Thursday 5 June 2008

can't find a better man....

So, it's finally all over bar the official declaration of the winner and a gracious concession of defeat by the losing candidate: Barack Obama will be the Democratic party candidate for the US presidential elections later on this year. I don't think it's any coincidence that Obama took the very moment of his triumph as an opportunity to start to reach out to those voters who will be crucial in carrying him to the White House. At a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama took the opportunity both to stress his support for Israel and to emphasise his hawkish credentials in the face of allegations from John McCain that he is weak on foreign policy and that he would compromise with those Iranian leaders who have called for wiping out Israel from the map of the earth.

It was his comments on Iran that particularly caught my attention.

The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything."

I don't know if you've seen the speech, but when Obama says that second everything, his emphasis is laid on so thick that he is all but leering down the camera, winking and waving an imaginary machine gun at the crowd. What he's saying is that he is not afraid to go to war with Iran, and this annoys and frustrates me. I realise that if Obama is going to be elected, then he will need to reach out to people who are not his natural constituency. He will need the votes both of American jews (who, of the Democratic candidates, have significantly favoured Clinton to Obama) and he will need the votes of the people who instinctively lean to the right on foreign policy issues. This is a country where the flag is sacred and where the sacrifice of the troops in the "the war on terror" is taken very seriously indeed. If you are seen to be a soft on foreign policy, then you are dead in the water. Sadly, this seems to mean that a candidate who has presented himself as a chance for America to have a new start is going down the well-trodden path to popular acceptance.

But what choice does Obama have? He will be standing against a bona-fide American hero who has been shot down whilst fighting for his country, held as a prisoner-of-war for five years and extensively tortured. There's no doubt that John McCain has a huge advantage on Obama here. There's a difference between the two of them though. Where Obama is now saying the things that he believes he needs to say in order to get elected, McCain has got a record of advocating unpopular policies and of subsequently being proved right. Take the troop surge into Iraq: McCain was calling for an increase in the number of US troops in Iraq as the only way to end the crisis at a time when the pressure was on George W. Bush to withdraw entirely. McCAin was not afraid to back an unpopular policy, and the subsequent "success" of the surge enhanced his credibility.

Perhaps not surprisingly, McCain's stance on foreign policy seems much more nuanced than that of Obama. He has fought for his country and is clearly a patriot, but he knows only too well the human cost of war, and as a result he does not speak of it lightly for the sake of making himself look tough - he doesn't need to. He knows that sometimes war is necessary, but he also knows that we should never go into it lightly:

As the International Herald Tribune reported:

"Recalling his father's four-year absence after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his grandfather's death a day after returning from war, and his own imprisonment in Vietnam, McCain said: "I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later.""

Most importantly of all, and in stark contrast to Bush, McCain seems to understand that the USA cannot stand entirely alone.

"The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone...our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed," he said in a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. "We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies.""

As Peter Parker's Uncle Ben might have put it, "With great power comes great responsibility".

Now, I'm no Republican and, if I had a vote, I seriously doubt that I would be casting it for McCain.... I can't stand war on any level and I'm certainly not sure I believe in such a thing as a 'just' war....but I can't help but feel slightly depressed at some of the rhetoric that the great Democrat hope for the future has started spouting. What's most depressing about it is that it will surely only get worse as he gets closer to the White House. I'm so idealistic that I don't understand that brutal realpolitik is necessary to get to the seat of power, but I am idealistic enough to hope for better.

Where's Jeb Bartlett when you need him?

1 comment:

  1. sigh. i loved jeb bartlett. but i love barack too!