"Nobody running in 2008 is qualified to be president"

So says The New Republic’s John Judis, in an article that more or less sums up my take on the US presidential election that is still more than a year and a half away.

Judis makes the case that foreign policy being the unique preserve of the presidency, the main criteria by which to evaluate presidential candidates should be the candidate’s foreign policy experience. Wrote Judis:

…For a century now, America has played a large, and since World War II, the largest role in global affairs; and by the the Constitution’s delegation of military leadership and initiative in treaty-making and appointments, the president rather than Congress has the chief responsibility for America’s role in the world. Congress and the public can stop a president from privatizing social security, but the president regularly wages war without a declaration from Congress–and sometimes, as in the case of American intervention in the Balkans, without significant public support. It would seem that the first question voters should be asking is about a candidate’s foreign policy experience. And with the war in Iraq still raging, and America’s relations with the rest of the world in disrepair, that’s particularly true in the forthcoming presidential election. But you wouldn’t know if from the current frontrunners.

It is for that reason that I am particularly dismayed about this presidential campaign already.

The US needs to have a serious, sustained national discussion about the US role in the world, and it seems that a presidential campaign would be the ideal time to have such a discussion. But, as Judis, notes, barely any of the candidates have serious, comprehensive ideas about American foreign policy, in part because so few of them have ever been in an important foreign policymaking position. The exception is Senator John McCain, who has long been involved with US foreign and defense policy in the Senate, and as an Asian specialist I’m especially inclined to support Senator McCain because he actually has a clue about the changing shape of the Asia-Pacific region. (It is telling that McCain called attention to the publication of the second Armitage-Nye Report on the floor of the Senate.)

But, that said, I don’t think McCain has necessarily risen to the challenge of the moment, which demands a serious reconsideration of American power and the ends to which it can and should be used in an international system that is more complex, a system in which the traditional tools in a state’s toolbox (read military power) are harder to use. I’m with Daniel Drezner in this post: the problem is bigger than the perceived failure of American stewardship. It’s also not simply a function of setting up the proper international institutions, as this post at Winds of Change seems to suggest in reference to the same piece to which Drezner was responding.

So I will continue to wait for a candidate (or candidates) to outline a more comprehensive foreign policy perspective, but I am not getting my hopes up. I fear that the US will continue to muddle through in response to changing circumstances, rather than pausing to consider the best course of action.

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