Foreign Affairs

Foreign policies of the US prez candidates

No electoral process in the world attracts so much attention as the US Presidential elections. Reasons are obvious. United States of America controls the key, not only, to the global economy but also the geopolitics of almost all the major regions on Earth. Its internal policies have major influence on the political and economical health of major nations.

The upcoming election in the US is being termed historic by political pundits. Chances are America would elect either its first woman president or its first black president. The thirds alternative is a person who comes with years of experience in foreign policy and defence.



Before discussing the foreign policies of each of the candidates, it is important to know a brief profile of them.

Senator John Mccain

Born in 1936, John Maccain served in the US Navy from 1958 to 1981 in various roles. He was also posted on combat duty in Vietnam. At the US Senate, he has dealt with various international issues and served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Political Party: Republican

Foreign Policy Positions: McCain voted for the Iraq war and also almost all of President Bush’s “War on Terror” bills. McCain supports continuation of embargo on Cuba. He has also called for strong action to end genocide in Darfur. Global climate change, an issue that is fast becoming an important one, also finds a support from McCain.

Senator Barack Obama

Born in 1961, Barack Obama surprised everyone with his announcement to fight the Presidential election. He has since then grown from strength to strength. He is leading the delegate tally among the Democrats. Obama spoke for changing America at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, an oration that put him instantly on the national political map.

Political Party: Democratic

Foreign Policy Position: Obama opposed the Iraq war and introduced legislation in January 2007 to offer alternative to President Bush’s failed escalation policy. He co-sponsored the all-important Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act in 2005 along with John McCain. In 2006, he added important amendments to Arlen Specter’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act.



Iraq war

Iraq war is the single most contagious issue in the US election that has divided the country. Certain sections of the political class believe that the War is a burden and the US troops should withdrawal as soon as possible. They advocate diplomacy over force and violence. The supporters of the War, however, feel that the US troops must stay in Iraq for more time and help normalise the situation.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN feels a greater military commitment is necessary to achieve long-term success in Iraq. “I agree with retired Army General Jack Keane that there are simply not enough American forces in Iraq,” said Mccain in his policy papers. Further elaborating, he said that more troops are necessary to clear and hold insurgent strongholds; to provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies; to halt sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias; to dismantle al Qaeda; to train the Iraqi Army; and to embed American personnel in Iraqi police units.

To accomplish each of these goals, Mccain believes, America needs to send more troops to Iraq because it “is a crucial prerequisite for needed economic and political development in the country. America’s ultimate strategy is to give Iraqis the capabilities to govern and secure their own country.”

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON announced her three-step plan which includes removing the US troops from Iraq, work to bring stability to the region, and replace military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage other countries.

“We have heard for years now that as the Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down. Every year, we hear about how next year they may start coming home. Now we are hearing a new version of that yet again from the president as he has more troops in Iraq than ever and the Iraqi government is more fractured and ineffective than ever. Well, the right strategy before the surge and post-escalation is the same: start bringing home America’s troops now,” said Clinton during her campaign trail.

Further blaming President Bush for the mess in Iraq, she said, “I will start by facing the conditions on the ground in Iraq as they are, not as we hope or wish them to be. President Bush points to the reduction in violence in Iraq last year and claims the surge is working. Now, I applaud any decrease in violence. That is always good news.”

She feels that its time for Iraqis to reconcile their political differences. The Iraqi government has failed to provide basic services for its citizens. They have yet to pass legislation ensuring the equitable distribution of oil revenues, yet even to pass a law setting the date of provincial elections. Corruption and dysfunction is rampant, she claims.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA announced that as an US President he will immediately begin to remove the US troops from Iraq. He will remove all combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. He also emphasised that under him America will not build any permanent bases in Iraq even though some troops would stay back in Iraq to protect the embassy and the diplomats.

He said during a speech on August 2007 in Washington DC, “When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with 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.”


Iran has been at loggerhead with the US on the issue of nuclear weapon. Iran has time and again claimed its right to manufacture nuclear facilities while the US feels Iran should not do so. America has been trying to pressurise Iran through sanctions.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN blames Iran and Syria for aiding and abetting the violence in Iraq. He says, Iran has aided the most extreme and violent Shia militias, providing them with training, weapons, and technology that they have used to kill American troops. He believes that the solution doesn’t lie in entering into unconditional dialogues with “the dictatorship from a position of weakness.” He claims the answer is for the international community to apply real pressure to Iran to change their behaviour. He wants the United States to bolster its regional military posture “to make clear to Iran our determination to protect our forces in Iraq and to deter Iranian intervention in that country.”

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON believes Iran poses a threat to the US interests in Middle East. In her policy paper available on her website, she said, “The Iranian president has held a conference denying the Holocaust and has issued bellicose statement after bellicose statement calling for Israel and the United States to be wiped off the map. His statements are even more disturbing and urgent when viewed in the context of the regime’s request to acquire nuclear weapons. The regime also uses its influence and resources in the region to support terrorist elements that attack Israel.” She mentions Hezbollah’s attack on Israel with Iranian weapons. She adds, “As I have long said and will continue to say, U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. And in dealing with this threat, as I’ve also said for a long time, no option can be taken off the table.”

She cautions, “America must proceed deliberately and wisely, and we must proceed as a unified nation. The smartest and strongest policy will be one forged through the institutions of our democracy. She speaks about the lesson learnt from the Iraq war, “..price that has been paid in blood and treasure through the rush to war in Iraq and the incompetence of its execution and managing the aftermath; in the excesses of military contracting abuses and the inadequate supply of body armour and armoured vehicles on the ground have led to a loss of confidence among our allies and the American people in this Administration. Therefore we cannot and we must not allow recent history to repeat itself.”

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA believes that America has not exhausted its non-military options in confronting Iran’s nuclear threat. Obama draws connections between Iraq and Iran. He opposed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which says the US must use its military presence in Iraq to counter the threat from Iran.

Obama claims to be the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. He said, “Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behaviour.” He believes that that Iranians must be given a choice. His policy paper says, “If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress.”


India may not be directly discussed in the US campaign trail but as Chidanand Rajghatta, Foreign Editor, The Times of India puts it, “What happens in the US has significance and repercussions for India and indeed the rest of the world in terms of foreign policy, economic policy etc.”

Which candidate is being perceived as pro-India? Rajghatta says, “All three are pro-America but in some degree their policies will not be detrimental to India. It is also a fact that their India policy will be driven by the resurgence of a billion-strong India on a strong economic growth track and the growing profile and influence of the 2.6 million Indian-Americans here.”

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN has noted India’s potential to be one of the “natural allies” of the United States. He stresses the “importance of securing greater U.S. market access to [India’s] economy of a billion consumers.” McCain voted for the United States-India Energy Security Cooperation Act of 2006. He is expected to continue President Bush’s policies regarding India. Rajghatta says, “In terms of geo-political powerplay, McCain, whose vision is broadly in tune with Bush’s, would seem pro-India too.”

SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON has the longest relationship going back to mid 1990s. Her visit to India in 1995 is what set in motion the tectonic changes that followed, says Rajghatta. In 2004, Senator Clinton co-founded and became co-chair of the Senate India Caucus with the help of USINPAC.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA claims to be a long-time admirer of India. “As President, I will strengthen the critical relationship between the United States and India. The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values,” said Obama in an article published in India Abroad on February 29, 2008. Obama voted in favour of the United States-India Energy Security Cooperation Act of 2006. Rajghatta feels, “Obama, by political temperament, is consonant with what India stands for –liberal and secular outlook.”

Sources: and

This paper on foreign policy of US presidential candidates prepared by Kunal Majumder

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