- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

When it comes to defense and foreign-policy issues, Sen. John McCain is by far the superior choice to become the next president of the United States.

It is no exaggeration to say that much of Mr. McCain’s adult life has been dedicated to defending the United States and advancing U.S. security interests in one form or another. Whether it was his service as a fighter pilot (including five and a half years as a prisoner of war); his subsequent service as a U.S. military liaison; or his 26 years in Congress, national security has been a top priority for John McCain.

There is no better illustration of that than the issue of the Iraq troop surge.

Beginning in late 2003, Mr. McCain, virtually alone among supporters of the war in Iraq, saw the flaws of the Iraq war-fighting strategy instituted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. For the next three years, Mr. McCain put forward his case that Mr. Rumsfeld’s insistance that American force levels in Iraq had to be kept very low was crippling the effort to fight a serious counterinsurgency campaign. It met with considerable opposition from the Pentagon and from Democrats like Mr. McCain’s opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, who voted consistently with the Senate Democratic bloc to cut off funding for the war and impose timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In a July 14, 2008, op-ed in the New York Times, Mr. Obama called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the summer of 2010, leaving only a “residual force” to go after remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protect American service members and train Iraqi security forces “so long as the Iraqis make political progress.”

A major difference between the two is their approach to dealing with rogue states.

During a July 23, 2007, debate, Mr. Obama said he would be willing to meet “separately, without precondition” with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. After coming under fire from Mr. McCain and many Democrats as well, Mr. Obama denied having said he would meet unconditionally with these leaders. Mr. McCain has been critical of Mr. Obama for opposing a Sept. 26, 2007, Senate amendment designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization. The amendment, introduced by Sens. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, passed by a vote of 76-22, with Mr. Obama among just 20 Democrats voting no. The 29 Democrats voting for the measure included such doves as Richard Durbin (Illinois), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama also disagree over over the Iranian government’s support for al Qaeda. McCain foreign-policy advisor Randy Scheuneman notes that Iran and al Qaeda work together, and that Iran has provided many different forms of support to Sunni extremists, including al Qaeda. These comments were dismissed as “bizarre” by Obama foreign-policy advisor Susan Rice. In fact, there is evidence, including a series of dispatches from last year in the now-defunct New York Sun, about Iranian assistance to groups such as al Qaeda in Kurdistan.

On North Korea, Mr. Obama and the Bush administration both support Pyongyang’s removal from the U.S. terrorism list, while Mr. McCain opposes it. In a recent interview with the Weekly Standard, Mr. McCain criticized Mr. Obama’s support for engaging North Korea in face-to-face talks at a very senior level. The Arizona Republican pointed to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s trip to North Korea in 2000 as evidence of the failure of such an approach: “She had a very nice experience with children dancing while the gulag … continued to function.”

On issues such as missile defense, Mr. McCain is by far the superior choice. The Arizona Republican is a longtime supporter of building a national missile defense against foreign attack; Mr. Obama has long been a critic.

When it comes to protecting the United States, John McCain is the better candidate by far.

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