One of the fun things to do during a presidential election is to observe how the leading candidates adapt their policy positions. Having observed the last few cycles rather carefully, one central tendency is for the candidates to adopt essentially the same public positions on policy and make their case on minor differences. As one campaign consultant put it to me, such a strategy allows for greater certainty and control over campaign dynamics.
This year, foreign assistance is mostly an area of consensus between the candidates.
McCain, like Obama, bases his support for U.S. foreign assistance on security rationale. He asserts that foreign assistance is an essential part of the United State’s arsenal to “revitalize the country's purpose and standing in the world and defeat terrorist adversaries who threaten liberty at home and abroad.” And “[the United States] really needs to eliminate many of the breeding grounds for extremism, which is poverty, which is HIV/AIDS, which is all of these terrible conditions that make people totally dissatisfied and then look to extremism, particularly Islamic extremism.”
However, there are several points of difference. First, in terms of overall effort, McCain has not been specific about how much money he would spend, but he has set a goal of trying to eradicate malaria in Africa and fight corruption. Second, in terms of an overall goal, McCain always pairs foreign assistance with democracy promotion – signaling that he is interested in carrying on Bush’s “Freedom Agenda”.
Finally, and most interestingly to me, McCain appears to want to see greater donor coordination, specifically between the U.S. and European Union. His speeches always place foreign assistance in the sections on promoting transatlantic relations. Although one has to speculate on the specifics, we can say that McCain likes to talk about how foreign assistance is provided and not just what is we provide.