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McCain, Obama on International Diplomacy and Immigration

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Over the course of this week, OffTheBus will be running a primer on some of the most important foreign policy issues the next president will face. The primer will act as a guide to how candidates Barack Obama and John McCain stand on each issue. Check out the links for more information on these issues. Today, the primer looks at where Obama and McCain stand on international diplomacy and immigration.

International Diplomacy: Barack Obama

Barack Obama has pledged to make the renewal of American Diplomacy a hallmark of his foreign policy platform. From his widely discussed (and roundly mocked) vow to engage our enemies in conversation to his less discussed and perhaps more monumental pledge to swell the ranks of our Foreign Service, PeaceCorps and AmeriCorps volunteers, Barack Obama has put diplomatic conversation back on the foreign policy map.

And what better way to talk about talking than to discuss his views on the United Nations.

In his article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Barack Obama highlighted some of the major issues facing the United Nations, a body that he insists "requires far-reaching reform." He asserted that "the U.N. Secretariat's management practices remain weak [and] peacekeeping operations are overextended." He also expressed criticism of the new U.N. Human Rights Council, which, he argued, spends a disproportionate amount of time disparaging Israel while ignoring issues in the rest of the world.

In spite of the need for change at the U.N., Mr. Obama has pledged to renew the U.S. commitment to the international body because "none of these problems will be solved unless America rededicates itself to the organization and its mission."

Obama has also weighed in on two contentious U.N. issues - payment of dues and Security Council reform. Regarding dues, Obama has stated unequivocally that he "will insist that Congress provide funds to pay our dues on time, in full, and without improper conditions." On the increasingly topical subject of U.N. Security Council reform, Obama has stated that "The Security Council's structure and composition are not reflective of 21st Century realities " and that as President he would consider proposals to increase global representation of the body while "maintaining the US veto."

If working towards U.N. reform really is Mr. Obama's goal, he may have a willing ally. The current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has also called for substantive change at the international body, and was recently overheard complaining about the lack of progress in that direction during the first year of his tenure. If the U.N. is ever to live up to its potential, the combination of a reform minded Secretary-General and an engaged U.S. president could prove a winning combination.

International Diplomacy: John McCain

John McCain has pledged to leave the days of Bush unilateralism behind. He argues that the "United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone" that "we must also lead by attracting others to our cause" and that we must "be a good and reliable ally."

He has stated that
Russia should be replaced in the G8 by India and Brazil and that the Security Council should be enlarged giving Japan and Brazil permanent seats.

Security Council enlargement is code generally for increased international representation. But for John McCain it means stacking the decks in our favor. And why not? Russia is flexing its muscles. China is on the rise. Apparently we are headed for a new Cold War.

After years of cooperation and productivity, the Security Council is once again deadlocking. Georgia. Zimbabwe. Kosovo. Sudan. Burma. Try as it might, the Security Council is having a hard time finding common purpose these days. In the heat of this summer's political crisis in Zimbabwe, the U.S. and its western allies put forth a Security Council resolution against the Mugabe regime. Their efforts were greeted with the Security Council's loudest boo - a China/Russia double veto. It was only the second time a double veto had been cast since 1972. The other time was last year.

To combat the new post-post-Cold War split, John McCain has proposed the creation of a League of Democracies that "would not supplant the UN or other international organizations but complement them by harnessing the political and moral advantages offered by united democratic action." In a speech at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in March of this year, John McCain laid out his plan to create a new international organization "that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests."

In theory, it sounds like a good idea. If we can't play well with Russia or China (or Venezuela, or Libya, or Iran or...), perhaps we should throw a new party and forget to invite them.

But as Foreign Policy magazine notes in its 10 worst ideas article, it doesn't really work that way. For starters, who would we invite? Democracies are such fickle creatures. As Fareed Zakaria notes, there is that pesky issue that not all democracies are liberal. And what about countries like Bolivia or Nicaragua? Democracies, yes. Allies of the U.S.? Heck, no.

This brings us back to where we began. Although Russia and China cast the death blows against the Zimbabwe resolution, the mastermind behind the execution was South Africa. As part of the Security Council and the African Union, South Africa - the most powerful democracy in Africa - was able to stack the decks in favor of its friend Mr. Mugabe.

Democracy can be a fickle friend. Perhaps it's better to stick with the devil you know.

Immigration: John McCain

John McCain is a maverick on immigration. True or False?

One thing is true - back in 2006, John McCain could rightfully be called a maverick on immigration.

Back then McCain took a well publicized stand against the loudest loonies of his party to propose bipartisan legislation towards comprehensive immigration reform. The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (S. 1033), co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy (D-MA), proposed to both give illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship and to boost security at the U.S.-Mexico border. It was a balanced piece of legislation that McCain argued would "bring common sense to the current system and promote our national security interests" by strengthening border security and providing "sufficient legal channels to pair willing workers with willing employers".

The move was highly unpopular within McCain's own party and nearly cost him the nomination. But one can only assume that McCain actually meant it.

Fast forward to today and take a quick glance at McCain's website. All traces of Mr. Maverick are gone. McCain's new immigration mantra is "Secure the Borders First." His plan highlights security schemes and punitive measures. It gives a nod to the need for reform at the very bottom of the page, but it does not elaborate. It is clear that his priorities have shifted. In stark contrast to his original immigration proposal, McCain's current set of ideas is reactionary and essentially ignores that there are very real roots to the problem of illegal immigration that need to be addressed.

It is hard to grasp what McCain really believes on the issue of immigration or how he would react as President. When does a flip-flop constitute a change in position as McCain asserts, and when is it merely pandering? If McCain wins and sticks to his one-term pledge, it will be interesting to see which of his two immigration personas takes office.

Immigration: Barack Obama

Barack Obama has remained relatively consistent in his position vis-à-vis immigration from his early days in Illinois politics through his latest statements. His basic themes are thus: Make it easier for people to come here legally, make it harder for those who choose to bypass the system and create a path to citizenship for those who have already crossed the border and made a life for themselves here. And do all this while keeping us safe.

Barack Obama has repeatedly called for a reform of our current immigration system. He argues that our system is too slow in processing background checks, is prohibitively expensive for those "who have good character, but don't have the money" and does not allow for the needs of businesses to bring in workers legally.

He supports creating a clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and has pledged that he will "not support any bill that does not provide this earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population."

Obama also supports giving undocumented immigrants access to driver licenses and insurance. He has held this position since his time in the Illinois State Senate and reiterated those sentiments in a 2007 primary debate in Las Vegas. He notes that "illegal immigrants don't come here to drive, they come here to work" and that extending access to licenses and insurance is a public safety issue.

Obama consistently repeats the need for stronger border security, and he voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006" (H.R.6061) which called for reinforced fencing along the border with Mexico.

Although many of his positions are widely known and are searchable through senate record databases, Obama's website is thinly populated with immigration related information. Obama has not tried to sugar coat his positions for a general election audience, but he has certainly not tried to highlight them either.

This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.