Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama will debate foreign policy Friday, in the first in a series of presidential debates.
Robert Kagan, a foreign policy adviser to McCain and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, spoke with Madeleine Brand about the Republican candidate's priorities and positions on Iraq, Pakistan and terrorism.
"The first priority of any president is going to be to make sure that they can continue to protect the United States from another attack like Sept. 11," Kagan said. "I would expect anyone who comes into the White House — and this will certainly be true of John McCain — to want to immediately get the full briefing of what the threats are and what we are doing to stop them."
He said Bush hasn't gotten the credit he deserves for keeping the nation safe.
"One thing that is true of the Bush administration is we've gone seven years without another attack on the United States, which I think is something no one thought would be possible after Sept. 11," he said.
Kagan also acknowledged that the United States' international status has been damaged during Bush's presidency — particularly around the issue of Iraq.
"The fact that the strategy chosen to fight [in Iraq] was a bad strategy has cost us ... in terms of world opinion and in terms of our standing in the world."
Therefore, after national security, McCain's "top priority would be to reestablish and strengthen America's relations with this democratic allies around the world" — something Kagan implied Obama does not have the know-how to do.
Though he never mentioned Obama by name, he said, "I have every confidence that someone who is experienced ...and knows the world as well as John McCain will do a better job of repairing those alliances than someone who is coming to this very new and doesn't know this world very well."
Making Sense Of Iraq
Kagan, who was an early proponent of the Iraq war, defended his and McCain's position.
"I do not regret removing Saddam Hussein from power. I think if Saddam Hussein were in power today benefiting from $140-a-barrel oil, he would be a very great menace. And then we would have two menaces in the region — Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
He took issue with elements of Bush's policy, however.
"From the very beginning of the conflict, I and others, including John McCain, said the Bush administration mishandled the way the war needed to be conducted," he said.
Working With Pakistan
On Pakistan, Kagan said, it's important for the United States to "work with the democratic government and help it achieve both our aims as well as its aims."
Of late, Taliban and al-Qaida fighters along Pakistan's border have become a serious problem. Some have proposed that the United States should cut off billions in aid to the country until the government changes its approach. Kagan, however, was optimistic that no such move would be necessary.
"It's true there are some elements of the Pakistani government that have been reluctant to deal with this problem, especially in the military and the intelligence services," he said. "We have a very new Pakistani leader. Right now the objective needs to be to strengthen them to do what we can to help and to hope that they will start to do the right thing in these difficult areas."
If they don't, however, he did not rule out other options.
"If Pakistan can't deal with the problem," Kagan said, "then the United States will have to protect its interests and the interests of Afghanistan and others."