Arizona Republic: After Tuesday's primaries, both Barack Obama and John McCain gave what amounted to opening statements for the general election.
The Arizona Republic
By Robert Robb
After Tuesday's primaries, both Barack Obama and John McCain gave what amounted to opening statements for the general election.
I was struck by how much McCain felt compelled to concede Obama's framing of the election.
Yes, the election is about change, McCain admitted. However, the choice isn't between change and no change. It's between the right change and the wrong change. advertisement
Obama, McCain asserted, isn't really offering anything new. For Obama, the answer to every problem is more government. Been there, done that, was McCain's pitch. Doesn't work.
And McCain is right about that.
According to Obama, the change the American people want is something different from the Bush administration. And he's certainly right about that.
Dissatisfaction with Bush is the driving force in this election.
However, it's worth remembering that Bush was re-elected in 2004 with policies indistinguishable from those his administration is pursuing today. So, the American people do not, per se, reject those policies.
So, what's changed?
In 2004, the Iraq war was largely considered a success. Saddam Hussein's regime had been routed and he had been captured.
By 2006, it was clear that the Iraq war was not going well. Moreover, the American people didn't accept that the continuing fight there was central to protecting this country against future terrorist attacks. That was the story of the 2006 election, in which the American people returned the Democrats to power in Congress.
Today, a stagnant economy has intensified feelings of economic vulnerability. However, the economic conditions that are more worrisome today than in 2004 – the housing-bubble burst and consequent credit crunch, rising prices – are the result of loose monetary policy by the Fed, not the fiscal policies of the Bush administration.
That, however, is a level of detail beyond the attention of the electorate. People are feeling more economically insecure. They blame the guys in charge, whom they perceive to be the Bush administration, for that. And they want government to do something to give them a greater sense of economic security and well-being.
According to Obama, McCain represents a "third term" of the Bush administration. He is more than half-right about that.
McCain highlights the areas in which he has disagreed with Bush – troop levels in Iraq, interrogation practices, climate change, campaign-finance reform.
However, on the big-ticket items in this election – the economy and the use of military force as an instrument of American foreign policy – McCain doesn't differ much from Bush.
Since 9/11, fears of additional terrorist attacks have subsided while economic anxieties have risen. As a result, this election is likely to turn on domestic affairs.
There are considerable and important differences between the candidates about domestic policy. The candidates will offer voters a very distinctive choice about the size of government and its reach in domestic matters.
However, the more consequential choice is probably in foreign policy.
Iraq will dominate the foreign-policy debate. McCain is right that the surge is working. Obama is right that the war was a mistake and that the billions that are still being spent on it aren't purchasing commensurate increments of additional security for the American people.
However, the more important foreign-policy choice involves Iran.
The question of whether the American president should meet directly with the leaders of Iran is a sideshow. The real question is whether the U.S. should take military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Both candidates purport to want to avoid the question by more effective diplomacy – McCain by talking and acting tough; Obama by treating Iran less as a pariah state.
Both approaches are highly likely to fail.
Iran seems committed to developing a nuclear weapon, or at least a ready capability to create one. That appears to be a principal strategic objective of the ruling regime.
Inducements will not cause it to abandon the quest.
The West doesn't have anything Iranian rulers want more than the bomb. And it is highly doubtful that painful-enough sanctions will be agreed to by Russia and China, or complied with by Western Europe, to alter its course.
McCain has pretty much committed himself to using military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, saying frequently that the only thing worse than taking such action is Iran with a nuclear weapon.
Obama has not directly answered the question and probably won't. But you get the impression that he would be more inclined to try to cope with Iran with a nuke than take military action to prevent it.
There is no more consequential question than war. And while it is likely to be discussed obliquely at best, that question, with respect to Iran, may very well be on the ballot this November.