Policy Analysis No. 623

Two Kinds of Change: Comparing the Candidates on Foreign Policy

Few U.S. presidential elections have been decided on the basis of foreign policy. For the first time in decades, however, both parties have fielded candidates who have chosen to emphasize their foreign policy views.

With many Americans regretting the consequences of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, a relatively large number of voters are expressing interest in the topic. Accordingly, it is worth examining the candidates’ views on the subject to attempt to determine what their foreign policies would look like.

Republican John McCain, with his long stint in national politics, has attempted to frame the foreign policy issue around the question of experience. But evaluating McCain’s foreign policy positions reveals a candidate consistently dedicated to confrontation, threats, and the use of military power.

Democrat Barack Obama, a new face on the national scene, has chosen to emphasize the need for change in the way in which U.S. foreign policy is conducted. Obama has called for more focus on diplomacy, less on military action, and an end to the “politics of fear.” However, an examination of Obama’s advisers and policy ideas makes it clear that Obama is anything but a non-interventionist.

In the end, both candidates have significant flaws in their foreign policy ideas. Yet McCain’s approach seems likely to amplify and repeat the errors of the Bush administration. A President McCain would promise more provocation, more intervention, and more strain on the military, the budget, and the country.

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Justin Logan is associate director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.