I've received some pushback in the blogosphere in response to my last post, an effort to goad Mitt Romney into making saome substantive foreign policy critiques. Let's talk them out.
First, I wrote that, "relations with Pakistan, Russia, India and Canada have cooled off considerably since the Bush years." There's been some justifiable pushback on that sentence -- but within that pushback there's some interesting things to note about the politics of perception.
I linked to a Foreignaffairs.com essay on the Canadian-American relationship, but Roland Paris does a pretty effective job of shredding their argument, in no small part by reminding readers of the true low point in bilateral relations this century:
Between 2003 and 2005, I had the privilege of serving as an advisor on Canada-U.S. relations in the Department of Foreign Affairs and in the Privy Council Office. Relations today are no worse, and probably better, than they were then. Jean Chrétien had just declined to send Canadian troops to Iraq – the right decision, but one that nevertheless angered officials in the George W. Bush Administration, who were hoping at least for an expression of political support. (It didn’t help that Chrétien announced his decision in the House of Commons to a throng of cheering Liberal MPs.) Bush then cancelled a planned state visit to Canada....
Here is a different picture that fits better with the facts: The state of the Canada-U.S. relationship today is sound. Yes, there are irritants, but they are no more challenging than the irritants of the past. Nor does only one country – or one leader – bear the fault for these irritants.
This is a pretty powerful critique. As someone who has too much experience in making this kind of argument, however, I fear it won't carry much weight in the American body politic. The reason is that Paris' basic point is that, "look, things were a lot worse a little while ago." But that's not a point that plays politically. When talking about bilateral relations in a political context, analysts and pundits care about the trendline more than the base level. The trendline suggests a mild cooling of a very warm and multidimensional relationship. So people will focus on the cooling.
Still, in linking to the article in the first place, I did perpetuate the meme. So, apologies.
There was also some pushback on Russia as well. Daniel Larison notes:
One needn’t be a supporter of current Russia policy to recognize that it isn’t the complete disaster of the late Bush years. I know I’ve beaten this topic to death lately, but this claim about relations with Russia being worse than they were during “the Bush years” is simply wrong.
This may be easy to overlook at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are cooler than they were a year or two ago, but apparently it can’t be repeated too often that the Bush administration drove the U.S.-Russian relationship into the ground starting in 2002-03 and then kept going down. U.S.-Russian relations were widely recognized to be at a post-Cold War low in August 2008 and during the months that followed, and administration policies and decisions contributed significantly to that outcome. The current administration had repaired a fair amount of the damage, but quarrels in the last year have undone some of that improvement. Outgoing President Medvedev said that the last three years “have perhaps been the best three years in relations between our two countries over the last decade.” Maybe that’s damning with faint praise. Relations between the two countries from 2002 to 2012 were mostly mediocre or poor. That doesn’t make the claim any less true.
Indeed, in a related post, Dan Nexon notes the benefits of the "reset" relationship with Russia:
The basic theory behind the Obama Administration's "Reset" policy was that US-Russian relations could be disaggregated: that it is possible for two countries to disagree on a range of issues and still cooperate on matters of common interest. That bet looks to be correct; despite a significant deterioration in relations between Washington and Moscow, the pursuit of common interests persists.
The Russian government has given approval for the United States and its NATO allies to use a Russian air base in the Volga city of Ulyanovsk as a hub for transits to and from Afghanistan....
Unfortunately, too many pundits and policymakers continue to reduce US bilateral relations with other countries to single "barometers."
Again, this is factually correct, but to go all emo on Larison and Nexon, it "feels" wrong somehow. Why? I think it's based on some combination of the following:
1) The arms control dimension of the "reset" took much longer to play out than anyone expected -- including Obama administration officials. Everything eventually got signed and ratified, but Russia's prickliness during the whole episode seemed to baffle American officials.
2) Russian rhetoric towards the United States continues to be quite hostile -- and has become even more hostile since large-scale protests began in December of last year. Vladimir Putin isn't fond of Michael McFaul, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama -- so even cooperative moves are obfuscated by bellicose rhetoric.
Nexon is correct to observe that there are key dimensions on which cooperation has been significant. I do wonder, however, if too many Americans have imbibed the simple Schmittian dichotomy of friend and enemy to view other countries. We're unpracticed as a country in dealing with the category of "rival" -- or, in the case of Russia, "demographically crippled rival."
Finally, the very smart Will Winecoff responds with a curiously lazy post. The key points:
At some point Romney will be asked direct questions about foreign policy. When he asked those questions he will say things like "I will get tough with China to make sure they play by the rules and stop stealing American jobs" and "I will not let terrorists kill American citizens, and I will do whatever is necessary to keep Americans safe" and "I will keep America strong by not cutting our military budget" and "Screw Russia". He will not say whether he favors neoconservatism or realpolitik because he does not know what those things are. Neither does any of the people who will be asking him questions (unless Fareed Zakaria gets a crack, which he won't), nor will 99.9% of the people who will hear his answers.
His actual foreign policy will be run by the bureaucracy, which will be highly constrained by structural factors, and will be reactive to events yet to occur.
A few responses:
1) Mitt Romney is many things, but he's not an idiot. He knows perfectly well what realpolitik and neoconservatism are.
2) I don't want Romney to talk about foreign policy because it will provide a sneak peek into what he'll actually do. I want him to talk about it as a way of A) demonstrating leadership over how own friggin' campaign machine; and B) demonstrating the necessary background knowledge to reassure people like me that he can handle a foreign policy crisis. By not talking about it, all he's doing is encouraging his own loyalists to leak like crazy. And by repeatedly ghosting God-awful op-eds, he's sowing doubts that he has any kind of game plan about how to be proactive about foreign policy. Oh, and that reminds me...
3) Winecoff's structuralist view of foreign policy might be true in the long run. Presidents who deviate away from the foreign policy "mainstream" for too long usually have to reverse course. The notion that any president's foreign policy is "will be run by the bureaucracy," however, vastly underestimates the president's short-term flexibility. So it does kinda matter who's working in the Oval Office come January 21st, 2013.
Dear Governor Romney,
Congratulations on securing the GOP nomination and earning a roughly 50/50 shot at becoming president in January 2013. It was an ugly primary fight, but you're passed it and have been consolidating your right flank. Politically speaking, nicely done.
Now, I know you want this campaign to be about the economy, the economy, and the economy, but can we talk about foreign policy for just a little bit? Because if you don't talk about international relations, your advisors are gonna continue to bitch and moan to the press, like they did this week to Rich Oppel at the New York Times and Eli Lake at Daily Beast.
This will be an ongoing problem for you, because an emerging meme is that your campaign has remarkably little policy content. Your campaign didn't handle immigration terribly well, for example. Indeed, on foreign policy, you've actually been a bit more forthcoming than on other policy dimensions. The thing is, what you've said in recent months has prompted... er... well... either mockery or derision. No one knows whether you're the second coming of neoconservatism or a more realpolitik foreign policy leader. This lack of certainty is making a lot of people itchy.
One of your consistent themes has been to bash President Obama because "his positions in foreign policy have not communicated American strength and resolve." The thing is, if you can't even control your own foreign policy advisors from blabbing to anyone and everyone who writes about foreign policy, well, then you're not really communicating strength and resolve either, are you?
We agree that this election should primarily be about the economy. But I suspect we also agree that voters need to be comfortable with a presidential candidate as a commander-in-chief and a foreign policy leader. After four years, President Obama has carved out a record that is not without blemishes but is pretty clearly above the bar in terms of foreign policy competence. The burden is on you to demonstrate that you can be above the bar as well. So far, all you've demonstrated is that you might be better at foreign policy than Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, or Rick Perry, which is a really low bar.
President Obama has made a hash of his policy towards Israel and Palestine. Relations with Pakistan, Russia, India and Canada have cooled off considerably since the Bush years. America's relationship with Latin America and Africa seems uncertain at best. Cybersecurity remains an inchoate mess. On foreign economic policy, it's not clear at all that Obama can get the G-20 to agree on anything and the Doha trade round is dead, dead, dead. There's clearly room for improvement, and American foreign policy benefits from a vigorous marketplace of ideas. So show some leadership, get your team in line, and articulate a foreign policy vision that goes beyond the vague nostrums of "An American Century."
Seriously, get it together.
Daniel W. Drezner
Yesterday your humble blogger gave a talk about the state of the 2012 presidential race to a group of
really rich people international institutional investors. At the end of the talk, the convener asked for a show of hands about who they thought would (not should) win the race, and an overwhelming majority said Obama. In talking to the organizers, I learned that this was the sentiment of other groups of overseas bankers that had met earlier in the month. Indeed, there was apparent surprise at the suggestion that Mitt Romney could actually win.
Why did this sentiment exist? I don't think it had much to do with ideology -- we're talking about the global one percenters here. Based on my conversations, I think it was based on a few stylized facts:
1) The U.S. economy is outperforming almost every other developed economy in the world;
2) They assume that in times of uncertainty, Americans will prefer the devil they know rather than the devil they don't;
3) President Obama's foreign policies seem pretty competent;
4) Mitt Romney's policy proposals either seemed really super-vague (this will be an American Century) or, when specific (designating China as a currency manipulator) made him seem like an out-of-date clown.
So, consider the following a Global Public Service Announcement from the hard-working staff at this blog:
Dear Rest of the World,
Hey there. I understand that the overwhelming lot of you believe Barack Obama will be elected to a second term. I can sorta see that, as that is the current prediction from recent polls, some of our prognosticators and prediction markets. If you look closely, however, none of these predictions are very strong. Or, to put it as plainly as possible: there is still about a 50/50 chance that Mitt Romney will be sworn in as president in January 2013.
I can hear your derisive snorts from across the oceans. Ridiculous! Surely Americans would reject such ludicrous ideas as a trade war with China. Surely Americans understand that their economy has done pretty well in comparison to the rest of the world. Surely Americans can see that many long-term trends are pretty positive.
Valid questions. To which I must respond: The overwhelming majority of Americans do not give a flying f**k about the rest of the world.
Really, they dont. Take a look at these poll numbers about priorities for the 2012 presidential campaign, and try to find anything to do with international relations. There ain't much. It's almost all about the domestic economy.
See, most Americans don't compare the U.S. to other major economies -- they compare the U.S. now to, say, the U.S. of 2005. And things don't look so hot based on that comparison. As for the notion of a trade war with China, go read how Americans feel about absolute vs. relative gains with China -- they'll superficially welcome a trade war, when they bother to even think about it. Which they don't.
As for foreign policy or counterterrorism, yes, you could argue that the Obama administration has been pretty competent. But, again: Americans. Don't. Care. If anything, the foreign policy competency removes the issue from the campaign, and just concentrates the minds of everyone on the state of the domestic economy.
The fundamental fact of this election is that the American economy is pretty sluggish, voters blame the incumbent when that happens, and the incumbent happens to be Barack Obama. Indeed, it is only because Obama is seen as pretty likable -- and that voters do still tend to blame George W. Bush for the current situation -- that this race is even remotely close.
I'm not saying Mitt Romney is gonna win. If the economy picks up over the summer, Obama should win pretty handily. However, you, the smart money, should think about it this way: what are the chances that between now and November, none of the following will happen: another Euro-implosion, a rapid deflating of the China bubble, or a war in the Middle East? If you're confident that these events are not in the cards, bet on Obama. If any of them happen, all bets are off.
Will it matter to you? Think of it this way: compare and contrast who Mitt Romney would pick as the next Fed chairman versus Barack Obama. And plan accordingly.
Enjoy the summer! All the best,
Daniel W. Drezner
Am I missing anything?
There are a lot of concerns rumbling around the wonkosphere that the United States is headed for a "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year. Unless Congress acts, all $300 billion of the Bush tax cuts will expire, the $200 billion Obama payroll tax cut will expire, and $100 billion in spending will be automatically cut as per the debt deal from the summer of 2010. Now, unless you reject Macroeconomics 101, you know that $600 billion in fiscal retrenchment in this economy practically guarantees a double-dip recession.
Of course, Congress could change this if it acted in bipartisan fashion. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! I kid, of course. Except I don't -- any politial action to avert the fiscal cliff really would require some kind of bipartisan compromise.
Earlier this week Josh Marshall posted an intriguing hypothesis about how the Democrats are thinking about this situation:
For years and years now, the Democrats have been a much more fiscally responsible party than the Republicans. (Here, fiscally responsible means that they try to pay for the federal programs they support, not fiscally responsible in the way Republicans define it, where social spending programs are “fiscally irresponsible” even if they’re paid for.)
Republicans, by contrast, have intentionally drawn up big deficits with massive tax cuts, so that popular programs they don’t really like will eventually have to be cut. This is more or less the central organizing principle of the conservative movement, and the main way the conservative movement exerts control over the GOP. It’s no coincidence that when Republicans came back to power in 2011, they made deficits a huge legislative priority, and insisted on reducing them by cutting social programs alone.
The Democrats’ counter-strategy is a bit more subtle, but has essentially been to find ways to make it very uncomfortable for Republicans to maintain such a rigid anti-tax orthodoxy — to ultimately force Republicans to break their anti-tax pledges and badly splinter their party. That’s what the Buffett Rule is about; that why Dems insist they won’t dismantle the so-called “sequester” — big cuts to defense and even to Medicare — unless Republicans agree to tackle deficits in a balanced way, i.e. by supporting significant new tax revenues.
The results have been mixed. They’ve won a small number of GOP votes here and there, and vulnerable members are nowadays more likely to trash or dismiss Grover Norquist in the press than they were last year. But at a very high level within the Democratic Party, there’s a recognition that breaking the GOP on taxes is an absolutely crucial strategic imperative for defending safety net programs over the long term. Getting the revenue in a passive way is a second best option.
Now, if Marshall is correct, what's interesting is that the Democrats have a powerful ally in this push to get the GOP to shift away from their anti-tax orthodoxy -- Wall Street:
Now that the US is facing the possibility of another budgetary showdown with potentially even higher stakes – the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of this year – Wall Street lobbyists are preparing an aggressive campaign to stop the political brinksmanship.
"The experience of last year taught everybody to be ... focused on it earlier and not assume that this is business as usual,” said one bank lobbyist based in Washington. “People who had relied on government to respond eventually were surprised when it didn’t.”...
Different business sectors are preparing for the looming fiscal cliff with varying degrees of urgency. Among the most aggressive in pushing for a deal are defence contractors who would bear the brunt of the planned cuts to the Pentagon budget. Medical providers would also be hit hard by the automatic cuts. Companies that pay large dividends – such as utilities – would be slammed if the tax rate on dividends rise as scheduled from 15 per cent to more than 40 per cent.
But financial services companies also have a huge amount at stake. The question is how to influence the political process that remains gridlocked ahead of the November election....
Then there are tactical considerations. Though one bank lobbyist partly blamed a faction of congressional Republicans for last August’s debt ceiling showdown, saying they were “willing to go off the cliff with all flags flying”, it is unclear whether it is in Wall Street’s interest to take on some of their traditional allies on Capitol Hill by pushing them to accept higher revenues or tax increases in any deficit reduction deal, as Democrats are demanding.
The fiscal cliff is still a long way off in political time, but is the strategy having any effect? Sort of. We're starting to see gravitas Republicans -- real ones, too, not just MSNBC media darlings -- calling for compromise. Calls that are annoying Grover Norquist.
And look -- here's a real live GOP Senator speaking tax heresy!
[Senator Lindsay] Graham says the debt crisis is so severe that the tax pledge — which says no tax loopholes can be eliminated unless every dollar raised by closing loopholes goes to tax cuts -- has got to go
"When you eliminate a deduction, it's okay with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That's where I disagree with the pledge," said Graham....
Graham said eliminating some deductions should free up money to lower tax rates — but also to pay down U.S. debt.
"I just think that makes a lot of sense. And if I'm willing to do that as a Republican, I've crossed a rubicon," said Graham.
This puts Graham at odds with his party's leadership.
And look! Real, actual negotiations in the Senate are taking place! So, does this mean the Democrat/Wall Street strategy is paying dividends? Will Tom Friedman and David Brooks soon be able to wax poetic about "statesmanlike" politicians cutting a Grand Bargain?
No, not really.
Jeb Bush is not an elected official any more. Lindsey Graham is, but he likes to talk iconoclasm every once in a while, so I'm not sure how much weight it carries (if it was Jim DeMint uttering these words, I'd be more convinced). And let's look a little closer at the New York Times story on the Senate negotiations, shall we?
Republican leaders remain largely on the sideline. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, applauded what he called “grass roots” negotiations, but conceded that neither he nor other party leaders had been directly involved, aside from efforts to stave off automatic defense cuts. Still, even he is making conciliatory comments on raising taxes, the issue that has kept Republican leaders from the table.
And this is on the Senate side -- what really matters is whether the House GOP caucus will agree to any of this.
In some ways, the next six months will be an excellent test of the roles that money and ideology play in current American party politics. If money is the honey, then a deal will be cut, and well before December. As the myriad articles suggest, what freaked out business wasn't just the rank partisanship during the last debt deebacle, it was how close things got to a breakdown. They don't want to see that happen again.
If ideology is what counts, however, then the House GOP won't budge, if at all, until the last minute. They don't want to see taxes go up, but I'm not sure that they would be willing to make a compromise that would permanently eliminate tax deductions in order to preserve the status quo in income tax rates.
What do you think?
It's been half a year since I did a bloggingheads, so Heather Hurlburt and I donned our headsets to gab away on Mitt Romney's foreign policy travails, the negotiations with Iran, and Egypt's elections. It's the perfect way to while away your Friday morning. The bonus comes when I utter the words "Bolton-curious":
Honestly, my dear readers, I've been trying to pivot away from deconstructing Mitt Romney's foreign policy musings. After a half-year of watching GOP presidential debates and then reading Romney's blinkered musings on various hot spots, I think this horse has pretty much been beaten to death.
Except that, with Romney's NATO Chicago Tribune op-ed this past weekend, I fear he and his campaign have crossed the line from really stupid foreign policy pronouncements to logically contradictory ones.
Here's how Romney's op-ed opens and closes:
NATO has kept the peace in Europe for more than six decades. But today, the alliance is at a crossroads. It is time to speak candidly about the challenges facing the United States and our allies and how to rise to them.
In a post-Cold War world, territorial defense of Europe is no longer NATO's one overriding mission. Instead, the alliance has evolved to uphold security interests in distant theaters, as in Afghanistan and Libya. Yet through all the changes to the global landscape, two things have remained constant about the alliance. For it to succeed, it requires strong American leadership. And it also requires that member states carry their own weight....
At this moment of both opportunities and perils — an Iranian regime with nuclear ambitions, an unpredictable North Korea, a revanchist Russia, a China spending furiously on its own military, to name but a few of the major challenges looming before us — the NATO alliance must retain the capacity to act.
As president, I will work closely with our partners to bolster the alliance. In that effort, words are not enough.
I will reverse Obama-era military cuts. I will not allow runaway entitlement spending to swallow the defense budget as has happened in Europe and as President Obama is now allowing here.
I really like his first paragraph... and then we run into a whole mess of problems. In ascending order of importance:
1) What the f**k does NATO have to do with either North Korea or China? Seriously, I get that NATO has expanded to out-of-theater operations, but does anyone seriously think that German forces are going to be deployed along the Pacific Rim? I didn't think so.
2) In what way is Russia "revanchist"? Oh, sure, the Russians are chatty, but does anyone seriously believe that, right now, Moscow poses any kind of security threat to the rest of Europe? One semi-competent victory over a former Soviet repiblic does not constitute revanchism, and swelling domestic discontent and the Mother of All Demographic Crunches suggests that Vladimir Putin will be way to preoccupied with the problems within his own borders to be much of a problem in Europe.
3) There's an oldie but a goodie of an article on NATO by Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser entitled "An Economic Theory of Alliances." Romney's advisors should take a gander. The basic point is that in an alliance containing a single superpower, the rest of the alliance members will tend to free-ride off of the hegemonic actor. In essence, Romney's op-ed doubles down on that free-rider logic. If Romney commits to boosting U.S. defense spending, exactly what incentive does this give our NATO allies to boost theirs?
4) So Romney wants to "speak candidly about the challenges facing the United States and our allies and how to rise to them"? OK... and apparently the way for NATO to face these challenges is to "work closely with our partners to bolster the alliance." That, and reverse Obama's defense cuts.
To which I have to say: that's it?! Really?! If this is Romney speaking candidly, then this SNL skit is more true-to-life than I realized.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I? I don't like it when a guy with a 50/50 chance of being president in January 2013 has abandoned the Logic Train.
I've gone on record as saying that presidential campaign promises on foreign policy don't count for all that much. Over the past few weeks, however, there have been some rumblings coming from the Romney campaign that are worth considering.
First, there was the matter of Richard Grenell. The Romney campaign hired him to be its foreign policy spokesman, then asked him to stay silent on a foreign policy conference call (one that didn't really cover its participants in glory, by the way). Grenell then resigned, implying that he felt pressured to leave because his being gay ruffled some social conservatives (which the Romney camp denies).
Second, there is the question of Romney's hostility towards Russia, and the way that clashes with what his foreign policy advisers have saidon the subject:
Interviews with Republican foreign policy experts close to his campaign and his writings on the subject show that his stance toward Russia reflects a broader foreign policy view that gives great weight to economic power and control of natural resources. It also exhibits Mr. Romney’s confidence that his private-sector experience would make him a better negotiator on national security issues than President Obama has been.
Mr. Romney’s views on Russia have set off disagreements among some of his foreign policy advisers. They put him in sync with the more conservative members of his party in Congress, who have similarly criticized Mr. Obama as being too accommodating to Russia, and generally reflect the posture of some neoconservatives....
Some advisers close to Mr. Romney, who declined to be quoted or identified by name, say Russia is a good illustration of his belief that national security threats are closely tied to economic power — in this case stemming from Russia’s oil and gas reserves, which it has used to muscle European countries dependent on energy imports.
They also cite his tendency to view foreign policy conflicts as zero-sum negotiations. Mr. Romney, an accomplished deal-maker at Bain Capital, views his negotiating skills as an advantage he holds over Mr. Obama.
It's juuuuust a little disturbing to hear that Romney's foreign policy worldview sounds an awful lot like what Donald Trump was saying a year ago. Oh, and that, by implication, Romney's concept of "economic power" is total horses**t as well.
Just as intriguing, however, is the fact that Romney's advisors are chatting to the press about these gaps between their views and Romney's. Now, in theory, "Romney foreign policy advisor" can be cast a wide net, from someone who talked to the campaign once to someone in the inner circle. Still, if you peruse David Sanger's Sunday NYT essay, it's hard not to see that the foreign policy fissures in Camp Romney run deep:
“There are two very different worldviews in this campaign,” said one adviser who aligns more often with Mr. Bolton. “But as in any campaign, there are outer circles, inner circles and inner-inner circles, and I’m not sure that anyone knows if the candidate has a strong view of his own on this.” Another adviser, saying he would be “cashiered” if the campaign caught him talking to a reporter without approval, said the real answer was that “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office” and for now was “just happy to leave the impression that when Obama says he’ll stop an Iranian bomb he doesn’t mean it, and Mitt does.”
As both Michael Crowley and Erik Wemple note, the fact that these guys are talking to Sanger -- and stressing things like not providing any input for Romney's idiotic 2010 anti-New START op-ed -- does not reflect well on the campaign.
Would any of this really matter in a possible Romney presidency?
Mostly, no. Campaign statements on foreign policy are broken pretty easily, and campaign rhetoric melts quickly in the face of foreign policy realities. I suppose one could argue that the Romney campaign's disorganization on these questions do not speak well about the campaign's discipline and management. That said, I seriously doubt that one's ability to run an efficient campaign translates into the ability to run foreign policy. Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign was not exactly the most disciplined of the bunch -- but she's been a very capable Secretary of State.
The one way in which this might be interesting is whether someone like John Bolton winds up as Secretary of State. Based on his United Nations ambassador days, and based on the near-delusional level of megalomaniacal egotism displayed in Bolton's memoirs, I'd argue that his appointment would make a difference in foreign policy outcomes.
The loudest signal emerging from the noise of Romney's foreign policy team is that Bolton's influence might be larger than I would have suspected. The fact that Grenell was Bolton's spokesman at the UN, and that his Russia views sound like Bolton, are distressing signals. The fact that one of Romney's concrete budgetary criticisms of the Obama administration this week was that, "[i]n 2010, 17 federal government agencies gave $7.7 billion to more than 25 United Nations programs, billions of it voluntarily," sounds... Boltonish. The fact that all of Romney's foreign policy factions are gabbing to the press and, er, people like me further suggests that the divisions run deep.
It's still May, and so I suspect that these kerfuffles are noise that will eventually dissipate. Still, consider this to be a marker if, a year from now, you see post after post entitled, "Yes, I'm Afraid Secretary Bolton Did Say a Dumbass Thing Today."
There's a lot that's happened over the past week with respect to Chen Guangcheng's status, and your humble blogger could write a 5,000 word essay on it if
someone wanted to pay me gobs and gobs of cash because I'm remodeling my home I had the time. I don't however, so I have one big thought on the matter.
Before I begin, given the rapid real-time developments in the Chen case, I'm operating on the assumption that China's last Foreign Ministry statement suggests the denouement: Chen and his family will be able to go to the United States to study, and he then may or may not be allowed back into the country.
My Big Thought: contrary to just about every headline I've seen in the past three days, I think Chen's case demonstrates the surprising resilience of the Sino-American relationship. Recall what I wrote earlier in the week:
The fact that both Beijing and Washington have kept their mouths shut on Chen is a pretty surprising but positive sign about the overall stability/resilience of Sino-American relations. Bear in mind that according to the latest reports, much of the leadership in Beijing takesan increasingly conspiratorial view of the United States. As for the mood in Washington, well, let's just call it unfriendly towards China. Both sides are in the middle of big leadership decisions, making the incentive to cater to nationalist domestic interests even stronger than normal. With the rest of the Pacific Rim trying to latch themselves onto the U.S. security umbrella, this could have been the perfect match to set off a G-2 powderkeg.
Despite all of these incentives for escalating the dispute, however, it hasn't happened. Kurt Campbell was dispatched to Beijing, talks are ongoing, and neither side appears to be interested in ramping up domestic audience costs. That escalation hasn't happened despite massive political incentives on both sides to let it happen suggests that, contrary to press fears about Chen blowing up the bilateral relationship, there are powerful pressures in Washington and Beijing to find a solution that saves as much face as humanly possible for both sides.
Now, in the three days since I wrote that post, Chen has been released, calling every Chinese dissident, U.S. congressman and international reporter with a phone/recording device/Twitter account and is loudly and frantically describing the intimidation he and his family have experienced. The man has asked to be flown out on Hillary Clinton's plane as she departs from the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In other words, everything that has transpired in the past three days has given a black eye to both the Chinese and American governments' handling of this case.
Despite the near-overwhelming incentive to ramp up bilateral tensions, however, it really hasn't happened. China's Foreign Mnistry has issued a couple of garden-variety press statements demanding a U.S. apology that won't be forthcoming. There have been no leaks or anonymous criticisms of the United States otherwise, despite the fact that this entire case is a burr in China's saddle at veery awkward moment. None of the U.S. State Department statements or press leaks have been terribly critical of the Chinese side either. Indeed, as the Washington Post observes:
Neither Clinton nor her Chinese counterparts mentioned Chen in their formal remarks at the end of their two-day meeting, saying instead that U.S.-Sino differences on human rights issues must not disrupt the broader relationship between the two world powers.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo, China’s top foreign policy expert, said his country and the United States still have “fundamental differences” on human rights issues. “Human rights should not be a disturbance in state-to-state relations,” Dai said. “It should not be used to interfere in another country’s internal affairs.”
Clinton promised to “continue engaging with the Chinese government at the highest levels” on the “human rights and aspirations” of all people.
This is pretty extraordinary. Even more extraordinary is the possiblity that despite Chen's outspokenness, he actually could be able to leave the country with his family.
Now, as the Post shrewdly observes, "China’s Foreign Ministry said the self-taught lawyer would have to apply 'through normal channels ... like any other Chinese citizen' — which would mean returning home to the village where he has been confined and beaten, in order to obtain a passport." Still, if the rhetoric between the U.S. and China on this boils down to Clinton asking the Chinese government to "expeditiously process" Chen's visa application, then this is a really big dog that didn't bark.
What do you think?
So it turned out that this was the week that both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign decided that foreign policy was an important thing to talk about during election season. Speaking personally, this is great!! I seem to have moved up in the Rolodex of those covering the campaign. Expect lots of juicy quotes in the months to come, and readers are warmly encouraged to proffer useful metaphors that I can provide in soundbite fashion over the next six months.
Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, this was not a great week to ramp up attacks along this line. The reasons is that, all told, the Obama administration had a pretty good foreign policy week. Not all, or even most of this, was of its own doing, but consider the following:
1) Iran has signaled a genuine willingness to talk compromise on its nuclear program in order to avoid the EU oil embargo kicking in. That might just be rhetoric, but it's interesting to note that even senior Israeli officials are starting to talk down the Iranian threat. The less Iran becomes a thing, the
lower gas prices can fall better for the administration.
2) The United States has maybe, just maybe, eliminated a major thorn in bilateral relations with Japan by finally reaching agreement on moving U.S. troops from Okinawa. We'll see if this holds -- everyone assumed that a 2006 agreement had put this problem to rest before successive Japanese governments
shot themselves in the foot raised it again, but this is the thing on this list for which the administration deserves the most credit. As an added bonus, the administration actually got some nice words from John McCain on comity with the Senate.
3) For some reason China seems to be in a more productive mood in their dealings with the United States, and Mark Landsler and Steven Lee Myers have taken notice in the New York Times:
For years, China stymied efforts to pressure Iran. Now, in addition to throwing its weight behind the sanctions effort, officials say, Beijing is also playing a more active role in the recently revived nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. While in past negotiations, Beijing has followed in lockstep the positions taken by Russia, this time Chinese diplomats are offering their own proposals.
“One of the key elements of making this work is unity among the major powers,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic exchanges. “The Chinese have been very good partners in this regard.”
There are also signs of new cooperation on Syria. Only weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called China’s veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution “despicable,” China is supporting Kofi Annan’s peace plan for the strife-torn country and is deploying monitors to help oversee it. Even on North Korea, which China has long sheltered from tougher international action, the Chinese government quickly signed on to a United Nations statement condemning the North’s recent attempt to launch a satellite.
And there is progress on the economic front: American officials said China recently loosened trading on its currency, the remninbi, which could help close a valuation gap with the dollar that has stoked trade tensions between China and the United States during an election year.
To some seasoned observers of China, these developments are less a harbinger of a new era of cooperation between Beijing and Washington than evidence that, at least for now, the interests of the two countries coincide in some important areas.
The administration will nevertheless be happy to pocket the policy dividends.
4) Staying in Northeast Asia, it turns out that the big bad North Korean ICBMs are little more than a pipe dream -- and western analysts are starting to say that Kim Jong Un is naked in the public square:
North Korea tried to flex its military might with an extravagant parade on April 15, just three days after it admitted that its missile test had been a failure, but analysts now say that the new intercontinental ballistic missiles on display in the meticulously choreographed parade were nothing more than props.
The analysts studied photos of the six missiles and came to their conclusion for three primary reasons: 1. The missiles did not fit the launchers that carried them. 2. The missiles appear to be made out of both liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that are unable to fly together. 3. The casings on the missiles undulate which suggests the metal is not thick enough to hold up during flight.
"There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups," Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany's Schmucker Technologie , wrote in a paper recently posted on Armscontrolwonk.com. "It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work."
If the U.S. government can claim progress on Iran, China, North Korea, and Japan in one week, that's a good foreign policy week. Of course, for a lot of these issues, the administration is the beneficieary of circumstances rather that pro-active policies. Still, the administration deserves some credit for some of these development.
It's just one week, though. And I fear the most memorable statement about American foreign policy is this rather unfortunate choice of words:
NOTE TO WHITE HOUSE/CAMPAIGN SPEECHWRITERS: In the future, avoid having Biden utter any of the following: "big stick", "hard power", "pounding the enemy", "won't take no for an answer", and "smooth-talking his adversaries".
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger has been underwhelmed with Mitt Romney's foreign policy pronouncements to date. Sure, I thought what he was saying was far better than most of the rest of the GOP 2012 field, but that's like complimenting Moe on being the smart Stooge.
The past month or so have not helped matters. During this period, Romney has continued to harp on Obama's non-existent "apology tour", published an op-ed on China that the Hulk could have drafted, and labeled a dysfunctional and demographically dying state our number one geopolitical foe.
In fairness, the Romney campaign has a tough task. Obama's foreign policy has been far from perfect, but he's hit the key notes reasonably well. U.S. standing abroad has risen considerably, Osama bin Laden is dead, U.S. grand strategy has pivoted towards the most dynamic region in the world, and his Secretary of State is a badass texter. There are angles where Romney could try to hit Obama - the Iraq withdrawal, the planned drawdown in Afghanistan -- except that the American public overwhelmingly endorses these moves. That ground is not fertile. This has reduced the Romney campaign to do little but shout "Iran is dangerous! Israel is getting thrown under the bus!!" a lot. The fact that the Obama White House seems delighted to highlight this stuff is not a good sign for the Romney folk.
This is a shame. Foreign policy might actually matter in this campaign, and it would be nice if there was a genuine debate. For that to happen, however, the Romney campaign needs to actually mount a substantive critique as opposed to a purely oppositional one. They need to seize on an issue and show how it represents the flaws of Obama's foreign policy approach.
Might I suggest North Korea? From today's New York Times front-pager by Mark Landler and Jane Perlez:
With North Korea poised to launch a long-range missile despite a widespread international protest, the Obama administration is trying to play down the propaganda value for North Korea’s leaders and head off criticism of its abortive diplomatic opening to Pyongyang in late February....
[T]he administration’s options are limited. The United States will not seek further sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, this official said, because North Korea is already heavily sanctioned and Washington needs to preserve its political capital with China and Russia to win their backing for future measures against Syria and Iran. The more likely scenario at the United Nations is a weaker statement from the Council president.
With North Korea telling reporters that it had begun fueling the rocket, the launching appeared imminent, confronting the Obama administration with a new diplomatic crisis after an agreement that American officials had hoped would open a new chapter with a traditionally hostile and unpredictable nation.
White House officials moved aggressively to deflect criticism of that deal, which offered North Korea food aid in return for a pledge to suspend work on its uranium enrichment program and to allow international inspectors into the country.
Unlike the administration of President George W. Bush, this official said, the Obama administration did not give the North Koreans anything before they violated the agreement by announcing plans to go ahead with the satellite launching. And, he added, the administration expects the North Koreans to abide by the other terms of the deal if it hopes, as it has said, for a fuller diplomatic dialogue.
Still, for President Obama, who prided himself on not falling into the trap of previous presidents in dealing with North Korea, the diplomatic dead end has been a frustrating episode: proof that a change in leadership in Pyongyang has done nothing to change its penchant for flouting United Nations resolutions, paying no heed to its biggest patron, China, and reneging on deals with the United States.
This is an issue that the Romney campaign should be all over. The administration's policy of "strategic patience" followed by "let's make a deal with Kim the Younger" has not worked well. The DPRK highlights the Obama administration's reluctance to talk tough with China and the ways in which its nonproliferation policy seems to be... troubled. This is taking place in the most strategically interesting part of the world. In other words, this is an issue where Obama's record has been radically imperfect and a solid critique should resonate. Sure, there's no magic solution or anything, but attacking Obama on this issue is at least a way for Romney to articulate exactly what he means when he signals his hawkishness.
So let's see how the Romney campaign responds. Disappointingly, North Korea was not even mentioned in the Romney foreign policy team's open letter to Obama, and it's nowhere on Romney's campaign blog. If that doesn't change by the end of this week, then I'll know I don't really need to take his foreign policy pronouncements all that seriously.
I'm daring you, Mitt Romney. I'm double-dog-daring you. Let's see if and your team have got the foreign policy goods or not.
It's the last day of the International Studies Association annual meetings. I'm sleep-deprived, hung over, moderately sunburned, and pretty sick of international relations theory. While this throwback to my college days is moderately nostalgic, it is usually not a good state for blogging. Trying to tackle or critique the finer points of a nuanced argument takes energy and analytic skills, and after losing Twitter Fight Club 2012, I'm feeling wanting in both.
But, just when it seems like there's nothing I'm capable of blogging about in such a state, along comes Donald Trump.
When we last left The Donald in the world of foreign policy, he was uttering such inane, ignorant statements that I even invented an award in his honor. Today, Politico reports that Trump offered the following opinion on Laura Ingraham's radio show:
I happen to think that the President is going to start a war with Iran. I think it will be a short-term popular thing to do, and I think he’s going to do that for political reasons, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know if anyone says this as openly, but I think he’s going to start a war with Iran. And, that will be short-term popular. If you remember Bush, Bush was unbeatable for about two months, and then all of the sudden the world set in when he attacked Iraq. And he went from very popular to not popular at all. But I think that Obama will start in some form a war with Iran, and I think that will make him very popular for a short period of time. That will make him hard to beat also.
Now I could go on a long-winded rant about Trump's stupidity, but I think it's more fun to treat this as a challenge to my readers. See, it's not just that Trump makes a few errors in that paragraph, it's that with one partial exception, every single statement he just said was factually wrong.
So, rather than ask my readers to point out the myriad ways in which Donald Trump is in error, here's my challenge -- what sentence in the above paragraph contains the most truth value?
Get to it, dear readers -- while I go search for Advil.
UPDATE: So I see that Trump has said other controversial things today. I will leave it to readers to judge whether the veracity of his later comments are greater than his foreign-policy musings.
Amid a series of bloody and troubling episodes in Afghanistan that have inflamed Afghan opinion against the United States, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are now calling for a reassessment of American policy there — suggesting that it may be time to withdraw troops sooner than the Obama administration has planned....
Mr. Romney has said he would rely on advice from military commanders for his Afghanistan policy, adding last summer that it was “time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, as soon as our generals think it’s O.K.” He has also said he would not negotiate with the Taliban.
“He’s definitely given himself wiggle room,” Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, said of Mr. Romney’s policy toward the country.
What’s more clear, Mr. Drezner added, is growing public opposition to a conflict some once described as “the good war.”
“There’s no question that there has been a rising tide of, ‘Why are we in this conflict now,’ ” he said. “And so as much as Republicans might want to sound hawkish, it’s tough to sound hawkish on a conflict where your rationale for being there has evaporated.”
“That said,” he added, “remember that these guys are fighting for hard-core G.O.P. primary voters,” some of whom believe the United States should fight until victory. (emphasis added)
To elaborate on my point here -- American public opinion on wars is a fickle thing when it comes to war. By and large, the primary metric that Americans use to gauge their support for military statecraft is whether the operation appears to be successful. There's a "halo effect" comes from successful uses of force - they are deemed successful regardless of public attitudes prior to and during the conflict. In the case of the 2011 Libyan intervention, for example, A July 2011 CNN poll found 35% support for U.S. military action, with 60% opposed. A month later, with the fall of Tripoli, 54% supported the operation and 43% opposed it. Military victory can create its own supporters.
So, when a conflict drags on, Americans tend to split into two camps -- those that write off the possibility of victory and demand an immediate termination to the conflict, and those that want to double down to achieve victory -- but will favor withdrawal if a "surge" or other strategy to fight the war more aggressively is off the table. This split was observed in Vietnam, in Iraq, and Afghanistan. What's happening in Afghanistan right now is that the hawkish camp is starting to conclude that the gloves aren't coming off -- and therefore withdrawal is better than the status quo. Gingrich and Santorum are just following that shift in public opinion.
Since they're not gonna win, they have that luxury. Presidents and possible future presidents have additional constraints. Even if withdrawal is the right political and strategic move, there are other considerations -- alliance politics, exiting in as non-chaotic a manner as possible, and so forth. This is why Romney, who will likely get the GOP nomination, issued his wiggle-room-statement.
The same goes for the Obama administration's response, as today's broadsheets are a bit unclear about next steps. The New York Times story is headlined, "U.S. Officials Debate Speeding Afghan Pullout," while the Washington Post goes with "Despite challenges in Afghanistan, U.S. determined to stick to exit strategy."
Bear all of this in mind, by the way, as the debate about what to do on Iran continues. I know the polling appears to show majority support for military action against that country's nuclear program, but there are some significant caveats:
1) It's a bare majority;
2) The moment a "diplomatic and economic action" option is introduced, support for force collapses down to the teens;
3) The polls are based on Iran going balls out to develop a nuclear weapon -- which, according to U.S. intelligence, is not necessarily occurring; and
4) It's not going to be hard for doves to bring up Afghanistan and Iraq as a way to blunt any enthusiasm/expectation for a quick strike.
Rick Santorum made some headlines over the weekend about calling President Obama a "snob" because POTUS ostensibly wants all Americans to get a four-year college degree. Here's the clip:
Now, most commentators are focusing on the "snob" comment or the broader thrust of Santorum's jeremiad against higher education or whether this will play in Michigan. I want to focus on the idiocy contained in the first part of Santorum's comment. This is important, because ostensibly one of Santorum's policy strengths is that he knows and likes manufacturing.
In the opening parts of the clip, Santorum says as follows:
I know what it means to have those manufacturing jobs at that entry level to get you in there, and it gives you the opportunity to accumulate more skills over time and rise, so you can provide a better standard of living for your family. And those opportunities are for working men and women -- not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands.
What's disturbing about this bit is that Santorum's ideas about manufacturing employment are so outdated. For an example, take a good, long look at Adam Davisdon's excellent essay in The Atlantic about how American manufacturing looks today. He zeroes in on two workers -- Maddie and Luke. Maddie is exactly the kind of worker Santorum wants to talk about -- a low-level worker with aspirations to move up. But read this part:
The last time I visited the factory, Maddie was training a new worker. Teaching her to operate the machine took just under two minutes. Maddie then spent about 25 minutes showing her the various instructions Standard engineers have prepared to make certain that the machine operator doesn’t need to use her own judgment. “Always check your sheets,” Maddie says.
By the end of the day, the trainee will be as proficient at the laser welder as Maddie. This is why all assembly workers have roughly the same pay grade—known as Level 1—and are seen by management as largely interchangeable and fairly easy to replace. A Level 1 worker makes about $13 an hour, which is a little more than the average wage in this part of the country. The next category, Level 2, is defined by Standard as a worker who knows the machines well enough to set up the equipment and adjust it when things go wrong. The skilled machinists like Luke are Level 2s, and make about 50 percent more than Maddie does.
For Maddie to achieve her dreams—to own her own home, to take her family on vacation to the coast, to have enough saved up so her children can go to college—she’d need to become one of the advanced Level 2s. A decade ago, a smart, hard-working Level 1 might have persuaded management to provide on-the-job training in Level-2 skills. But these days, the gap between a Level 1 and a 2 is so wide that it doesn’t make financial sense for Standard to spend years training someone who might not be able to pick up the skills or might take that training to a competing factory.
It feels cruel to point out all the Level-2 concepts Maddie doesn’t know, although Maddie is quite open about these shortcomings. She doesn’t know the computer-programming language that runs the machines she operates; in fact, she was surprised to learn they are run by a specialized computer language. She doesn’t know trigonometry or calculus, and she’s never studied the properties of cutting tools or metals. She doesn’t know how to maintain a tolerance of 0.25 microns, or what tolerance means in this context, or what a micron is (emphasis added).
It should be noted that Luke didn't get a four-year college degree either -- he went to community college. But that's actually consistent with what Obama has been saying on this issue. I'm not sure it's consistent with Santorum's worldview. Indeed, his notion that career advancement in manufacturing is possible simply through the sweat and skill of a person's brow is badly, badly antiquated. Which is something he would know if he, um... studied the issue a bit more.
UPDATE: I see Santorum's run of not-understanding-a-lot-of-economics continues.
Mitt Romney's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal is devoted to China policy. Let's take a read, shall we?
Barack Obama is moving in precisely the wrong direction [on responding to China's rise]. The shining accomplishment of the meetings in Washington this week with Xi Jinping—China's vice president and likely future leader—was empty pomp and ceremony.
President Obama came into office as a near supplicant to Beijing, almost begging it to continue buying American debt so as to finance his profligate spending here at home. His administration demurred from raising issues of human rights for fear it would compromise agreement on the global economic crisis or even "the global climate-change crisis." Such weakness has only encouraged Chinese assertiveness and made our allies question our staying power in East Asia.
Now, three years into his term, the president has belatedly responded with a much-ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia, a phrase that may prove to be as gimmicky and vacuous as his "reset" with Russia. The supposed pivot has been oversold and carries with it an unintended consequence: It has left our allies with the worrying impression that we left the region and might do so again.
The pivot is also vastly under-resourced. Despite his big talk about bolstering our military position in Asia, President Obama's actions will inevitably weaken it. He plans to cut back on naval shipbuilding, shrink our Air Force, and slash our ground forces. Because of his policies and failed leadership, our military is facing nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
This is interesting because it's the first time I've seen a GOP candidate try to respond substantively to the "pivot". And, in my book, the criticism that Obama was too much of a supplicant to China in the first part of his term is actually a fair one. Unfortunately, things fall apart after that.
First, Asian allies were worried about the U.S. presence in the region because of the priority the Bush administration placed on the global war on terror, followed by the 2008 financial crisis. Obama had little or nothing to do with it.
Second, it's important and revealing that Romney only talked about the narrow, military part of the pivot. Left unmentioned were the diplomatic components (joining the East Asia Summit, interceding on the South China Sea, warming relations with Myanmar, tripartite between the U.S., Australia and India) as well as the economic components (ratifying the FTA with South Korea, signing the framework agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership). This is important, because any U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region has to be a full-spectrum approach, while Romney seems peculiarly obsessed with shipbuilding.
Third, the primary message Obama has been sending to Xi has been saying that China "don't play by the rules." Which, coincidentally enough, is exactly the same thing Romney says in the op-ed.
In the economic arena, we must directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation. While I am prepared to work with Chinese leaders to ensure that our countries both benefit from trade, I will not continue an economic relationship that rewards China's cheating and penalizes American companies and workers.
Unless China changes its ways, on day one of my presidency I will designate it a currency manipulator and take appropriate counteraction. A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender. (emphasis added)
The bolded section represents the only portion of the op-ed in which Romney even hints that he might cooperate with China. The rest of it is pretty silly. It's ludicrous for Romney to claim he doesn't want a trade war in the same breath that he promises "day one" action against China. No wonder conservatives are labeling Romney's China policy as "blaringly anti-trade."
To be blunt, this China policy reads like it was composed by the Hulk. Maybe this will work in the GOP primary, but Romney and his China advisors should know better.
Andrew Sullivan has a Newsweek cover story designed to
best allocate Tina Brown's resources or to wave a big red flag at conservatives make the case that Obama's tortoise-like strategy of slow but steady, focusing on the long haul, has left his excitable hare-like critics on the left and the right launching fantasy-based and not reality-based critiques of his administration. Or, as he puts it: "The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong."
This has triggered the predictable reactions around the blogosphere, as well as Sullivan's responses. One of the biggest perks of blogging at FP is that I rarely wade into those shark-infested waters anymore. I have more than a passing interest in Obama's foreign policy, however, so I'm going to focus only on the foreign policy portions of Sullivan's take and see if they hold up to empirical scrutiny. Here are the key excerpts on his pushback against the right:
On foreign policy, the right-wing critiques have been the most unhinged. Romney accuses the president of apologizing for America, and others all but accuse him of treason and appeasement. Instead, Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further. If George Bush had taken out bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now. But where Bush talked tough and acted counterproductively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war. Since he took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted.
Obama’s foreign policy, like Dwight Eisenhower’s or George H.W. Bush’s, eschews short-term political hits for long-term strategic advantage. It is forged by someone interested in advancing American interests—not asserting an ideology and enforcing it regardless of the consequences by force of arms. By hanging back a little, by “leading from behind” in Libya and elsewhere, Obama has made other countries actively seek America’s help and reappreciate our role. As an antidote to the bad feelings of the Iraq War, it has worked close to perfectly.
OK, so how did Sullivan do?
He has the facts on his side with respect to the BS about Obama apologizing for America. This has been a standard line when the GOP candidates talk foreign policy and it's total horses**t. Sullivan's comparison of Obama to George H.W. Bush and Dwight Eisenhower on foreign policy also makes sense. The emerging strategic narrative of this administration is a shift in foreign policy resources from the Middle East to the Pacific Rim, and realist-friendly presidents like Bush 41 and Eisenhower would approve.
That said... arguing that George W. Bush "ignored" bin Laden seems like a gross exaggeration -- even if many of Bush's anti-terrorism policies were counterproductive. More importantly, the notion that Libya somehow "counteracted" Iraq is a problematic formulation. It's far from clear whether Obama has been "winning the broader propaganda war" in the Middle East. Don't take my word for it, however -- here's PIPA's Steven Kull:
The picture is mixed. With the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda is weaker. With revolutions in several Arab countries, frustrations with unpopular autocratic governments - a recruiting theme for terrorist groups - have been mitigated. But one important contributing factor has not improved - widespread anger at America in the Muslim world. While views have improved in Indonesia, throughout the Middle East and South Asia, hostility toward the United States persists unabated.
This does not read like a victory in the propaganda war.
OK, what about Sullivan's foreign policy rebuttal to the left? Here's the key excerpt
This is where the left is truly deluded. By misunderstanding Obama’s strategy and temperament and persistence, by grandstanding on one issue after another, by projecting unrealistic fantasies onto a candidate who never pledged a liberal revolution, they have failed to notice that from the very beginning, Obama was playing a long game.... He has done it with the Israeli government over stopping the settlements on the West Bank—and with the Iranian regime, by not playing into their hands during the Green Revolution, even as they gunned innocents down in the streets.
Hmmm.... I'll be honest, I have no idea what Sullivan is talking about with respect to Israel. Ironically, Israel is one of the areas where the left and right agree that Obama has made a hash of things (albeit for different reasons). First, it's not clear to me at all how Obama's policies have made it more likely that settlement construction will be halted on the West Bank. Second, stepping back further, one could argue that Obama's greatest strategic miscalculation was his belief that the Israel/Palestinian issue was the fulcrum through which one can understand the problems of the region. Third, Israel/Palestine is precisely the area where a long-term, slow-game approach carries the biggest risks. Long-term demographic and political pressures make a two-state deal less likely over time.
Iran is a counterfactual question. Indeed, it's the favorite counterfactual question of the GOP 2012 presidential candidates. It allows the candidates to portray Obama as weak, claim he botched things without any proof that the United States could have influenced the outcome, and promise that they would have handled it differently, which we'll never know in a non-multiverse world. Still, while Obama has succeeded in applying more economic pressure on Iran than is commonly appreciated, I don't see this regime going anywhere.
So, how does Sullivan do? He makes some valid points, but he proffers some serious whoppers as well. This is far from a slam-dunk empirical refutation of Obama's critics. As a George H.W. Bush kind of foreign policy guy, I wanted Sullivan to empirically and logically eviscerate the more hysterical foreign policy critics out there. He didn't.
I'm at a stage in my career when reporters will occasionally call or e-mail me for an "expert" opinion on something. I've gotten better at refusing those requests when I'm not really an expert but just a snarky blogger. Still, even when I can claim expertise, I don't always do that great of a job.
To see what I mean, consider this New York Times front-pager by Mark Landler and Annie Lowrey on President Obama's proposed reorganization of foreign economic policy agencies. I'm quoted accurately in this story -- but I'm not quoted fully.
To explain, here's the key bits of the article:
Mr. Obama called on lawmakers to grant him broad new powers to propose mergers of agencies, which Congress would then have to approve or reject in an up-or-down vote. If granted the authority, he said, he would begin pruning by folding the Small Business Administration and five other trade and business agencies into a single agency that would replace the Commerce Department....
Despite regular vows by presidents to overhaul government — Mr. Obama made one in his State of the Union address last January — few have followed through. Those who did, like Richard M. Nixon, often met with failure. Scholars have mixed feelings about such reorganizations, with some arguing that they rarely lead to lower head counts, more effective departments or savings.
“My gut tells me those benefits will end up being much smaller than advertised, and the costs much larger,” said Steven M. Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, pointing to the time wasted during the consolidation and the changed political dynamic between the agencies and Congress.
But experts on government efficiency applauded the initiative, saying it was overdue, and some analysts said it made sense to combine agencies involved in business development, foreign investment and trade promotion into a single department with the mandate to promote American exports.
“If you look at American exports, it’s dominated by big business,” said Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University. “If you want small and medium enterprises to get more involved in exporting” — a goal of the Obama administration — “having small business and the trade office in the same agency makes sense,” he said. “So this could be a boon for that.”
Now, based on that quote, you might think that I'm pretty enthusiastic about this initiative. If, however, you checked my initial tweets about this proposal, you would notice a lot more agreement with what Stephen Teles said in the paragraphs above me. My instant assessment was that this was one of those "reorganizing government" initiatives that makes a lot of sense in the abstract but probably leads to more transition costs than long-term benefits. Indeed, the first thing that came to mind could be summed up in four words: Department of Homeland Security.
So what gives? This is what happens when I talk to reporters. I had a long chat with Annie Lowrey during which I listed A) the various ways in which Congress won't go for this; and B) why merging different organizational cultures will likely be a big mess. Lowrey then asked me if there was any rationale for this kind of reorganization. At which point I said what was quoted in the paper of record.
Now if you know my views about the National Export Initiative, you'll see I don't hold out much hope of this accomplishing anything. Still, to repeat, Lowrey's quote of me is completely accurate, and it is a decent motivation for this kind of initiative.
This is one of those mismatches between reporters and experts. It's not really the reporter's job to convey the full gist of a conversation with an expert. This story isn't "What Dan Drezner The Expert Thinks About Something," after all. Still, this is often the natural expectation of many experts, because we think about the entire conversation, not just one part of it. Furthermore, it's an expectation that, despite multiple occurences like this, stubbornly persists in my brain. So the impulse to develop disciplined talking points and not stray from them has never developed.
Why? Because I like answering questions fully, or trying to, anyway. That's why I got a doctorate, and why I became a professor. This impulse, by the way, is why so many experts loathe presidential debates. The candidates are usually too savvy to directly answer a question. Rather, they are being tested on their ability to pivot from the question that's asked to the talking point that is closest to that question.
This is a long-winded way of saying that what I said in the Times was the truth but not the whole truth. And that the odds are good that I'm probably going find myself in this situation again. And that's OK -- one of the perks of having this blog is that when this sort of thing happens, I can ramble my way to a more fuller explanation of my views.
So check out David Rothkopf for a full-throated defense of Obama's proposal. Despite my quote in the Times, you're not going to see one here.
UPDATE: Now this is fascinating. The Anchorage Daily News runs a version of the Times story -- except that the ADN version has much fuller quotes from more experts. The relevant portion:
One government efficiency expert, Jitinder Kohli, applauded the move.
"These efforts to rationalize government are long overdue, frankly," said Kohli, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. "In fiscally tight times, it's even more important to think carefully about how to deliver savings — and that includes making websites easier to use, providing single points of entry and streamlining."
"In the world of business, reorganization happens all the time, for good reason," Kohli added. "The world changes around businesses, and businesses change to better serve the world. But the government is far, far less nimble."
Still, a body of research throws cold water on the notion that such reorganization leads to lower head counts, more effective departments or cost savings.
"The most important considerations are the costs in wasted time while they do the reorganization, how this changes the politics of the affected agencies in relation to Congress and other executive branch agencies, and how specific the purported benefits of consolidation are," said Steven M. Teles, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. "My gut tells me those benefits will end up being much smaller than advertised, and the costs much larger."
Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts, said "This is one of those ideas that looks great in abstract. But you're talking about merging the organizational cultures of five or six agencies. It takes a long time for efficiencies and synergies to work out. They're not going to play well for a while."
Nonetheless, Drezner said that having a single body devoted to export promotion made sense.
"If you look at American exports, it's dominated by big business," he said. "If you want small and medium enterprises to get more involved in exporting" — a goal of the Obama administration — "having small business and the trade office in the same agency makes sense. So this could be a boon for that."
Susan C. Schwab, who served as a U.S. trade representative during the Bush administration, agreed that the move might improve export promotion. But she said that it might do so at the expense of broader trade policy.
"You'd take a small, very efficient agency and have it totally swallowed up by this behemoth," said Schwab, who is now a professor of public policy the University of Maryland. "From a trade policy perspective, it makes no sense at all."
Schwab added, "Trade policy involves so many different sectors of the economy, and U.S. interests. It's foreign policy. It's manufacturing. It is services, agriculture, consumers, labor, the environment, intellectual property."
An agency without a strong trade representative, she said, could end up giving "short shrift" to some concerns.
Had this been the version that the Times ran, I wouldn't have bothered blogging about this, because my quotes were both accurate and captured to gist of what I was saying.
Of course, this is a longer story, which reminds me that sometimes it's not the reporter that has mismatched incentives -- it's the editor worried about length.
The New York Times' Roger Cohen files an optimistic column today, arguing that predictions of American decline are premature. I tend to agree with Cohen's sentiment but not his logic because, well, it's God-awful. Here's the key bits:
Perhaps the most successful U.S. chief executive of the past decade is stepping down this month. Samuel Palmisano of I.B.M. has presided over a remarkable transformation of the technology giant, extracting it from the personal computer business and shifting it toward services and software to power a “Smarter Planet.”
In a fascinating interview with my colleague Steve Lohr, Palmisano said the first of the four questions in his guiding business framework was, “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?” At root, business is still about getting money out of your pocket into mine. By being unsentimental in making I.B.M. unique, Palmisano ensured a lot of money flowed the company’s way.
Profits followed. The stock price surged. Warren Buffett, who knows which way the wind blows, recently acquired a stake of more than 5 percent. I.B.M. has been re-imagined, not least in the way it has shifted from being a U.S. multinational to a global corporation powered by rapid expansion in growth markets like India and China.
The question arises: If an American colossus like I.B.M. can be turned around, can America itself? (emphasis added)
A small aside: if Cohen's logic is correct, then the 2012 election is over and everyone should vote for Mitt Romney. This kind of ruthless turnaround is exactly what Romney did while at Bain. While his track record can be disputed, there's no doubt that he was willing to be ruthless to increase profits. So, whether he knows it or not, Cohen is making the argument that a turnaround specialist like Romney would be just the ticket for the United States, transforming America's political economy into a leaner, more efficient engine for progress.
The thing is -- and this is kind of important -- governments are not corporations. I cannot stress this enough. There's the obvious point that in democracies, legislatures tend to impose a more powerful constraint than shareholders, making it that much harder for leaders to execute the policies they think will be the most efficient.
There's also the deeper point that it's a lot harder for governments to be "unsentimental" when it comes to the provision of public services. It's a lot harder for states to eliminate the functions that are less efficient. Frequently, demand for government services emerges because of the perception that the private sector has fallen down on the job in that area. This means that the government has been tasked with doing the things that are difficult and unprofitable to do. It is precisely because these government outputs are often so hard to measure that Newt Gingrich's claims about Six Sigma sound pretty laughable. Even libertarians who want the government to reduce its operations drastically will acknowledge the political risks and costs of trying to execute this plan.
To be fair, there are some policy dimensions where this analogy holds up better. Cohen implicitly argues that America's willingness to jettison costly and inefficient foreign ventures -- cough, Iraq, cough -- is an example of this kind of turnaround strategy. Fair enough. Even on foreign policy, however, it's hard to execute this kind of ruthless efficiency. Israel is prosperous enough to not need the $3 billion it gets in U.S. aid. Good luck to anyone trying to cut that. Africa is not a vital strategic areas of interest for the United States, but I suspect AFRICOM isn't going anywhere. I've been a big fan of getting the United States out of Central Asia, but critics make a fair point when they observe that the last time the United States tried this gambit, Al Qaeda took advantage of it.
There's been a lot of bragging in the 2012 primary about candidates that have "real world" business experience, and how that translates into an effective ability to govern. That logic is horses**t. Being president is a fundamentally different job than being a CEO -- because countries are not corporations.
Ross Douthat had a great column to start the new year, offering his own interpretation on the Ron Paul phenomenon. His last few paragraphs:
There’s often a fine line between a madman and a prophet. Perhaps Paul has emerged as a teller of some important truths precisely because in many ways he’s still as far out there as ever.
The United States is living through an era of unprecedented elite failure, in which America’s public institutions are understandably distrusted and our leadership class is justifiably despised. Yet politicians of both parties are required, by the demands of partisanship, to embrace the convenient lie that our problem can be pinned exclusively on the other side’s elites — as though both liberals and conservatives hadn’t participated in the decisions that dug our current hole.
In this climate, it sometimes takes a fearless crank to expose realities that neither Republicans nor Democrats are particularly eager to acknowledge.
In both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, Paul has been the only figure willing to point out the deep continuities in American politics — the way social spending grows and overseas commitments multiply no matter which party is in power, the revolving doors that connect K Street to Congress and Wall Street to the White House, the long list of dubious policies and programs that both sides tacitly support. In both election cycles, his honest extremism has sometimes cut closer to the heart of our national predicament than the calculating partisanship of his more grounded rivals. He sometimes rants, but he rarely spins — and he’s one of the few figures on the national stage who says “a plague on both your houses!” and actually means it.
Obviously it would be better for the country if this message weren’t freighted with Paul’s noxious baggage, and entangled with his many implausible ideas. But would it be better off without his presence entirely? I’m not so sure.
Neither prophets nor madmen should be elected to the presidency. But neither can they safely be ignored (emphases added).
Conor Friedersdorf and Glenn Greenwald take a similar position. Greenwald in particular argues that Paul's positions on foreign policy/national security/civil liberties are so much better than the bipartisan consensus view that Paul's tacit approval of those odious newsletters should be heavily discounted. As Greenwald puts it, progressives who don't support Paul must apparently accept the following preference ordering:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
I'm of two minds about this line of argument. On the one hand, there is no denying that Paul's worldview has helped him to launch a powerful critique on American foreign policy. This can't just be dismissed as "yes, he was right on Iraq, but..." either. As Douthat, Friedersdorf and Greenwald observe, Paul really is the only candidate to bring up these issues
not named Gary Johnson or Jon Hunstman. His hypothesis that the United States has invited some blowback by overly militarizing its foreign policy cannot be easily dismissed.
Think of it this way: Paul is a hedgehog. He knows One Big Thing and uses it to construct his worldview. We know from Philip Tetlock that hedgehogs are less likely to be right when making predictions than foxes -- those people who know a little about a lot of things. Hedgehogs outperform foxes is in getting big macro-consequential events correct, however. We tend to ignore such predictions, however, because hedgehogs usually lack the emotional intelligence necessary to persuade nonbelievers. I want Paul banging on about the dangers of excessive government intrusion and overexpansion. That's not nothing.
Here's the thing, though -- precisely because Paul is a hedgehog, he brings other less-than-desirable qualities to the table. I don't think his intriguing take on foreign policy and civil liberties can be separated from, say, his batshit-insane views about the Federal Reserve. In fact, let me just edit Greenwald's proposed tradeoff so that it's a bit more accurate:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have some Muslim children inadvertently die by covert drones and cluster bombs, and a disproportionate percentage of America’s minorities imprisoned for no good reason, and the CIA taking action with minimal checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers and lots of rhetoric & covert action against Iran that makes Glenn Greenwald hyperventilate in exchange for avoiding a complete and total meltdown of the global economy due to the massive deflation that would naturally follow from a re-constituted gold standard.
I don't like this choice, but it's an easy one to make.
To paraphrase both Douthat and This is Spinal Tap, there's a fine line between prophetic and crazy. I would posit that only someone who fanatically accepted this entire worldview would have been capable of inspiring the Ron Paul movement. Only those leaders with sufficient levels of ideological zeal to never compromise, never bend on principle, until they eventually reach a position of power are able to foment revolution. This kind of zeal requires a singular worldview that might contain some worthwhile elements but is likely also based on some axioms or articles of faith that seem a little nuts and makes the person wrong an awful lot of the time. These kinds of leaders, precisely because they were in the political wilderness, will tend to be supremely convinced in their own rightness if they ever win power.
Ron Paul is great at affecting the marketplace of ideas. He would be worse than Newt Gingrich if he actually became president, however. The great presidents -- Washington, Lincoln, FDR -- knew the when to compromise and when to stand firm, when to lead public opinion and when to follow it. They were, in other words, great politicians. The presidents who simply knew they were right on everything and resisted compromise -- Jackson, Wilson, Bush 43 -- tended towards the disastrous. Paul would be part of the latter group.
So if Ron Paul wants to influence the debate, that's good. He raises important questions about important issues. He's also wrong about some really important issues and therefore should be kept away from the presidency.
Fortunately, as James Hohmann's Politico story suggests today, Paul and his supporters seem to care about the former more than the latter:
As much as anything else, [Paul's] pitch centers on sending a message.
“This is ideological,” he said here late Friday night at his last campaign stop of 2011. “So it isn’t a numbers game. It has to do with determination.”
He paraphrased a Samuel Adams quote, saying, “It doesn’t take a majority to prevail. It takes an irate, determined minority keen on starting the brushfires of liberty in the minds of men.”
“So in many ways, it’s a political revolution to change these ideas, but it’s an intellectual revolution,” Paul explained, wrapping up a nearly hourlong speech. “It’s a change in ideas about economic policy, understanding our traditions about foreign policy, understanding monetary policy. This is where we’re making progress. This is where we have advanced so much over the last couple decades and even in the last four years.”...
Many of his die-hard supporters see him more as an alarm-sounding Paul Revere than a Founding Father.
“I would say its 10 percent campaign, 90 percent a movement,” said Quaitemes Williams, a 26-year-old nursing student who drove from Dallas to volunteer for the full week before the caucuses. “Once you’ve seen the light, you can never go back to the dark. Once you learn about the Federal Reserve and foreign policy, you can’t go back to thinking in the right-left dichotomy.” (emphasis added)
That last quotation, by the way, is part of what I find problematic about the Paul movement. The revolutionary leader worries me -- but the Jacobin followers scare the ever-living crap out of me.
Following up on Newt Gingrich and his assessment of threats, I see that the New York Times has a William J. Broad front-pager on Gingrich's obsession with the possibility of adversaries using an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) against the United States:
[I]t is to the risk of an EMP attack that Mr. Gingrich has repeatedly returned. And while the message may play well to hawkish audiences, who might warm to the candidate’s suggestion that the United States engage in pre-emptive military strikes against Iran and North Korea, many nuclear experts dismiss the threat. America’s current missile defense system would thwart such an attack, these experts say, and the nations in question are at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.
The Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon that maintains an arsenal of ground-based interceptors ready to fly into space and smash enemy warheads, says that defeating such an attack would be as straightforward as any other defense of the continental United States.
“It doesn’t matter if the target is Chicago or 100 miles over Nebraska,” said Richard Lehner, an agency spokesman. “For the interceptor, it’s the same thing.” He called the potential damage from a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack “pretty theoretical.”
Yousaf M. Butt, a nuclear physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who last year did a lengthy analysis of EMP for The Space Review, a weekly online journal, said, “If terrorists want to do something serious, they’ll use a weapon of mass destruction — not mass disruption.” He said, “They don’t want to depend on complicated secondary effects in which the physics is not very clear.”
Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, R. C. Hammond, did not respond to e-mails asking for comment. But the candidate, a former history professor and House speaker, has defended his characterizations as accurate. At a forum in Des Moines on Saturday for military veterans, Mr. Gingrich said an electromagnetic pulse attack was one of several pressing national security threats the United States faced. “In theory, a relatively small device over Omaha would knock out about half the electricity generated in the United States,” he told the veterans.
I'm neither a security expert nor a rocket scientist. After reading Broad's article, the Space Review annalysis, the rebuttal to that analysis, and Sharon Winberger's excellent FP write-up from last year, however, I'm reasonably confident that the threat posed by EMP is remote for the near-to-medium future. The scenarios in which an EMP would affect the United States rely on a) rogue states making serious leaps forward in their ballistic missile technology and nuclear engineering; and b) those same actors deciding that it's in their national interest to launch a first strike against a country with a reliable second-strike nuclear deterrent.
Nevertheless, I can see why Newt Skywalker would be concerned. Most of the taking-EMP-threat seriously essays harp on the devastating effect of such an attack. Surely, Gingrich would argue, even a small possibility of this actually happening justifies at least some investment into countermeasures and preventive actions. Indeed, Gingrich has explicitly made that argument:
Without adequate preparation, its impact would be so horrifying that we would basically lose our civilization in a matter of seconds.... I think it's very important to get people to understand now, before there is a disaster, how truly grave the threat is.*
Fair enough... let's be generous and say there's a 10% chance of this being a real problem over the next two decades. If that's the case, maybe Gingrich is right to bring it up as an underestimated threat.
Here's my question, however. If we're talking about threats to civilization as we know it, isn't there another possibility that has a much higher probability of occurring -- let's say, better than 50% at least -- and a similarly lax amount of preventive action? Like, say, climate change?
As Uri Friedman and Joshua Keating have documented for FP, however, Gingrich's assessment of that threat has changed recently. Last month, on this issue, he said the following:
I actually don't know whether global warming is occurring.... The earth's temperatures go up and down over geologic times over and over again. As recently as 11,000 years ago the Gulf Stream quit for 600 years. And for 600 years you had an ice age in Europe because there was no warm water coming up. And then it started up again. Nobody knows why it quit, nobody knows why it started up. I'm agnostic.
This is fascinating. On the one hand, you have a long-term cataclysmic threat to the planet that commands the consensus of an overwhelming majority of experts in the field. On the other hand, you have a long-term cataclysmic threat to the United States that commands nowhere close to the same level of consensus. Based on his rhetoric, Gingrich wants urgent action to be taken on the latter, but not the former. Why?
I'm not bringing this up to suggest that Gingrich is a buffoon. He could plausibly argue that a lot of people are harping on climate change while only Gingrich can call attention to the EMP possibility. It's possible that the costs of preventive action on climate change are much greater than dealing with EMP (though if that includes preventive attacks on Iran and North Korea, I'm dubious).
What I'm wondering is whether there is a partisan divide in assessing threats, as there is in assessing economic principles. I wonder if conservatives are far more likely to focus on threats in which there is a clear agent with a malevolent intent, whereas liberals are more likely to focus on threats that lack agency and are more systemic in nature (climate change, pandemics, nuclear accidents, etc.)
What do you think?
*Incidentally, this is the same logic I used to justify greater research into the threat posed by the living dead. Just saying....
Foreign policy didn't play much of a role at all in last night's GOP debate, but there were a few telling moments about Newt Gingrich's foreign policy worldview -- telling in that they scared the living crap out of your humble blogger.
The foreign policy portion was devoted entirely to Newt Gingrich's description of the Palestinians an "invented people". Gingrich doubled down during the debate, labeling all Palestinians as terrorists. When pushed by Romney on the wisdom of going further rhetorically than Israel's Likud government on this point, Gingrich fell back on the "I'm speaking blunt truths like Reagan when he called the USSR an 'evil empire'" gambit.
This is pretty odd. Last I checked Israel was a democracy, had a healthy amount of free specch, and has a ruling coalition that seems pretty hardline with respect to the Palestinians. I don't think the Israelis need an American candidate to speak truths to them that their government is hiding.
To be honest, however, that wasn't the scariest part of Gingrich's rhetoric. No, the part that set my hair on edge was during the last question on the night, when the candidates were asked what they'd learned from the other candidates.
Gingrich responded by praising Rick Santorum's "consistency and courage on Iran." He then added:
If we do survive, it will be in part because of people like Rick who've had the courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a long time. (emphasis added)
Now, this was practically a throwaway clause, but still, how can I put this clearly.... this is f***ing insane. Totally, completely, utterly f***ing insane.
Even a nuclear-armed Iran led by the current regime of nutball theocrats cannot threaten America's survival. I get why the United States is concerned about Iran going nuclear, and I get why Israel is really concerned about Iran going nuclear. The only way that developments in Iran could threaten America's survival, however, would be if the US policy response was so hyperbolic that it ignited a general Middle East war that dragged in Russia and China. Which... come to think of it, wouldn't be entirely out of the question under a President Gingrich.
Gingrich's apocalyptic rhetoric will go down well with many neoconservatives and GOP hawks, but to resuscitate a point I've made before:
I'm about to say something that might be controversial for people under the age of 25, but here goes. You know the threats posed to the United States by a rising China, a nuclear Iran, terrorists and piracy? You could put all of them together and they don't equal the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Gingrich, as he is fond of pointing out nowadays, is a 68-year old grandfather and trained as a historian. He should know better than to sound as apocalyptic in his foreign policy statements as the very mullahs he lambasts.
As Andrew Sullivan (the only other debate-watcher who picked up on this line) observed, "Wow. Does Gingrich really believe that the US faces an existential threat from Iran? Or is he running for the Likud party?"
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
In general, I like the bulk of Politico's coverage of campaigns -- as someone who's not a DC insider, I learn a fair amount from their coverage. Every once in a while, however, Politico betrays a worldview that political process is always more important than substance. As someone who appreciates process, there are still limits on this formulation.
Exhibit A for this is today's Jonathan Martin story on What Went Wrong with the Herman Cain Train. This part stood out:
It was in Milwaukee, of course, where Cain struggled to recall his talking point on Libya and served up what’s bound to be one of the campaign’s enduring YouTube moments.
Cain’s unfamiliarity with major foreign policy events can only be partially attributed to his campaign. The underlying problem — that the candidate was even talking to the editors and reporters of a newspaper in a state that doesn’t figure prominently in the nominating process — was the decision of campaign manager Mark Block (emphasis added).
I'd go off on a rant right here, but Jonathan Bernstein has done it for me:
Um, no: the underlying problem is that a candidate for President of the United States doesn't appear to be willing and/or able to converse about basic foreign policy issues at a level that wouldn't embarrass a strong high school student. That isn't Mark Block's fault.
As I noted before, both Rick Perry and Herman Cain were done in by their own incompetencies -- not their staffs. For Politico not to get that is disturbing.
I know I declared a mercy rule on Herman Cain, but two developments have created a one-time exception. First, Cain sent up the first signal that he might drop out of the race. Second, he delivered a foreign policy speech while adding a "paper" and a "brochure" to his campaign website. And I just can't quit Herman Cain -- the man has provided way too much fodder for this blog to simply let him fade away. So, for old time's sake -- one last post!!
There's little in the way of an overarching strategic vision or discussion of cross-cutting issues (
though, to be fair, that could have been in the speech itself which, according to NRO's John J. Miller, "was curiously light on substance."). The paper is really just a list of twenty countries, the labels Herman Cain applies to them, and then a paragraph or two of whatever his interns could find on Wikipedia description. Some examples of the labels:
Mexico: "Friend and Partner"
Canada: "Friend and Ally"
Iran: "Adversary Regime"
Afghanistan: "Strategic Partner"
Pakistan: "Danger and Opportunity"
India: "Strategic Partner"
I'm only disappointed that the Cain campaign wasn't more thorough and imaginative with its countries. Some suggestions:
Chile: "Strategic, mountainous ally"
Turkey: "Sultry Minx"
Saudi Arabia: "Ask John Bolton"
Lebanon: "Good kebabs"
Hawaii: "This one's ours, right?"
Uzbekistan: "Wait, that's a real country?"
As for the countries Cain does talk about, well, some highlights suggest that
outdated Wikipedia entries Cain's staff might have needed another draft:
Germany is a key figure in Europe’s economy. It has risen to the daunting challenge of keeping the euro afloat in troubled financial times – no small feat....
Russia’s insistence on the New START Treaty has put the U.S.A. at a distinct disadvantage, not only relative to Russia, but also to the world’s other nuclear powers.
Mr. Cain sheds no tears for Colonel Gaddafi, who personally ordered the killing of Americans. However, the White House launched the war in Libya under the Obama Doctrine of the “responsibility to protect.” The question now is: “protect whom?” The Libyan rebellion-turned-government has been aided by al Qaeda, and it is dominated by Islamists that have not been friendly to U.S. interests. Also, despite the fact that Libya is more of a vital interest to Europe than it is to America, (Europe buys 90% of Libya’s oil and it would be Europe that would be overwhelmed in any refugee crisis), President Obama spent more than a billion dollars on this adventure and led the initial military action. As president, Mr. Cain will work to bring clarity to the Libyan situation....
Under President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was a friend. With Mubarak shoved out by Arab Spring protests -- with help from President Obama -- Egypt could be a nightmare unfolding.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which was determined to be a terrorist organization under Mubarak, is poised to pick up a sizable number of seats in Parliamentary elections. Though in office too long, at least Mubarak maintained peace with Israel, which polls show 90% of Egyptians oppose. Now we’re seeing the results, with cross-border attacks on Israeli civilians, the ransacking of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, opening up the border to a terrorist organization in Gaza, and open season on Coptic Christians, with churches being burned and mobs on killing sprees.
Egypt is an example of the pressing need for the clarity that Mr. Cain will bring to U.S. foreign policy....
Mr. Cain’s overall strategy for our chief economic competitor is this: Outgrow China. His economic policies will unleash the growth potential of the U.S. economy and transcend the threat from China. (emphasis added)
There's more, but you get the drift. As you can see, for a number of countries, Cain's paper lists concerns and then says Cain will bring "clarity" to the issue -- without saying exactly what that means in terms of policy. In other words, Cain keeps calling for carity in an unclear manner.
In other places, the paper simply gets its facts wrong (cough, Germany, cough) or proposes fantastical solutions (cough, China, cough). There are plenty of other mistakes (check out the Yemen section), but I'll let the readers find them in the comments.
To conclude, Herman Cain managed to hire some of the worst campaign interns ever to produce this dud of a document.
Herman, I swear....
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
I have a long essay in The Spectator (U.K.) on the state of foreign policy thinking among the GOP 2012 presidential candidates. Here's me not pulling my punches:
During the 2008 US presidential election cycle, the respected journal Foreign Affairs invited the leading presidential candidates from both parties to outline their views of world politics. All of them responded with essays that, one presumes, they at least read if did not write. This year, ahead of next year’s elections, Foreign Affairs has proffered the same invitation to the leading Republican aspirants. To date, they have all refused or not responded. This parallels the trend of not talking about international affairs in their endless series of presidential debates: mentions of Afghanistan and Iraq are reported to be down 65 per cent from 2008.
One could argue that these candidates are denying Americans an opportunity to understand their thinking about international relations. Having investigated the policy platforms of the Republican field, however, I have concluded that most of them have done Americans a huge favour. The Grand Old Party candidates’ current thinking on foreign affairs is a noxious mixture of cowardice, belligerence, ignorance — and, unfortunately, political savvy.
Read the whole thing. Two additional thoughts.
1) The Spectator left a few things on the cutting-room floow because of space constraints. For example, the essay fails to mention Jon Hunstman. In my original essay, he did get mentioned in a foootnote after I had slammed the field for the umpteenth time, explaining:
To be fair, former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has demonstrated a superior command of foreign policy issues. He's also polling so badly that he failed to qualify for CNN's October 18 debate. Tim Pawlenty was another candidate who bothered to address the Council on Foreign Relations on global matters; he withdrew from the race in August of this year.
The other thing that got excised was my point that foreign policy and national security used to be a very important compnent of presidential elections:
[A]s an international relations specialist, I find the state of the state of the GOP foreign policy debate to be utterly depressing, but as a political scientist, I'm unsurprised. Still, as an American citizen, this state of affairs is disconcerting on multiple levels. We are not that far removed from elections in which foreign affairs and national security were the crucial issues in a campaign. Gerald Ford sabotaged his 1976 campaign when he insisted that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Both Michael Dukakis and John Kerry doomed their campaigns by appearing weak and vacillating on national security.
2) I haven't overtly talked about my own personal political beliefs since the blog moved to FP, but this seems to be an appropriate time to bring it up
and then never speak of it again. When I've published essays like this before, I find liberals write "even conservative Dan Drezner..." while conservatives often deploy terms like "academic elitist" or "RINO."
In my case, at this point in time, I believe that last appellation to be entirely fair and accurate. I'm not a Democrat, and I don't think I've become more liberal over time. That said, three things have affected my political loyalties over the past few years. First, I've become more uncertain about various dimensions of GOP ideology over time. It's simply impossible for me to look at the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis and not ponder the myriad ways in which my party has made some categorical errors in judgment. So I'm a bigger fan of the politics of doubt during an era when doubt has been banished in political discourse.
Second, the GOP has undeniably shifted further to the right over the past few years, and while I'm sympathetic to some of these shifts, most of it looks like a mutated version of "cargo cult science" directed at either Ludwig Von Mises or the U.S. Constitution (which, of course, is sacred and inviolate, unless conservatives want to amend it). Sorry, I'm not embracing outdated concepts like the gold standard or repealing the 16th Amendment. Not happening.
Third, David Frum wrote something in New York Magazine that touches on the issues I just discussed, but also articlates something that has been nagging at me for a few years now:
The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can’t work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just “wasn’t done.” In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just “weren’t done.” Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren’t done suddenly are done.
Also, things that weren't said are now being said. Or, to be more precise, things that use to be said but ignored are now being taken seroiusly by the GOP's leading lights. Newt Gingrich endorses the notion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview. Mitt Romney claims Obama has been apologizing around the world and no longer believes in American exceptionalism. Herman Cain is [Remember your mercy rule!!--ed.].... Herman Cain. There's good, solid partisanship -- a vital necessity in this country -- and then there's unadulterated horses**t. Too much of the GOP's rhetoric on Obama reads like the latter to me.
So for those reasons, I really am a Republican in Name Only at this point. And I say this for the GOP's benefit. The next time someone writes, "even the Republican Dan Drezner has said...." GOP partisans should feel perfectly entitled to link to this post and call me a RINO. Because it's true.
Having watched the last national security debate ten days ago, tonight's CNN/Heritage/AEI debate felt at times like a stale rerun. Michelle Bachmann trotted out her same ACLU line, Mitt Romney made the same bleats about the American Century, Ron Paul was … Ron Paul.
Having now watched way too many of these suckers, I'm probably far too
inebriated jaded to evaluate these candidates in the same way that a newcomer to their positions would. They still have to appeal to those newcomers, however, so I can't fault them entirely for repeats.
This is a long-winded way of saying that this debate left me in a very sour mood, primarily because of the following:
1) CNN decided to -- yet again -- waste 15 minutes with various forms of opening introductions. That's 15 minutes that could have been devoted to actual questions.
2) Many of the AEI and Heritage think-tankers asked excellent questions, but why did David Addington and Marc Thiessen get to ask questions while Derek Scissors or Sadanand Dhume didn't? The effect was that, after two hours, not one question was asked about China, North Korea, the rest of the Pacific Rim, India, the eurozone, NATO, Egypt, or Russia. That's just horrible debate management on someone's part.
3) All of the leading candidates said something mind-numbingly stupid. Newt Gingrich claimed that if the United States just unleashed the domestic oil drills, the global price for oil would crash within a year. That's a crock. Mitt Romney suggested trying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for genocide. I'm no fan of Ahmadinejad, but... huh? Ron Paul claimed that Israel had sacrificed its sovereignty to the United States, which is an... interesting interpretation of events. He also claimed that all American foreign aid was worthless, which would be news to the Africans not suffering from malaria or tuberculosis.
So, with those provisos, my quick letter grades:
Newt Gingrich: A- Beyond that energy answer, Gingrich was probably the best of the lot, but that was as much due to style as substance. He gave a lot of "we need to be more strategic than tactical" bromides to start, but to be fair, when pushed he gave cogent answers.
Jon Hunstman: A- Huntsman went hard after Romney on the commander-in-chief question, and for much of the night gave the best answers to myriad questions. That said, he also had some surprisingly weak answers at times, like on the use of drones in Pakistan.
Ron Paul: B+ Consistent as always in his approach, and in some ways he offers the most logically coherent foreign policy of the bunch. As a debater, however, he's second rate. Gingrich schooled him on a question regarding homeland security, for example, when I symathize much more with Paul's position.
Michelle Bachmann: B At this point, Michelle Bachmann is a one-trick pony. On Pakistan -- a particularly tough issue -- she gives thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent responses. Everything else is Crazytown. Pakistan took up a large part of the debate, however, so she did well, takin Perry in paticular to task.
Rick Santorum: B He gave a good answer on foreign aid, and cracked a funny joke about agreeing with Ron Paul. Unfortunately, he also said, "Africa was a country on the brink." Oops.
Mitt Romney: B- Any time you screw up your own introduction, it's going to be a bad night. Romney wasn't horrible by any stretch, but he got pushed by Huntsman on civil-military relations and by Gingrich on immigration. Those guys are no Rick Perry. He did rally with a very thoughtful and considered answer on Syria, however.... in which he schooled Rick Perry.
Rick Perry: D At this point, Perry serves mostly as a foil to make other candidates (Paul, Bachmann, Romney) look smarter. Hard to believe this man was the front-runner, ever.
Herman Cain: F The mercy rule is, thankfully, still in effect.
What did you think?
Your humble blogger has just completed writing a long essay on the 2012 candidates and their foreign policy views that will be coming out soon. Readers will be shocked, shocked to learn that it's pretty scathing.
I'm hardly the only person to make this point. When Senator Lindsay Graham is castigating his fellow Republicans, you know there's a problem. FP's own David Rothkopf thinks this is a harbinger of Obama winning re-election. And now the New York Times' Michael Shear reports that the GOP presidential candidates' myriad foreign policy gaffes are starting to embarrass the Republicans' foreign policy wonks:
[T]he embarrassing moments are piling up, and some veteran Republicans are beginning to wonder whether the cumulative effect weakens the party brand, especially in foreign policy and national security, where Republicans have typically dominated Democrats.
“It is an ‘Animal House.’ It’s a food fight,” said Kenneth Duberstein, a chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan. “Honestly, the Republican debates have become a reality show. People have to be perceived as being capable of governing this country, of being the leader of the free world.” ....
[S]ome veterans of past Republican administrations said the candidates’ national security stumbles could have a more lasting impact on how voters perceive the party in the future.
“This is the core of the Republican brand. You mess with it at your peril,” said Peter Feaver, a national security official under President George W. Bush. He compared the foreign policy flubs to reports about safety problems in Toyota vehicles.
“The whole reason you bought a Toyota was so that you didn’t have those problems,” he said. “It cuts directly to the essence of the brand. Republicans should be concerned about this.”
George W. Bush confronted some of the same concerns in his party during his 2000 campaign, especially after he was unable to name the leader of Chechnya, Taiwan, India or Pakistan. But Mr. Bush surrounded himself with veteran Republican foreign policy advisers who helped reassure the doubters.
Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, said that “in the short run, you can do some damage to the so-called brand,” but he said long-term damage would happen only if the party’s presidential nominee made such mistakes.
“The key thing is the nominee,” Mr. Wehner said. “One worries, if you are a Republican, if you get too many statements like this.”
Mr. Wehner said many of the Republican candidates had demonstrated a “pride in ignorance and a lack of knowledge.” But he predicted that voters would not reward those kinds of appeals during the primaries and caucuses.
Peter is a good friend, and I don't like to see him this anguished in print, so let me say that for once I agree with Peter Wehner. Six months from now, when we know who the GOP nominee will be, I suspect a lot of the ignorance on display right now will be forgotten.
I say this because, oddly enough, even before a vote has been cast, the political ecosystem actually seems to be working. Sure, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have had their moments in the sun -- and then the media reported on them, and people actually listened to what they were saying. At which point, they crashed and burned. They didn't only crash and burn because of their foreign policy gaffes -- but I don't think they helped.
I can understand if international observers look at what's been said and gasp in horror at the American process of selecting a major party nominee. In the end, however, the difference between the system now and the system fifty years ago is that nowadays someone like Cain can enter the race. Before, the barriers to entry would have been higher. Now, the barriers to entry are low, but the crucible of the campaign is far more fierce. So people like Cain or Bachmann can enter and then be destroyed.
At this juncture, it looks like Mitt Romney is the most likely nominee, and he's also the candidate who's done the most heavy lifting in thinking about foreign policy. There's a lot of stuff to criticize in his foreign policy views, to be sure -- but that's true of Barack Obama as well. Romney does pass the test of someone whohas some background knowledge about the world, and someone who has actually bothered to think about the subject. Post-primary, that will be the foreign policy brand of the GOP.
[And if it's not Romney?--ed. Then it's Newt Gingrich, who, again, has demonstrated a little knowledge about foreign affairs. Throw in Rick Santorum and Jon Hunstman as wild card candidates yet to have their bubble. Huntsman clearly knows foreign affairs, and that's also been Santorum's strength in the debates.]
Don't worry, Peter -- the wheel is turning.
For the record, I don't think Herman Cain is stupid. I do think he's willfully ignorant about anything to do with foreign policy however. If that wasn't manifestly obvious prior to this weekend, please watch the following conversation between Cain and the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal editorial board regarding Libya:
I have a personal preference that ignoramuses should be drummed out of presidential politics as quickly as possible, but that was just painful to watch. Needless to say, I don't think the boning up is helping all that much.
I don't care if this man is leading the polls in Iowa, or is still running a strong second (or a weak third) in the national polls. I suspect he's on the downside of his popularity bubble -- and for the sake of my own sanity, I just can't pay any more attention to Herman Cain's foreign policy views.
There's a mercy rule in Little League, and I'm applying it here -- unless and until Herman Cain surges back in the polls again, or manages to muster something approaching cogency in his foreign policy statements, there's no point in blogging about him anymore. I can only pick on an ignoramus so many times before it feels sadistic.
Tonight's CBS/National Journal debate was the first to be on broadcast television, and was devoted to national security and foreign policy. Out of a sense of duty to you, dear readers, your humble blogger
downed a lot of vodka watched the whole thing, and is ready to offer my grades.
Before talking about the individual candidates, I'll say this -- I've been rather harsh on the GOP 2012 field, and, to be honest, most of them did better than I expected in this debate. I didn't expect much, but still: kudos to the campaign staffers, because everyone seemed better briefed on foreign policy than in past debates (On the other hand, I note that none of the candidates said a single good thing about Barack Obama's foreign policy. I wasn't expecting hosannahs or anything, but the man is polling at 60% approval on this front).
A big fail to CBS and National Journal for having a 90-minute debate that was only aired for 60 minutes on television. The webcasts were bad, with lots of glitches on both sites. As for Major Garrett and Scott Pelley, they did OK, but John Harwood and Maria Bartiromo outclassed them this week.
In alphabetical order:
Michelle Bachmann: She kept her crazy pretty contained for much of the night, but it escaped for two big whoppers. The first was when she said, "The table is being set for a worldwide nuclear war with Israel." The second was when she expressed a desire for the United States to adopt China's welfare system (or lack thereof). Grade: D.
Herman Cain: The worst debate performance of the night. Slow, rambling, evasive, and contradictory. His answer on torture contradicted itself inside of 30 seconds; his Pakistan response was a total dodge. His solution on Iran -- energy independence! -- would be like suggesting that the appropriate response to a rising China would be to move all Americans to Mars. Both activities will take the same length of time. Grade: F.
Newt Gingrich: He had a pretty good answer on Pakistan, and was consistent -- albeit disturbing -- on the assassination of Americans working for Al Qaeda. That said, Gingrich's "I'm smarter than everyone else" schtick wears thin fast. I say this as someone who encounters academics on a daily basis. Gingrich gives off the same insufferable mien of academics who think they're much smarter and more knowledgable than they actually are. Grade: B.
Jon Hunstman: Not surprisingly, the former ambassador gave the clearest and most coherent answers of the evening. He pushed back the others on staying in Afghanistan, and correctly pushed back Romney on taking China to the WTO. If foreign policy was really important to the GOP, he'd be the frontrunner, and it wouldn't be close. Grade: A.
Ron Paul: The contrast between Paul and the rest of the field was magnified during this debate. As someone who thinks that Paul is too dovish at times, I thought he did a very good job, and got quite passionate on questions of torture. Also -- and I think this is a first -- he got through the entire debate without mentioning the Federal Reserve. Grade: A-.
Rick Perry: Compared to his other debate performances, it was OK. Compared to what I'm expecting a commander-in-chief to demonstrate, it was again way below the bar. Perry proposed zero-based budgeting for foreign aid and a lot of other areas of the government; I wonder if he knows that the first president to embrace that idea was Jimmy Carter. Then there were odd word choices. China has to "change their virtues"? He invented the word "forewithal." And he was lucky that the end of the telecast cut off his attempt at an answerr on the euro, because it was not going to go well. Grade: C.
Mitt Romney: Romney has perfected the art of sounding firm and resolute in his first sentence of any response on foreign policy, and then, with the next sentence, inserting enough hedges and qualifications to give himself tremendous wiggle room. He demonstrated decent knowledge for the most part, and had another strong debate. Grade: B+.
Rick Santorum: I can recall quite clearly that Santorum have a decent answer on Pakistan at some point. Beyond that, all I can remember was his whinging about not getting asked enough questions. Grade: C+
Offer your own grades/assessments in the comments.
Apparently the organizers of tomorrow's GOP foreign policy debate asked David Frum to submit ten questions to ask. For the record, no one asked me... sniff.... really I'll be fine... but that doesn't mean I can't offer some of my own. Here would be my top 10 questions:
1) In the last debate, all of you declared that the United States should not help out Italy or other eurozone countries plagued by sovereign debt crises. If these economies received rescue funds from China instead, would that undermine U.S. national security?
2) Many of you on the dias have declared that there should be no daylight between Israel and the United States. Israeli officials have repeatedly and formally requested that Jonathan Pollard's sentence be commuted for spying for Israel. As president, will you accede to this Israeli request?
3) In previous debates, many of you have warned about the dangers of a debased dollar. At the same time, many of you have also complained that China is undervaluing its currency vis-a-vis the dollar to augment its economic growth. Which issue do you believe is more important to America's economic strength?
4) Why should the United States pay any dues to the United Nations? Do you all agree with Governor Perry that the U.S. should reconsider those dues payments?
5) The Doha round of world trade talks has stalled out, and bilateral free-trade agreements have proliferated in recent years. As the president of the world's largest economy, what approach would you favor to promote greater trade liberalization?
6) The United States recently dispatched 100 military advisors to Uganda in an attempt to subdue the Lord's Resistance Army. What criteria would you use, as president, to decide when to use American force for the purpose of humanitarian intervention?
7) Many of you have complained about illegal immigration flows during the campaign, but the hard data suggests that these flows have slowed dramatically over the past few years. What is the appropriate amount of effort to devote to this issue?
8) What steps would you take, as president, to ensure that elements of the Pakistani government cease supporting violent non-state actors in Afghanistan and India?
9) Many of you have criticized the Obama administration for ignoring military advice on troop decisions in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the pre-war debate with respect to Iraq, however, the Bush administration rejected troop estimates from Army Chief of Staff (and now Secretary for Veterans Affairs) Eric Shinseki. When would you be prepared to overrule the advice you receive from the military?
10) Who, in your opinion, was the greatest foreign policy president in American history besides Ronald Reagan, and why?
Commenters are heartily encouraged to offer their foreign policy questions in the comments.
The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper reads through the fine print of a G-20 pool report:
President Obama] entered the room at 1:15 and took to his left, heading to Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. They chatted for a few seconds before British Prime minister David Cameron joined them. Hard to understand what they were saying amid the cameras noise. POTUS then took a stroll to Australian Premier Julia Gillard who got a hug as European president Herman van Rompuy, European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan were watching. Eventually the Europeans got a handshake but Erdogan got the hug treatment....
Isn't this whole scene pretty standard for President Obama? The Europeans get a handshake and the Islamist Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gets a hug (emphasis by Halper).
-- Halper's colleague at the Weekly Standard -- goes further, tweeting this anecdote as an example of Obama "hugging enemies, abandoning allies."
Yeah, I can't believe that Obama is hugging the personification of an America enemy like, like... a NATO treaty ally's head of government. The same country that helped to bankroll the Libya anti-Gadhafi movement and is now creating an enclave for the Free Syrian Army.
Yes, Erdogan has clearly made life difficult for another ally -- Israel. On the other hand, lots of America's allies make life difficult for other American allies (see: Gibraltar). That doesn't mean Turkey automatically gets its ally label revoked. If you look at the larger balance sheet of American interests, Turkey under Erdogan has been neither an enemy like Iran nor a frenemy like Pakistan. It's been occasonally aggravating, but really, when it comes to the global political economy, western European leaders like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have been way more aggravatiing.
So, yes, Michael Goldfarb has clearly gone Vizzini on the word "enemy."
To take a step back here, however, Goldfarb's language raises an some interesting observations. first, there's an awful lot of "friend/enemy" distinctions being made among GOP foreign policy commentators. That's the one takeaway from Herman Cain's foreign policy statements to date. The distinction sometimes useful -- from an American perspective, India is a friend but not an ally, while Pakistan is the reverse. Still, by and large, friends and allies do overlap a lot. Does this kind if language indicate a new GOP embrace of Carl Schmitt's worldview?
Second, to be blunt about it, is Israel now America's ally uber alles? If other countries disagree with Israel, does that mean, in Goldfarb's eyes, that they no longer qualify as either friend or ally? Are there any other of America's friends that fall into this super-special status? I really want to know.
My latest Bloggingheads diavlog is with NSN's Heather Hurlburt. We discuss Greece, Palestinian recognition, and the state of the foreign policy debate among the GOP 2012 candidates.
Given those topics, be warned: I might have been liberal in my use of profanity in the diavlog below.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.