McCain Gets Eagleburger's Vote On Foreign Policy As the presidential election approaches, Talk of the Nation asks guests to make the case for McCain or Obama on the basis of foreign and domestic policy credentials. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger explains why McCain's international policy makes him the right choice in 2008.

McCain Gets Eagleburger's Vote On Foreign Policy

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And now, final arguments. As the presidential election approaches we've asked four people to make the case for the two major party candidates on foreign and domestic policy. Earlier this week, we heard from Michael Gerson and John McWhorter on domestic issues. Yesterday, Sarah Sewell, senior foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign, joined us. In a moment, we'll talk with former Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger to hear why he supports Senator John McCain on foreign policy. So McCain supporters, call and make the case for your candidate on foreign policy. Our phone number, 800-989-8255, email You can also post your final argument on our blog at

Lawrence Eagleburger was Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush. He's at a studio on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And Secretary Eagleburger, nice to have you back on the program.

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Good to be here. Thank you sir.

CONAN: And as you know, the Obama campaign argues the McCain administration would be an extension of the Bush administration. How would President McCain's Foreign policy be different from President Bush's do you think?

EAGLEBURGER: In first place, that's an argument that they make all the time. And I should think they'd get off it now. But as far as foreign policy is concerned, there are some places where there would be continuation. Obviously, McCain has indicated he's going support and continue with regard to Iraq. I know he intends to in fact escalate things in Afghanistan, because they are not going as well now as they should. But on a number of issues, he's going to be quite different than this administration. For example, he has said and he means it that there is a great deal of repair necessary amongst our traditional allies.

This administration - the Bush administration has been far too unilateral and far too prepared to shove things down the throats of our good friends and allies, and McCain doesn't like that and neither do I. It is wrong, and it's one of the things he clearly intents to change. He has his own views on both Russia and China which are going to be interesting, and I think frankly, likely to be a good but tougher than the Bush administration at least in terms of Russia given what's going on in Georgia. As to China, I don't know enough about. I do know he has some serious questions about China. At the same time, I think he recognizes that there is with regard to China certain degree of doubt in this administration and in the country about what we do particularly with regard to economic relationships with China. So that the Chinese issue will probably be somewhat different than the Bush administration.

On Russia, I would say that I think that the McCain would be and will be tougher than the Russia - than the Bush administration has been. On things like aid to aid if you will where this administration has been remarkably productive, I might say. And this nobody pays any attention to it, but they've put more money into AIDS - than aid for AIDS than anybody else in a long time. And I would suspect that McCain would follow that through. I should go back, on the issue of Darfur, where I think the feeling is that this administration has not been tough enough, I would suspect that for purely humanitarian grounds if nothing else the McCain administration would be tougher there and will probably try very hard to bring that thing to the right kind of an end. I could go on, but isn't that - that's a fairly good example of I think where there will be things that continue and some things change.

If I can make a point, the opposition - Barack Obama - has been very clear on his willingness, in fact his desire, to get out of Iraq, and as soon as he can. He now has at least backed off from saying get out immediately to saying get out in 16 months pulling out a brigade every so often until we're down to nothing. And I would suggest to you all that if that policy were followed what we're going to do is we're going to end up - because we aren't going to win it in Iraq and my term of winning it which I could describe in a minute, but the point is, by doing it - if he does it - if he becomes president and does says what he now says he's going to do in Iraq we will be killing GI's throughout that whole period of those 16 months and to no purpose. Because we won't win it at the end. We'll get out, things will come to a crash in Iraq, and what will have happened is that because of his absurdities we will be losing American GI's over that 16-month period for no purpose whatsoever. Under those circumstances, I would say we would be better off to get out right now and at least save the lives of those GI's. I think it's wrong to get out, but it's wrong to get out until we have what I would describe as won, and I mean by that where we can leave Iraq in relatively good hands and - for terms of its own government - and where its military is able to take care of itself, and particularly prevent the Iranians from doing any damage in Iraq. And that's going to take some time.

I think it's been fairly clear that over the last year, let's say, we have done remarkably well in bringing the civilian differences to some sort of a conclusion. But we still have a lot to do - the Iranian - the Iraqi police still have much to learn before they're going to be any good. The military's really come along quite well. And beyond that, he said, he - Obama says he wants to get out of Iraq at the same time, foolishly, he says he's going to up our commitment in Afghanistan. And if he can't understand that Iraq and Afghanistan are one and the same issue he's going to take us out of Iraq and he's going to put troops into Afghanistan, he will first of all have opened up a flank in as far as Iraq is concerned and it will be - and we will be hanging out by ourselves in Afghanistan. The tactics are wrong, the strategies wrong, and if I could go on I could go on for a bit of time.

But my point is purely and simply this in the end, it is an issue of experience versus no experience.

CONAN: We're talking with former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger making his final argument for John McCain on foreign policy. We're asking for McCain supporters to call us and make their final argument as well. 800-989-8255, email And Tim is on the line, Tim from Syracuse in New York.

TIM: Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

TIM: Well, my point is that seven years ago when we got into this war information was presented to our politicians. And they made decisions based on that information, the best information that we have now.

CONAN: You're talking about weapons of mass destruction?

TIM: Right. Whether it's faulty or not, whatever. But, that's what they had at that time to work with. Now, many of them obviously voted to go to war. Obama's big claim is that he was against this war right from the start, and he's saying that that was the right decision. But with the information they had at that time it was not the right decision, and that's what I'm worried about is that he is not going to make the right decisions with the information that he's get.

CONAN: Are you arguing that we would be better off if - one of his arguments that we've been better off if we hadn't gone into Iraq in the first place.

TIM: Well, I can tell you this. I don't think anyone in this world will miss Saddam Hussein.

CONAN: I'm not arguing that. I'm...

EAGLEBURGER: Good for you.

CONAN: I'm saying this if...

TIM: And you know he's got millions of people to his credit that he's accountable for. But, of course - no, I mean, obviously, you know, it's been a very difficult thing for us to deal with and - but my point is the information at hand, what decisions you make with the information that you have at hand, and did he have some sort of special information that no one else in the world had?

CONAN: Well, he was not in the Senate at that time so maybe he just was skeptical of the information that was there but in any case. Thanks very much for the call, Tim. And let me ask you, Secretary Eagleburger, question about strategic doctrine which President Bush changed after 9/11. Obviously, preemption has always been a one tool in the bag of military tricks, every president has had that as an option. President Bush gave it much greater emphasis after 9/11 saying we could no longer wait for dangers to gather. Would President McCain continue that policy with the emphasis on preemptive strikes?

EAGLEBURGER: I think - why it's a tough one to answer because I'm not sure. I think he would continue the basic policy of being prepared to act against terrorists wherever they are and in preemption, but I think he would be much more careful if I can gather what I know from him.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

EAGLEBURGER: In the sense that I don't think he would be jumping into every particular issue until he - and putting troops into a place until he had looked at the situation well enough to get some sense of how quickly we could get in, get done and get out, or if there would be heavy losses - whether they would be worth that. And I think the problem in Iraq, for example even if you accept as I do that the administration was acting on the basis of faulty information but they weren't making it up, but if the fundamental point where the administration went wrong, I think was once it went in and licked Saddam and got him out of the way, they thought everything was going to be bear and skittles and in fact, it was nothing of the sort and in fact, we were not prepared at that point to put in the troops necessary to make this thing work and we - Americans do that all the time. It's always a mistake.

Jimmy Carter - not Jimmy Carter but Clinton did that in Somalia where we put troops to try to change the government and then once we got a few of them killed we pulled out, and that's the worst kind of going into a place and take - and not understanding that you may have to be there for some time and you may have to use a great excess of force in order to succeed, and I think McCain will be more careful in where he applies this sort of military intervention.

I have mentioned Darfur. I know that an area that really bothers him greatly for humanitarian reasons. And I think he - I will say this, I'm reasonably certain that he is of the view that if we have an issue where humanitarian terms make it clear that it is a real violation of the very principles of human conduct, that under those circumstances, I think he will be leaning toward trying to do something about it militarily if necessary. But it will have - rise to the issue of being something that no civilized nation ought to be prepared to accept.

CONAN: Senator McCain has made the point that he made the same argument to President Reagan about the marines in Beirut before that went disastrously wrong and those forces were pulled out, too. We're talking with former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Final arguments for John McCain on foreign policy. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's go to Craig. Craig on the line with us from Sacramento in California.

CRAIG: Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking the call. Love the show.

CONAN: Thank you.

CRAIG: I would say the biggest problem I've got with the last eight years and I'm a Republican is that George Bush has always been a divider. This guy, McCain is a healer. And I think the best way to describe that is one word, two parts. It's Vietnam. I mean here's a guy who left a lot of his life there and yet, he was the one in many ways that led the reconciliation between the countries and with his many captors. So I think it's time for the country to go with a healer and this guy's the proven action to put behind it. Obama says a lot of great things along that line but he hasn't got any experience to show for it.

CONAN: Secretary Eagleburger, certainly McCain's experience in Vietnam and Craig is exactly right. Senator McCain did play a large role in the subsequent reconciliation between the United States and the Communist regime in Hanoi.

EAGLEBURGER: You know, you've got to - one of the things about McCain that I didn't say at the beginning of this thing is whatever else you say about the man, there's no question he's a hero - but hero in a way that I think is important. Namely, he stayed in that prison camp when he could have left. He was badly damaged, tortured while he was there but he's a man of character. And I mean by that, that business in Vietnam showed, I think, that he is a person who when challenged will do his damnest if necessary to bring out success whether it's personal or the U.S. as a country.

And it is that character essence of him that I think is terribly important as you try to think about how we will act and react in a world that is I think becoming more and more dangerous and in addition now with this financial burnout around the world, I think we're in for some very, very difficult times, and I don't think under the best of circumstances, the opposition presidential candidate would be able to figure out how to handle it.

CONAN: You mentioned -and Craig, thanks very much for the call. You mentioned obviously experience. Are you entirely comfortable with Sarah Palin as the vice president of the United States, that she would be ready to take over in a crisis if she should terribly be called upon to do so?

EAGLEBURGER: It's a very good question. I'm being facetious here. Look, I don't - of course not. I don't think at the moment she is prepared to take over the brains of the presidency. I can name for you any number of other vice presidents who were not particularly up to it either. So the question I think is can she learn and would she be tough enough under the circumstances if she were asked to become president. Heaven forbid that that ever takes place. Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be adequate. I can't say that she would be a genius in the job, but I think she would be enough to get us through a four-year - well I hope not.


EAGLEBURGER: Get us through whatever period of time was necessary and I devoutly hope that it would never be tested.

CONAN: Let's see we get one more caller in this is Leslie. Leslie with us from Panama City in Florida.

LESLIE: Hi. I think that right now, the country more than anything, we need a hero. And I think we have one in John McCain, and I'm one of those swing voters. I live in Florida and I'm right in that alley and I feel like it took me a while to come to that point, because I feel like both of them are fine gentlemen, but I think for experience, you can't beat John McCain, and it really came down to that because I think that four years as a senator is just simply not enough for this kind of a job especially right now when we have so many challenges in our country.

EAGLEBURGER: And he was...

CONAN: And...

LESLIE: Need to look any further.

EAGLEBURGER: He was out of the job for at least the better part of two years when he was in the Senate. So, it's about two years of experience in the Senate.

LESLIE: Yeah. I just - I don't mean - I think he's a fine man, and I just think that he needs more time. He needs more seasoning, and I think we have that in John McCain already why should we look further when we have somebody who is - whose got all the experience and the character and the brains to do the job. I mean, maybe he's not slick and he's not, you know, handsome...

EAGLEBURGER: Certainly not.

LESLIE: But he has done...

EAGLEBURGER: He's not slick...

LESLIE: The reason that he is not is because he has given his life for his country and he has been tortured and he has been through all those things for us. He's already stood the test of time. That's - I really feel like he's the man for the job.

CONAN: Leslie, thanks very much for the call and the endorsement. We appreciate it.

LESLIE: Thank you.

CONAN: And Secretary Eagleburger, thank you for your time today.

EAGLEBURGER: My pleasure, sir.

CONAN: Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger with us from a studio on the campus at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. You can hear the other closing arguments in our series at our Web site at Tomorrow, Joe Palca will be here. Guest hosting Science Friday, and I'll talk to you again on Monday. Have a great weekend everybody. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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