McCain vs Obama: A New Dynamic?

I'm not sure how it will feel if the Clintons leave the stage. Personally speaking, I may suffer a sudden loss of purpose in life. Collectively, we'll have the luxury of the best choice in many years for the presidency. It could have been Giuliani or Romney or Huckabee or Clinton, remember? And one result of Obama's success and McCain's emergence has been the beginning of a new debate about reforming conservatism. That debate would have been much less likely if a true Bush heir were on the ticket, and the inherited mau-mauing of all internal criticism were in full effect.

There will be plenty of time to weigh the two on domestic and foreign affairs. But one observation about foreign policy is worth airing now. My major worry about Obama is the ghost of Jimmy Carter. Will Obama be too reflexively diplomatic? Does he believe that some of our enemies are reasonable in a good way rather than rational in a malign way? Could his admirable desire to restore America's standing be compromised by naivete? And how will he respond if our enemies attack? More telling to me will be: can he adjust to new realities and possibilities in Iraq? I don't mean not withdrawing. I mean withdrawing in the best way for our interests as possible.

With McCain, I have a reverse worry. Has he become Liebermanized?  

Has his admirable sense of the danger of our foes blinded him to ways in which a defter diplomacy and shrewder deployment of force can help advance our interests? Or will he revert to a binary, victory-or-surrender blather that typifies the Bush-Cheney mindset? Does he understand the need to appeal beyond Muslim leaders to Muslim populations? Is he temperamentally suited to the delicate chess game of the new global politics?

Let's say both broad worries about both men are salient. The question then becomes: is Obama more capable of adjusting to toughness or is McCain more capable of adjusting to nuance? Neither is perfect. Our job is to figure out who is more perfectable in office. My sense at this point is that Obama is more capable of strength than McCain is of subtlety. And that McCain's domestic weakness with his own base may force him into cruder measures than are appropriate to the threat we face.

But my mind is open on this. What matters in this war is that we get it pragmatically right.