Presidential Candidates on Foreign Policy—Terrorism

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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
Calls for bringing troops home from Iraq, but insists that the United States should maintain its “military as well as political mission” in Iraq, leaving an estimated 35,000-60,000 troops behind. Wants more international troops, training more Afghan troops, and targeting drug lords in Afghanistan. [44, 45] spacer Seeks to remove combat troops from Iraq immediately but would leave an estimated 35,000+ troops to protect diplomats and carry out targeted strikes on Al Qaeda. Has never visited Afghanistan and has missed 2 of 3 hearings in his committee on Afghanistan. Would increase U.S. troops, request $1b in aid, and implement tough anti-corruption safeguards. [46, 47] spacer Iraq plan is a continuation of Bush's policy: stay, fight, and see what happens. Along with his foreign policy advisors William Kristol and James Woolsey, backed the initial invasion. Asks for additional NATO forces, expanding the training and equipping of the Afghan National, and deploying significantly more foreign police trainers. Address the current political deficiencies in judicial reform, reconstruction, governance, and anticorruption efforts. [13]

What the outliers said:
Mike Gravel:
Calls for “A U.S. corporate withdrawal from Iraq and hand over reconstruction contacts to Iraqi businesses which will empower Iraqi nationals to reconstruct their own country.” [48]
Main goal is preventing extremist groups and states from obtaining nuclear weapons. Emphasizes the importance of building alliances and doing away with the widespread perception of U.S. unilateralism and arrogance. Calls for the increase in the size of the military. Seeks increased funding for global education and development programs, to reduce anti-Americanism abroad. [49] spacer Main goal is preventing extremist groups and states from obtaining nuclear weapons. Proposes “A comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world's most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland… I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America.” [50] spacer Overarching goal is “defeating radical Islamist extremists.” A strong supporter of the “War on Terrorism,” he frames it as “A fight between right and wrong, good and evil.” Beyond continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting more emphasis on Iran and Pakistan, he would employ the strategy of engaging “every economic, diplomatic, political, legal, and ideological tool at our disposal to aid moderate Muslims.” [51, 13]

What the outliers said:
John Edwards:
“We need to refocus our national security policy on the mission of protecting Americans from twenty-first-century threats rather than pursuing discredited ideological agendas. What we need is not more slogans but a comprehensive strategy to respond to terrorism and prevent it from taking root in the first place.” [52]

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. .
2. . Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy In Focus, February 4, 2008
3. .
4. . John McCain,
5. .
6. . Council on Foreign Relations
7. .
8. . Associated Press, February 22, 2005
9. , January 6th, 2008
10. . Houston Chronicle, February 29, 2008
11. .
12. . American Society of International Law, 2008
13. . John McCain, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007
14. .
15. ., April 3rd, 2007
16. ., Chicago, October 02, 2007
17. . Council on Foreign Relations, Published August 5, 2007
18. , John McCain,
19.. Bill Richardson, Council for a Livable World
20. . Hillary Rodham Clinton, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007
21. . Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007
22. . Philip Sherwell in Cedar Falls, Iowa,, 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. ., June 20, 2007
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. , March 6, 2008
46. . Sam Youngman, The Hill, March 1, 2008
47. ., Washington, DC, August 1st, 2007
48. .
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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