On Native Ground
McCAIN, OBAMA BOTH COME UP SHORT ON GLOBAL ISSUES IN DEBATE
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Last week's presidential debate was supposed to cover foreign policy issues, but the ongoing market meltdown was too big to ignore.
Just the same, when the debate turned to global matters, John McCain and Barack Obama responses were merely a reinforcement of the conventional wisdom.
Given the multitude of issues this nation faces on the world stage, the last thing we need is conventional wisdom is not what is needed now. We need to get away from the myths and fallacies that both McCain and Obama were more than happy to embrace. Let's look at some of them.
Iraq: McCain's main talking point has been that the so-called surge - the sharp increase in U.S. forces last year - was a success. While civilian and U.S. casualties have decreased, as much credit can be given to the decision by Sunni groups to rein in al-Qaida -oriented extremists and the decision by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr to order his militia to stand down.
The whole point of the surge was to create conditions for a political reconciliation and a more stable Iraq. It hasn't happened yet. There are no signs that the Sunni and Shiites are willing to compromise on many key issues. Sectarian differences are still festering.
It's clear that the next stage for the United States in Iraq is to lower its profile, start withdrawing large numbers of troops and to start brokering a political solution that will satisfy both Sunnis and Shiites.
Afghanistan: Both Obama and McCain favor sending more U.S. troops there. Unfortunately, that is not going to be the way to prevail. The reason why U.S. and NATO forces are having a tough time is not because they are too few of them. It's because their presence in Afghanistan is turning Afghanis toward the Taliban. It's hard to convince the average Afghani that you're there to help them when U.S. airstrikes keep killing innocent civilians.
Securing Afghanistan is not as important to defeating al-Qaida as both Obama and McCain think it is, especially when al-Qaida is operating freely in Pakistan - a country that is not interested in having Afghanistan under American control. A better solution might be a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and instead to work with Hamid Karzai's government to negotiate an end to the civil war with the Taliban. Then, U.S. forces can focused on economic assistance that would strengthen both the Afghan and Pakistani governments.
As for dealing with the Taliban and al-Qaida, it's worth remember that most of the planning for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place in Germany and the United States, not Afghanistan. Al-Qaida is a decentralized network without a headquarters. That's why extensive intelligence cooperation, combined with expert police work and effective border control, is a better way to fight terrorism than dropping bombs in Afghanistan.
Iran: Both McCain and Obama are concerned about Iran's role in the Middle East. Too much attention is focused on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has almost no influence over foreign affairs. Iran's Islamic system of government doesn't have much appeal to the Sunni-dominated Middle East. And despite all the rhetoric, Iran is still a very long way away from making a nuclear weapon.
The way to deal with Iran is not to isolate and punish it. By virtue of its size and power, Iran is going to play a major role in Middle Eastern affairs. If policies are changed to engage Iran, rather than to isolate it, all the air gets let out of the anti-American rhetoric. While McCain derided Obama on Friday for suggesting direct talks with the leaders of Iran, this nation has a long history of direct talks with our enemies. Isolating so-called "rogue" states usually only makes them stronger.
Russia: McCain wants to eject Russia from the Group of Eight and expand NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine. While Russia's invasion of Georgia in August was an outrageous act, it also has to be seen as a reaction to U.S. provocations such as expanding NATO to the edge of Russia's borders and deciding to deploy a missile defense system in central Europe.
Cooperation with the United States is at a low ebb now, but it is in Russia's interest to maintain a strategic partnership. After all, reducing nuclear proliferation, controlling Islamic extremism and expanding the world's oil and gas supplies are in both nation's interests. Only a relationship based on mutual interests and compromise will achieve this.
Our role in the world: Neither McCain or Obama dare to talk about an important new reality - the United States is no longer in a position to dictate how other countries should organize their political and economic systems.
On the big issues such as climate change and nuclear proliferation, U.S. leadership is still needed. But the rest of the world has gotten used to the idea of a multipolar system where China, India, Russia, South Korea, Latin America and the European Union have more influence.
Sure, it plays well on the campaign trail to call for the United States to lead the world. But the combination of globalization, the Iraq War and the meltdown of the American financial system has undermined our military and economic primacy. The balance of global power is beginning to shift and our nation is facing an uncertain future it can longer control.
McCain refuses to acknowledge this. Obama seems afraid to acknowledge this. But it must be confronted, because the world is changing rapidly and the old rhetoric is not going to cut it any more.
In the final few weeks before the November election, we need some honest talk about our nation's place in the world and how to realistically deal with Iraq, Iran, Russia and other foreign policy issues. The times demand it.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.