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Presidential Candidates on Foreign Policy—Military

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What will U.S. foreign affairs look like if John McCain prevails? What if President Obama sets the agenda? Erik Leaver looks behind the hype to the records, advisors, and promises of the presidential candidates.

Click on the topics to see the candidates' statements on different aspects of foreign policy.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton spacer Barack Obama spacer John McCain
Hillary Clinton
Democratic Senator from New York
spacer Barack Obama
Democratic Senator from Illinois
spacer John McCain
Republican Senator from Arizona
U.S. military budget
Clinton has pledged to increase the size of the military but has not specified a figure. She leads the candidates in campaign contributions from military contractors: over $336,225. Clinton's advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military. [1, 2] spacer Some of Obama's key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending. But Obama will increase the size of ground forces, adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines. He has received over $250,671 in contributions from military contractors. [1, 2, 3] spacer McCain has pledged the largest increase in the military, 150,000 troops. He also wants to beef up “star wars” missile defense. He has raised over $261,929 in campaign contributions from defense contractors. He has pledged to fund the war by the regular appropriations process, not by “emergency” supplementals that allow defense to be funded with borrowed dollars. [1, 4]

What the outliers said:
Bill Richardson:

“I have a plan that includes $57 billion in specific cuts to unnecessary Pentagon spending. We will stop wasting billions of dollars on Cold War weapons systems designed to fight a long extinct Soviet empire. We will save tens of billions of dollars more by stopping the construction of unnecessary new nuclear weapons.” [5]
U.S. bases around the world
Clinton opposes the establishment of permanent military bases in Iraq. [6] spacer Obama opposes building any permanent bases in Iraq. [7] spacer McCain has called for permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and supports permanent bases in Iraq. [8, 9]
Long-term care for veterans
“I will make a long-term commitment to the VA system to ensure it is adequately funded and has the capacity to avoid backlogs and to handle greater enrollments. And I will provide coverage through my American Health Choices Plan to all veterans who choose not to use the VA system.” [10] spacer A member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Obama has pledged to improve the quality of health care for veterans, rebuild the VA's broken benefits system, and combat homelessness among veterans. “The VA will be at the cutting edge of my plan for universal health care.” [10] spacer He is committed to ensuring that veterans' health care programs receive the funding necessary to provide the quality health care our veterans need and deserve. He has worked to ensure that the Veterans' Affairs provides care for all eligible veterans, no matter where they live. [11]

Erik Leaver wrote this article as part of A Just Foreign Policy, the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Erik Leaver is the policy outreach director for Foreign Policy In Focus and a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Photo of Eric Leaver


1. Defense Sector Total to Candidates :: 2008 Presidential Race.
2. Behind Obama and Clinton. Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, February 4, 2008
3. Barack Obama's Plan to Secure America and Restore our Standing: Building a 21st Century Military.
4. A Strong Military in a Dangerous World. John McCain,
5. Governor Bill Richardson Says Plans of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards Will Not End Iraq War, Reiterates Call for All U.S. Troops to Leave Iraq.
6. Hillary Rodham Clinton Profile. Council on Foreign Relations
7. Plan for Ending the War in Iraq.
8. McCain Wants U.S. Bases in Afghanistan. Associated Press, February 22, 2005
9. McCain on Meet the Press, January 6th, 2008
10. Democratic presidential candidates answer reader questions. Houston Chronicle, February 29, 2008
11. Commitment To America's Service Members: Past And Present.
12. The American Society of International Law Candidates Survey 2008. American Society of International Law, 2008
13. An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom: Securing America's Future. John McCain, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007
14. American Independence and Sovereignty.
15. Clinton in Concord., April 3rd, 2007
16. Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: A New Beginning., Chicago, October 02, 2007
17. Republican Debate Transcript, Iowa. Council on Foreign Relations, Published August 5, 2007
18. National Security: A Strong Military in a Dangerous World, John McCain,
19. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson Outlines Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent “Nuclear 9/11”. Bill Richardson, Council for a Livable World
20. Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007
21. Renewing American Leadership. Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007
22. Straight-talking McCain vows to fix world's view of the 'ugly American'. Philip Sherwell in Cedar Falls, Iowa,, March 19, 2007
23. Do We Remain on Offense? Interview with Rudy Giuliani, The Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2007
24. Hillary shifts right with talk of military strike on Iran. Glenn Thrush, Washington Bureau, January 19, 2006
25. The Democrat's Second 2008 Presidential Debate, New York Times, June 3rd, 2007
26. Interview With Barack Obama. Michael Gordon and Jeff Zelen, New York Times, November 1, 2007
27. John McCain Addresses the Christians United for Israel. Council on Foreign Relations, July 17, 2007
28. Paths and Priorities in the War on Terror. Mike Huckabee, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 28, 2007
29. Challenges for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East. Remarks of Senator Clinton at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, January 19, 2006
30. Obama's Israel Shuffle. Justin Elliot, Mother Jones, February 1st, 2008
31. Obama Urges More Compassion in Mideast. Thomas Beaumont, Des Moines Register, March 13, 2007
32. The Rolling Stone Interview: John McCain. Paul Alexander, The Rolling Stone, September 27, 2001
33. The Candidates on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Council on Foreign Relations, April 23, 2008
34. Obama: Pluses, minuses on Latin America issues. Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald, February 17, 2008
35. Obama on Latin America, Speech in Alexandria, VA. YouTube, February 10, 2008
36. Statement of Senator Obama on Latin America. March 8, 2007
37. Senator John McCain Address On Latin America To The Florida Association Of Broadcasters., June 20, 2007
38. Cynthia McKinney campaign website
39. Democratic presidential debate in S.C. MSNBC, April 27, 2007
40. Sen. McCain Adresses Committee of 100 Annual Dinner. Hindustan Times, April 11, 2005
41. Democratic Debate Transcript, Washington, D.C. Council on Foreign Relations, June 28, 2007
42. Campaign Blog: The Candidates and the World. Council on Foreign Relations
43. Rescue Darfur Now. John McCain and Bob Dole, Washington Post, September 10, 2006
44. Hillary Clinton on Iraq. Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus , December 10, 2007
45. Hillary Clinton's Plan for the Forgotten Front Line in Afghanistan, March 6, 2008
46. Obama Absent at Afghanistan Hearings. Sam Youngman, The Hill, March 1, 2008
47. Remarks of Senator Obama: The War We Need to Win., Washington, DC, August 1st, 2007
48. How Mike Stands on the Issues :: The War in Iraq.
49. Addressing the National Security Challenges of Our Time: Fighting Terror and the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Brookings Institution, February 25, 2004
50. Obama's Speech at Woodrow Wilson Center. Council on Foreign Relations, August 1, 2007
51. Sen. John McCain at the 2004 Republican National Convention New York, NY. August 30, 2004
52. Reengaging With the World, A Return to Moral Leadership. John Edwards, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007
53. Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition Policy Questionnaire. February, 2008
54. The Audacity of Huck: The Religious Right roils the establishment by backing one of its own. Michael Brendan Dougherty, The American Conservative, January 28, 2008
55. Republican Debate Transcript, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Council on Foreign Relations, January 10, 2008
56. Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. April 23, 2007
57. Ron Paul defends asking for special projects. Ron Paul, Associated Press, December 23, 2007


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