The differing foreign policy perspectives of Senators John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama

Differences of emphasis and similarities of outlook

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

20 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1) Introduction

2.1) On Environment & Natural Resources
2.2) On Future Diplomacy
2.3) On Relationship to…
2.3.1) ...International Organisations (Ingo’s, NGO´s, UN, G8)
2.3.2) …Russia
2.3.3) …China
2.3.4) …Europe (Transatlantic Relations)
2.3.5) …Cuba and on Guantanamo
2.3.6) …Africa
2.3.7) …The Middle East: Iraq Iran Israel Afghanistan and Pakistan
2.4) On Terrorism
2.5) Military Plans

3) Personal Opinion


1) Introduction

Dr. Charles Doran, Professor of International Relations, titled his speech given on June 10th 2008 at the America House Munich “How Americans Choose - The most important Presidential Election in a Century”. Maybe – as we are still at the beginning of this century - this sounds somewhat exaggerated at first, but on a second look the upcoming presidential election in the United States indeed appears to be a unique and path-breaking event for the future.

A recent survey of the New York Times and CBS has shown that 81 % of all Americans are disaffected with the policy of the last eight years under President George W. Bush[1]. Already one year before, only 27 % of Americans approved of the way George W. Bush was doing his job as a President while 65% disapproved, "the lowest number yet recorded in the CBS News Poll”.[2] The fact that many Americans (and also the rest of the world) are very tired of the current US government seems to result in a strong desire for “change”. This means, on the one hand, that the traditionally Republican South of the United States might even vote Democratic (though the southern Democratic Party is different from the Democratic Party elsewhere in the US). On the other hand, the Republican presidential candidate John McCain could take away a high number of traditionally Democratic white “blue collar workers”.

Further, we're facing three very unusual presidential candidates: there is the oldest candidate in US American history so far (John McCain), the first woman (Hillary Clinton) as well as the first "black"[3] candidate (Barack Obama). With Hillary Clinton out of the race, we still have two highly unusual contenders. Most remarkably, when Obama was born, in 22 states intermarriage between whites and black people was still illegal. Black people were not allowed to use the same facilities and institutions as white people did, such as public transport and special schools for coloured people, which were sub-standard in many respects. And today, only 46 years later, a black man has the chance to become president, which goes to show that the world has changed dramatically.

Further, the notion of "change" seems to be so popular that Obama made “change” the watchword and one of the driving concepts of his campaign. It seems as if meanwhile there has been such a moral transformation that people do not see the election as offering an option between a black man and a white man, but rather just between two different candidates. As well the actual contenders are not seen only as just Democrat or Republican: Although Obama is seen as a liberal to left-wing Democrat, his opinions seem to be as much in the centre as McCain’s points of view, who does not - as could be expected - promote the typically conservative or even right-wing outlook of his party, but promotes positions which are surprisingly far from the standard Republican fare. So the candidates do not differ that much in their respective opinions and this is why both candidates could succeed in winning consent not only from independent voters but also even from traditional voters of the opposite party.

But as the topic of our seminar was “America and the world”, this term paper will focus on the nominees' foreign policy perspectives, which show surprisingly few differences but many similarities.

2) Foreign Policy Perspectives by Comparison

The topic of the present paper, “The differing foreign policy perspectives of Senators John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama – differences of emphasis and similarities of outlook”, opens a very wide field of issues. And as it is a very current topic, news and contents changed almost daily during the work on this paper. Therefore it was necessary to focus on a few important issues, addressing the respective differences and similarities of the candidates' viewpoints. Because of the subject matter’s topicality, this paper had to be based mainly on internet sources. If not specially mentioned, the opinion of Barack Obama and his former Democratic competitor Hillary Clinton do not differ considerably.

As Clinton ended her campaign on June 7th 2008, the paper will mainly address the current Democratic and Republican candidates' viewpoints, i.e. those of Barack Obama and John McCain. Still, as it is not all certain which role Hillary Clinton could play in a possible Democratic government - some people even speculate she might become vice president -, it is reasonable not to lose sight of her opinions.

2.1) On Environment & Natural Resources

Contrary to the Bush Administration, who e.g. refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, all candidates see the need to address global climate change and consider the dependence on foreign oil an important challenge. Of whatever party, the candidates propose to take any possible step to prevent global warming and oil supply deficits. They want to make the United States more independent from foreign oil imports by exploring new technologies of energy extraction and consumption, by exploring alternative sources of energy and by expanding the use of renewable energies. All candidates agree that the United States cannot resolve these problems on its own, but only in cooperation with other nations. As e.g. Obama said, “I will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries leapfrog the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development. ”[4] Further, he “supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050”.[5]

John McCain thinks that “nuclear power is a proven, zero-emission source of energy, and it is time we recommit to advancing our use of nuclear power[6]. Therefore he intends to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030, with the ultimate goal of eventually constructing 100 new Plants[7]. Obama admits that “n uclear power represents more than 70 percent of our no carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table. “. He seems, however, to be more conscious of the risks posed by nuclear power and declares, in opposition to McCain, that “(…) there are still significant questions about whether nuclear waste can be safely stored (...) [8], which is why “(…) there is no future for expanded nuclear without first addressing four key issues: public right-to-know, security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage, and proliferation[9]. So he wants to “develop requirements to ensure that the waste stored at current reactor sites is contained using the most advanced dry-cask storage technology available”.[10]

Both candidates have elaborate plans on how much money should be spent on which measure and in which timeframe.

2.2) On Future Diplomacy

The Democratic candidates criticize President George W. Bush's policies in several respects. From their point of view, Bush’s unilateralist course of the past years has lowered the reputation of the U.S. abroad. In this context, they refer to Bush’s

- withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol
- refusing to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
- abandoning of the commitment to nuclear non-proliferation
- failure on the search for peace in the Middle East.

Obama and Clinton, by contrast, even though intent on renewing American leadership, favour a more multilateralist approach.

As Clinton said in Foreign Affairs: “American leadership is wanting, but it is still wanted. (…) I will rebuild our power and ensure that the United States is committed to building a world we want, rather than simply defending against a world we fear[11].

Obama, who considers Roosevelt, Truman, John F. Kennedy and the Marshall Plan as diplomatic ideals for his own policy, stresses that the United States themselves have to act as a good role model: “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law (...).”[12]

Not surprisingly, John McCain argues for strong American leadership as well, but even he suggests more multilateralism. He also thinks that the challenges of the 21st century cannot be resolved by the United States alone, but only in cooperation with America’s allies around the world: “We must be willing to listen to our democratic allies. (...) To be a good leader, America needs to be a good ally.”[13].

Thus, even though all candidates agree that America should retain its leadership status in the world, they argue for a better teamwork with other nations, not only in global political matters, but especially in view of ecological challenges.

2.3) On Relationship to…

2.3.1) ...International Organisations (Ingo’s, NGO´s, UN, G8)

All candidates intend to strengthen NATO and other existing alliances.

Obama: ”To renew American leadership in the world, I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security. Needed reform of these alliances and institutions will not come by bullying other countries to ratify changes we hatch in isolation.”[14]


[1] Cp. Wirtschaftswoche, April 4th 2008, (see attachment 1 or download)

[2], June 30th 2007:

[3] Obama is mostly seen as „ the first black candidate“, although his mother was white American. Obama said himself
on this, for some he was too black, for others "not black enough".

[4] OBAMA, Barack: Renewing American Leadership, Foreign Affairs, July/August, 2007, P. 7


[6] McCAIN, John : The Lexington Project,

[7] Cp: Ibid.


[9] Cp: Ibid.

[10] Cp: Ibid.

[11] CLINTON, Hillary: Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century, Foreign Affairs, P. 2

[12] OBAMA, Barack: Renewing American Leadership Foreign Affairs, July/August, 2007, P. 8

[13] McCAIN, John: An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom - Securing America's Future, Foreign Affairs, Nov./Dec. 2007, P. 5

[14] OBAMA, Barack: Renewing American Leadership, Foreign Affairs, July/August, 2007, P. 6

Excerpt out of 20 pages


The differing foreign policy perspectives of Senators John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama
Differences of emphasis and similarities of outlook
Munich University of Policy
Hauptseminar "America and the world"
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
657 KB
Part of the Seminar “AMERICA AND THE WORLD“
Senators, John, McCain, Hillary, Rodham, Clinton, Barack, Obama, Hauptseminar, America
Quote paper
Bernadette-Julia Felsch (Author), 2008, The differing foreign policy perspectives of Senators John McCain, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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