McCain Links Economy, Security

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin swung into the final full week of campaigning with appearances in crucial battleground states that will decide the 2008 presidential election.
By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sen. John McCain yesterday sharpened his critique of Sen. Barack Obama's ability to serve as commander in chief, arguing that the Democratic nominee's economic policies would "undermine our national security."

The Arizona Republican had once planned to make defense issues the central theme of his presidential bid, but global economic turmoil has become a relentless focus of his campaign in recent weeks. McCain sought to link the two issues yesterday, arguing that, in a "Democratic-dominated Washington," national security and the economy would both suffer.

"Raising taxes and unilaterally renegotiating trade agreements as they have promised would make a bad economy even worse, and undermine our national security, even as they slash defense spending," McCain said in a speech in Tampa after meeting with his national security advisers. "At least when European nations chose the path of higher taxes and cutting defense, they knew that their security would still be guaranteed by America. But if America takes the same path, who will guarantee our security?"

The Illinois Democrat has not proposed cuts in defense spending and says he wants to continue President Bush's plan to expand the military by 92,000 soldiers and Marines. But McCain seized on a recent call for a 25 percent cut in Pentagon spending by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to stoke fears about what would happen if Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House.

"Even with our troops engaged in two wars, and with a force in need of rebuilding, we're getting a glimpse of what one-party rule would look like under Obama, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid," McCain said, according to prepared remarks.

The Obama campaign hit back. Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, one of Obama's military advisers, released a statement accusing McCain of wanting to continue Bush's foreign policy while distorting Obama's defense plans.

"John McCain's desperate and dishonest attack on defense spending only makes the point that Barack Obama has been willing to stand up to some in his own party from the first day of this campaign through his commitment to increase the size of our ground forces and our investments in 21st century capabilities," Gration said.

Like McCain, Obama in recent weeks has emphasized the connection between national security and the economy, using it to sow doubts about McCain's judgment on economic issues. "We can't afford another president who ignores the fundamentals of our economy while running up record deficits to fight a war without end in Iraq," Obama told reporters last week in Richmond.

Both candidates have also made it clear that economic issues loom large on the international agenda for the next four years. Both pledge to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. And although neither has sketched out a detailed plan for dealing with the international economic crisis, one of the early challenges facing a new administration will be how to restructure international economic institutions.

White House officials confirmed this week that neither McCain nor Obama plans to participate directly in a Nov. 15 global summit focused on the global financial crisis. But press secretary Dana Perino said yesterday that whoever wins will be "providing input" to the negotiations.

"None of this ties the next president's hand," Perino said. "But I think that what we are trying to do is do what the president asked us to do, which is do everything we can right now, in this downturn, in this cycle of our economy, to get it back to a period of growth so that the next president has the best possible starting point on January 20th."

David Rothkopf, a former trade official in the Clinton administration, said yesterday that restoring America's economic strength is critical to rebuilding U.S. influence in the world. Without such strength, the United States "doesn't have the ability to exercise soft power by writing checks for development," he said. "And it does not have the ability to underwrite hard power by funding the kind of military we're accustomed to."

Rothkopf said McCain was "disingenuous" in going after Obama for wanting to cut defense spending, saying the current level of growth at the Pentagon is unsustainable. But he also said Obama could run into trouble if he tries to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, as the Democrat has said he would consider, or if he does not cut taxes on business, as McCain has promised. "Its going to be very hard to compete for jobs if we keep high corporate tax rates," Rothkopf said.

Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

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