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Panel examines McCain, Obama's foreign policy

John McCain and Barack Obama disagree on where America should be fighting the war on terror, but still have similar messages, two former White House advisers said in a panel Thursday.

Stephen Yates, who served as the deputy national security adviser under Vice President Dick Cheney, and Derek Mitchell, a Defense Department official during the Clinton administration, discussed how presidential hopefuls McCain and Obama would approach foreign policy if elected in front of about 35 students and community members in Jepson Hall April 3.

Terrorism remains the primary concern for all candidates, with McCain believing Iraq is the central focus of the war on terror, Mitchell said.

"Obama says to get out of Iraq as carefully as we went in carelessly, and then focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mitchell said.

As far as considering Iraq as the current center of the war on terror, candidates are debating and evaluating what has been done so far and what to do now that war has been waged, Yates said.

"Is there a war on terrorism?" he asked. "Should it be called a war on terrorism? What should we do to prosecute it?"

Iran, another hotbed for the war on terror, is a resource-rich country that happens to also have an established nuclear weapons program, Yates said. Iran, like other countries involved in terrorism, is also home to a corrupt government.

"The leader is a world-class nut job," he said, but that leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, should not matter too much because clerics continue to lead the country.

"The war on terror boils down to the world's most dangerous weapons falling into the hands of the world's most dangerous people," Yates said.

China, in particular, has amassed an unprecedented amount of power during the last few years, and its inexperience as a world leader makes it a potential threat, Yates said.

"How will we have the resources to build against a hedge in uncertain China?" he asked.

The next president will have to face a structural issue in prioritizing Iraq, Iran, North Korea, an economic recession, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and an overstretched military, Mitchell said. In an effort to connect these issues, McCain and Obama define climate change as a security policy, reasoning that a better energy policy would require less involvement in the Middle East, he said.

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Almost two hours into the panel, the auditorium had emptied to only a dozen students and a handful of Richmond community members.

"I think both speakers offered insight about foreign affairs that is often overlooked in the media," said junior Sandra Bustos. "However, I still feel as uninformed about what to do in Iraq as I do after listening to McCain, Obama or Clinton speak."

Sophomore Jeff Latov said: "It was interesting to see how the panelists addressed the foreign-policy issues that have been brushed aside during the nomination season. I wish the media would acknowledge these issues instead of obsessing over whether or not Hillary Clinton actually dodged sniper bullets in Bosnia. I hope the topics that they addressed will come up during general elections."

Yates is now the president of a Washington, D.C., consulting firm and a senior fellow in Asian studies at the American Foreign Policy Council. Mitchell was a Defense Department official during the Clinton administration and received the Secretary of Defense Award in 2001. Now, he is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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