Writing on Thursday in the Financial Times on the state of the U.S. presidential campaign, Philip Stephens, a well-known British author, commentator, and broadcaster who is associate editor of the Financial Times and a senior commentator there, summed up:  “As Mrs. Clinton ponders the terms under which she will eventually depart the field, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have already joined battle.”[1]  --  Stephens observed that McCain is making a predictable attempt to undermine Obama’s standing on national security, but that “There are two problems here for Mr. McCain.  No surrender is a double-edged sword.  It makes him sound more and more like Mr. Bush.  To imitate the campaign Mr. Bush used to defeat Mr. Kerry in 2004 is to give force to Mr. Obama’s charge that a McCain presidency would be a third Bush term by another name.  --  The second problem is that it is Mr. McCain who sounds as if he is speaking here about the world as he would like it to be rather than as it is.  There is no recognition of the serious weakening of U.S. power in the Middle East under Mr. Bush.  The underlying presumption is still that if the U.S. stands tough, Iran will be forced to back down.  --  But why?  Courtesy of the war in Iraq, Iran is stronger than ever.”  --  “There is a lot of necessary probing to be done of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions.  His inexperience is a legitimate cause for concern.  The primaries have shown he can stumble.  But overall he has grasped the ineluctable, if uncomfortable, insight that to secure its interests the U.S. will henceforth need allies and legitimacy.”  --  Stephens concluded:  “Mr. Obama describes the world as it is; Mr. McCain as it seemed to be during that fleeting unipolar moment.  America’s voters will decide in November through which of these lenses they prefer to look.” ...

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Columnists

FRIENDS OR FOES: A WORLD THROUGH DIFFERENT LENSES
By Philip Stephens

Financial Times (London)
May 22, 2008

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/278f2712-2813-11dd-8f1e-000077b07658.html

John McCain and Barack Obama have grown impatient with Hillary Clinton. As Mrs. Clinton ponders the terms under which she will eventually depart the field, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have already joined battle. Unsurprisingly, Mr. McCain’s chosen ground is national security.

I say unsurprisingly because I recently listened to one of the Republican strategists who devised the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential contest. Now signed up for Mr. McCain, he sounded pretty confident about taking on Mr. Obama. If the draft-avoiding George W. Bush could deploy national security to sink the campaign of a decorated Vietnam war veteran, it would be easy enough to take down someone willing to offer tea at the White House to America’s enemies.

There is a view fashionable in foreign policy circles that this is all politics. Pretty much whatever is said during the campaign will be lost to reality once the new president reaches the White House. Mr. McCain’s faith in raw power will be blunted by the hard truth of U.S. military overstretch; Mr. Obama’s belief in diplomatic engagement will collide with the recalcitrance of tyrants and terrorists. Mr. McCain cannot win in Iraq, but neither can Mr. Obama easily withdraw.

Such sentiments are not confined to Washington. The other day I heard precisely the same view from a Russian business leader close to Dmitry Medvedev. This friend of the Kremlin said he had asked the new Russian president whom he would prefer to win the U.S. election: Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain. It made no difference, Mr. Medvedev had replied. Democrat or Republican, Mr. Bush’s successor would have to operate in a multipolar world in which power was dispersed; one in which the U.S. could no longer expect to get its own way.

You can understand the scepticism about the significance of November’s poll: too much looks intractable. Neither U.S. threats nor European diplomacy have shifted Iran’s determination to master the nuclear fuel cycle. Nor is there an obvious escape route from the Iraqi quagmire.

To concentrate on individual issues, though, is to miss the bigger challenge facing the next president. The interesting question is not about how he might handle this or that threat or problem, but about how he would respond to the profound shifts in the balance and structure of global power. The presidential mindset will be the thing that matters.

In this respect, the spat this week between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama was instructive.

Mr. McCain had the simpler message: he will beat up America’s enemies; or at least seek to isolate them. Thus he chided Mr. Obama for a willingness to talk to Iran and a readiness to ease the embargo on Cuba. “It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies,” Mr. McCain said. “But that’s not the world we live in.”

Mr. McCain was taking his cue from Mr. Bush. Addressing the Knesset during the celebrations of Israel’s 60th anniversary, the president had launched a thinly veiled attack on Mr. Obama for his willingness to talk to “radicals and terrorists.” The parallel the president drew was with the appeasement of Hitler’s Germany during the 1930s.

This was a particularly foolish analogy, even for someone as untutored in history as Mr. Bush. The problem in the 1930s was not that other leaders talked to Hitler, but that they took him at his word and acceded to his demands. Talking is not the same as appeasement. The distinction is as important as it should be obvious.

Mr. McCain, though, grabbed on to the president’s coat-tails. Mr. Obama, he said, needed to explain why he was ready to sit down and talk to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president. Later the senator from Arizona told voters in Florida (the location was no accident) that, unlike Mr. Obama, he would retain the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

There are two problems here for Mr. McCain. No surrender is a double-edged sword. It makes him sound more and more like Mr. Bush. .To imitate the campaign Mr. Bush used to defeat Mr. Kerry in 2004 is to give force to Mr. Obama’s charge that a McCain presidency would be a third Bush term by another name.

The second problem is that it is Mr. McCain who sounds as if he is speaking here about the world as he would like it to be rather than as it is. There is no recognition of the serious weakening of U.S. power in the Middle East under Mr. Bush. The underlying presumption is still that if the U.S. stands tough, Iran will be forced to back down.

But why? Courtesy of the war in Iraq, Iran is stronger than ever. Its proxies defy the U.S. throughout the region. Mr. McCain would not have the levers to force compliance. As for Cuba, surely the Republican nominee must have learned something from the longevity of the Castro regime?

Mr. McCain, it should be acknowledged, is not alone in his misconceptions. Within the last week I have also heard one of Europe’s smartest foreign ministers say that it would be a big mistake to negotiate with Iran from a position of weakness. That seems a sensible enough position. Until you think about it. Like it or not Iran’s resurgence is an unavoidable fact of life.

None of this is to say America is weak. It is just not as powerful as Mr. McCain would like it to be. The U.S. remains, and will for some decades, the only nation that can intervene anywhere around the world. Even as they grumble about its arrogance, governments of all shapes and sizes will continue to rely on Washington as the guarantor of their security. But it is no longer unassailable. America’s power is now contested by the emerging giants of China and India, by a more assertive Russia, and by regional powers such as Iran.

There is a lot of necessary probing to be done of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy positions. His inexperience is a legitimate cause for concern. The primaries have shown he can stumble. But overall he has grasped the ineluctable, if uncomfortable, insight that to secure its interests the U.S. will henceforth need allies and legitimacy.

When Mr. McCain looks out at the world, his gaze alights instinctively on his country’s enemies. But the same world is replete with allies, actual and potential. Mr. Obama cannot afford to ignore the enemies, but he is right to think as much about how to mobilize America’s friends.

Mr. Obama describes the world as it is; Mr. McCain as it seemed to be during that fleeting unipolar moment. America’s voters will decide in November through which of these lenses they prefer to look.