Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:43 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:43 | SYDNEY


Hugh White

28 February 2008 10:35

As always, Sam scores some telling hits in his response to my argument that Australians should hope McCain becomes President. But let me just press him a little harder.  First, let us agree that for Australians the future president’s ability to manage the long-term US-China relationship is overwhelmingly the most important issue. Second, this will require some US concessions to China, which will be hard to sell to Americans. Therefore, third, Australia should hope for the president best able to persuade Americans to learn to work with a rising China. If, as seems likely, Americans now face a choice between only two candidates, which of them offers the better chance of doing this, Obama or McCain? 

I argue for McCain because as a hard-line (indeed, as Sam rightly says, often over-the-top) national-security Republican, he has the ability to persuade Americans that they should accommodate China – just as Nixon did thirty five years ago. Sam argues that being a Republican doesn’t necessarily make him better than Obama at building a new modus vivendi with China, because after all Democrats like Truman built the modus vivendi with the Soviet Union.

Hmm. I think that might support my point. The last thing we want is for the US to try to build the kind of modus vivendi that it had with the Soviet Union. That is exactly the danger we need to avoid. And that is where a Democrat would more likely lead us. It was natural for the Democrats to take a tough line on the Soviet Union precisely because they were not the hard national-security party, so their tough line reached across the aisle. This time round, the natural tendency for Democrats will be to show how tough they are by making a big thing of ‘standing up’ to China. Wrong answer. Only someone with nothing to prove on national security can win wide support for accommodating China, and that’s McCain.

Am I sure he will? Of course not. He is a erratic, irascible old man with a lot of crazy ideas. But do we have any reason to think Obama has either the strategic vision to see what is necessary, the strategic judgement to do it right, and the political courage to take it on? Not much. So in the absence of a perfect candidate (say, Abraham Lincoln crossed with Bismarck), I think McCain looks better than Obama on this central issue.

Photo by Flickr user talkradionews, used under a Creative Commons licence.