Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:59 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:59 | SYDNEY

Obama vs McCain: A question of war and peace


Sam Roggeveen


28 February 2008 14:12

Hugh White asks rhetorically whether there is any reason to think Obama has either the strategic vision, strategic judgement or political courage to build a new accommodation with China. 'Not much', he answers. But this overlooks one of the great strengths of Obama's campaign (and, incidentally, a point of similarity with Hugh White): Obama opposed the Iraq war. 

Contra Hugh, my earlier point about Roosevelt and Truman was not intended to suggest that a Democrat would build precisely the same modus vivendi with China as those two presidents did with the Soviets, but merely to illustrate that it doesn't necessarily take a Republican to come to an accommodation with another great power.

And it is surely drawing a long bow to say Roosevelt and Truman had to be tough with the Soviets to appease voters who thought Democrats were weak on national security. They'd just won the Second World War, for goodness sake. How much tougher did they need to be? It's also hard to believe a Republican president at that time would have engineered a less confrontational arrangement with the USSR. If anything, it would have been more so, given Roosevelt was criticised from the right for giving too much away at Yalta and Truman was later accused of 'losing' China.

So if we want to draw historical analogies, we could thereby argue that there's a higher chance of US-China confrontation with McCain in the White House than Obama. After all, the reason the 'Nixon to China' phenomenon is cited so often is because it was the exception, not the rule. What confidence can we have that McCain won't simply play to type and just be really tough with China rather than building the modus vivendi Hugh seeks?

Hugh has so far wished for a new Nixon in the White House, and then for an amalgam of Bismarck and Lincoln. Given that the worst possible thing that could happen to US-China relations is war, let me plump for another president, one whose signature and unmatched achievement was eight years of peace: Dwight Eisenhower. Obama hasn't got much of a record to go on, but his opposition to the Iraq war shows prescience, judgment, and scepticism about the use of armed force. At this moment in history, that looks a pretty good CV to me.