"I know where to go…I know what to do…"
It's getting late—have you made up your mind? Here's one last thing for you undecided voters to consider.
As soon as the next president is sworn in, he's going to have a waiting room full of folks with global problems to deal with. Iraqis have yet to reach a foundational economic and political power-sharing arrangement, Iranians have yet to allow full inspections of their nuclear facilities by the IAEA, Pakistan's secular, parliamentary, nuclear-armed government is susceptible to overthrow by Islamic fundamentalists, and two U.S. allies, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, are at each other's throats. In the lame duck phase of the Bush administration, Europe has taken the lead in steering the course on global financial management. Cuba and Darfur probably won't be able to get past the White House lobby.
Now ask yourself if a President McCain could advance his diplomatic agenda with Barack Obama as his secretary of state, and then ask whether President Obama could move his diplomatic agenda with McCain as his secretary of state.
American prestige and influence are on the line like never before, in large part because in the past eight years, we have acted as though the greatest country in the world (us) can do whatever we want (we can't) without consequences. If we want to avoid becoming Southern Canada or Northern Australia—large, prosperous, democracies that usually follow and rarely lead in world affairs—then we have to get someone in the job who knows how to negotiate with, and not just antagonize our allies and foes. After all, the last word in "foreign relations" is "relations."
Over the course of this election season, it's become apparent that a hypothetical President McCain could confidently send a hypothetical Secretary of State Obama out to press his case with other world leaders. We can always talk before we start dropping bombs, so if McCain's goals are to eventually expand the Iraq war into Iran and fast track Georgia's NATO membership (and acquire the obligation to defend it militarily against a future Russian attack) he might as well send Secretary Obama out to take a few meetings first.
But don't take my word for it. Just play a mental video for yourself of Obama's campaign over the past year. Way back in July, McCain dared Obama to travel the world, and Obama went out and conquered it, with the most influential heads of state—Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown—eagerly lining up to meet with him while he shuttled effortlessly between helicopter sorties with General David Petraeus, meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah II, and tours with Israeli Foreign Minister and Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, who easily looks like she could be one of Obama's law school chums.
Meanwhile, candidate McCain has persisted in deriding Obama as a "smooth talker," despite the obvious requirement in diplomacy for precise language, an ability to build consensus and a correct pronunciation of the word "nuclear." A diplomat negotiates for hours in a conference room at Sharm el-Sheikh in the hope that his efforts at persuasion might stave off tragedy. Everything about Obama's now famous "cool, steady" temperament says, "Hey, let's talk."
But now consider whether President Obama would want to send Secretary of State McCain out as his emissary.
I'm not sure that anything articulated by George W. Bush should really be called a "doctrine." But as a result of his full-throated backing of Bush's foreign policy, regardless of his other attributes, Secretary McCain could never really expect to be seen as an honest broker in the Middle East. After months of ridiculing Obama for his proposals to negotiate with Iran and an election year reversal on talking to Hamas, what evidence is there that he could effectively bring Sunni and Shia together in Iraq to hammer out a Status of Forces Agreement, even on behalf of President Obama?
McCain's problem all along is that he wants, a little too badly, for people to think of him as "Mr. Foreign Policy." He regularly rattles off the names of Eastern European leaders (Yushenko) and regions (The Crimea), to the point that we half expect to hear him tell us about the time he secretly met with Boris Badenov.
For a year we've been told that McCain has more experience than Obama. He does. But experience only counts if you can call on it to help you make good decisions. McCain has never been able to explain why all of his experience could not help him reach the conclusion that invading Iraq would have disastrous results.
A few weeks ago, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said, "Sen. McCain understands war, I think, better than any of us." Maybe. But to truly defend the interests of the United States around the world, the next president has the responsibility of squeezing out every last drop of peace before war becomes necessary. For this job, Obama is "ready." McCain is not.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.