Saturday, March 15, 2008

Which candidate would be the most bellicose President?

Gideon Rachman cites an argument by Robert Kagan "that the common notion that McCain will necessarily be a more bellicose and trigger-happy president than either of the Democrats is not necessarily right." According to Kagan, leaders with established military cred (Eisenhower) are less likely than the relatively untested (Kennedy) to feel that they need to prove their toughness when a crisis arises.

That may be a reasonable generalization. But in this election, consider the individuals involved.

McCain at several points advocated cutting off all aid and trade with North Korea, admitting that such a policy would risk war, in later years with a nuclear power. It’s no accident that in a recent ad he casts himself as Churchill; for fifteen years he has cast the dictators Milosevic, Saddam and Kim Jong-il as Hitlers (and Bill Clinton as Neville Chamberlain). In the Clinton years, he also pushed for a much more aggressive stance against China, advocating that we provide Taiwan with missile defense. Speaking of missile defense, he spoke in favor of abrogating the ABM treaty in 1999. As a self-identified “Churchill,” McCain may not rest until he finds a suitable “Hitler” to oppose.

Hillary Clinton may indeed fit the profile of an unproven leader anxious to prove her “toughness.” Fear of appearing weak appears to have motivated her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, and probably also her vote in favor of the recent resolution deeming the Iran Guard a terrorist group.

Obama may indeed make serious mistakes borne of inexperience if elected. He is not the kind of personality, however, that acts out of a need to be perceived as tough. He recognizes the political necessity of showing that he can’t be pushed around, but his demeanor and approach to decision-making are the opposite of bluster. Just look at his wry, weary, measured reprimands of both Clintons when their tactics turn Rovian.

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