With the US major party noiminations intact, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have been presented a number of opportunities in the last week in which to differentiate themselves:
The Irish rejection of the EU's complicated Lisbon Treaty suddenly means that the European Union is likely to be significantly weaker and more confused than either party could have predicted it would be in the next few years. This gives either president a much freeher hand to pick-and-choose among which EU leadership it wants to embrace. Though the very cozy relationships between Bush and Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown mean that both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are likely to get along with all of Europe's power players unless they try something radical.
Karzai is threatening to send troops across the Pakistani border into the Northwest Frontier Territory, where the Taliban and allied insurgents are operating largely unmolested--far too sparse for the Pakistani Army to take head-on, and too large for government-allied Militias to decisively defeat. The Pakistani government is likely to view this with great hostility, particularly given their distrust of the Bush-Musharraf alliance, as well as anger over the accidental US bombing of 11 government-allied Militia soldiers. Pakistan is likely quite border-sensitive, and a tough-talking Afghanistan unconcerned with Pakistan's territorial sovereignty, along with a US that is bumbling diplomatically as well as militarily in its war against the Taliban, may eject Pakistan from the US informal anti-terror alliance, even if the ruling DPP hopes to eradicate the Taliban. McCain's passion for the War on Terror is likely to cause him to put on a diplomatic blitz with the DPP in Pakistan, in hopes of creating some sort of military cooperation in the northwest--Pakistan's army has been all but useless in the region. Mr. Obama is likely to take a less direct approach, hoping to create a sense of brotherhood and goodwill, hoping that military cooperations will come in time out of a friendship. Either way, both will have to choose their way of holding on to Pakistan.
In Iraq, the Iraqi Army seems to be confronting its last great security challenge: Shiite Militias, mostly Al-Sadr. In its 4th such operation in the year (the first three in Basrah, Sadr City, and Mosul), the Iraqi Army is moving troops into Amara to gain security control, though locals say the militants have already fled. While ethno-sectarian civil war is all but history, and as Al-Qaeda in Iraq continues to be ground down by American troops and government-loyal Sunni militias, Shiite militias battling for supremacy in Iraq, as well as their resistance to continued US presence in Iraq, stand as the last great pillar of unrest in the country. Petraeus' optimistic timeline for transferring the other 9 provinces of Iraq by the beginning of 2009 looks like it will be delayed by at least a few months due to violence, though Qadisiyah will be handed over in July, on schedule. Obama and McCain look to stand firm on Iraq; Obama continues to plan to pull one brigade per month until (almost) all US troops are out of the country, where Mr. McCain hopes to establish a long-term US presence in Iraq, like its presence in South Korea, Germany, and Japan. Negotiations for US bases in Iraq are faltering, though, and Bush may drop the ball completely, giving McCain few options but scrambling in this goal. The executive branch of the Iraqi government continues to support some US presence in Iraq, and worries about relapses in security in a quick American pull-out scenario.
With Chinese talks with Taiwan going extremely smoothly, a Taiwan Straits crisis is unlikely to emerge in the next presidency. In fact, the ruling Taiwanese GMD is unlikely to purchase much in the way of arms from the US, in hopes of relaxing military tensions with the Chinese. Furthermore, an earlier visit from Hu Jintao to Japan, as well as a deal on an oil dispute in waters between China and Japan, have led to greatly reduced tensions between China and the long-time American ally. With China increasingly getting along with US allies in East Asia (including South Korea, where protests to ban US beef imports are turning violent), the US is going to have few bones to pick with China besides economics.
Mr. Obama has mentioned regulation to try to stem outsourcing and the trade gap, which may hurt the Chinese market and create irritations that Mr. Obama will have to massage quite a bit. Mr. McCain's more free-trade policy is likely to keep hot economics between the US and China, but he will face increasing pressure over the trade gap, and is likely to take a tough stance against China for human rights issues, as well as spying (especially information attacks against the DoD). Both are likely to irritate China some, but China's "strategic partner" view of the United States leaves room for minor irritants if the long-term prospects look good. Hopefully, both are open to engaging a China that is likely to surpass Germany and Japan as the second-largest economy in the world by the time their first term is through.
I will write a full article on the differences in the two Senator's foreign policies, and what that means, later (when I get more time). For now, some statistics from Pollster.com on support for each candidate nationally and in swing states: