Presidential Candidates on Foreign Policy—Diplomacy

YES! Magazine Graphic

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
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Hillary Clinton
Democratic Senator from New York
spacer Barack Obama
Democratic Senator from Illinois
spacer John McCain
Republican Senator from Arizona
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Bi-lateral Relations with Iran
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“We cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran—that they will not be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons. But we need to start with diplomacy in order to see what we can accomplish.” [24, 25] spacer “You can't engage in diplomacy in isolation. There's got to be a broader strategic context to it… I think it is important for us to send a signal that we are not hell bent on regime change, just for the sake of regime change, but expect changes in behavior and there are both carrots and sticks available.” [26] spacer “Every option must remain on the table. Military action isn't our preference. It remains, as it always must, the last option… there is only one thing worse than a military solution, and that, my friends, is a nuclear armed Iran.” [27]
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What the outliers said:
Mike Huckabee
“We haven't had diplomatic relationships with Iran in almost 30 years and a lot of good it's done. All of us know that when we stop talking to a parent, or a sibling, or even a friend, it's impossible to resolve the differences to move that relationship forward. Well, the same is true for countries.” [28]
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Bi-lateral Relations with Israel/Palestine
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Seen as slightly more pro-Israeli than Obama, supports Israel's “security wall,” which divides Israel from the West Bank with the declared purpose of preventing terrorist attacks. “The security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East.” [29] spacer A strong supporter of Israel. Supports a two state solution. “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region” Would “insist on fully funding military assistance to Israel.” [30, 31] spacer No peace plan for the region other than seeking further talks. The priority is continued support for Israel. Said that rather than searching for a way for Palestinians and Israelis to live peacefully together, “we may have to find a way for them to live apart, in peace.” Supports Israel's separation wall with Palestinians. Believes the United States should continue to provide Israel with military aid. [32, 33]
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What the outliers said:
Mike Gravel:
The U.S., its allies, and regional actors should “sponsor direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including Hamas” to forge a two-state solution. [33]
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Bi-lateral Relations with Latin America
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Has visited the region 18 times. “We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement: this is too critical a region for the United States to stand idly by” but would not meet with Castro and Chaves without preconditions. “We must provide sustainable-development programs that promote economic opportunity and reduce inequality for the citizens of Latin America.” [20, 34] spacer Has not been to Latin America, but has a deep team of advisors, including Gregory Craig, representative of the Cuban youth's father in Elian Gonzalez's custody fight. And former Clinton NSC staffer Anthony Lake. “Our Latin American policy can not just be ‘I oppose Castro' and ‘I oppose Chavez.” Would meet with Castro and Chavez without preconditions. “We need to sustain our commitment to democracy, to social justice, and to opportunity for our neighbors to the south. The western hemisphere is too important to our core economic and security interests to be treated with the neglect and mismanagement that have defined the past six years.” [34, 35, 36] spacer Has made dozens of trips to the region. Policy focuses on the region in terms of combating terrorism, immigration, and advancing free trade. Most influential advisors on Latin American affairs are Cuban Americans from Florida. [37]
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What the outliers said:
Cynthia McKinney:
Hosted the first delegation of Afro-Latinos from Central and South America and worked with the World Bank and the U.S. State Department to recognize Afro-Latinos. Stood the U'wa people of Colombia in their fight to save their sacred land from oil rigs. [38]
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Bi-lateral Relations with China
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“Although the United States must stand ready to challenge China when its conduct is at odds with U.S. vital interests, we should work for a cooperative future.” [20] spacer China is “neither our enemy nor our friend. They're competitors. But we have to make sure that we have enough military-to-military contact and forge enough of a relationship with them that we can stabilize the region.” [39] spacer “That doesn't imply an effort to oppose China's emergence as an influential power, but it does mean maintaining our military presence in East Asia, strengthening our alliance with Japan and our relations with other Asian countries, and working through groups like the APEC forum to further American interests and values.” [40]
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Bi-lateral Relations with African countries
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Stresses the importance of education in ameliorating the rampant poverty throughout Africa. Co-sponsored Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. Advocates a no-fly zone over Sudan. “Our interests in Africa are strategic, not just humanitarian. They include Al Qaeda's efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa and the growing competition with other global players, including China, for Africa's natural resources.” [41, 20, 42] spacer Father was Kenyan, has been particularly vocal in the Senate on U.S.-Africa policy. Co-sponsored Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, resolutions condemning Zimbabwe and increased aid. Advocates a no-fly zone over Sudan. [42] spacer Focuses on promoting democracy, trade and development in the region. Argues that United States should pressure the European Union and UN Security Council to impose sanctions on the Sudanese government. [42, 43]
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What the outliers said:
Dennis Kucinich:
“It's time for the United States to stop looking at Africa as a place where our corporations can exploit the people.” [41]


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
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22. . Philip Sherwell in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Telegraph.co.uk, March 19, 2007
23. Interview with Rudy Giuliani, The Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2007
24. . Glenn Thrush, Washington Bureau, January 19, 2006
25. , New York Times, June 3rd, 2007
26. . Michael Gordon and Jeff Zelen, New York Times, November 1, 2007
27. . Council on Foreign Relations, July 17, 2007
28. . Mike Huckabee, The Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 28, 2007
29. . Remarks of Senator Clinton at Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, January 19, 2006
30. . Justin Elliot, Mother Jones, February 1st, 2008
31. . Thomas Beaumont, Des Moines Register, March 13, 2007
32. . Paul Alexander, The Rolling Stone, September 27, 2001
33. . Council on Foreign Relations, April 23, 2008
34. Obama: Pluses, minuses on Latin America issues. Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald, February 17, 2008
35. . YouTube, February 10, 2008
36. . March 8, 2007
37. . JohnMcCain.com, June 20, 2007
38.
39. . MSNBC, April 27, 2007
40. . Hindustan Times, April 11, 2005
41. , Washington, D.C. Council on Foreign Relations, June 28, 2007
42. . Council on Foreign Relations
43. . John McCain and Bob Dole, Washington Post, September 10, 2006
44. . Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus , December 10, 2007
45. , HilaryClinton.com. March 6, 2008
46. . Sam Youngman, The Hill, March 1, 2008
47. . BarackObama.com, Washington, DC, August 1st, 2007
48. . Gravel2008.us
49. . The Brookings Institution, February 25, 2004
50.. Council on Foreign Relations, August 1, 2007
51. . August 30, 2004
52. . John Edwards, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007
53. . February, 2008
54. . Michael Brendan Dougherty, The American Conservative, January 28, 2008
55. . Council on Foreign Relations, January 10, 2008
56. . April 23, 2007
57. . Ron Paul, Associated Press, December 23, 2007

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