the ground faster.
Sen. Obama has been seen as the more hawkish of the two on the question of launching unilateral attacks into Pakistan, with Sen. McCain criticizing his position during one of the presidential debates. Pakistan’s government is expected to lean hard on either candidate to halt the strikes, though neither candidate has done anything to suggest they would be liable to halt them.
Sen. Obama has also linked the situation in Pakistan’s border territories to the growing separatist protests in Indian Kashmir, drawing angry protests from India’s opposition while its government called it “re-election rhetoric.”
Both candidates have left open the possibility of attacking Iran, though Senator McCain’s impromptu “bomb bomb bomb Iran” song during the campaign has left the impression that he is somewhat more eager to do so. His running mate Gov. Palin has accused Iran of plotting a new Holocaust as well.
Sen. Obama seems willing to talk with Iran, though not without pre-conditions. He has also called for the United States to prevent Iran from importing gasoline as a way to put “the squeeze on them.” Both candidates have also called for tighter sanctions.
What the Rest of the World Says
While much of Western Europe seems to be eager for an Obama presidency, and the end of the Bush Administration’s “arrogant” policies, US absentee voters in Israel overwhelmingly backed Senator McCain, largely for his more hawkish perception on Iran. In Iraq, the populace seems pretty well split down the middle between the two candidates.