Back in March, John McCain gave a foreign policy address (well-received by liberal and conservative pundits) meant to distance himself from the Bush administration. In it, he emphasized multilateralism and other concerns not traditionally associated with Republicans.
Whether the differences between McCain and Bush are that great–and whether the second Bush term has really been so unilateral–is debatable. But it is incontrovertibly smart politics for McCain to argue that he is not Dubya Mark II. How successful he is at convincing people of this will, in large part, determine the outcome of the election.
Barack Obama might have a similar problem: how to show he is not a standard liberal Democrat on international affairs. On Iraq, at least to date, he has not dared to deviate from the “retreat now” demands of the Democratic base. Nevertheless, he has done his (somewhat confused) best to shed the liberal image of excessive deference to other nations. He’s threatened our allies with withdrawal from NAFTA and dumped on a nation under siege by Hugo Chavez.
This seems a strange way to establish his national security bona fides: there is no constituency for “angering our allies.” Nevertheless, as a function of his inability to stand up to Big Labor, he finds himself adopting foreign policy stances that have already annoyed foreign governments. This is all strangely reminiscent of Bush’s oft-ridiculed “cowboy diplomacy.” (Remember the hue and cry when Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty?)