Investigative journalist Gareth Porter, a smart guy and a friend of mine, gave an interview to "The Real News" on Sunday on the topic of foreign policy directions under a McCain or Obama presidency. Gareth's opinion is that, contra McKinney and Nader, there is a qualitative difference between McCain, a died-in-the-wool neoconservative, and Obama's more pragmatic approach to American superpowerdom - but that even Obama wouldn't make a clear break with the past 50 years of American power projection, instead repurposing it away from the Bush Years with less violently militaristic expressions. So that although both would to a continuation of one or other of the Bush terms, just as Bush followed the last 50 years, McCain would hyper-extend the first term's Cheney-esque bellicosity while Obama would emphasise and amplify the pragmatic policies of the likes of Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.
One of the major points Gareth makes in his interview is that, from everything McCain has said about Iraq during his campaign, it isn't impossible to believe McCain would keep the occupation of Iraq going even over the wishes of the Iraqi people and government, perhaps even arranging a coup to unseat Prime Minister Maliki. I think it would certainly be interesting to see how he would respond if asked about this outright by the establishment press.
Obama however, while he'd be likely to hurry withdrawal even beyond the Maliki-approved timetable if he thought it could be done, is just as inextricably committed to staying in Afghanistan and to using military force as the main effort there as McCain is - perhaps even more so when you consider what he has said about the Pakistan border area. McCain, as a paid up neocon, would doubtless be saying "faster please" on war with Iran, which Obama seems to realize would be a disaster.
As to Russian relations, while Gareth doesn't address those in his interview, it seems unlikely that neither Obama nor McCain would depart greatly from the underlying concept of American foreign policy for five decades - that the US is allowed a sphere of influence, the whole world, but no-one else is and certainly not Russia. The question is, can the US maintain that position any longer?
Condi Rice, visiting America's "with us" autocrat ally in Kazakhstan, has said that the US has no intention of allowing Russia a "near foreign".
"This is not a zero-sum game," she told reporters flying with her to the Kazakh capital. U.S. gains need not mean Russian losses, she said.
"First of all, Kazakhstan is an independent country. It can have
friendships with whomever it wishes," she said. "That's perfectly acceptable in
the 21st century, so we don't see and don't accept any notion of a special
sphere of influence" for Russia in this region.
Kazakhstan is a bit of an odd one - the dictatorship in all but name (it has elections but no-one opposed to President Nazarbayev ever gets elected) does indeed have a successful multi-lateral foreign policy on trade and military co-operation. It has a military alliance with Russia and therefore is ineligible for NATO, but in February signed a deal with the US to procure equipment and training to bring it up to NATO standard and conducts regular joint exercises with the US. But one has to question whether, without the US presence in Afghanistan and Kazakh permission for supply flights there, America would be interested. Military aide has always seemed a sweetener for the supply flights.
So while it may be a good nation from which to make a speech about there being no special spheres of influence anymore, is that actually the truth?
Certainly, America's sphere of influence now matches its national security interests - global, and wherever the US decided those interests lie. Even if that means reneging on previous promises to not base US troops in or allow into NATO nations that were once Soviet dominions and that Russia considers its "near foreign". Even if it means invading other nations without a UN mandate or threatening to attack others. It's unclear, though, that anyone else gets to do the same thing - especially not Russia. Recent controversy and outrage over Russian deals with Venezuela and the resurrection of the South American fleet suggest that America still has a "near foreign" of its own. Worries about Russia expanding its basing agreements and military patrol flights again - both things the US does far more of - didn't bring knowing nods of acceptance for Russia's acknowledgment that anyone can have global national interests in the 21st Century, they brought rhetoric about a new Russian aggression and Imperial ambition.
At the end of the day, though, realpolitik says Condi is correct even if for the wrong reasons. No-one has the power now to consistently safeguard and hoard a sphere of influence - and not even America has the power to prevent any other nation having a global reach nowadays, after Bush's adventurism and a financial crisis have gutted America's superpowers like a Kryptonite enema. Other nations have no intention of allowing the US to keep a tight grip on its "near foreign" any longer either. Welcome to the multi-polar post-Bush world.
Rice's statement is better seen as a recognition of truth rather than a high-minded statement of policy. Although I doubt Rice or McCain see it that way I'm certain Obama does.