Goodbye, Cowboy Diplomacy: What Can Europe Expect from the Next White House?

By Erich Follath and

Part 3: Iraq is Where the Candidates Diverge Most

Although Clinton does not want to take the military option completely off the table -- in the case of a nuclear-fixated Iran, for example -- her priorities clearly lie elsewhere. She says that she could envision offering Tehran a so-called "grand bargain," a comprehensive treaty including economic aid, cultural exchange and the resumption of diplomatic relations. In return, the mullah-backed regime would have to abandon its uranium enrichment efforts and refrain from engaging in "terrorist activities."

Obama, citing a famous sentence by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt ("We have nothing to fear but fear itself"), would even meet with the leading Iranian politicians without prior conditions. Clinton has characterized Obama's willingness to engage in such a tête-à-tête as "naïve."

The biggest divide between the Republican candidate John McCain and his Democrat rivals is Iraq.
AP

The biggest divide between the Republican candidate John McCain and his Democrat rivals is Iraq.

If terrorists were to attack the United States or concrete plans of such an attack became known, all three would strike back without hesitation. Even the charismatic Obama, who normally comes across as gentle, almost a pacifist, insists on the right to "unilateral American action." In the fight against al-Qaida, Obama says he would insist "that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants." If necessary, the senator from Illinois would even use US Special Forces to eliminate current targets.

Environmentalists should be overjoyed by the three American presidential hopefuls' environmental policies. Obama, Clinton and McCain all sound as if they had been coached by a member of the German Green Party. All three have very similar ideas about reversing the Bush administration's course, which has been deaf to environmental concerns, and make climate protection a top priority. "We cannot solve the climate crisis alone, and the rest of the world cannot solve it without us," says Clinton. Throughout her campaign, she has praised Berlin's environmental policies and recommends emulating the Germans by creating new "green jobs" in environmental technology.

All the remaining candidates want to fight global warming with efficient energy savings programs, and have criticized industry and the CO2 emitters on American roads. When it comes to environmental policy, however, the least convincing of the three is McCain, who initially said that he would repeal the tax breaks for large corporations and the wealthy approved by his party, but then changed his mind.

The Democrats are playing to voters' fears triggered by the recession. Both Obama ("We cannot build our future on a credit card issued by the Bank of China") and Clinton create the impression that they can use protectionist measures to bring back the jobs the United States has lost. They must know that they are merely creating illusions among trade unions and factory workers. And they are also aware of the fact that all of Africa is already complaining about the West's protectionist practices in agricultural policy, and that its subsidies for commodities like cotton and wheat undermine fair global trade.

McCain Seeks to Distance Himself from Bush

In addition to economic policy, the final phase of the primary campaign will likely be dominated by another big issue: the Iraq war. This is where the candidates' positions clearly diverge. Those who plan to vote for the Democrats support a phased, but clearly scheduled withdrawal. Clinton and Obama agree that a "victory" for US troops in Iraq is impossible. Those who plan to vote Republican will be supporting McCain's statement that the US presence in Iraq could last "another 100 years." He calls his rivals defeatists and firmly believes in victory. McCain insists that the US has to win in Iraq. The consequences of a defeat, he says, would be a “catastrophe” of “colossal historic proportions.”

McCain seeks to distance himself from Bush by dividing the Iraq campaign into two stages. He says that in the first years after the military victory, far too few US troops were stationed in Iraq, which he criticized at the time (which is true). He also says that he called for the resignation of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (which is not true).

According to McCain, the increase in troop strength he proposed last year, as well as the military's new approach of forming alliances with tribal leaders, has substantially improved the security situation. McCain claims the surge is experiencing "success," citing the decline in American casualties.

The Democrats counter that despite the fact that some parts of the country are now relatively peaceful, the overall situation remains dramatic, the struggle is shifting to new targets selected by the terrorists, like Mosul, and the relative calm in Baghdad is the work of radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who has chosen, for the time being, to respect the cease-fire he proclaimed.

It seems unlikely that McCain's strategy of aggressive action in Iraq will sit well with voters. Despite the Pentagon's considerable PR efforts, only 39 percent of Americans today believe that the troop surge is working and has been successful. More than 60 percent continue to see the war as a "mistake," and about half support withdrawing from Iraq as quickly as possible. In this respect, Obama has an advantage over Clinton. While she voted in favor of the war resolution in the Senate in October 2002, he was opposed to the Iraq invasion from the start on the grounds that it was in violation of international law.

Berlin will also see additional burdens coming its way on the issue of Iraq. All three remaining presidential candidates want to "internationalize" the Iraq conflict, and they are likely to ask allies for substantial financial and logistical contributions -- perhaps even troops.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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