Strategic or Tactical Differences Between McCain and Obama?

On issues of foreign policy, the two major party candidates–Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama–are often portrayed as being polar opposites. However, in many respects, their differences may be more strategic than tactical.

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story from the Boston Globe with the headline “Candidates divided on Afghanistan strategy.” The article makes the claim that presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have “competing visions on how to wage the war on terrorism.” The reporter substantiates this claim with the view that Obama wants to shift the focus of the war on terrorism to Afghanistan and McCain believes that the US must hold its ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article is problematic on many levels.

First, the article states that Obama’s “opposition to the Iraq war is a campaign centerpiece.” As we have stated in previous postings, Senator Obama is not against the US occupation of Iraq. He has voted for every funding bill for the war and states that he will maintain a substantial US military presence in Iraq, despite all the rhetoric about withdrawing troops. Second, with the focus of the story on the US military campaign in Afghanistan, the reporter presents a false comparison on the two candidates on what to do about the Taliban. Obama believes that the US has “relied too heavily on forces from NATO” while McCain thinks, “NATO and Pakistan must do more in Afghanistan until the US can draw down its commitment in Iraq.” The only real difference between the two candidates, therefore, is a tactical difference, not strategic.

Both candidates do not question the original intent of the US military invasion/occupation of Afghanistan. Both candidates do not question the human rights abuses that the US military has engaged in by detaining, torturing and killing civilians. There are no independent or Afghani perspectives in this story, which makes it even more difficult to see that the candidate differences are tactical, not strategic. For instance, Michael Scheuer, former CIA chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station, made this statement at a recent conference at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC: “Afghanistan is lost for the United States and its allies.” In a recent posting on, Mike Whiteney cites an Afghani perspective that is rarely heard in the US:

“According to Afghan Parliament member, Malalai Joya: ‘Every month dozens of women commit self-immolation to end their desolation. The American war on terror is a mockery and so is the US support of the present government in Afghanistan, which is dominated by Northern Alliance terrorists. Far more civilians have been killed by the US military in Afghanistan than were killed in the US in the tragedy of September 11. More Afghan civilians have been killed by the US than were ever killed by the Taliban. The US should withdrawal as soon as possible. We need liberation not occupation.'”

When other perspectives are presented, the rhetoric that candidates use appears to be less substantial. If the reporter would have provided the public with contextual information, that too would help to clarify the so-called differences of the candidates. For example, there is no mention of how the US military presence in Afghanistan has caused weapons proliferation that is resulting in more violence according to a recent report by Amnesty International. The article also does not say anything about the fact that the status of women has not improved in Afghanistan, even though that was a major talking point of the Bush administration.

In November of 2007, the Senlis Council produced a report that detailed the current situation in Afghanistan. The report states:

“In the past year, the Afghan communities have witnessed an increase in violence with US-led military forces embarking on an unprecedented number of aerial bombings due to a lack of political will to deploy sufficient troops on the ground. This has led to a growing number of civilian casualties, fuelling public frustration about the lack of protection and widespread resentment towards international troops and the Afghan Government.”

If the US military presence in Afghanistan is making the situation worse and both McCain and Obama want to maintain or increase US troop numbers, how does that make their policy proposals different? The way the article is framed leads you to believe that the “Candidates divided on Afghanistan strategy,” but a closer investigation reveals that there are only tactical differences. Both of the major party candidates are committed to maintaining US political and economic dominance in the region.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media //