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 Policy.
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 parties.