Saturday 15 May 2021 | 18:43 | SYDNEY
Saturday 15 May 2021 | 18:43 | SYDNEY


Sam Roggeveen


27 February 2008 13:29

Hugh White argues Australia's interests would be best served with another Nixon in the White House, because a Nixonian would be best placed to manage the US relationship with China. For Hugh, that man is Republican candidate John McCain. Let me explain why I disagree.

First, I think he takes the Republican/Democrat divide on foreign policy too far. Yes, it will be harder for a Democrat to make concessions on China because of 'traditional voter suspicions about Democrats being wobbly on national security'. But to say it would be 'virtually impossible' for Obama or Clinton to build a modus vivendi with China is to forget that theirs is the party of FDR and Truman, who between them pretty much invented the last great American modus vivendi, that with the Soviet Union. Whether Obama or Clinton can get this done hangs as much on their talent and the make-up of Congress as it does on their party affiliation.

Hugh also inadvertently points to McCain's weakness by giving him extremely faint praise. To call McCain strong and determined is to say no more of him than could be said of George W Bush. As we've discovered, strength and determination are vices if they are applied to the wrong ends. What's needed in the White House is more brains, not bigger b..s.

What Hugh doesn't address are McCain's actual foreign policy beliefs and proposals, and on examination, these provide little comfort to Australia. McCain has been a strong supporter of President Bush's counter-terrorism policy, and routinely makes wildly hyperbolic statements about the terrorist threat. He has suggested the US could stay in Iraq for a century, and his Iran rhetoric is much more confrontational than that of Obama. McCain essentially promises a continuation of the Bush foreign policy, but he is, if anything, more inclined than Bush to militarism and imperialism. McCain may well be able to engineer an accomodation with China, but if the flipside is perpetual war in the Middle East, I'm not sure that's a very good deal.

There's one other reason to not prefer McCain — he's 71 years old. In principle, that's no bar to the presidency, and Ronald Reagan was a largely successful president of around the same vintage. But clearly his performance was impaired by ageing, and the odds that McCain will go into cognitive decline during his term of office are much higher than that he will improve. If it's a choice between McCain and a younger competent candidate,  the younger candidate is a lower risk.