Foreign Policy Issues Shape White House Bids

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Americans are wondering how to get out of Iraq and whether North Korea and Iran will soon join the international nuclear club. A humanitarian crisis is ravaging Darfur, while China’s economy—and the size of its military—explodes.

India and Pakistan are siphoning American jobs by the millions, while Russia, under Vladimir Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, looks less like a friendly democracy every day—as do many of our Latin neighbors to the south.

As the 2008 U.S. presidential race gets underway, candidates hoping to land in the Oval Office best come prepared to answer some very thorny foreign policy questions. This month, The Washington Diplomat provides a glimpse at some of the major foreign policy positions and international credentials of the most prominent candidates—in alphabetical order—for the White House (see also the profile of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in the March 2007 issue).

Hillary Clinton Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has compiled an extensive record on foreign policy dating to the eight years—from 1992 to 2000—that she was America’s first lady alongside her husband, President Bill Clinton. The 59-year-old Chicago native and Yale Law School graduate was elected to the U.S. Senate representing New York in 2000 and re-elected in 2006.

As first lady, Clinton traveled the globe extensively and hosted dozens of foreign dignitaries at the White House. In the Senate, she is a member of the Armed Services Committee and has tried to take a lead on U.S. homeland security issues. Her record on free trade is mixed.

Clinton voted for the war in Iraq but claims she was duped into the vote by bad intelligence. As the war grinds on, she has sought to contain the political fallout from her now-unpopular vote by intensely criticizing the war’s execution.

In addition, Clinton is one of Congress’ staunchest supporters of Israel, and she has pressed for more U.S. involvement to end the wide-scale death in Sudan’s Darfur region.

On the topic of Iran, Clinton spoke of “the necessity to doing everything we can to deny nuclear weapons to Iran” in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal,” she said. “We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In dealing with this threat—as I have said for a very long time—no option can be taken off the table.”

She has also called on Hamas and all Palestinian parties to renounce terror and recognize Israel.

As for her views on the United Nations, Clinton defended the world body during a 2005 Munich Conference on Security Policy. “Our global interests are best served by strengthening the U.N., by reforming it, by cleaning up its obvious bureaucratic and managerial shortcomings, and by improving its responsiveness to crises, from humanitarian to political,” Clinton said. “The U.S. benefits from a stronger, more effective U.N.”

John Edwards Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a trial lawyer by trade, is making his second run for the White House after losing the Democratic presidential primary in 2004 and then serving as John Kerry’s vice presidential running mate in his losing general election bid.

This time out, Edwards hopes to complement his down-home, populist appeal with sophisticated and nuanced positions on foreign policy. He won a U.S. Senate seat in 1998 but served for just one term. While in the Senate, Edwards was a member of the Intelligence Committee. He has also long been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and serves as co-chair of a task force on U.S.-Russian relations.

Edwards voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002, but he has since said his vote was a mistake and now advocates withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The son of a textile factory worker, Edwards is not an avid free trader and frequently warns of the dangers of outsourcing U.S. jobs.

At the Brussels Forum in 2005, Edwards mentioned global poverty, prevention of infectious diseases, and halting the spread of Islamic extremism as three key foreign policy priorities for the United States.

Edwards also maintains that it is crucial for Europe and the United States to work together to sow the seeds of democracy, but he acknowledges this is easier said than done. “Spreading democracy is not about knocking regimes down,” he said. “It’s about building—building democratic institutions and communities that will protect basic freedom.”

Edwards has said that Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose the greatest threat to the United States and urged sanctions if Iran doesn’t back away from the nuclear precipice. “We must present Iran with a clear choice—give up your nuclear ambitions or suffer the consequences,” he said. “Right now, this means U.N. Security Council actions to impose sanctions.”

Rudy Giuliani Rudy Giuliani, 61, is a New York City native and tough-talking former federal prosecutor who earned a reputation for bringing some of the city’s most notorious organized crime families to justice.

The pro-choice, pro-gay Republican was elected mayor of New York in 1993 and served two full terms. He exploded into the national consciousness during the days after Sept. 11, 2001, when he was lauded for his strong and compassionate leadership. Giuliani rejected a million charitable donation from a Saudi prince after he implied that Sept. 11 should make the United States rethink its Middle East policy.

He is generally viewed as knowledgeable on international affairs by virtue of his tenure as mayor of New York, where the United Nations and Wall Street are located.

Giuliani supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq as “absolutely necessary” but has also said that U.S. losses in Iraq would be “difficult to bear.” Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, declared Giuliani to be the U.S. presidential candidate “best for Israel,” but the endorsement was short on specifics for the reason.

At a recent lunch for the Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a participant questioned Giuliani’s paucity of foreign policy credentials. “What makes you think that the mayor of New York City doesn’t need a foreign policy,” Giuliani responded, according to a New York Times political blog.

Giuliani went on to describe all of the globetrotting he’s done since leaving the New York City mayor’s office. “In the time that I’ve been out of office, I think I’ve made about 91, 92 foreign trips, and I’ve spoken in 34, 35 different countries, and have met with and talked to not all the world leaders, but a good many of them, and then a lot of their number two, number three, number four people,” he said. “And it’s something that I think I know as well as anybody else who’s running for president, probably better than a lot. And then in my business, I’ve done business in Asia, in the Middle East, in South America. So I know the world.”

John McCain Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq, is an American hero who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

The 70-year-old Republican graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. During active military service in the 1960s, he eventually became a combat pilot in Vietnam, where he was shot down in 1967. In 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the first congressional district of Arizona, and in 1986, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

During his 23-year career in the Navy, McCain served in a variety of international postings, including his combat duty in Vietnam. In the Senate, he has served on the Armed Services and Commerce committees.

McCain not only voted for the war in Iraq, but also supported President Bush’s decision to send at least 21,500 more U.S. troops to the war-torn nation. In a January Washington Post op-ed, McCain said success in Iraq “is still possible.”

McCain has supported almost all of President Bush’s anti-terror bills, but he expressed outrage at the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. The senator also supports a NATO-enforced no-fly zone to end the killing in Darfur, and he has criticized the U.S. government for looking the other way when countries with military or economic ties to the United States engage in human rights abuses.

McCain is generally considered a strong free trader. He acknowledges the threat of global warming and is widely viewed as a leader on the issue among Republicans.

Barack Obama Sen. Barack Obama, a 45-year-old Illinois Democrat, was born in Hawaii and lived for four years as a child in Jakarta, Indonesia. The son of an African father and an American mother, Obama has captivated the imagination of many U.S. voters with his cool charisma, progressive virtues and lofty oratory.

The Harvard Law School graduate spent his early career in Chicago organizing job-training programs and voter-registration drives. He was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 and catapulted into the national consciousness with a soaring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He has been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

Obama opposed the war in Iraq and has called for a Middle East summit involving Syria and Iran as a first step toward stabilizing Iraq. Obama also condemned the Bush administration’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and maintains that the United States should take the lead on global climate change issues. He has also worked with Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, on legislation to control the spread of nuclear weapons.

During his time in the Senate, Obama has aggressively sought to broaden his experience in international affairs—a potential soft spot for him politically. Obama has traveled extensively as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, including fact-finding missions to Russia, Israel, Iraq, Kuwait and Kenya, the African birthplace of his father.

Obama has advocated “a phased redeployment” of U.S. troops from Iraq. In a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, he also called for a more “modest” U.S. foreign policy.

“We should be more modest in our belief that we can impose democracy on a country through military force,” Obama said. “We should be clear that the institutions of democracy—free markets, a free press, a strong civil society—cannot be built overnight, and they cannot be built at the end of a barrel of a gun.”

But he insisted that America’s fight against terrorism should not be restrained. “We must always reserve the right to strike unilaterally at terrorists wherever they may exist. But we should know that our success in doing so is enhanced by engaging our allies so that we receive the crucial diplomatic, military, intelligence and financial support that can lighten our load and add legitimacy to our actions. We cannot afford to be a country of isolationists right now.”

Mitt Romney Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 60, is a Michigan-born Republican whose father, George Romney, was chairman of American Motors and governor of Michigan.

Romney, a Mormon, spent two years in France as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As chairman of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Romney became an international figure and was widely praised for his organizational and diplomatic skills.

Romney has said that defeating jihadists and achieving energy independence are the top two issues the United States must tackle to remain an economic and military superpower. In September 2006, while governor of Massachusetts, Romney made national headlines when he criticized Harvard University for inviting former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to speak. Romney refused to allow Massachusetts state agencies to assist in the visit. “State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel,” he said.

As chairman of Bain Capital, Romney visited China and other Asian nations several times before he was elected. As governor, however, Romney did not embark on many foreign trade missions, which typically give governors a chance to bolster their foreign policy credentials. Romney said his responsibilities were in Massachusetts. “I’m focused on the job I’ve got here,” he told the Boston Globe last year. “It’s an economic issue. I’m talking about the economy and how we build and protect jobs in Massachusetts.”

Romney also told the Globe that the United States should protect intellectual property rights, persuade China to float its currency, and push Beijing to eliminate trade barriers that block U.S. products—and he has voiced concerns about Asia’s economic ambitions.

“Asia is not content with making our Christmas tree ornaments,” he argued. “They want to build commercial jets and MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] machines, create software and breakthrough drugs. They are planning for the innovation and technical capital of the world to move from America to Asia,” Romney warned the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor last year. “We take comfort in the fact that we spend many times as much as Asian nations on [research and development], but don’t forget that our engineers cost about 10 times as much as theirs.”

Rounding Out the Race Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel is a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and a longstanding member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He voted for the war in Iraq but has since become the most outspoken Repub-lican war critic in Congress. Hagel, who supports diplomacy with Iran and advocates for global human rights causes, has put off officially announcing his candidacy until later this year.

Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the House who’s been coy about his possible presidential run, supports a strong U.S. military and has worked to implement reforms at the United Nations. He is a strong free trader and supports a more robust response to the genocide in Darfur, including a militarily enforced no-fly zone.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has officially thrown his hat in the ring among the crowded field of Democrats, was raised in Mexico and later attended prep school in Boston. The fluent Spanish speaker is a former U.N. ambassador who has said he would engage in much more global diplomacy if elected. He voiced support for the Iraq war but now says that was a mistake. He has also negotiated successfully with many dictators on behalf of U.S. hostages and supports diplomacy in dealing with North Korea and Iran. Richardson also supports the Kyoto Protocol and has generally been in favor of free trade.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, a longstanding member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is considered one of the Democratic Party’s leading voices on foreign policy. Biden voted in favor of the Iraq war but has since said he was misled by the Bush administration. Biden supports more aggressive U.S. action to slow climate change and has called for NATO to do more to help resolve the situation in Darfur. His presidential announcement earlier this year, however, was marred when he made some questionable comments about some of the other candidates, notably Barack Obama.

About the Author

Michael Coleman is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999