On the Issues: National Security

Experts weigh in about the candidates’ stances on national security

Almost immediately after Sen. John McCain became the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president of the United States, he traveled overseas in an effort to forge an image as a world leader and foreign policy expert. In some respects, he might have an advantage over Democratic opponents Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama because of his family’s long tradition of military service and his own personal experience as a prisoner of war.

It is against this backdrop that the eventual Democratic nominee will have to compete as he or she attempts to outline strategies to remove the nation from war in Iraq, and to deal with Al Qaeda and other extremist terrorist factions, as well as temper potential conflicts with countries such as Iran.

If Clinton and Obama agree on anything it’s that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is past due. Clinton says that if elected she would begin pulling troops out within her first 60 days in office; Obama says he would have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months of his presidency. According to Dr. Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, their scenarios vary only slightly in that Clinton would keep some troops in Iraq while Obama would position them outside of the country where they could respond to any attacks on Americans.

McCain is still trying to live down his statement that the U.S. could potentially be in Iraq for 100 years, but the fact remains he continues to believe that war is still winnable. “[McCain] has no plan for getting out. Some people say the 100-year comment was just a figure of speech, but if he’s willing to stay in the country long enough to stabilize it, that’s a scenario for I don’t know how long,” Walters says. “We have a continuing responsibility, but that can be met without having troops on the ground. [This fall], he’s going to be in trouble explaining that to a country that’s sick of the war.”

Both Clinton and McCain have run ads, very similar in tone and even language, arguing that they have the experience and strength to deal with national security issues. But, says Stephen Zunes, a University of San Francisco professor who specializes in Middle East politics, “If strength is defined in terms of effectiveness, I would argue that Obama is the strongest in the sense that while he certainly supports a strong military and wants to increase military spending and the number of U.S. forces under arms, he puts more emphasis on preventative diplomacy, on addressing issues of failed states and the underlying issues that lead to the rise of extremist movements and the like, such as sustainable economic development, and developing teams to work in conflict resolution. My impression is that Clinton, and even more so McCain, still see the world through an overemphasis on the nation-state, on governments. Obama’s advisers recognize a more complex world.”

Walters is alarmed by recent comments by Clinton that an attack on Israel by Iran would

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