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The presidential candidates' difference in their experience with energy and national security means voters have a real choice.

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Between McCain and Obama, an Energy Gap

The presidential candidates’ difference in their experience with energy and national security means voters have a real choice.

Voters this fall will have a real choice between the presidential candidates on critical energy and security issues, and it behooves every thinking American to closely study those differences before casting their vote. The differences between the two are stark.

The next president’s plan for energy access and our security are arguably the most important issues facing the country.  Interruptions to energy access could devastate our economy. Our security depends on our military being ready to protect the nation from growing foreign threats, and its ability to do so also depends on its access to energy.  

The candidates are not equally prepared for the office, however.   Republican John McCain is a retired navy combat veteran with nearly 30 years of congressional experience working national security and foreign affairs issues.  His running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, has worked on energy issues in Alaska and is her state’s chief executive officer.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama was elected in 2004 to the US Senate where he is a member of the foreign relations committee.  Obama presumably selected Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate because the Delaware senator has 30-plus years working on foreign relations issues.  Neither man has served in the military.

Both Oval Office contenders share the view that energy access is a critical issue and America must be weaned from foreign dependence.  However, they differ in their approaches.

Obama links the energy issue to his climate change agenda and would employ government programs and tax money to create more efficient consumption and alternative sources.

McCain promises to create market incentives to encourage the development of alternative sources of energy and would employ technology to achieve new efficiencies in energy extraction and consumption.  

Obama frequently states that “we cannot drill our way out of the problem” because foreign producers would “…reduce the amount of oil they pump … guaranteeing that whatever the price was will be sustained.”  He promises that as president he will reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent by 2030 but never says how.

McCain would accelerate the exploration and drilling of American oil sources.   He favors drilling in oilfields off the nation’s coasts and at proven fields in Montana and Alaska.  He favors developing recoverable shale oil ready for development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Both candidates favor programs that encourage alternative energy sources.  Obama would incentivize America’s transition to hybrids and pour tax money into the development of biofuels and energy research.  

McCain would create market incentives to encourage alternative sources of energy and expand sources of renewable energy.  He favors alcohol fuels, biodiesel, natural gas and increased use of nuclear power.  

The candidates have starkly different views regarding national security — our military and relations with threatening states.   

While both candidates favor growing our ground forces, Obama wants to increase our counterinsurgency capabilities like those in Iraq.  He promises to withdraw forces from Iraq and increase forces in Afghanistan while growing special operations forces, civil affairs and information operations capabilities.

McCain wants to keep our forces in Iraq as long as required but promises to roll back other overseas commitments to match our nation’s defense requirements.  He would modernize our forces by “… procuring advanced weapons systems that will help rapidly and decisively defeat any adversary.”  

Obama’s statements indicate he will cut defense spending for “unproven” programs like missile defense and will slow the development of future combat systems.   Key Obama supporters like the Black Leadership Forum have called for cutting spending on the F/A-22 Raptor, the V-22 Osprey and the DDG 1000 Zumwalt class destroyer.

McCain wants to finance Pentagon spending through regular appropriations as opposed to “emergency” supplementals that “… allow defense to be funded outside the normal budget cycle.”  This would prevent congressional pork-barrel spending that diverts scarce defense resources to parochial home-state interests.

Although our military is consumed with the ongoing war against Islamic terrorists, the long term security threat to America comes from near peer rivals Russia and China.  Beijing is a communist economic super power with a rapidly growing military.  Russia is an imperialistic and autocratic regime with thousands of nuclear weapons and flush with oil money.

Obama favors collective engagement with Russia through a variety of international programs.  He has urged the Group of Eight to “… work toward a more constructive relationship with Russia.”   He believes that Russia is “neither our enemy nor close ally” and he seeks more collaboration with the Russians to “…update and scale back our dangerously outdated Cold War nuclear postures and de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons.”  

McCain has said that “Russia and the United States are no longer mortal enemies,” but he is skeptical of the Kremlin’s leadership.  He wrote in Foreign Affairs that Russia is “… dominated by a clique of former intelligence officers, efforts to bully democratic neighbors … and attempts to manipulate Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.”

Sen. McCain wants to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight leading nations until it changes its behavior and he favors making it clear to Russia “…that the solidarity of NATO … is indivisible and that the organization’s doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom.”

Russia favors Obama for president.  Last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the White House of orchestrating the Georgia conflict to benefit McCain.  Putin told CNN, “They needed a small victorious war” to help their candidate.  And Eygeny Bazhanov, vice president for research at Russia’s Diplomatic Academy, said Obama will “…try to make US foreign policy more reasonable and acceptable to other members of the world community.” But McCain, Bazhanov explained, “…appreciates nothing but sheer force, which Russia can achieve only by engaging in a new arms race.”

Obama’s view of China appears to match his Russia perspective.  He believes the US and China are not enemies but competitors.  He believes the best way to manage that relationship is to draw China further into the international system and work with Beijing on shared political, economic, environmental, and security objectives.

He claims to understand China’s rapidly modernizing military capabilities.  That’s why he wants to “… guarantee that China’s rise is peaceful.”  He believes this will require a strong American military and shared security issues such as a denuclearized Korean peninsula.  

McCain sees China as a rising and central challenge for the next president but explains our countries are not destined to be adversaries.  He has said that “…it’s time for China to step up and assume its responsibilities.”  “But until China moves toward political liberalization,” says McCain, “our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.”

Sen. McCain is suspicious of Beijing’s significant military buildup and its “…relations with pariah states such as Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.”  China has increased its defense spending by double digits each year for more than 20 years to build the world’s largest submarine fleet, sophisticated jet fighters, modern strategic ballistic missiles, and anti-satellite weapons.  

The presidential candidates are starkly different in their approach and experience when it comes to energy and national security.  Voters have a real choice.

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Written By

Robert Maginnis is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and a national security and foreign affairs analyst for radio and television.

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