Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Two issues will dominate the presidential election in November: energy costs and lagging U.S. economy, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opinion polls show that John McCain is stronger on foreign policy than Barack Obama, but Obama leads McCain on dealing with the economy.

Some political observers think McCain should choose a vice president with substantial experience in economic and business affairs, a field where he is perceived as weak. Obama, who is viewed as inexperienced in foreign policy and national security matters, is said to need a vice president who reassures voters that his team has sufficient expertise to deal effectively with international challenges, especially from terrorists.

News that Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia is being seriously considered as Obama's running mate does not fit this scenario. Although Kaine is well-regarded by most Virginians, he has little experience that qualifies him to compensate for Obama's deficiencies in handling foreign policy. Instead, a well-known expert like Senator Joseph Biden would be a more suitable choice to balance the ticket.

John McCain is also looking at governors as possible running mates, among them Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge, both successful former governors of large states, and Charles Crist, the current governor of Florida. Only Romney also has business experience that would compensate for McCain's lack of it.

What accounts for this emphasis on governors as vice presidential choices?

Neither McCain nor Obama has experience as chief executive of a state, or mayor of a large city, to qualify them to run the huge U.S. bureaucracy. Most recent presidents--Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush--were governors before running for president and had needed administrative experience. In fact, 2008 is the first year since John Kennedy's election in 1960 that a senator will become the president

For voters who think foreign policy is the most important issue in the election, it may not be enough to hear what Obama and McCain think about major foreign policy issues facing the country; they may also want them to choose the people who will fill key foreign policy and national security cabinet positions in their administrations. The most important of these are the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence.

Obama will no doubt consider Senator Biden for secretary of State if he is not his vice presidential choice. Another possibility is Bill Richardson, the current governor of New Mexico who was a foreign policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.

For McCain, one of the best qualified persons for secretary of State is Senator Joseph Lieberman, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key.

McCain adviser. Another is John Negroponte, the current deputy secretary of State and former director of National Intelligence.

For the crucial position of secretary of Defense, McCain and Obama both would be well-served if they could persuade Robert Gates, the current secretary, to remain in that post during the first year or so of the new administration. Gates is a vast improvement over Donald Rumsfeld, and the nation needs the continuity he would bring to this key position. Gates is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The department of Homeland Security requires a tough administrator with broad experience in law enforcement. McCain and Obama will need a person who has the full confidence of Congress because of the sensitive domestic nature of his responsibilities.

The director of National Intelligence, retired Admiral John McConnell, is a professional intelligence officer who has won the confidence of both parties in Congress. Like Gates, he should be asked to stay on for a year to provide for a smooth transition. An announcement by Obama and McCain of their national security teams should be made at least a month before election day in order to give the public time to weigh their credentials as experts on foreign policy, defense affairs, and national intelligence.

On July 27 Barack Obama told an audience in Chicago that "When you think of the big problems we face here at home, they're connected to the problems we face abroad." He added: "We can't keep spending $10 billion a month in Iraq, at a time when we have pressing needs here in the United States." ("Obama Links Economy to Foreign Policy," Washington Post, July 28).

John McCain, reflecting his haunting experiences during the Vietnam War, considers a premature withdrawal from Iraq to be a disaster for U.S. credibility as a major power. In a CNN interview, he said, "I'm not prepared to see the sacrifices of so many brave young Americans lost because Senator Obama just views this war as another political issue." ("McCain Says Obama Plays Politics on Iraq," Washington Post, July 28)

This country needs a serious debate on national priorities, not just on Iraq. We need to ask: Does the United States have the financial means to pursue the international policeman's burden essentially alone? That question should be debated this fall.

File last modified on Monday, 18-AUG-2008 11:57 AM EST

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