What to Expect From the 44th President

NEW YORK – Campaigns, be they political or military, are waged to be won, and the current American presidential campaign is no exception. The Democratic and Republican candidates are doing all they can to distinguish themselves from an unpopular incumbent president and from one another in the remaining weeks before Americans vote.

For good reason, much attention is focused on foreign policy differences between the two nominees, which in many areas are both obvious and considerable. Still, it is possible to discern some similarities between them, in part because some of their disagreements are not as pronounced as they seem, and in part because the constraints that the next president of the United States will face are certain to limit what either man could do in office.

Consider Iraq, the most divisive issue in American politics for the past five years. Barack Obama regularly points out that the decision to go to war was deeply flawed; John McCain emphasizes how much things have turned around since early 2007, when US troop numbers were increased and US strategy revised. Observers could be forgiven for thinking that they are speaking about two entirely different conflicts.

But what about the future? No matter who wins this November, it is clear that Iraq will not dominate US foreign policy in the years ahead to anything near the degree that it has in recent years. We are entering the post-Iraq era of American foreign policy. Consistent with this, the US military presence is decreasing. Where the two candidates differ is on the timing and pace of this drawdown, not on its general direction.