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The Impact of Foreign Policy in the 2008 Election [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speakers: Peter Beinart, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, and Gideon Rose, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
Presider: Robert McMahon, Deputy Editor,
January 31, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations


ROBERT MCMAHON:  Just a few opening comments before introducing our panel:

So it's pretty obvious to anyone working in foreign policy -- they will say that the next president faces a bewildering array of foreign policy challenges.  And it certainly seemed at the start of the campaign that foreign policy was going to be the dominant issue and was for a few opening months. 

It has now been pushed aside, and the conventional wisdom is that a combination of the calming of Iraq; the lessening of the impact, perhaps, of Iran by the National Intelligence Estimate late last year; and the issue of the economy emerging have all served to push foreign policy out of the way. 

But we're also seeing in the campaigns the issues like the fears -- American fears about globalization, concerns about high energy prices, and an issue that we cover a lot at the council, immigration, are working their way into the campaigns as well, and not to mention Iraq, which was the source of a crackling exchange in last night's debate in California between the Republicans, the lead Republican candidates.

So to help us clarify these issues, we're really fortunate to have a heavyweight panel here, provided by the Council on Foreign Relations, and I'm going to start with introductions to the end, starting with -- is that Gideon?  Gideon, you're on on the --

GIDEON ROSE:  Yeah, I'm on the end.

MCMAHON:  -- starting with Gideon.  Gideon Rose is the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, which has already run -- it has run a complete cycle of essays from eight leading candidates or once-leading candidates. 

Sitting next to him or soon to be sitting next to him is the man grabbing his dessert, Max Boot.  Max is a senior fellow for national security studies at the council, and fresh back from, I believe, an 11-day trip to Iraq, where he accompanied U.S. brigades in north and central Iraq.  And there's -- among your papers here are a -- includes a Weekly Standard article that he wrote and a New York Post column.

And to my direct right is Peter Beinart.  He's a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy, has a freshly minted op-ed today in The Washington Post on putting into perspective the harshness of the Obama-Clinton campaigning, and has also studied the foreign policy issues in the campaign quite closely since really the start of it.

So we're going to have them make some introductory remarks, about five minutes or so each, and then we want to open it up to you and give you a chance.  We're going to run until about 1:15.  We have some wiggle time, depending on -- also on the timing of our -- the schedules of our panelists here.

But I want to start -- can I start at the end, Gideon, with you? 

ROSE:  Sure.

MCMAHON:  Are you in mid- --

ROSE:  No, I'm fine.

MCMAHON:  Okay. 

ROSE:  I will try to restrain the pungency of my comments, since we're on the record, and I get yelled at when I curse too much on the record.

But I will just say I'm probably the most cynical of this probably rather cynical crowd.  Maybe Max isn't cynical.  He's a very sincere type.

The -- I think that the vast majority of discussion of foreign policy topics during the campaign is irrelevant and worthless because -- for three reasons. 

Well, first is, you can't really trust the vast majority of things that politicians say during the campaign, or rather those things that they say don't necessarily bear any relation to the actual policies they would put in place once in office, in my opinion.  So much of the discussion, whatever it goes on, doesn't actually serve as an indicator of what happens later, when they're in power.

Second, you don't know who the people will be making decisions in power after the election.  The advisers that the campaigns have now are not necessarily the advisers they'll have as they go to the general election.  They're not necessarily the people who will be in key decision-making positions when the musical chairs game settles after the fact.  And even those foreign policy advisers they have now don't have the authority to control foreign policy statements during the campaign, because those are all driven by the political exigencies of the moment, rather than actual substantive policy exigencies.  So we don't know who the people are.

And finally, most importantly, the actual contours of specific issues that will pop up when whoever is president is president will be the chief factor in driving decisions and events, and we have no idea of what those will be.  And so grandiose discussions over principles are almost invariably largely BS or vaporous, because although sometimes in the press or academia or even in public discourse, it seems like there is really fundamental debate over principles going on, I'm enough of a technocrat to believe that's hooey, that almost everybody in the American debate actually shares the same set of principles.  What they have are slightly different priorities of where they rank the same principles vis-a-vis each other, and they disagree about the practical implementation in specific cases.

So things like debates over democracy promotion are almost entirely hooey.  I wouldn't waste five seconds of time on them now, because everybody thinks we can and should promote democracy where possible.  Everybody also thinks we don't want to be too radical and disrupt things and do it stupidly and incompetently.  And the of how you actually go about doing democracy promotion will be a case-specific decision made in response to very particular circumstances with a very particular constellation of things that we have no idea about in advance.  And so I wouldn't take anything anybody says on that now seriously.

So that's my kind of very cynical kind of thing.  I'd be happy to go into more detail about the issues and -- because of that.  And it's my -- in fact, from my kind of technocrat's perspective, I'm almost glad that foreign policy issues don't have too high a salience in the campaign, because it reduces the number of stupid commitments that politicians will feel compelled to make, that they will then have to repudiate and look silly about doing so later on.

MCMAHON:  Thank you.  Very succinct.

Max, irrelevant at this point, or is it of rising relevance?

MAX BOOT:  Well, I guess I have to somewhat disagree with my cynical friend over to my right here, although I think I agree with some of the things that Gideon said about campaign rhetoric not necessarily being a good guide to actions once in office and the fact that our major shifts in foreign policy are usually driven more by external events rather than by the campaign commitments or ideology of candidates who take office. 

I disagree a little bit about kind of the premise of the discussion, which is that foreign policy is not all that important in the context of the campaign.  I think it's actually been surprisingly important.  When you look, for example, at John McCain's remarkable rebound from the political graveyard, I think that's really been driven in large part by foreign policy.  That's been the signature issue for John McCain for a long time, and especially in the last year, where he was so closely associated with pushing the surge, and the success of the surge on the ground in Iraq has been matched by the success of the McCain campaign on the ground in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida and elsewhere.  I think clearly that's been a major issue and one where he was out front. 

And you know, Mitt Romney can claim that he was kind of for the surge all the along, but he clearly was not out front and didn't risk his political neck in the way that McCain did.  And I think he's earned credit for it, rightfully so.

I should add, by the way, as a disclaimer that I am a foreign policy adviser to the McCain campaign.  So naturally, I'm enthusiastic about him, but I think I'm enthusiastic about him for legitimate reasons in that I think he has been stalwart on the war.

And I think he also has more foreign policy experience than the other candidates, and that's an issue where, again, I think he is being rewarded by Republican primary voters who look at a Romney or a Huckabee, who haven't really had much experience in that sphere, and they -- at a time of war they tend to gravitate more towards somebody who's been around the issue for decades and has served in the military.

I think that's also an issue where there is a vulnerability on the Democratic side, although it's not obvious right now because neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama has that much experience with foreign policy issues -- Hillary a little bit more than Obama; but neither one has that much of a background, and I think that's going to become more of an issue in the general election.  It wouldn't have been an issue if, you know, Romney were the Republican candidate or Huckabee or somebody like that, but with McCain it's going to be an issue.  It's going to be one of the major issues.

And you know, I think that Clinton and Obama need to come up with some better answers than they have to date, where their basic -- especially with Obama, his basic credential was "I was opposed to the Iraq war all along, so that's all you need to know, and that's the end of the discussion."  Well, I think that's not necessarily going to be good enough for a general electorate.  I'm not even sure it's good enough for the Democratic Party.  And so I think they have to develop some more credibility to the extent that they can in the few months that remain.

MCMAHON:  Max, can I just interrupt you real quick?

BOOT:  Sure.

MCMAHON:  We've been asked to raise our voice a little bit so they can pick up the audio a little bit better.  Sorry.

BOOT:  I will now shout my opinions to the rooftops.

I think that in the course -- I think another problem for Obama and Clinton is that during the course of the campaign they have taken increasingly shrill, marginal and irresponsible positions on the war in Iraq, which are really at odds with what is actually happening in Iraq.

They've, in fact, moved to the left over the course of the last six months or so, from last year -- in the fall of last year, where both Obama and Clinton were basically refusing to commit to a pullout of American troops and were, in fact, leaving themselves considerable wiggle room.  They are leaving themselves a lot less wiggle room right now because Obama has basically pledged to pull all U.S. combat troops, all of our brigade combat teams out of Iraq within the course of the first 12 or 16 months of his presidency, something like that.  And Clinton has basically agreed to go along with that.

Now, they entertain fantasies about how we can do that while still preserving the security situation in Iraq by supposedly using a handful of Special Operations forces and advisers.  And those are just that, fantasies.  Anybody who knows anything about Iraq, anybody who's ever been there, anybody who's ever talked to anybody who's served on the ground there will tell you that's baloney; that if we don't have substantial numbers of ground forces in Iraq for a substantial period of time, the situation will spin out of control.  And there is no way on God's green earth that a handful of Special Operations forces coming in from hundreds of miles away could possibly significantly affect the outcome anymore than they are able to operate freely now in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

So I think they've -- you know, on the key issue that the electorate, I think, is most concerned about, they've basically committed themselves to a marginal position.  And as long as the situation in Iraq continues to improve, I think they will pay a political price for that.  That's not to say they're going to necessarily lose the election, because obviously, foreign affairs is not the only issue, and of course, there are differing views even on that, but I think it's going to be a liability for them, to the extent that they've moved to the left in the Republican -- in the Democratic primaries, that they're going to have a hard time moving back to the right.

And when they do try to move to the right, I might add, they're not terribly convincing.  And I think Obama got himself into more trouble than he imagined when he made what I thought was -- what he thought was a fairly innocuous statement about using Special Operations forces directly in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and this was kind of seen as not terribly credible posturing on his part to make up for the weakness of his position on Iraq.

So you know, I think they're going to have to -- I mean those are -- I think, those are some of the issues that the candidates will have to deal with.  And I suspect, that given that we are at a state of war, notwithstanding the weakening economy, and given that McCain is the Republican nominee will highlight those issues, I think that they -- that their salience will continue to be fairly high in the general election, as it has been, I think in general, in the primary elections.

MCMAHON:  Okay.  Thanks, Max.

That sets things up for you, Peter.

PETER BEINART:  Well, I think one of the cardinal rules of punditry, it seems to me, is to try to disentangle what you believe to be right from what you say the American people believe to be right.  You can -- you may be, as Max is, a very sincere supporter of the surge, but that does make John McCain's position on Iraq popular.  It's not popular.  You -- I think it's a far more unclear case about how the Iraq issue is going to play out in the general election than Max is suggesting.

I also just think -- I'm not associated with any of the campaigns, but I just think it's -- it's just plain unfair to say that Barack Obama's foreign policy views have been limited to saying he was against the war in Iraq.  On Iran, whether you agree with him or not, I think he actually laid out, in that New York Times interview, a pretty detailed view about how he would try to make a diplomatic overture to Iran, just to give one example.

I think foreign policy has declined as an issue in the election, given where we thought it would be over the summer.  I would say the economy is the biggest issue in both parties, and it seems to me foreign policy is now basically kind of tied for number two in both, probably tied with kind of health care in the Democratic Party at number two, tied with immigration in the Republican Party at number two.

I think it's -- first of all, you just can't forget the fact that we haven't had a terrorist attack.  The number of people in 2004 who said terrorism was their number one issue at the polls was significant; it was almost 20 percent.  That number is way down.  It's higher amongst Republicans than amongst Democrats, but it's down among both, just the issue of terrorism.

The issue of Iraq is down because of the decline of U.S. deaths.  And I think particularly in the Republican Party, Iraq is a dog that didn't bark in that -- I mean, I agree with Max that had the -- that Romney was not as committed to the surge as McCain was.  And had the surge really gone south, I think there's a possibility that Romney might have jumped off that position, and then you could have seen a real debate about Iraq inside the Republican Party in particular.

We forget that Brownback, who was at one point a pretty serious candidate, was against the surge.  There was a time when, I think, Republicans were looking pretty seriously at not going along with the surge, and that would have opened up a debate in the Republican Party that instead we hadn't seen because of the success or I would have probably argued perceived success of the surge.

The Iran issue, also, at a certain point, looked like it might be foreign policy issue 1A, but the NIE I think, as Bob said, has really kind of taken the steam out of Iran as an issue.  It's also -- Pakistan has not melted down in the way that some people thought it might, even just a little while ago, and I think that's kept foreign policy from being as big an issue.

If you try to think about -- I don't entirely agree with Gideon that there are -- there is nothing you can tell about the way that candidates would handle foreign policy from their advisors and what they've said.  I mean, he's absolutely right that, of course, lots of foreign policy is about discrete issue management, and you can't predict.  On the other hand, if you had looked at George W. Bush and his advisers in 2000, you could have had a pretty good view about their ideas about international institutions.  If you looked at Ronald Reagan in 1980, you could have had some pretty good ideas about his sense of -- his view on Central America, or on issues having to do with the defense budget.  There are -- there are broad trends.

And I think this year you can see there are very different ways that the Democrats and the Republicans talk about foreign policy.  The debate is much more, I think, between the parties than within them.  There are elections -- you think about 1976 -- when there were very, very heated, big differences within the parties -- even 1996 for the Republicans, when Pat Buchanan was running.  But I think right now the differences within the parties pale compared to the differences between the parties.

The biggest one is that when Republicans talk about foreign policy -- particularly true for McCain and Giuliani, but even for Romney -- the war on terror virtually is American foreign policy.

I mean, for them, the war on terror is the defining prism for American foreign policy, in a similar way that the Cold War was for American foreign policy from the late '40s through the '80s.  And they define the war on terror very broadly, so the war on terror does not just refer to kind of Sunni jihadists of the al Qaeda variety, but it is a prism for understanding how we should deal with Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq; it's all bundled under this kind of broad war on terror.  And there's much, much less discussion of nonmilitary threats to American security. 

The Democrats, by contrast, I think, define terrorism and the war on terror, if they even use that term, much more narrowly, just to refer to non-state Sunni jihadists, and therefore it doesn't take up as much of American foreign policy.  They're much more likely to talk about things like global warming, even public health threats, certainly international economic concerns having to -- dealing with trade and investment.  For Democrats, the prism really is still Bill Clinton's prism, which was globalization, the whole panoply of ways in which both state success and state failure in a globalized world can impact Americans in lots of different ways. 

And that leads Democrats to pay more attention to things that are outside of the orbit of high politics.  Or another way of putting it, Democrats don't seek -- don't equate foreign policy and national security as much.  They're more concerned with what -- they spend more time thinking about things that you might consider human security; you know, the impact on Americans and their jobs of our relationship with China, for instance. 

And in that way, I think there's a little bit of a parallel to the -- between today and the 1970s.  You know, in the 1970s, in the wake of Vietnam, for conservatives the Cold War and containment still was American foreign policy and was defined very broadly, the containment of all communist movements around the world.  For liberals and Democrats after Vietnam, the Cold War and containment became a less satisfying prism with the recognition of the split between China and the Soviet Union and the sense that we didn't need to or couldn't contain communist movements all around the world, and there was more of a concern amongst liberals about a new set of concerns -- North-South issues, environmental issues.  And I think that's what we see today amongst Democrats as the kind of 9/11 prism has diminished, significantly more amongst Democrats than it has amongst Republicans. 

I guess the last point I would make is that it seems to me very clear that there will be a big foreign policy debate in the general election having to do with this general question of how you see Iraq at the center, but more generally, the way you try to deal with threats coming from the Middle East.  I think what is less clear is to what degree there will be a debate over the question of globalization. 

And the concerns about globalization, it seems to me, are very powerful at the grassroots of both parties.  You see it in the Republican anxieties over immigration, which have just become a massive issue, in some ways seeming to eclipse even the issue of terrorism and Iraq amongst the conservative grassroots.  And obviously, amongst the Democrats, trade is an enormously important issue. 

I think that if you have -- that a race between a McCain on the one hand and a Clinton and Obama on the other hand would leave a lot of space for an anti-globalization candidate.  I don't think either of those candidacies right now seem likely to channel the disaffections that Americans feel about globalization in as hard-edged a way as Edwards tried to do a little bit and even as Huckabee tried to do a little bit. 

And I think if you look at this constellation of candidates, it seems to me it is a race really wide open for an anti-globalization candidate, who I think would speak to a lot of the concerns and resentments that really cross party lines, even though they're expressed more through immigration on the Republican side and more through trade on the Democratic side.  And that's why I think -- I think Lou Dobbs would be a very -- I think Lou Dobbs would be a very powerful candidate in this race, who would really shape the debate a lot and would have a real potential for getting some real support.

MCMAHON:  Thank you, Peter.  It sounds like you're also paving the way, maybe, for Ron Paul to declare a Libertarian candidacy, perhaps.

BEINART:  I think Ron Paul would be a significant candidate too, yeah.

MCMAHON:  Well, thanks.  You've done a nice job of framing some of the big general election issues. 

Looking at Super Tuesday next week, though, I want to come back to what, if anything, then, distinguishes the -- say the two front runners in each party heading into this big Super Tuesday race, which is supposed to be the great big shakeout.  And I'll start with you, Peter -- and Max or Gideon as well, notwithstanding your cynicism, Gideon -- if you want to just get into are we just basically -- are these votes about character, individual character and some on skills, or what are some issues that might also intrude on them?  Just between, you know, in the parties themselves?

BEINART:  Well, you've seen -- you're now seeing Barack Obama try to revive the issue of Hillary Clinton's support for the Iraq war.  And I think -- Obama, I think, has run a terrific campaign.  It is still remarkable in some ways that he hasn't been able to get more traction on that issue, given that 111 percent of people in the Democratic Party right now not only oppose the war but believe they opposed to the war to begin with. 

And I think that -- but by and large, I think that it's hard to see foreign policy -- the candidates' personas have taken on -- you know, on the Democratic side, the candidates have developed kind of personas and images that, I think, go well beyond foreign policy.  I mean, there are foreign policy differences, but I think, to take Gideon's point, you have to peer very, very closely at the constellations of advisers and parse the statements very carefully, and then kind of try to make an interpretation of the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

I think one can do it, but you can't -- you can't be sure you're right.  I mean, I have some hypotheses about the way in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might see the world a little bit differently, but it's based on a lot of tea leaf reading and it could be totally wrong. 

I think on the Republican side, the big difference between McCain and Romney is that McCain is -- McCain is just much more comfortable talking about national security and Romney is more comfortable talking about economics.  And I think that has a bit of an international economic dimension.  I think McCain's biggest weakness right now is the fact that he's not that compelling talking about the economy and -- nor talking about the international economy.  And I think that's probably the area of foreign policy where Romney feels most comfortable.

MCMAHON:  Thanks.  Max, do you want to --

BOOT:  Well, I agree it's -- I mean, I think it's very hard to discern major differences between Obama and Clinton.  I guess half a year ago or so, I would have said that Clinton was somewhat the more centrist candidate, and I think that was basically the case before she got into a tough primary battle, because I think basically this time last year, she was looking past the primaries and positioning herself as a general election candidate and therefore being somewhat more centrist in regard to Iraq and other issues.  I think she's had to move left over the course of the last half-year or so in order to compete with Obama and Edwards, and at this point, I don't really see a dime's worth of difference between them, except in perhaps nuance or tone or something like that. 

So I don't think there's a huge discrepancy there except that Clinton makes the claim that she has more foreign policy experience.  And I think that's true, because Obama really has none.  So even with Clinton's limited background, I think she's got a lot more experience than Obama.  And I guess that's also the case, there's, you know, a much larger discrepancy, I think, in the Republican field. 

And I basically agree with what Peter said, that McCain obviously feels a lot more comfortable talking about these issues than Romney does.  And with somebody like Romney, you really feel like his positions have been put together by advisers and pollsters and so forth, whereas with McCain, especially on the issue of foreign policy, those are issues where he's got visceral feelings and they come through.  And he's been able to take a more, I think, independent stance with regard to the administration than Rumsfeld and the generals and so forth rather than Romney.  But in terms of the actual positions and where they come down, there isn't that much of a difference at this point because Romney has tried to position himself as a conservative, just as McCain did and just as Giuliani did and pretty much everybody in the Republican field did aside from Ron Paul.

If I could just very quickly disagree a little bit with a few things that Peter said.  I think it's significant what -- or to pick up on a few things that he said.  I think it's significant that, as he said, the Iraq issue has not gotten more traction for Obama in the primary election even though he's tried to appear as the more anti-war candidate.  And I think that goes to the issue that I was raising before, which is the way that Iraq actually plays out in the general election. 

I don't think it plays out as this huge minus for Republicans that Democrats had been expecting.  In fact, I think the more it comes to the fore, the more people judge based on national security credentials who's  going to keep the country safe, and I think they tend to lean more towards the Republicans.  Even though you could argue that a Republican administration is associated with a lot of the problems that have occurred in Iraq, I think the American people aren't interested in -- at least as I read the polls -- aren't interested in having an election on whether we should have gone into Iraq or not.  And they're also not interested in scuttling out as quickly as possible, because I think there's a widespread realization that can create more problems than it solves. 

I think the frustration in the last few years has not been so much that people, I think, I want out as they want a positive outcome.  And I think now we're finally starting to see a positive outcome.  And I think Obama and Clinton are, in fact, on the wrong side of that issue because they're -- the nostrums they're peddling of a pull-out would in fact produce a disastrous outcome.  And I think that's something that, aside from the small, adamantly anti-war minority, I think the kind of bulk of public opinion acknowledges that.  I think that's not going to help them in the general election.

And the final point I just want to disagree a little bit with Peter on is immigration being this huge issue for the Republicans.  I don't really think that's the case.  I think that was an illusion fostered in some of the early primary states, especially in Iowa.  And we've seen Romney's tried to take advantage of that by becoming more -- you know, one of the most anti-immigration candidates in the field.  It doesn't really seem to have helped him.  Whereas McCain was taking a pounding on the issue earlier and a lot of people thought he wouldn't be viable because of it, and yet he's made a comeback.  And in fact, the immigration issue played heavily against Romney in Florida, where McCain won the Cuban-American community by something like five to six-to-one.  A big difference.

And I think that's reflective of the country at large.  There is this small xenophobic, anti-immigrant minority, just as there is a anti-globalization minority, just as there is a somewhat larger anti-war minority.  But again, I don't think those are the dominant moods in the country, and I think candidates who appeal to those sectors are not going to be a 51 percent candidate come November.

MR.    :  McCain also -- (inaudible) -- it's worth noting he abandoned his own bill.  I mean, when he got tired of the story on what's happened on immigration on the Republican side.

ROSE (?):  I will just say that we had a big immigration story in Foreign Affairs in late '06, and it was a damn good piece, and it was the weakest newstand seller -- (laughter) -- in ages, just as the issue fizzled in the elections of 2006.  And I would agree with Max that I think it gets more talk than it does actual discussion.

I would say to Peter about that that it is partly a function of globalization, but that that can be met in other ways.  And so that the health care issue is at least as much a sort of way of responding to the generalized angst and voter concerns as sort of the anti-immigration thing.  It just plays out differently in each party.

I think that, just picking up on something that Peter and Max have said, I agree with Peter that there are differences between the parties on foreign policy.  I was referring primarily to specific issue things that each individual candidate says.  I agree that sort of the Democrats are more likely to be like each other and the Republicans are more likely to be like each other, although I think that the extent to which the parties themselves differ can also be exaggerated. 

I mean, the Democrats' protectionist bent, we always hear about this; it never comes through in practice, because everybody knows populist demagoguery is idiotic as policy and so it won't actually get enacted.  So it just means that you'll pursue a generalized free-trade agenda sub-rosa rather than more overtly.  You won't go with brand-new free-trade pacts, you'll just do the same kind of thing in sort of less visible ways.  So I don't buy the idea that there is going to be this great protectionist or populist swing on the Democratic side, no matter who would have gotten in.

Which brings me to the next point, which is I think that Hillary and Romney are more typical politicians than their chief opponents, and therefore more likely to do and say whatever is the obvious logically politically correct thing to do or say in the context in which they are.  And so in some ways they're very predictable, but they're also -- you know, you can know what they'll say by reading the polls, just like you can know what the chameleon will look like by looking at the background color.  But if that background changes, so will the chameleon. 

So I think that the very predictability of what they say, since it depends on the context, changes when the context changes, and therefore, their foreign policies and general policies are relatively predictable if you know the context in which they operate. 

Obama and McCain, to the extent that they are more independent-minded, are more wild cards precisely because you do get the sense that they are a little bit less poll driven, a little bit less driven by context than their opponents, and so that opens up a space.  I don't think that tells you what they will do.  It just tells you that they may be freer to buck consensus, whatever the consensus of the political professionals may be at any given moment than Romney and Clinton.

With regard to Iraq, I would just to say Max two things.  One is that whatever anybody says about Iraq now says zero about what they'll actually do.  It just means there will be one more position to back away from if it seems like the position is unacceptable.  Bill Clinton -- think about the classic case here is Bill Clinton and the Haitian refugees, right?  The minute, you know, he stopped being a candidate and became a president-elect, and the Haitian refugee position was, you know, going to produce real problems, he backed right off it.  And that's an obvious one. 

And when he didn't do that on an issue that had political and policy consequences, gays in the military, he paid a huge price for it and learned never to put principle and campaign promises above expediency.  And so everyone knows that lesson in these times, and so we don't have to worry.  You know, Eisenhower's "I will go to Korea," Nixon's Vietnam plans, everybody comes in saying they're going to try and end the war without cutting and running and without this and that, and everyone responds to the actual things once they're there.

And as for Iraq, I would just say that I would agree with Peter that Iraq has come off the agenda a little bit because it seems to be going better than it was.  We don't actually know why that's the case.  To some extent, it's the surge and Petraeus and a new counterinsurgency strategy and so forth, obviously, but a lot of it is taken by surprise by events on the ground and the Sunnis shifting alliances.  And so if Iraq goes south quickly next year as fast as it went north this year, all the supposed support for staying will evaporate just as quickly as the pressure for withdrawal evaporated, and suddenly it'll be, okay, what's the least bad way to get out of this mess as opposed -- right now the least bad way seems to (stay ?) -- (inaudible) -- saying, okay, we'll just downplay this issue or we'll stay.  If it all goes to hell soon, then everyone will say -- come back to saying that.  It's driven by events on the ground in Iraq, not by American things.

And Peter and I, I think, are probably a little more less sanguine than you are, that American policy is driving the events in Iraq as opposed to factors on the ground in Iraq that we're not quite sure of and how they will play out.

MCMAHON:  Thank you, Gideon.

Well, I'm going to open it up to questions, and then, as I mentioned at the start, we'll have alternate questions from here two at a time and some from our call-in listeners as well.

And I also want to mention that we have another expert in the room -- (name inaudible).  He's in the back.  On questions regarding China, if you wanted to bring that into the campaign, please feel free.

MR.     :  Can I just say about that?  China, of course, is the single issue on which every single candidate's word can't be trusted because whatever they say now they will do the same thing once in power.  (Light laughter.)

MCMAHON:  Okay.  With that, a final note, also, please identify yourself and your affiliation when you pose your question.

We're ready for questions now.


QUESTIONER:  (Name inaudible) -- with the German newspaper -- (affiliation inaudible).  A question to anyone of you.  How do you think Afghanistan will play out?  Yesterday, there were three reports presented here in Washington saying that Afghanistan is on the brink to be a failed state.  Do you think that it's (harder ?) for any one of these campaigns or do you think that's an issue the candidates don't want to touch upon?

MR.     :  It's an issue the candidates don't want to touch upon.  The real thing, of course, with failed states -- by the way, when has Afghanistan not been on the brink of being a failed state?  It's either in a failed state status or on the brink of it; it oscillates back and forth.  I would say, the thing about failed states -- and Pakistan was the great -- Afghanistan, no one wants to talk about it and no one will, no one has an answer.  Pakistan is a larger version of the same problem, but it's fascinating to watch the Pakistan thing -- when Bhutto was assassinated.  Nobody knows what to do about Pakistan.  Not a single person has a single particularly interesting or good idea for Pakistan policy because the policy doesn't have a particularly good answer to the situation.  It's a screwed up situation no one has good answers to.

And so when it comes into the campaign, you get this ridiculous rigamarole of people trying to talk about something, because the American political debate forces you into bold decisive positions that will end the problem or at least our exposure to it.  And you know what?  With Pakistan we can't end the problem, and we can't reduce our exposure to it.  And so you have these candidates having to say something but looking asinine, because whatever they say, there's no relation to the actual policy reality involved, and so they, ideally, want to keep these things as far away as possible.

So the only thing that would bring Afghanistan into the news would be if Karzai was assassinated.  Anything short of that would probably leave Afghanistan totally on the sidelines of the whole campaign.  That's my prediction.

MCMAHON:  You want to disagree?

MR.     :  Well, I mean, I do think that Afghanistan is obviously a secondary issue politically.  I don't think it's completely inconsequential, and I think that, unlike in Pakistan, that there are some things that we could do.  I mean, for example, our colleagues over at the American Enterprise Institute have suggested -- are suggesting a surge of perhaps three more U.S. brigades into Afghanistan.  I think that's a very good idea.  I think that's something that we need to do.  I suspect that even the Democrats can probably get behind that because one of their big talking points for years has been that we're too focused on Iraq and, in fact, we need to be paying more attention to Afghanistan.  I think we have to pay a lot of attention to both.

And I think one of the other things -- this is not going to be a huge issue, but I think one of the other issues that Afghanistan raises is the future of NATO and this whole multilateralist world view, which has been one of the big Democratic attacks on the Bush administration.  And basically, Democrats have been saying for years that Bush has been too unilateral, gone in alone, didn't utilize our allies.  Well, in the case of Afghanistan, this is an area where we are utilizing our allies.  We have turned it over to NATO, and they're basically screwing it up.

As Secretary of Defense Bob Gates noted, they are not getting the job done because most members of NATO, including, unfortunately, Germany and France and others, are not willing to commit troops into combat and a few of them are -- the Canadians, the British, the Dutch -- but they are feeling pretty embattled, especially the Canadians, and pretty lonely because they don't have a lot of help from fellow NATO allies.  And I think this really reveals the limits of this multilateralist perspective, where I think -- I mean, I've been in favor of the NATO role in Afghanistan, and I think we need to try to make it work, but it's just not working very well because those countries are not making the kind of commitments they need in order to get even a modicum of pacification in southern Afghanistan.

MCMAHON:  Peter, anything to add?


MCMAHON:  Okay.  Also, I should remind you, when asking the question, just speak a little bit louder so we can make sure the voices are picked up.

Yes, you, please.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I'm -- (name inaudible) -- with Radio Free Asia.  One of our most current issues nobody even -- tried to mention about North Korea-- (off mike).  Candidate Barack Obama just briefly mentioned -- (inaudible).  What would be the North Korean issue -- role in election and vice versa; the elections role -- the impact on North Korean issue?

MR.     :  I don't think the election will have a dramatic impact on North Korean issues or North Korea will have a dramatic impact on the election unless one of two very unlikely things happens, which is unless the North Korean nuclear program suddenly breaks out in some obviously scary and surprising way, which will regenerate interest in more hawkish options, although they won't actually go there because they're going to be they're going to be very costly and dangerous; or unless negotiations succeed in some very surprising and dramatic way, in which case (dubbish ?) engagement policies will be -- get a boost and everyone will sort be embarrassed by their hawkish positions.

But since it's very unlikely that negotiations will either succeed or fail, particularly any time soon, I don't -- and since no one has any good answers for how to get them off the dime, other than keep trying the kinds of -- (word inaudible) -- things we're trying with some carrots and sticks, blah, blah, blah, I don't think it's going to have any particular role.

MCMAHON:  Anyone with a North Korean comment?

Okay.  We're going to actually -- those who have been patiently listening on phone, I'm going to see if there's any questions.

Operator, is there a question?  (No audible response.)

MR.     :  Anybody home?

MCMAHON:  Anybody --

MR.     :  (Off mike) -- be an operator.

(Cross talk.)

MCMAHON:  Okay.  Well, we'll come back to that.  Let me come down here, please.

Yes?  You had a question?

QUESTIONER:  My name is -- (name inaudible).  I am the senior editor of the Voice of America -- (inaudible).  I have two questions.  If I were an American voter, why should I not elect Mrs. Clinton when it's buy one, get one free?  And the second --

MR.     :  That's actually the answer to your question.  (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  And the second question is:  What about Southeast Asia, especially ASEAN, which is growing economically?  And India and China are playing greater roles in ASEAN.  And last time when there was the annual conference of ASEAN, President Bush didn't go, and I don't think the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, went there.  And is that considered as an insult to ASEAN? 

MCMAHON:  Peter, I just know, you mentioned in your response to the State of the Union speech that the president didn't really mention that neighborhood at all as well.  I mean, is Asia just not, despite its obviously growing role especially economically, is it just not figuring into this campaign at all, in any fashion? 

BEINART:  Well, I think that the only way it's figuring in is through the lens of trade and the anxieties about economic competition from Asia. 

You know, look, there's only a limited space for foreign policy to play in a campaign, you know, under any circumstances.  And then you do have the fact that Americans are involved in two wars.  So that just limits the amount of space for other foreign policy discussions quite substantially. 

But I do think that when one thinks beyond just campaign rhetoric, and  think this is really something that struck me about Bush's State of the Union, but I think you see it with McCain as well and the Republicans in general, the virtual equation of American foreign policy with the war on terror essentially puts you in kind of an intellectual box which gives you very little to say about Asia. 

You know, and so this is why, I think, that when people look back on these foreign policy debates and on Bush's last State of the Union, they will be shocked at how little discussion there was of China, Asia, Russia.  And I think it's obviously partly because we're involved in these wars.  But I think it's partly because, particularly on the Republican side, there has been -- the Cold War was, in some ways, a problematic prism for American foreign policy.  It led us, got us into all kinds of problems -- the idea of universal containment of communism around the world -- but at least was a kind of vision that was global. 

The war on terror is not global.  It doesn't tell you -- if you define it as virtually coexistent, coterminous with American foreign policy, it leaves you with nothing to say about large swaths of the globe.  And I think that's why the Democrats' kind of globalization prism, even though it's far from perfect, is at least a broader one in terms of trying, in terms of a kind of intellectual framework that allows you to see different parts of the world and the different parts of, different challenges that it faces. 

And I do think this is going to be an issue for McCain, who particularly defines foreign policy so much in terms of national security threats, and seems to have, although he's thought a lot about foreign policy, doesn't seem to have thought a lot about the questions of international economic policy.  And whether those come up a lot in the campaign, I think they're going to be very important for American foreign policy in years to come. 

MCMAHON:  Okay, and Max wants to follow up. 

And also, do you want to go further in the two-for Clinton question as well? 

BOOT:  Well, I just want to address the point that Peter was raising, because I think he has been very assiduously, and with great energy, knocking down a complete strawman.  Because I don't think anybody actually views all of American policy through the one prism of the global war on terror.  (Cross talk.)  I think a lot of people, myself included, think that is the number one threat that we confront right now, is the issue of extreme Islamist terrorism, especially when combined with WMD.  But running a very close second, and very closely related to it, is the issue of rogue states and proliferation, which is how terrorist groups can potentially become much more powerful. 

And so we have to be very worried about a first tier of rogue states, countries like North Korea, Iran and Syria.  But behind them, we also have to be worried about a second tier of enablers of rogue states, countries like Russia and China in particular, which essentially aid the enemies of freedom, which aid the enemies of the United States and the West, in the hopes of pursuing their own ends.  And I think those are very real issues that we have to keep in mind. 

I think, in fact, the Bush administration does keep them in mind.  I think most candidates, who know the issues, keep those issues in mind.  I think any future administration would keep those issues in mind.  And I don't think we should be misled by the campaign rhetoric, which does tend to be about the hot-button issues, like the war on terrorism and Iraq certainly.  That doesn't mean that nothing will ever happen with the rest of American foreign policy.  In fact, there is a huge amount of thinking and action that goes on in those areas.  They just don't attract as much public attention. 

But I think, if you actually look at the candidates' pronouncements, those of John McCain in particular, which I'm familiar with, he's given very interesting speeches on American policy towards Asia, American policy with regard to multilateral institutions, American policy with regard to Latin America.  Now, those very interesting speeches get about zero press attention, because everybody's fixated on the handful of big issues.  But that doesn't mean that those announcements are inconsequential, because those issues will still be dealt with in a McCain administration, even if they're not the ones that are on the front page, just as they're being dealt with now, even though they're not on the front page. 

And so I think, you know, just because they're not being talked about on the campaign trail doesn't mean that they're being ignored, doesn't mean that we can't pay proper attention to them when the time comes. 

ROSE:  I applaud my deeply earnest colleague's discussion of the substantive issues.  I will just point out that Peter's former haunt, The New Republic, had a classic contest a few years ago, many years ago now, for the most boring magazine headline.  And the winner was: Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. 

All I will say is that regional international institutions on the other side of the world, these days, are pretty good candidates for being in the most boring headline, and I'll give you an anecdote about that.  I'm a wonk at heart.  I do this stuff professionally.  I enjoy it.  I read about it.  I wouldn't be at Foreign Affairs if I didn't. 

Last summer, I put on our website and sent out as part of our newsletter a short piece by a serious commentator on ASEAN's 40th anniversary.  And my own publisher said to me, is that really the most exciting or interesting or important thing you could come up with?  I was like, it's the dog days of August, and you can't even let me do something on ASEAN then? 

Most people in America have never heard of ASEAN.  If they saw the name, they would think, why did you misspell Asian and why are you shouting in all caps?  So they basically -- this is not something that would ever figure in a campaign in any way, shape or form. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you. 

We're going to take another question in this room before trying again on the phone line.  One more on this side of the table. 

QUESTIONER:  (Name and affiliation off mike.) 

I was just wondering if you guys can talk a little bit about the personalities behind the personalities, like who the main foreign policy advisers are for the frontrunners and, you know, especially the ones who might actually last into the general election and further. 

ROSE:  Well, the loss of Giuliani is the biggest demise in that category, because he certainly had the most colorful cast of advisers.  And I think his passing is to be mourned, because it means that we don't have Norman Podhoretz to kick around anymore. 

The problem with discussing the advisers, in my opinion, let's say, for Obama and Clinton, is that there's a very basic political reality there. 

Clinton looked like she was the inevitable frontrunner.  And as the inheritor of the Clinton establishment and political machine, she had first pick, pretty much, of all the basic Democratic foreign policy establishment people.  And most of the people were there, not necessarily because they adored Hillary but because they were loyal servants of the Democratic foreign policy establishment and they went with that.  They were going to go with whatever was there. 

Obama had to pick his people from the leftovers.  And people had to go to Obama, if they did, knowing that if they did and Obama lost, they would probably be outside a Clinton administration, at least for the first part, because the Clinton team is notoriously vindictive.  And so the people who Obama chose are not just the people he necessarily would have chosen if he had a full free rein, but because the people who were potentially available. 

If Obama wins the nomination, all of the Hillary team go back to their status, by and large, except for a few political people, as Democratic foreign policy analysts.  When Obama has to upstaff to go to the full national campaign, when he has to further upstaff and then winnow down to go form an administration if he does win all those things, he'll have to pick up everybody on Hillary's side.  And there's no reason to believe, I think, that Obama will necessarily be as vindictive.  So you can't say yet  about their teams now.  Talk to me about their teams in the fall; then you might have a sense.  In the primaries, it still depends because they're at the question of, you know, political loyalties and who the teams are made up of.

BOOT:  Whew.  That's a relief.  Here I thought that Tony Lake was going to get a second run at running the National Security Council under President Obama.

ROSE:  Tony Lake will not be national security adviser again and Madeleine Albright will not be secretary of State again.  There, I've made my --

BOOT:  All right.  Then I'm going to vote for Obama now that I know that.  I think that to some extent, you have the opposite phenomenon on the Republican side, where a year ago, McCain was seen as kind of the establishment candidate and so pretty much the whole Republican foreign policy establishment lined up by him.  I mean, he's been endorsed by pretty much, you know, every secretary of State going back to the Theodore Roosevelt administration.  He has a lot of the -- a lot of folks -- a lot of heavyweights on the Republican side lined up behind him as well as some lightweights like yours truly. 

And, you know, it seemed like maybe people were going to start shifting to Romney or Giuliani or somebody a few months ago and they looked much stronger and McCain looked much weaker.  That didn't happen. And, you know, I think now that expectation of a year ago that McCain was going to be the front runner, which seemed like a dead letter six months ago, is now the reality once again, and so pretty much the whole Republican establishment. 

But you know, I think whole issue of advisers is much less important in the case of somebody like McCain.  And, again, I say this as a McCain adviser, but I think the role of advisers is much less with somebody like him who has been in at the forefront of foreign policy for decades.  I mean, he knows what he thinks.  He's made up his own mind.  He has a track record on issues.  He understands issues.  He's met with tons of foreign leaders.  He has kind of a visceral, gut understanding of those things, whereas with, you know, a lot of the other candidates, whether it's an Obama or Romney or somebody, there's kind of a sense that they have to make it up as they go along and they're not really committed to any particular position in advance, so you don't quite know how they're going to turn out.  And so there is much more competition among the advisers. 

I think that was, by the way, also to some extent true of the current administration, the Bush administration, because you had a president come in who also didn't know very much about foreign policy, and so the debates among the advisers, I think, and the battles at the advisory level were in some ways very significant, whereas I think they would be less significant in a McCain administration because I think the guy at the top would have a better sense of the issues himself.

BEINART:  I think everything that Gideon says is right.  But you can -- it still does matter who gets in on the ground floor in a campaign.  And I think, you know, again, in the tea leaves, if you're trying to read tea leaves and look at advisers and then try to look at also the places where you have had differences between Clinton and Obama, one story you could tell -- it may turn out to be wrong, but one story you could tell would be this; that Hillary Clinton is more than the product of the Clinton administration than Barack Obama.  She's the product of the lessons learned by the Clinton administration and by the Democratic foreign policy establishment over the course of the '90s. 

There is a kind of -- people tend to talk about Clinton administration foreign policy as a kind of an arc, of a chaotic and distracted first term, followed by a second term that people tend to kind of -- a lot of people in the Democratic foreign policy establishment think was pretty good, culminating with Kosovo, for instance, and the handling of the East Asian financial crisis. 

And if you try to look at the arc of Clinton administration foreign policy, certain things stand out, I think.  One of them has to do with a greater skepticism about how much of American foreign policy you can run through international institutions.  I think the Clinton administration had -- Clinton people had frustrating experiences trying to run American policy through the U.N., for instance, on Somalia.  They had frustrations on the Balkans with the U.N.  Ultimately, by Kosovo they're basically launching a war which only brings in the U.N. in on the back end.  There is also, I think, a skepticism that comes out of those Clinton years about how far - how much the Europeans will ever do on their own unless the Americans basically say we're going in this direction first. 

It's not Dick Cheney, but if you -- if the Clintons -- and I've talked about assertive multilateralism.  One way of understanding the trajectory -- it started out as small "a" assertive, big "M" Multilateral, and by the end, it was really big "A" assertive, small "M" Multilateral, by Kosovo, for instance; it's kind of -- you compare Kosovo to Bosnia.  And I think that was related to -- I think related to the view that diplomacy to succeed really requires the credible threat of force.  You think about the North Korea deal, which the Clintonites, I think, feel good about, with the -- you know, involved the threat of force.  And on Iran -- on Iraq, you know, force was used in 1998.  Of course, it was used to set up the Dayton deal in Bosnia. 

I think Hillary Clinton seems to me and that people around her seem to be the product of those experiences, which, you might say, are slightly chastening experiences, experiences of a slightly realist character.  And you can compare that to the debate on foreign policy, particularly in the Democratic Party in the early 1990s, which was much more -- which was much more expansionist about the degree to which you could make American foreign policy work through the U.N. 

I think if you look at the debate between Clinton and Obama on the question of diplomacy with various different dictators around the world that we don't like, for instance, I think you could make an argument -- again, you could tell a story, at least, reading the tea leaves, that Obama is -- represents a little bit of return to the slightly less chastened Democratic foreign policy views of the early 1990s, with a little bit more -- little more faith in international institutions, a little bit more faith in diplomacy without necessarily the sword of the military force hanging over quite as heavily.  Again, these are nuanced differences, but I think that if one has to tell a story based on looking at the advisers they have and some of the places where you can see differences -- the Iran vote, for instance, on the Revolutionary Guard -- that's the story that I would be inclined to tell.

MCMAHON:  The next question, we'll take -- we'll try one more with the phone, and then we'll come back into the room here.  I understand the phone situation is cleared up. 

Operator, is there another question?

OPERATOR:  Let me give instructions on how to ask a question.  It's -- press star, followed by 1 on your touch-tone phone now, and star-2 to remove yourself from the questioning queue.  Again, it's star-1 to ask a question. 

Our first question comes from Philippe Gelie with Figaro.

QUESTIONER:  Le Figaro, yes, in France.  Barack Obama has a very personal -- very different personal experience of the world compared to all other candidates.  How do you think that would play into his foreign policies if he is elected?

ROSE:  A good friend of mine, Fareed Zakaria, wrote a column about this very point and said that all his life, he's felt that experience was more important than identity, but with Obama, he thinks that identity might actually be very important, and that's one of the reasons why he's an Obama supporter.  I've teased him mercilessly for this, so I always open my comments with him saying, you know, as a brown a man, do you really think that this matters that much?  Or, as Jew, I feel this. 

It's possible.  It's a tendency.  Everybody I know who has actually interacted with Obama seems to feel -- which I haven't -- seems to feel that he is more open-minded and more cosmopolitan and more internationalist, partly because of those experiences; that he can look at the world and America as an outsider as well as an insider.  How much that would actually affect actual decisions, I think is impossible to know, and it's -- if anything, it seems like a very slight reason to hope that he would be a little bit less provincial than the vast majority of American politicians. 

BOOT:  Well, if I could just make a comment on that, I think it's just -- I think it's pretty vacuous to make the claim that Obama has -- I'm not saying Gideon has made this claim, I'm saying others have made this claim -- that Obama has some kind of special insight in foreign affairs because he spent like, a couple years of his childhood living in Indonesia and he's, you know, from a mixed-race family and his father was Kenyan and all this kind of stuff. 

I mean, you know, I was born in the Soviet Union.  I wouldn't claim, therefore, that I have some kind of great insight into Russian policy.  In fact, I will readily admit I don't know that much about Russian policy because that's not what I studied.  That's not what I do.  So I think this whole notion of identity politics is way off base. 

And the reality is, if you look at the milieu that Obama comes from, it wasn't from spending, you know, all his formative years immersed in, what do we do about policy towards Indonesia or towards Kenya or something like that.  His milieu is really housing policy in Chicago.  It's really state politics in Illinois.  And that's fine.  I mean, that's a perfectly respectable thing to do, but he is really stretching, really, really stretching by trying to claim that he doesn't thereby have a deficit in the field of foreign affairs because, oh yeah, by the way, you know, he spent a year or two living in Indonesia when he was barely sentient.  I think that's not going to be a terribly convincing argument.

ROSE:  Well, you know, in at least partial defense, I think if you read the chapter on foreign policy in Obama's most recent book and you read the discussion of the history of Indonesia and its relation to American foreign policy, it's a pretty sophisticated discussion of it.  It's not just a discussion of kind of his experiences growing up there.  He talks about it, but then he actually links it to the way in which America is perceived in Indonesia, which is not an insignificant country. 

I think it is significant that Barack Obama would come into the White House with a set of experiences in Asia and in the Islamic world, which is very, very unusual for American politicians -- I mean, American presidents.  American presidents, usually if they have any primary formative experience in the rest of the world, it's historically been in Europe.  You know, Herbert Hoover spent some time in Australia.  Occasionally, you get someone who spent maybe a little bit of time in Latin America, like Dwight Eisenhower did, but usually it's Europe. 

And if you look at the -- it's interesting if you look at people around Obama that there are people in very significant places in his campaign who have spent part of their careers focused on the developing world, someone like Susan Rice, who did Africa, for instance, or Samantha Power, who focused on genocide.  Again, I think you could tell at least a plausible story that for Barack Obama, questions of America's relationship with the developing world, questions about failed states, not only within the prism of antiterrorism, would be more significant in his foreign policy than another president.  And of course, as Gideon said, issues can come along and blow that all out of the water.  But again, if one is reading tea leaves, I think that's -- that's a reasonable interpretation to take.

MCMAHON:  Thank you, caller. 

One quick time thing.  We're here till 1:30, if that's okay with the panelists.  It's about 1:15, 1:20 now.

We're going to do one more phone-in and then the rest in the room here. 

So, operator, could we have another question from the call-in?

OPERATOR:  We currently have none in the queue, but I'll remind everyone to press star-1 if they'd like to ask a question, and while they come into the queue, you can take one in the room.

MCMAHON:  Okay.  Great.

I'll take you, Ron.

QUESTIONER:  Ron Campius (sp) from JTA.  What does John McCain's -- not so much embrace but his anticipation that he could use a Brent Scowcroft or a James Baker in diplomacy mean for that stream of Republican foreign policy which has been really marginalized in the Bush administration?

And conversely, what does the collapse of the Giuliani campaign mean for neoconservatives, considering that they seem to have all deposited themselves in that campaign?  What happens now to the neoconservative strain in foreign policy under a Republican administration?

ROSE:  Well, they assigned Max to McCain for -- you know, for diversification.  (Laughter.) 

MCMAHON:  Can you talk to that, Max?

BOOT:  Well, as I said, I mean, I think, you know, McCain -- pretty much the whole Republican foreign policy establishment has lined up behind McCain.  And so you're going to get diverse figures there.  I mean, you have folks like Bob Kagan or myself, who are -- have been at times described as neocons, whether rightly or wrongly, and you have folks from the more realist tradition, like Rich Armitage and others. 

And you know, obviously in the Republican Party, as in the Democrats, there are some differences of views, although, again, these tend to be more of emphasis rather than stark choices, because, again, most of these folks who supported the war in Iraq and so forth and so on.  But you know, obviously there's some differences at the margins. 

And again, how that gets sorted out is going to -- I mean, it wasn't clear how it was sorted out in the Bush administration.  Frankly, I mean, the Bush administration was labeled as being this, quote, "big neocon" administration, and yet I would argue by and large they haven't been pursuing what I would call quote-unquote "neocon" policies when it comes to cutting deals with North Korea or not confronting Iran or trying to revive a hopeless Palestinian-Israeli peace process.  Those are not exactly so-called neocon priorities. 

So I think it's always been highly simplistic and misleading to say that there is one faction which has control of foreign policy.  I don't think that's ever really been the case.  It's not going to be the case.  And even when you talk about like quote-unquote "neocons," it's not even clear what you're talking about, because even among people who are labeled as neocons, there are real disagreements, as witnessed in the fact, for example, in the 1990s, that while a lot of neocons, present company included, were in favor of intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, some others, like Charles Krauthammer, were opposed. 

So trying to impose this party line I don't think is all that helpful.  I think -- you know, going back to what Gideon said, I think presidents really do make choices based on the issues, and they have certain predilections or certain tendencies in which -- or certain prisms through which they examine those issues.  But they're always going to have different viewpoints represented within the administration, and it's really a question of, you know, what does the president think that ultimately matters, not so much what advisers X, Y and Z think, because there's always going to be differences of views there.

MCMAHON:  Okay.  I promised Jean (sp) -- (off mike).

QUESTIONER:  Can you just go over the leading -- the front-runners' stand on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and Pakistan and maybe any other issues that you see will affect America's relationship with India?

ROSE:  Everybody's going to be pro-India.  There will be slight variations in the support for the nuclear deal, because the real difference in the nuclear deal support is not a policy difference; it's a debate between functionalists and regionalists within the foreign policy establishment.  People who care about South Asian regional issues or who care about strategic issues are generally in favor of some kind of nations alliance with India or growing ties or a stronger partnership, what have you, and are perfectly happy to sell out some of the other concerns to -- and see the nuclear deal as a way of getting past this obstacle between the United States and India. 

People who care most about proliferation as a functional issue are very upset at what they see as the lax terms and the negative consequences and precedents for proliferation -- for hard-line stances on proliferation elsewhere.  So you have a battle within the foreign policy establishment between people who care about nuclear issues and proliferation issues and people who care about broader strategic or grand strategy or Asian alliances and so forth. 

I think that's going to be won by the people who care about the regional issues.  I think it's a sign -- proliferation is the kind of functional issue that governs your status if you're a country if you're too weak and unimportant to have your policy driven by the actual bilateral concerns. 

The fact that the -- the nuclear deal is really best understood, in my opinion, as a consequence of India's growing importance, such that it has to be taken on its own terms as a serious country, with its own issues, rather than as a subset of a broader universal functional concern like proliferation. 

So I think the proliferation types are going to lose that battle.  The deal will go through because there's a strategic and economic logic to better ties between the United States and India, and whoever comes in, I think that will ultimately dominate.


QUESTIONER:  Pakistan?

ROSE:  Pakistan -- nobody has any good answers to Pakistan.  And the specifics there on the ground and what seems like the most feasible approach any given moment will dominate.  Nobody has any strong views, because it would look too idiotic on such a shifting situation.  There are costs on all sides.  Nobody has any good answers.  And everybody wants good government and success in the war on terror and stability, and no one knows how to achieve all those things together, or any of them independently, frankly.  (Chuckles.) 

So you can't predict anything about Pakistan.  What happens in Pakistan will matter more than what -- the change in office here.

MCMAHON:  We're going to get into a little --

BEINART:  Okay, one thing I need to just -- it's a small thing.  I don't think a Democratic administration -- I don't think under a Democratic administration you would have seen the balance of American aid to Pakistan be so overwhelmingly military, as opposed to domestic.  I think there would have been more of -- there would have -- I don't think it would have been as much civilian domestic as there was military, but I think the balance would have been a little bit different, and I would have -- I think that balance would shift a little bit under a Democrat.

But I agree.  That's probably at the margin.

MCMAHON:  Okay.  We're getting a little bit short on time, so a little bit of a lightning round question.  First, at the end, Daniel.

QUESTIONER:  Dan Dombey, Financial Times.  A simple, perhaps stupid question:  it's been the received wisdom for a while that this is an election about the economy, primarily.  That's the received wisdom that seems to have deepened with these economic worries that have come to the fore.  Has John McCain much hope of making this more an election about foreign policy, given his own national security credentials and his weakness on the economy?  (Inaudible) -- past statements about his lack of knowledge on the economy.

And secondly, given that McCain is quite close to the Democrats on some of the most sensitive issues between Europe and America -- Guantanamo, torture, climate change -- is that likely -- presuming, just for the sake of argument, that McCain is the nominee, is that likely to have a long-term impact on that relationship?  Or is it just going to stumble along as it has been -- the transatlantic relationship, the reality and divergent interests?

ROSE:  Max?

MCMAHON:  Max, you want to take that?

BOOT:  Well, I think -- as I was saying earlier, I think it's a little bit of a misnomer to say that the campaign is only going to -- or has been or will be only about the economy.  Actually, if you look at the concerns of voters in surveys, yeah, I think, you know, the economy is the number-one concern.  But if you add up the numbers on the war in Iraq plus the war on terrorism, it actually is -- together that's the number-one concern.  That's -- over 50 percent of the people have that as their number-one issue.  And to me, that's the same issue.  Sorry, Peter.  I don't mean to be simplistic and reductionist here, but to me, that's the same issue. 

BEINART:  Are you talking polls amongst Republican voters or -- (inaudible) -- Americans -- (inaudible)?  And which states are you talking about?

QUESTIONER:  Those look like the polls of Republican voters, to be honest, where, if you look to the Democrats, they have different --

BEINART:  Yeah, if you look at the polls of the American -- you're not going to find Iraq and the war -- and terrorism -- (inaudible).

QUESTIONER:  I mean, I've seen that same bloc on Republican --

BOOT:  I think, actually, it's pretty close, even among the broad electorate.  I mean, I don't have the polls in front of me, and we need to look at the numbers, but I think --

QUESTIONER:  (They're reported ?) --

BOOT:  But if you combine those two, the -- I mean, I think one of the general problems with the polls -- they make the economy seem more important by separating out Iraq and the war on terrorism in separate line items.  And so together they tend to recede.  But if you actually add up those numbers, it tends to -- it's a much more significant issue.  And --

MR.     :  (Off mike.)

BOOT:  Yeah.  I mean, you know, the economy is always obviously at the top or near the top of any campaign, especially when it seems to be going a little bit downhill, as it is now. 

But nevertheless, I think that the security issues are pretty important, and you know, one of the -- just -- I mean, very quickly, on the economy, I mean, also, you know, the economy tends to be seen as a referendum on the governing party.  But again, it's not clear to what extent that'll actually be the case this year, since, you know, McCain clearly would not be running as a representative of the Bush administration.

And I -- you know, I think his positions and policies on economic policy are pretty credible as well, but -- so I think, you know, the security aspect is going to be -- is, I think going to be -- continue to be very important, even if we don't see more major terrorist attacks, although, you know, in fact, you probably will around the world sometime between now and November.  But I think, you know, the issue of Iraq, the issue of Afghanistan, the issue of al Qaeda, I think those are going to loom very very large.  And I think, especially given McCain's background, that's going to be a major subject of debate between now and November.

In terms of U.S.-European relations, will they improve somewhat under a President McCain?  I would say probably yeah.  You will probably get slightly better atmospherics, but I think, really, at the margins because I think the transatlantic divisions are so wide that it's not a question of one issue or another.  It's a division across so many issues, and you see it, for example, in the case of Afghanistan, where there's new tensions about whether the European NATO allies are doing enough in Afghanistan.  I think those are just so deep and systemic that whether you're going to have a President Obama, McCain, Clinton, whatever, they -- all of them might improve the atmospherics somewhat, especially from the early years of the Bush administration.  But I don't think it's going to make that much of a long-term difference.

And even the Bush administration, by the way, has improved the atmospherics.  I mean, talking about the transatlantic divide is a little outdated now when we have more pro-American administrations in Paris and Berlin and the Bush administration has tried to move closer to some of those European allies.  But nevertheless, I think a lot of that is cosmetic and not that important on the big issues, like what do we do about Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, whatever.   I think the divisions are going to persist regardless of who's in office.

BEINART:  If I could just add something quick, I do think  -- just a couple small points.  First of all, when you talk about polling data separating the war on terror and the war in Iraq, it's worth noting that those both also separate the economy from health care.  Health care is a very, very big issue which is deeply tied into people's concerns about the economy.

So on McCain, I think one of the really interesting, and I think very exciting, from my perspective, things that's happened in McCain's victory is that you now have the -- the kind of -- presumably the titular head of the Republican Party being someone who basically believes that global warming is a real concern, and has actually been pretty -- and if you look at that in comparison with the governors who've emerged in the Republican Party like Crist and Schwartzenegger, who are I think (are not surprises ?), you see maybe, maybe that we -- that you really have -- there really has been a watershed.  I mean Romney, up until not to long ago, was not even willing to say that this was a man-made problem at all.  So I think that's significant.

And the fact that McCain is not where Romney is on some of the issues about torture and treatment of detainees is also really significant and interesting.  And maybe -- maybe I would like to believe represent a shift that he will bring Republicans along with him.

I do think that McCain's challenge to represent change on the economy -- which is very, very difficult, I think, as Max was alluding -- suggesting -- for any person from the in party -- I mean, there is virtually no precedent that I can think of in American politics for a candidate from the incumbent party winning on a change platform, particularly after two terms.  I mean, the equivalent of what happened in France, with Sarkozy winning, there's -- I can't think of a single example of that ever happening in American presidential politics, at least none that, you know -- and so it's a daunting task.  And I don't think McCain has helped himself by flipping on the tax cuts such that the differences that he had with Bush on the economy, which were actually significant back in 2000, have now been reduced to very marginal.

MCMAHON:  Okay, we're almost at -- basically at the end of time, but I'd like to squeeze in one if there is still interest.  And I did promise you -- is there any?  And also -- so let's do two together and then we'll have the panel answer.

QUESTIONER:  Okay, thank you.  Natasha -- (name and affiliation inaudible).

On Kosovo, this coming Sunday, Serbia holds the second round of their election, and soon thereafter Kosovo will probably declare independence.  This -- the whole process started during the Clinton administration.  I'm wondering if maybe the Clinton camp can benefit from this somehow.

MR.     :  Americans want to forget the Balkans.  They've been very happy to do so when the killing seems to have stopped.  The last thing they want to do, even worse than getting back involved in the Middle East, is get back involved in the Balkans.  So I don't think that it'll have any impact on anything.

MCMAHON:  Do you want to take another?  Okay.

QUESTIONER:  Henry Farrell (sp) -- (inaudible) -- in George Washington University.

I'm just back from Brussels last week, where there was a lot of concern among pro-transatlantic relationship, pro-free market types about what's happening in the U.S. economy with the so-called subprime crisis, U.S. regulation and so on not seeming happened to helped us very much.  And the impression that they were giving was that this was something which was going to make it a lot more difficult for them because U.S. perceived hegemony here as the model to emulate seems to be evaporating.

How is this going to affect, if at all, the possibilities for whoever gets elected?  And will it effect it differently depending on whether it's a Republican or a Democrat who actually wins in November?

MCMAHON:  The U.S. hegemony issue, also a subject of a New York Times Magazine piece last week.  You want to take a crack at it, Peter?

BEINART:  Is the question how the -- what the American president do would then impact the question of deregulation in Europe?

QUESTIONER:  No.  Basically the issue is one of the reasons that the U.S. has been successful in the economic realm has been because the U.S. model is perceived as something to be emulated.  So when the U.S. says do this, do that, it's been pretty easy to persuade people, especially in Europe, to emulate us.

This seems to be evaporating.  What implications does this have for U.S. economic hegemony as opposed to more military hegemony?

BOOT:  Wait a second.  The whole -- the whole U.S. model, the whole success of the United States over the course of the -- like, the last two centuries is evaporating because we're having a mild downturn in our housing market?  I mean, that seems to me a little bit exaggerated.

MCMAHON (?):  You've got to think like Europeans -- you've got to think like a European.  (Chuckles.)

BEINART:  I don't think that -- you know, I don't think Democrats, by and large, think that the American economic model -- at least as it's been -- fractured -- in fact, in the past few years -- I don't think they're as sanguine about it as Republicans are anyway. 

I mean, I think Democrats -- the general view amongst Democrats is that Bill Clinton was just beginning to try to do some of the things necessary to kind of rebuild the fraying American welfare state to provide more economic security for Americans, and that he didn't get all that far with it, and then Monica Lewinsky and the Supreme Court and everything kind of, you know, ended that whole thing.

So I think -- and the mood in the Democratic Party, as you know, is actually to be more ambitious than Clinton was on health care and beyond.  So I think -- to that degree, I don't think that there is as much triumphalism amongst Democrats about the American economic model, and I think one of the different -- I think that there's -- and I think that Democrats are more -- are little bit less condescending about the -- about Europe -- kind of about European economies and a little bit less kind of inclined to just dismiss them as -- basically as basket cases from which we can learn nothing. 

ROSE:  I personally think the reports of the death of American hegemony are vastly exaggerated.  I think that the next president -- just as I think that the supposedly state of the world is vastly exaggerated.  I think things are a hell of a lot better, both here and abroad, than is commonly discussed, and that the next president will have -- that the basic trends in world politics are in the right direction rather than the wrong direction; that what's need is gentlely staying the course while changing some particularly stupid policies and the atmospherics; that because there's every reason to believe the next president, whoever it is at this point, will change both the atmospherics and many of the particular stupid policies while keeping general trends going in the right direction.

Things are going to be looking very good.  So I -- you know, I think the gloom-and-doomsayers should laugh at their temporary moment in the sun and enjoy it while they can because it's not going to last.  The general trends -- the dirty little secret is that Fukuyama was more right than wrong, and time will prove that case moreso as the years and decades go by.  If you're interested in this ridiculous case, take a look at the Newsweek end-of-the-year special issue, where I may get into greater length. 

MCMAHON:  Max, you want to wrap it up?

BOOT:  Well, I'm also an anti-declinist.  I -- you know, I think when you look at all the trends going forward, whether it's demographics, economics, national security, whatever, I think America will continue to stay pretty darn strong, and certainly the number one position in the world.  I mean, it's the Europeans who ought to be worrying about decline, not us.  I mean, they're the ones who basically have birth rates below replacement levels; they're the ones who have anemic job growth, anemic economic growth, defense budgets that can't meet the basic defense needs of the Western world.

I think, you know, this notion of suggesting that the United States is suddenly this weakened giant because we have a mild slowdown of what has been the fastest growing economy among the major industrialized countries over the last 27 years, that's ridiculous.  I think, yeah, we have temporary hiccups just as we did a few years ago after the crash and 9/11, just as we did when -- in the last year of the George Bush, Sr. administration, but I think our record has been that we recover very quickly as long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot with all sorts of misbegotten tax hikes or regulations or other government interventions in the economy.

I think the underlying dynamism of the economy is very, very strong as long as we don't mess with the financial markets, in particular.  I mean, I think if we don't try to pass more Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, I think we'll be in pretty good shape.  But if we -- you know, if we give into this interventionist impulse and think that we suddenly have to start tampering with the -- what's made us successful, then, yeah, we will become more like Europe, which means we won't be creating as many jobs, we won't be as dynamic, we won't be strong.  But I -- I'm optimistic enough to believe that most people in this country have the good sense not to emulate the European example.

MCMAHON:  And we'll see how this plays out on Tuesday.

Just a quick note.  There's going to be a transcript as well as audio from this session, we expect, by early tomorrow.  So, hopefully, we get that to you soon.

And I just want to thank our panelists for what I think was a very, very illuminating discussion here today.  Thank you very much.  And thank you all for sitting through and staying with us.  (Applause.)









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