Hillary Clinton and John McCain unfurled their foreign policy agendas in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs. Hillary used her essay to move her position further away than ever from the Neo Cons' "democratize the world by Monday" position. McCain, instead, showed that he forgot nothing and learned less. (Other candidates have preceded them or will follow. For a discussion of the position taken by Barack Obama in his Foreign Affairs article, click here).
Senator McCain's new essay could have been written by a Neo Con in 1995, 2000, or maybe even late as 2003. But even in those days, it would have taken an extremely untutored politician to hold that nations can be democratized in short order, especially where the sociological conditions are not well prepared. The title of McCain's essay says it all: "An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom." As he sees it, "the protection and promotion of the democratic ideal, at home and abroad, will be the surest source of security and peace for the century that lies before us." Well, if wishes would be horses, beggars could ride.
McCain touts the successes achieved on the democracy-promotion front by the Bush administration and calls for more of the same. He praises the "historic elections" in Afghanistan. He calls for adopting various economic punitive measures to reverse Russia's "diminishing political freedoms ...". More broadly, McCain would pursue a revival of the Cold War agenda of "democratic solidarity"; he calls for establishing a "League of Democracies" to "serve as a unique handmaiden of freedom". He seems not to have noted that this is exactly what Madeleine Albright tried to do during the Clinton years--to little avail
McCain proceeds by saying that, once elected, he would "seize the opportunities afforded by the unprecedented liberty and prosperity in the world today to build a peace that will last a century." Excuse me, Senator? Are you referring to the military junta in Burma? The election of Hamas in Palestine? The crumbling of democracy in Latin America? Did you forget the bitter experiences of nominal democratization in Iraq and Afghanistan? And did you forget Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria? And what about the regimes that followed the popular uprisings in the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan? Or maybe you are thinking about Tajikistan and Kazakhstan? An old man might be entitled to become lost in rosy fantasies, but not a man who seeks to lead us in a cruel and harsh world.
The title of Hillary's essay is revealing : "Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century". That is, she puts security first, which is where it belongs.
I have spent too many hours with Hillary, in White House dinners, at the Renaissance Weekend, and elsewhere to be a starry-eyed fan. Still, this essay nails it. She writes: "as we know at home and as we see today in Iraq and Afghanistan, opportunity cannot flourish without basic security." Her use of the term "basic" is essential. We previously defined it as "... the conditions under which most people, most of the time, are able to go about their lives, venture onto the street, work, study and participate in public life (politics included), without acute fear of being killed or injured--without being terrorized. To seek full-fledged security, to obviate all threats, to end fear, puts us on the slippery slope at the bottom of which is a police state." (See Security First).
Clinton recognizes that forming a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan is a "daunting task". In Iraq, her policy would call for "helping Iraqis, not propping up the Iraqi government." Regarding Russia, although she criticizes Putin's repressive policies, Clinton would focus first of all on issues that concern security; ours, theirs and that of others. She would put high priority "on issues of high national importance, such as thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, securing loose nuclear weapons in Russia and the former Soviet republics..."
In general, although Clinton views the promotion of democracy and freedom as a central component of US global leadership, she argues that "we must return to a pragmatic willingness to look at the facts on the ground and make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology." The contrast with McCain could not be clearer. At least in this round, Hillary takes gold; McCain - a wooden nickel.
Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at the George Washington University and the author of Security First: For A Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy (Yale University Press).