MUMBAI, October 21, 2008 - Ambassador Richard Burt, adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign, and Nelson Cunningham, adviser to Barack Obama’s campaign engaged in a debate hosted by the Asia Society India Centre regarding the next American administration, and how it would affect the world at large.
In his opening remarks, Cunningham expressed that Obama is ready to be president. Obama’s choice of Joseph Biden as his vice presidential running mate demonstrated his understanding of “what was required from a second-in-command.” According to Cunningham, history was on Obama’s side. He recounted that, in difficult times (such as with the current economic crisis), Americans historically rely on Democratic presidents.
Cunningham cited another example of Obama’s readiness to lead by illustrating his reaction to the economic crisis. Obama brought together the “right” people to talk about solutions to the problem (such as Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, and Warren Buffet), and addressed the issue with what Cunningham called an “unflappable calm.”
Burt began his counterargument by stating that while Obama is a remarkable politician, the presidency is not a question of who is the best politician, but of "who is best suited to run the country."
He reminded the audience that the future president will have to deal with the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan which are spilling into Pakistan, as well as the growing problem of Iran and Islamic fundamentalism. Because of these issues, Burt stated that "there is a premium on experiences." McCain has had 30 years in Washington and a record of being tough and resilient in the face of challenges. Burt felt that Obama’s “mechanical deadlines” regarding a pullout from Iraq would ignore what could happen on the ground. He claimed that John McCain’s flexibility when facing this issue is the superior approach.
In the face of the economic crisis, Burt believes that fiscal restraint is of the utmost importance. Balancing the budget will be a key part in a long-term solution to the economic problems. McCain has said that there should be control over spending. Further, Burt stated that the protectionist tendencies in Obama’s economic policy would hurt the economy, while McCain is liberal in addressing world wide trade. Burt worries that if the economy becomes excessively protectionist it will never return to its momentum of free trade.
Burt stated that Obama lacks the experience to handle challenges down the road, such as the rise of China. He felt that Obama would not understand the intricacies of such a complex relationship, unlike Bush, who was able to manage China as a stable partner. He also stated that if Obama were elected the presidency and congress would both be democratic. As a result, the normal checks and balances of the American system would be in jeopardy.
Reported by Purwa Bansod, Asia Society India Centre