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McCain, Obama On Iraq, Afghanistan And Trade

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Over the course of this week, OffTheBus is running a primer on some of the most important foreign policy issues the next president will face. The primer can 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 Iraq, Afghanistan and trade policy.

Iraq and Afghanistan: John McCain

"We have succeeded in Iraq. We are winning," said John McCain in an interview with Katie Couric.

"[W]e will come home in victory...[A]t enormous sacrifice, after four years, nearly four years of failed strategy, we have succeeded. And our troops will come home with honor. And we won't be defeated. And there won't be chaos in the region. There won't be increased Iranian influence in the region. And it will have a bearing on what happens in Afghanistan, as well as the entire region of the world," he continued.

And flowers will bloom in the middle of winter and butterflies will fly through rainbows, and... Wait, we already did the environmental policy primer, this isn't global warming, it's John McCain's fairyland fantasy about a happy ending to war.

According to McCain's website: "From June 2007 through March 2008, sectarian and ethnic violence in Iraq was reduced by 90 percent. Civilian deaths and deaths of coalition forces fell by 70 percent."

While the statistics on ethnic violence are difficult to verify in war zones, there is no doubt that violence has decreased.

A point for McCain. Or is it?

McCain insists that the surge, which he backed from the beginning unlike his arugula-munching opponent, was responsible for the increase in happy sunshine in Iraq.

CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen disagrees: "...[B]oth the Democrats and the Republicans have been overemphasizing the surge. If it was just about the surge, the violence would be back up again because the surge is over."

McCain maintains that military might, not diplomatic chats over tea, is the best way to resolve the situation in Iraq.

"...In the 1,400-word Iraq policy proposal on the McCain campaign's website, there is not a single mention of the word diplomacy," pointed out one blogger (our search of McCain's site confirmed the charge).

What's there to talk about anyway? According to McCain, we've already won the war in Iraq. That just leaves one little problem left to solve.

"Afghanistan is very tough. And there's a number of great challenges there. And we have to employ the same strategy there that succeeded in Iraq. And we can succeed there... And if we hadn't succeeded in Iraq, then the complications would have been incredibly more severe. And the chances of succeeding in Afghanistan would have been greatly diminished. Now that we've succeeded in Iraq, obviously, we will be freeing up troops to go to Afghanistan. And we will urge our NATO allies to send more troops and be more involved as well. We can succeed."

This sounds like a self-affirmation we might do in front of the mirror: "No, I totally do not look fat in this dress."

But just because we tell ourselves something is true, doesn't make it so. Sometimes, that dress just don't fit.

The real question is, what do the terrorists, I mean Iraqis, think:

"No opinion polls have been conducted to see which of the... candidates... is viewed most favorably by Iraqis," said our favorite Iraqi neocon, Omar Fadhil. "If I were to try to predict their feelings, I'd start by restating the fact that most Iraqis are concerned first and foremost about their living conditions -- economy, security, water, electricity -- and they care primarily about coming up with solutions to these problems."

Iraq and Afghanistan: Barack Obama

He's a man with a plan. In fact, he's a man with many plans. He's got a plan for everything. If you don't believe us, just check his website. You've never seen so many plans in your life. It's like overly enthusiastic New Year's resolutions. But instead of 'lose 20 pounds, quit smoking and stop dating losers,' Obama wants to 'end the war in Iraq, defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and beyond.'

Unfortunately, not all plans come to fruition (we really did try to quit smoking and, for a little while, stopped returning calls from that guy who still lives with his mom). Maybe if we'd come up with a time line or some clever talking points...

Obama is a step ahead of us.

"Obama's plan... called for the remaining combat brigades to be pulled out at a brisk pace of about one per month, along with a strategic shift of resources and attention away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. At that rate, all combat troops would be withdrawn in sixteen months," reported George Packer in The New Yorker.

But ending a war is a little harder than getting out of a bad relationship.

Packer continued:

"In hindsight, it was a mistake...for Obama to offer such a specific timetable...At the start of 2007, no one in Baghdad would have predicted that blood-soaked neighborhoods would begin returning to life within a year. The improved conditions can be attributed, in increasing order of importance, to President Bush's surge, the change in military strategy under General David Petraeus, the turning of Sunni tribes against Al Qaeda, the Sadr militia's unilateral ceasefire, and the great historical luck that brought them all together at the same moment"

Obama vehemently opposed the surge in troops, but signs of this stance are nowhere to be found on his website. The LA Times reported that anything reflecting his opposition to the troop surge was removed from his site in July.

Dude, I totally de-friended that guy on Facebook. It's almost like we never really went out.

Not true for Obama, who has faced continued criticism for his anti-surge stance.

Obama recently had to play ball with the poster boy of the unbiased media, Bill O'Reilly:

OBAMA: ...I think that there's no doubt that the violence is down... I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and the other supporters...

O'REILLY: But if were up to you, there wouldn't have been a surge.

OBAMA: Well, look --

O'REILLY: No, no, no, no.

OBAMA: No, no, no, no, no, no, no --

O'REILLY: If it were up to you, there wouldn't have been a surge.

OBAMA: No, no, no, no. Hold on.

O'REILLY: You and Joe Biden, no surge...

OBAMA: Bill, what I said is -- I've already said it succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

O'REILLY: Right. So why can't you say, "I was right in the beginning, and I was wrong about the surge"?

OBAMA: Because there's an underlying problem with what we've done. We have reduced the violence --

O'REILLY: Yeah.

OBAMA: -- but the Iraqis still haven't taken responsibility, and we still don't have the kind of political reconciliation. We are still spending, Bill, $10 to $12 billion a month.

So he was wrong about the surge, or maybe the surge just got lucky, as Packer suggested. In any case, Obama is sticking with his plan for now.

"Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war."

Obama still has the timeline for withdrawal up on his website and says that the situation will be solved with less fighters and more talkers.

"[W]e cannot impose a military solution on a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions. The best chance we have to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political solution."

He says that he will not consider building any permanent bases in Iraq and that we should redirect our attention to Afghanistan, where terrorist roots "run deepest."

Obama wants to work with NATO allies in Afghanistan and use "sustained diplomacy to isolate the Taliban."

Let's see if he can follow through on his New Year's resolutions.

Trade: John McCain

John McCain strongly supports free trade. As stated on his website, McCain "believes that globalization is an opportunity for American workers today and in the future" and that "the U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules."

Tell that to unemployed autoworkers in Michigan.

McCain has lent his support to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and to continued U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

McCain acknowledges that "globalization will not automatically benefit every American" and suggests that to combat trade's negatives we "must prepare the next generation of workers by making American education worthy of the promise we make to our children and ourselves."

There is a strong argument to be made against protectionism, especially when it comes to American farm subsidies. But unless free trade is backed by a real commitment to retraining workers and providing our children with a 21st century education, these lower trade barriers may add economic distress to our already struggling working and middle classes.

Unfortunately, McCain's education plan is hapless. It is clear from his speeches and his website that McCain does not care much for the topic of education and has no innovative policies to help prepare our population for the increased competition that a global economy will bring.

As we are currently witnessing, deregulation can lead to unintended consequences. Corporations are in the game to maximize profit, not to create a happy world for all of God's children. Being a responsible citizen necessarily comes second.

John McCain has stated his position against strengthening labor and environmental controls in our trade agreements. Although this is "good for business" in the short term, it may harm America in the long run. Exploited foreign workers could end up seeing us as the big bad America that ruined their lives and polluted their countries.

Sweet! Al-Qaeda 2.0.

Let's be selfish here. American businesses and workers are important, and so is the American reputation. In the long run, if American employers treat foreign workers fairly and treat the developing world's back yard as their own, the gratitude we receive for being a decent global citizen may make up for the short term profit sacrificed. And it may keep a few more jobs at home.

As McCain himself has noted, "The global economy is here to stay." Let's make it something we can all live with.

Trade: Barack Obama

Barack Obama is generally skeptical about free trade. He is not against it per se. He has noted that "globalization is here. And we should be trading around the world. We don't want to just be standing still while the rest of the world is out there taking the steps that it needs to in order to expand trade." That said, Obama is not always a fan of our free trade agreements. He believes that we set up our trade agreements in the wrong way.

As a senator, he voted yes to a free trade agreement with Oman, but voted no to the trade agreement with Colombia.

This is definitely too confusing for our "with 'em or against 'em" news culture.

Obama claims that he has always had his doubts about NAFTA. He argues that it does not contain enough labor and environmental regulations to protect the American worker.
In his March 3rd debate with Senator Hillary Clinton, he pledged that as president, he would "make sure that we renegotiate" the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico and "should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced."

Obama's call to renegotiate NAFTA is largely unpopular outside of the Rust Belt. Our good friends at Foreign Policy magazine think Obama's push to renegotiate is among his 10 Worst Foreign Policy ideas. They argue that:

"Trade agreements take years to negotiate, and Mexico and Canada would almost certainly seek new concessions of their own in a new round. Obama is right to argue that more economic development in Mexico will lower illegal immigration; he's wrong to think that bashing NAFTA is the right way to address the Rust Belt's economic woes. Happily, since the Ohio primary, Obama has backed off his harshest criticisms of the agreement."

However, Obama appears undeterred. After last year's toy recall and medicine scare Obama reiterated his stance.

"[A]s president of the United States, I intend to make certain that every agreement that we sign has the labor standards, the environmental standards and the safety standards that are going to protect not just workers, but also consumers. We can't have toys with lead paint in them that our children are playing with. We can't have medicines that are actually making people more sick instead of better because they're produced overseas."

However, Obama has ideas that are palatable to big business. He wants to invest in infrastructure and education to make America more competitive in the global economy.

But over the course of this election, Obama's message on trade has been largely populist and aimed at disgruntled workers in Michigan and Ohio.

This scares the business people of America.

If Obama wants support from the business class in his bid to become commander-in-chief of the world's biggest corporation, he might have to better articulate his support for free market capitalism.

Remember, it's the economy, stupid. Business people are voters too.

Check out the foreign policy primer on Immigration and International Diplomacy, the one on Energy and Environmental Policy and the AIDS crisis and the one on National Security and Nuclear Proliferation.

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