In other words, thoughts on the American presidential debate…
I have never been one much interested in the politics of the American presidential race. Of course, who the Americans will choose as their president affects us all, but the interminable run-up to the election, in which so much back stabbing goes on you can hardly keep track, just bores me no end! However I did think it was important to reflect upon the just gone debate between this year’s two candidates. Funnily enough, one of them makes me think of French fries and potatoe wedges, whilst the other reminds me of the TV show 24 and President David Palmer… This doesn’t say much for my cultural references but just goes to show how one can take this to the most uninteresting level.
But enough with the poor comparisons, and back to business. A video and a transcript for the debate can be found here on the New York times page. The debate is of course an interesting point in the presidential race as this is when the two candidates get to confront each other publicly and expose their differences. This is a great time for them to win over new voters, enforce the support they already have and show exactly what it is that makes them the candidate Americans want. And yet, the more I read on and the more I am amazed that we let these people go on for so long, without actually doing any of the above. On the contrary, what I note is more “back stabbing” or “blaming” as it were, as well as the “I’m better than you because…” talk which in fact is very childish! This does not make me trust the ability of either of the two men for now…
However, some interesting points strike me about this debate, other than the ones I have just mentioned. For a start, the two candidates rarely answer the question that Jim Lehrer asks them. They will reply on the topic but never to the point, which entails a lot of beating around the bush. In my opinion this shows a lack of willingness to talk openly. Both of them also miss a very important point Lehrer tries to make, when he asks them if they think the present financial crisis will affect their approach to the presidency once elected. It seems to me that this is of crucial importance and that if they have not taken this into consideration then this could be problematic. They cannot simply go ahead with the “original plan” as it were, regardless of the present financial situation.
I will not go into more detail on their comments on the financial crisis as this is not my area of expertise. However they also spend a considerable amount of time talking about issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Iran, and this interests me very much. It is interesting to note that on the questions of the “lessons of Iraq”, Senator McCain does nothing but state the obvious, whilst Senator Obama questions the original decision. In my opinion this is a good point because even though it is too late to do anything about it now, it nevertheless differentiates him from those who supported Iraq and helps him to stand out. It will also earn him brownie points with all the Americans who felt that the invasion of Iraq was the wrong decision in the first place.
What I do find strange however, is that Obama says that the lessons learnt from Iraq are to “never hesitate to use military force” but “to use it wisely”. Now to me this seems like an utterly inappropriate lesson to draw from this war; surely the lesson would be “never to rush into military action just because we have the capabilities”. Instead, we see a classic image of the American way of approaching foreign relations, reflected by their military might. Robert Kagan, of course, is the most well know scholar for highlighting the differences between the Europeans and the Americans in their approaches to such things, and would tell us that by nature the US will always have this type of approach since it has the military might that allows it to do so. Us Europeans on the other hand, do not have such tools at our disposal and so we make do with diplomacy. I don’t think that is such a bad thing, considering the amount of collateral damage Iraq and Afghanistan have caused, but the US will do how it always does.
McCain on the other hand does nothing but state the obvious on these matters and continues to support all the original decisions, saying they were the right approach to take and that he will continue along this path. He makes a point that I find interesting when he mentions Pakistan and what to do about the situation there (that it fosters terrorism). Since they are both on the topic of the mistakes made in Afghanistan/Iraq, McCain admits that they were perhaps a bit too rash and that therefore the solution in Pakistan is to work with the Pakistanis, “helping them to do the work themselves” and getting them to do the policing.
Now something has always struck me about this type of discourse. First of all, do the Pakistanis really want help? It seems to me that they take little into account on the opinion of Pakistanis themselves and whether or not they even required assistance in the first place. Furthermore this type of talk seems to me to be quite “neo-colonial”, as one might call it. All along the lines of: “these poor people who need our help as we know better than them”, which reminiscent of the way the colonial powers thought back in the days when it was still the trend to colonise as many countries as possible. Of course, I may be reading too much into this but if one looks at the works of Rashid Khalidi, one can see that he denotes a similar attitude in the Bush administration in their preparation for the war on Iraq. I find this worrisome and I am sure that many of the countries concerned by this type of American Foreign Policy will also feel that it is out of place, and brings back bad memories. This is also a point Khalidi makes in his book “Resurrecting Empire: western footprints and America’s perilous path in the Middle East”.
On a final note, I would like to leave you with a quote from Mr. Obamba himself made during the debate, when speaking of Pervez Musharraf and the relationship the US maintained with him: “Well, you know, he may be a dictator but he’s our dictator”. In my opinion this reflects so well the attitude the Americans have with regard to other countries and whether or not they view them as a threat. So long as he’s “our dictator” it’s alright for him to stay in power for years and years and years.
This may leave us to reflect further upon the nature of American Foreign Policy, how it affects us, and whether or not it is possible for it to change.