As someone who had a little fun at President Obama's expense with a slight rewriting of his first inaugural address over the weekend, I will not be so indecorous as to skewer his second inaugural address in as rough a manner. A few thoughts on the speech and pomp and circumstance and commentary, however:
1) The build-up to the speech demonstrates the blind spots that occasionally hobble our political class. All long weekend I've heard that good second inaugurals are rare or inconsequential (save Lincoln's, of course). This demonstrates a remarkably short-term memory. I'm not George W. Bush's biggest fan, but his second inaugural address was both significant in policy implications and lyrical in its use of rhetoric. If political commentators can't parse the difference between a good speech and good policy, what chance do they have of providing any enlightenment about what's to come in politics?
2) As for Obama's rhetoric, on the whole, I'd say this was both a more confident and relaxed speech than his first inaugural -- and a measure of the ways in which the country has changed in the past four years. His use of "we the people" was an effective trope and highlighted some trends that sometimes get lost in DC obsessions about the right-wing backlash to Obama. The simple fact is that over the past four years Americans have become significantly more tolerant of each other, particlarly with respect to gays and lesbians. Obama was smart to place this in a broader inexorable march towards less discrimination and greater civil and political rights in the United States. At the same time, Obama also did not shy away from his progressive economic message. We'll see how well that goes moving fowards.
3) As for the foreign policy section of the speech... meh. Here's the biggest paragraph:
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
This is pretty boilerplate, in my book. Nothing new, nothing particularly soaring. It almost read as if it was a placeholder for better text. In that, this speech was a marked contrast to Bush's second inaugural, which was principally about foreign affairs.
4) That said, the most significant foreign policy implications in this speech weren't in that paragraph, but earlier:
Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
I don't know if this will translate into concrete policy achievements, but it's interesting that Obama put it front and center in this speech. It's also interesting that, like Bush, he used religious imagery and religious authority to make the case for addressing climate change as an urgent national imperative.
5) Finally -- and I know this is gonna be controversial -- but I'm gonna say it anyway: Kelly Clarkson outsang Beyonce today. I would not have expected that going in. I suspect Beyonce might have had some technical difficulties. While they are both excellent singers, on nine out of ten days I'd expect Beyonce to outclass Clarkson. But not today. Not today. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a tougher song than "My Country Tis of Thee," but still.
That said, my favorite pop rendition of a patriotic song is embedded below:
What did you think?
Apologies for the radio silence: your humble blogger has been silent as of late because of a nasty little cold that has taken far too long to run its course.
I should be back in fighting blog condition by Monday. In the meanwhle, as I prepare my Albies, I should note that I have an essay in the January/February 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs. It's entitled "Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy." A small taste:
So how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess? Simply put, GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, this approach has produced at least as much failure as success, leading the American public to be increasingly skeptical of the bellicosity that now defines the party's foreign policy.
Since 9/11, Republicans have known only one big thing -- the "global war on terror" -- and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Republicans need to start taking international relations more seriously, addressing the true complexities and requirements of the issues rather than allowing the subject to be a plaything for right-wing interest groups. And if they don't act quickly, they might cede this ground to the Democrats for the next generation.
Read the whole thing. A few additional notes:
1) I wrote this more than close to two months ago, and it was put to bed six weeks ago. That's an eternity in policymaker time, and I was worried that my primary thesis -- that the GOP's foreign policy thinking has devolved -- would be proven wrong as party elders recognized that the November election required a rethink. Thankfully for my essay -- and unfortunately for the country -- the GOP has continued to act in a blinkered manner when it comes to cabinet appointees and treaty ratifications. There's little you can count on in Washington anymore -- except the ideological rigidity of the GOP.
2) My preferred title would have been "How the GOP has Screwed Itself on Foreign Policy," but that was a nonstarter. I think my title is more accurate, however.
3) Lest one conclude from this snark -- not to mention my 2012 election snark -- that I'm happy about this state of affairs, I find the whole situation remarkably depressing. Democracies do not function terribly well when one of the two major parties either doesn't know or doesn't care what it says on matters of foreign policy. It basically gives a pass to the other guys because they sound... well.... less crazy. I've been thoroughly underwhelmed by the Obama administration's foreign policy machinations as of late -- but because I don't see a viable alternative being put forward by the GOP, it's tough to be too critical.
4) Will this essay make a difference? I have my doubts, but we'll see. Foreign affairs remains one of the few policy arenas where there is some degree of cross-party consensus. It was this consensus that killed Mitt Romney when he stumbled on foreign policy matters during the 2012 campaign. That hopeful note aside, I fear that this consensus is breaking down. I understand that Foreign Affairs is planning a response essay by someone more firmly ensconced within mainstream GOP foreign policy thinking. I look forward to starting a dialogue. Mostly I hope that the GOP's foreign policy wonks appreciate the hole that's been dug. As I note later in the essay:
Every additional year the party is locked out of the executive branch the experience and skills of GOP foreign policymakers will atrophy while those of their Democratic counterparts will grow. It took the Democratic Party a generation to heal politically from the foreign policy scars of Vietnam, and several years in office during the Clinton administration to develop new cadres of competent mid-career professionals. And public inattention to the subject doesn't help, offering few major opportunities for rebranding. So the GOP has its work cut out for it.
5) Footnoting is impossible in a Foreign Affairs essay. Still, I wanted to acknowledge Colin Dueck's Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II as a very useful resource as I was drafting this article.
Greetings from Great Britain, land of delicious clotted cream and no campaign ads. In other words, pure bliss.
On this electuon day, I'm glad to see that others here at Foreign Policy are thinking about the possible catastrophes that might befall our next leader. I see that "rise of the undead" was not listed among those possible catastrophes, however.
Fortunately, Jeffrey Goldberg is on the case. For his Bloomberg column we chatted about whether Obama or Romney or someone else would be the better leader to fight the undead menace. Read the whole thing to see our takes. And happy election day!
Your humble blogger is headed to the United Kingdom this week to give a few talks and generally escape the election and post-election frenzy. Blogging will be light. However, before departing for the land of scones and Devonshire cream, there's one last election-related issue that's worth some words.
As I briefly discussed a few weeks ago, there's a brewing conflict about how to read the polls for the U.S. presidential election. This has crystallized into some latent, not-so-latent, and pretty damn blatant hostility towards' FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver. Now, some interpret this as simply a part of a larger War on Numbers. As Brendan Nyhan notes, Silver's analysis lines up with all of the other analytic forecasters.
But let's try to be fair here. I think there are a couple of different criticisms going on here from different quarters of the public sphere, and it's worth evaluating them on their own terms.
The first and simplest one is Matt K. Lewis, who points out why conservatives aren't keen on Silver's analysis:
Silver comes out of the baseball statistics world, and his defenders like cite sports and gambling analogies when defending him. But there is a key difference. If Silver says the Giants have only a 5 percent chance of winning the World Series again next year, it is highly unlikely that would impact the outcome of games. Umpires won’t begin making bad calls, the fans won’t stop attending games, etc.
But when the public sees that a prominent New York Times writer gives Barack Obama a 70 percent chance of winning, that can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy. It has consequences. It drives media coverage. It dries up donations. Whether Silver likes it, or not, people do interpret his numbers as a “prediction.” They see this as election forecasting.
This sounds about right, in two ways. First, it does highlight the ways in which forecasters can actually affect the outcome. Second, it's actually a compliment to Silver and his peers, because it reflects the belief that their assessments carry weight with the money. One does wonder whether it would have been liberal operatives pushing back if the forecasters were unanimous that Romney was the favorite at this point.
The point is, however, that part of the criticism is simply raw politics. That's fine, and can therefore be dismissed pretty quickly.
The second critique is more substantive, and rests on the notion that the assumptions that pollsters and forecasters are using when they crunch their numbers are flawed. Dan McLaughlin at Red State offers up a decent version of this critique:
Nate Silver’s much-celebrated model is, like other poll averages, based simply on analyzing the toplines of public polls. This, more than any other factor, is where he and I part company....
My thesis, and that of a good many conservative skeptics of the 538 model, is that these internals are telling an entirely different story than some of the toplines: that Obama is getting clobbered with independent voters, traditionally the largest variable in any election and especially in a presidential election, where both sides will usually have sophisticated, well-funded turnout operations in the field. He’s on track to lose independents by double digits nationally, and the last three candidates to do that were Dukakis, Mondale and Carter in 1980. And he’s not balancing that with any particular crossover advantage (i.e., drawing more crossover Republican voters than Romney is drawing crossover Democratic voters). Similar trends are apparent throughout the state-by-state polls, not in every single poll but in enough of them to show a clear trend all over the battleground states.
If you averaged Obama’s standing in all the internals, you’d capture a profile of a candidate that looks an awful lot like a whole lot of people who have gone down to defeat in the past, and nearly nobody who has won. Under such circumstances, Obama can only win if the electorate features a historically decisive turnout advantage for Democrats – an advantage that none of the historically predictive turnout metrics are seeing, with the sole exception of the poll samples used by some (but not all) pollsters. Thus, Obama’s position in the toplines depends entirely on whether those pollsters are correctly sampling the partisan turnout....
Let me use an analogy from baseball statistics, which I think is appropriate here because it’s where both I and Nate Silver first learned to read statistics critically and first got an audience on the internet; in terms of their predictive power, poll toplines are like pitcher win-loss records or batter RBI.
Oh, snap. I've read enough sabermetrics to know a diss when I see it.
Now I don't think Silver and his ilk would agree with McLaughlin's reasoning -- see Nick Gourevitch for a useful counter. But I do I think Silver agrees with McLaughlin's on the source of their disagreement. As Silver's latest post title suggests: "For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased":
The pollsters are making a leap of faith that the 10 percent of voters they can get on the phone and get to agree to participate are representative of the entire population. The polling was largely quite accurate in 2004, 2008 and 2010, but there is no guarantee that this streak will continue. Most of the "house effects" that you see introduced in the polls — the tendency of certain polling firms to show results that are consistently more favorable for either the Democrat or the Republican — reflect the different assumptions that pollsters make about how to get a truly representative sample and how to separate out the people who will really vote from ones who say they will, but won’t.
But many of the pollsters are likely to make similar assumptions about how to measure the voter universe accurately. This introduces the possibility that most of the pollsters could err on one or another side — whether in Mr. Obama’s direction, or Mr. Romney’s. In a statistical sense, we would call this bias: that the polls are not taking an accurate sample of the voter population. If there is such a bias, furthermore, it is likely to be correlated across different states, especially if they are demographically similar. If either of the candidates beats his polls in Wisconsin, he is also likely to do so in Minnesota....
My argument... is this: we’ve about reached the point where if Mr. Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him. Almost all of the chance that Mr. Romney has in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, about 16 percent to win the Electoral College, reflects this possibility.
Here we have a pretty simple and honest disagreement. Silver thinks the pollster's models for what the electorate and turnout will look like are pretty accurate; McLaughlin doesn't. They agree that if Romney wins it will be because practically all of the state polls are biased against him.
The final critique is the one that fascinates me -- the notion that traditional pundits can look beyond the polls at more ineffable factors like "momentum" and "crowd sizes" and "closing arguments" and "energy" and "early voting" other kinds of secret sauces to deternmine who will win. These guys rely on numbers but also the political instincts they've hones for decades as pundits. This is basically what Michael Barone has done, for example, in his prediction of a Romney blowout.
In some ways this mirrors the "scouts vs. stats" divide that ostensibly existed in baseball as Silver was developing PECOTA and Michael Lewis was writing Moneyball. And a lot of commentators are setting it up that way.
I'd tend to agree that this is the most bogus line of criticism... but a few things prevent me from rejecting this analysis entirely. First, there is the crazy possibility that pundits really do possess "local knowledge," as Hayek would put it, that forecasters lack. I'm not sure I really buy this hypothesis, but it's possible.
Second, as Silver himself observed in The Signal and the Noise, scouts get a bum rap. Over time, the evidence suggests that the scouts who worked at Baseball America actually outperformed the sabermetricians at Baseball Prospectus. As Silver acknowledges, just because something can't be quantified doesn't mean it's unimportant. Maybe pundits like Barone have picked up on these "intangibles." Or maybe they have an implicit theory of the election that turns out to be superior to what is, at this point, a strictly poll-driven model. To put it another way: polls at this point are merely the intervening variable between the causal factors that the pundits like to talk about (the economy, the candidate's narrative) and the outcome (the election).
To be honest, I doubt that any of this is true. But the great thing is that come Wednesday, we'll know which group is more right. And then let the taunting commence!!
While your humble blogger was wending his way back from Paris to the States, everyone and their mother emailed, Facebooked or tweeted me the following campaign video from geek god Joss Whedon:
Now, as much as I've dissected both candidates' foreign policies and foreign policy statements, I hadn't really thought about which one of them would be more likely to trigger the zombie apocalypse.
masks reveals a flaw in Theories of International Politics and Zombies. In that book, I argued that any measures by governments to prevent the creation of zombies were likely to fail. The problem was that the origins of zombies are so multifaceted -- biological, radiological, supernatural -- that it was foolish to deevote resources to trying. Furthermore, the very nature of "normal accidents" could mean that preventive measures could actually increase the probability of flesh-eating ghouls.
But Whedon is onto something different and altogether more interesting in his video. Are there domestic policies that would increase the likelihood of a true zombie apocalypse? He lists serious cuts in health care and social services, as well as Romney's commitment to "ungoverned corporate privilege" that would foment the undead apocalypse.
Now I give Whedon points for acknowledging that we don't know which kind of undead are coming -- "no one knows for sure if they'll be the superfast 28 Days Later zombies or the old school shambling kind." But is Whedon's hypothesis actually true? One could posit that he's got it backwards. After all, the key to preventing the spread of the zombie apocalypse is to slow down the infection rate and spread of the undead contagoion. Cuts to public services might actually discourage the 47% from congregating in public places, thereby making it that much harder for the initial cluster of the undead to be able to spread their pestilence and hunger for human flesh to others. Similarly, it is likely true that giving corporations a freer hand might incentivize one of them to take the Umbrella path to global domination, Romney's tough stands on immigration will likely restrict the H1-B visas necessary to hire the Eurotrash that always seems to be a the top of the corporate ladder when Things Go Wrong.
Stepping back, if you think about it, the relationship between economic inequality and the zombie apocalypse is kinda complicated. On the one hand, consistent with Acemoglu and Robinson, more politically and economically egalitarian societies are likely to invest in the public goods necessary to mitigate the spread of the deadites. On the other hand, unequal societies are likely to have elites invest in worst-case scenarios -- mountaintop redoubts, vast underground laboratories, panic rooms, evil volcano lairs -- that guarantee a minmax outcome in which the human species will continue to exist in some form. Of course, on the third, undead, dismembered, delicious hand, those last redoubt solutions never seem to work out as planned.
Still, as I contemplate a
revised revived edition of Theories of International Politics and Zombies, I thank Whedon for bringing this important issue to the fore -- just as the massive zombiestorm prepares to strike the Northeast Corridor.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to stock up on canned goods and imagine the dialogue that a movie treatment of Night of the Living Dead meets Atlas Shrugged would inspire.
Readers are warmly encouraged to proffer their suggestions for policies that would trigger/foment the zombie apocalypse in the comments.
So yesterday David Corn at Mother Jones made some waves when he released a video of Mitt Romney loc
king up the Ayn Rand Institute's vote explaining that he had no chance of winning the "47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government."
Well, this morning, the foreign policy shoe dropped from the Romney video. Here's the excerpt of Romney musing about the two-state situation for Israel and Palestine:
I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish. Now why do I say that? Some might say, well, let's let the Palestinians have the West Bank, and have security, and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. And I don't have a map here to look at the geography, but the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel, the center of Israel. It's—what the border would be? Maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank…The other side of the West Bank, the other side of what would be this new Palestinian state would either be Syria at one point, or Jordan. And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza. Which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel. So Israel of course would have to say, "That can't happen. We've got to keep the Iranians from bringing weaponry into the West Bank." Well, that means that—who? The Israelis are going to patrol the border between Jordan, Syria, and this new Palestinian nation? Well, the Palestinians would say, "Uh, no way! We're an independent country. You can't, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations." And now how about the airport? How about flying into this Palestinian nation? Are we gonna allow military aircraft to come in and weaponry to come in? And if not, who's going to keep it from coming in? Well, the Israelis. Well, the Palestinians are gonna say, "We're not an independent nation if Israel is able to come in and tell us what can land in our airport." These are problems—these are very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, "There's just no way." And so what you do is you say, "You move things along the best way you can." You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don't go to war to try and resolve it imminently. On the other hand, I got a call from a former secretary of state. I won't mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there's a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, "Really?" And, you know, his answer was, "Yes, I think there's some prospect." And I didn't delve into it (emphasis added).
Well, I'm tired of Mother Jones having all of the video exclusives!! Here's my exclusive of how one Middle East expert responded to Romney's explanation:
So I'm not a Middle East expert, but I do know a few things:
1) Neither all Palestinians not their leaders in the West Bank are committed to the destruction of Israael;
2) Whatever contours a possible Palestinian state would have, it won't border Syria
3) One of the best critiques that a GOP challenger can make of Barack Obama's administration is that he's made a hash of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. In this video, Romney pretty much revealed that he wouldn't be changing that policy anytime soon.
David Brooks, in responding to the first part of the Romney video, concluded that Romney "really doesn't know much about the country he inhabits." Unfortunately, with this video, Romney has demonstrated that the doesn't know that much about the world he inhabits either.
We've had a week where riots in the Middle East have raged against the United States, NATO's Afghanistan policy seems to be falling apart, and China seems bound and determined to foment crises in the Pacific Rim. A smart presidential candidate could find a lot of material to criticize the Obama administration on foreign policy. Instead we have a GOP nominee that can't manage his own campaign, much less deep thoughts on geopolitics.
So if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna be doing a double face-palm for the rest of today.
When we last left off, your humble blogger was speculating on the ways in which foreign policy had cost Mitt Romney during the campaign. In this post I want to expand on that theme -- with an assist from the just-released-this-very-minute-from-embargo 2012 Chicago Council Survey of American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy.
To set the table:
1) Despite the expectations of some Republicans, the traditional economic variables that affect a presidential campaign aren't tilting the needle towards Mitt Romney. As the New York Times' Jeff Sommer reports:
For a year in which a truly dismal economy sealed the electoral fate of an incumbent president, [Ray Fair] says, look at 1980, when President Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan. In the nine months leading up to that election, per capita gross domestic product actually declined at an average annual rate of 3.7 percent, while inflation increased at an annual rate of 7.9 percent.
Professor Fair estimates that the comparable numbers for President Obama are G.D.P. growth of 1.62 percent and inflation of 1.51 percent. The low inflation rate is a plus for the president, while the mediocre G.D.P. growth rate is a problem — though not a fatal one.
“You can quite properly call this economy ‘weak,’ ” he said, “but it’s nothing like what Carter faced.” Mr. Reagan’s overwhelming victory “fit the economic picture perfectly,” he said. “This is a different situation.”
He added: “If the economy were significantly weaker or significantly stronger — if we were in a recession or if economic growth were really dramatically better — we’d have a much clearer picture of who would win the election. But the economy remains in a range of mediocre growth. It puts us in the margin-of-error range.”....
Professor Fair will compute a fresh prediction based on data available in late October, but at this stage the political probabilities aren’t likely to shift very much, he says. “It looks as though this will be a horse race, a very close one,” he says.
If it's a horse race, then one of the horses has pulled into an ever-so-slight lead. Both FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver and Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen note that the conventions have given a small but crucial advantage to the incumbent. VandeHei and Allen talked to both campaigns, and here is the best hope for the Romney camp:
[W]hen you dig into the small slice of undecided voters (probably only 6 percent to 8 percent of the electorate, according to the campaigns), the demographics are not favorable to Obama: mostly white, many with some college education, economically stressed, largely middle-aged.
Obama officials have maintained for several weeks that there are too few undecided voters for Romney to get the bounce he needs from the debates. “Romney is not going to win undecided voters 4-to-1,” a senior administration official told reporters on Air Force One on Friday. “If you are losing in Ohio by 4 or 5 points and trailing in Colorado by 2 points, if you are trailing in Nevada by 2 or 3 points, you are not going to win in those states."
So, for Romney to win, he's going to have to run the table with the tiny sliver of undecided independents.
And here is where foreign policy becomes a real problem for Mitt Romney -- because if the Chicago Council results are accurate, independents basically want the exact opposite of what Mitt Romney is selling them.
Let's stipulate that a President Romney might not actually do what he's promising during the campaign -- certainly the smart money doesn't believe him. Still, based on his rhetoric to date, let's also stipulate that Romney really wants America to lead the world. He wants to boost defense spending rather than cut it. He certainly wants to give the appearance that he would pursue a more hawkish policy towards Iran, Syria, Russia, North Korea, China and illegal immigrants than Barack Obama.
That's great -- except it turns out most of America -- and independents in particular -- want pretty much the opposite of that. Indeed, as Marshall Bouton says in the Foreword to the report:
Over time, Independents have become more inclined than either Republicans or Democrats to limit U.S. engagement in world affairs. Because Independents are an increasing share of the electorate, this development in American public opinion warrants attention.
If you read the whole report, what's striking is how much the majority view on foreign policy jibes with what the Obama administration has been doing in the world: military retrenchment from the Greater Middle East, a reliance on diplomacy and sanctions to deal with rogue states, a refocusing on East Asia, and prudent cuts in defense spending.
As for Romney, here are some excerpts from the report that suggest where the entire country -- and independents in particular -- are drifting away from his foreign policy rhetoric:
This survey demonstrates a strong desire to move on from a decade of war, to scale back spending, and avoid major new military entanglements. The lesson many Americans took away from the Iraq war—that nations should be more cautious about using military force to deal with rogue nations—appears to be taking hold more broadly (p. 13)....
Along with the lessons learned from a decade of war and a reduced sense of threat, Americans are also keenly aware of constraints on U.S. economic resources. When asked whether the defense budget should be cut along with other programs in the effort to address the federal budget deficit, 68 percent of Americans say the defense budget should be cut. This is up 10 points from 58 percent in 2010 (p. 15)....
The most preferred approach to ending [the Iranian nuclear] threat, endorsed by 80 percent, is the one that the UN Security Council is pursuing: imposing tighter economic sanctions on Iran. Essentially the same number (79%) approve of continuing diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. Consistent with this strong support for diplomatic approaches, in a separate question, 67 percent of Americans say the United States should be willing to meet and talk with Iranian leaders (p. 29)....
Republicans see greater threats in nearly all areas tested in the 2012 survey. They are more likely than Democrats and Independents to view U.S. debt to China, immigration, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iran’s nuclear program as critical threats (p. 42).
It would appear that Americans -- particularly independents -- have become even more realpolitik than they were when I wrote this five years ago. Or, to put it more pungently, poll results like these are the kind of thing that will make John Bolton really angry and Jennifer Rubin really scared and William Kristol and the rest of the Weekly Standard gang all hot and bothered -- and not in the good way.
Now, I strongly suspect that this won't matter to most undecideds. Foreign policy really isn't a high priority for most voters. That said, there are three ways in which this could matter.
First, undecideds likely hold that position because they haven't paid a lot of attention to the campaign yet. As they start to, it's going to be easier for them to process the rhetorical differences on Iran than on health care. So if Romney is going to attract the bulk of these undecideds, he's going to do it despite his foreign policy pronouncements -- not because of them. In an election where a 2% advantage seems insurmountable in a lot of states, even tiny disadvantages matter.
Second, the Obama campaign seems to be quite eager to micro-target key audiences on foreign policy/national security, as VandeHei and Allen note in their story:
Obama’s plan is to slice and dice his way through myriad campaigns, all distinct, all designed to turn on — or off — very specific subsets of voters in specific states or even counties. Republicans concede Obama is better organized in the areas getting hit with the micro-campaigns....
The Obama plan also focuses on students with an education message; veterans in states that include Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada; housing in Nevada and Florida, where the market tanked; and military families in Virginia, Florida and Colorado (emphasis added).
I am willing to bet that these groups are not going to be keen to hear anything about a more bellicose foreign policy, and Romney's waning competency on the issue won't help.
Third -- and finally -- look at it this way: if the economy doesn't produce the national poll movements that the Romney campaign wants, they'll have to shift to secondary issues. For the last forty years, the GOP has been able to go to foreign policy and national security. If Romney does that this time, however, he'll alienate the very independents he needs to win.
Could Romney/Ryan simply retool their foreign policy message for the general election to allay the concerns of independents and undecideds? No, I don't think they can. For one thing, it's simply too late to rebrand. For another, when cornered on these questions they seem to like doubling down on past statements. Finally, I get the sense that one reason Romney sounds so hawkish is because the campaign thinks it's a cheap way to appeal to the GOP base. Deviating from that script to woo the undecideds will only fuel suspicion of Romney's conservative bona fides.
So maybe, just maybe, foreign policy will matter a little bit during this election. And not in a way that helps Mitt Romney.
Am I missing anything?
futile determined effort to expand his public intellectual brand, your humble blogger was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC for about an hour this AM. It was a veeeeery interesting experience. Now, I know that some readers of this blog aspire to poison me and take my place on the FP masthead punditry themselves. So, as a public service, this is what happens when you go on a Sunday morning talk show: imagine the Law & Order chunk-CHUNK! going after each paragraph:
WEDNESDAY: I receive a polite email from one of Melissa's segment/booking producers, who we'll call "M", asking if I want to be on the show this Sunday. Having never done this kind of punditry before, and having my previous obligation for the weekend cancelled, I accept.
Immediately after accepting, I experience two contradictory emotions. First, the fear builds that they will email back the same day and say, "uh, we just re-checked our Rolodex, and.. [laughs] we have no idea who thought you merited being on television." At the same time, I realize I'm going to have to watch the rest of the prime-time Republican National Convention speeches. At which point I let loose a strong of profanities [What if had been the DNC instead?--ed. The same number of profanities would have been released.]
THURSDAY: I talk with M again, who runs down the planned topics with me -- the RNC, the DNC, the state of the election, and gun violence. Immediately I have a slight quandry -- my expertise is in international relations, not electoral politics. Do I dare to think I can play in the sandbox for a Sunday morning talk show? At which point my inner media whore screams, Gollum-like, "YES!! WE WANTS TO BE ON THE TV!!! IT'S OUR PRECIOUS!!"
This is, as near as I can determine, the First Commandment of Televsion Punditry -- you have to be secure enough in your abilities to chat with authority about issues outside your intellectual wheelhouse.
FRIDAY: To make my inner media whore proud, I start reading up on gun violence statistics. I also read as much commentary as I can about the Republican National Convention. Whatever intelligence I gain from the former I lose by reading the latter.
SATURDAY: Full disclosure: Melissa and I were political science colleagues at the University of Chicago back in the day, so I'm familiar with her style and her politics. That said, I haven't been a regular watcher of her MSNBC show, so I tune for the first half-hour in to get a sense of the roundtable. Clearly MHP leans juuuuust a little to the left. This raises an identity issue -- am I supposed to be wearing the hat of "defender of conservatism"? It's not a role I've been comfortable with as of late. Or am I gonna wear the "dispassionate, snarky observer of the political scene"? I feel much more comfortable with that hat on. In all likelihood, it's going to be a little from column A and a little from column B.
LATER ON SATURDAY: If you're going to be on roundtable for radio/television, there's a 98% chance you will need to do a "pre-interview" with a producer so they have a sense of what you're going to say during the conversation. So I have that conversation with M, during which I learn that the topics have been jiggled around a bit and all those
minutes hours of sketchy detailed online research into gun violence stats won't be worth much. Instead, we'll be talking gay marriage. Which is fine, I will rally with yet more Wikipedia-surfing intense study of primary texts. And, of course, that segment will be moved as well. So, the Second Commandment of Television Punditry is that the schedule will always change.
EVEN LATER ON SATURDAY: The MHP show is classy -- they took care of all the flight/hotel/car service logistics. So by Saturday night I found myself in a comfortable midtown hotel with a lovely view of Central Park. Surfing the web furiously to research for Sunday AM, I see that some fireworks broke out on MHP's Saturday show after I switched off to pack. Melissa was responding to the panel's most conservative participant making a point. Ruh-roh.
To prep, I take notes on each of the "blocks" or segments that I'm supposed to weigh in on. I'm a professor and an academic, and therefore alwasys feel better with notes.
SUNDAY MORNING PRE-SHOW: I get to 30 Rock on time, which means I'm the first panelist there.... or so I think. In actuality, the two female panelists -- NYU's Cristina Beltran and the Center for American Progress' Aisha Moodie-Mills -- are in makeup. As they enter the green rom, I quickly comprehend that I am in deep trouble, because I am not nearly as pretty. As the clock ticks towards 10 AM, and no one comes to get me, I am petrified that I have been typecast as the splotchy-faced redneck surrounded by urbane alluring panelists. Before this scenario can play out in even weirder directions inside my head, however, M sends me to makeup. They apply as enough powder to my face to fuel at least two Dunkin' Donuts franchies -- but it works . My family later informs me that I looked good, so many, many thanks to those professionals at MSNBC.
SUNDAY MORNING, 10 AM-11 AM: OK, having done my first hour of Sunday morning chat -- which you can watch here, here, here and here -- I have learned the following effects on one's senses when three cameras and numerous klieg lights are pointed in your general direction:
A) Time speeds up. Seriously, that hour flew by. Every time I was feeling like we were getting to a good part of the conversation, we hit a commercial break.
B) Almost all prep work is useless. I knew exactly what I wanted to say in response to the first question asked, and I did that competently. After that, whatever good punchy things were in my notes might as well have been left back at home for all the use they were to me. Part of the issue is visual -- you don't want to be looking down at your notes. Another part of the issue, which I've blogged about before, is the academic weakness of trying to directly answer the question.
C) Really, cameras can make you stupid. If you mangle your words during an ordinary conversation, or even when giving a speech, you can take a moment and regroup. If you mangle your words during a panel show, you become acutely aware that you're screwing up, which compounds the problem. Another panelist will be happy to enter the breach. On at least two occasioons, I had written down a better answer than the one that came out of my mouth during the program.
SUNDAY MORNING, 11 AM: I need to get to the airport to come home, but I find two pieces of critical feedback from the experience worthwhile. The first was the thumbs-up that Moodie-Mills and her partner give me as I exit the green room. The second is an anonymous email I soon find in my inbox:
Drezner........Why are you such an idiot? Your appearance on MSLSD was laughable and embarrassing. It's really sad and embarrassing how you liberal bedwetters continue to be brainwashed by your worthless president. Why can't you clowns form a coherent thought on your own? Exactly, because you buffoons are mindless robots programmed by your worthless president. Barnum and Bailey have nothing on you clowns. What do you call a basement full of liberals? A whine cellar. Keep up the good work loser................
Why, it's... it's a troll!! I've made it!! I'M A REAL PUNDIT NOW!!!!!
Based on my Twitter feed -- and the act that it's true -- former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave far and away the best speech of the 2012 Republican National Convention to date. As someone who had the privilege of taking courses from Dr. Rice, this makes me personally very happy. As someone who likes to see the United States vigorously participate in an open global economy, I thought her emphasis on trade and immigration were spot-on. And as someone who thinks the term "loyal opposition" has meaning, I thought Rice did an excellent job of not criticizing President Obama directly but nevertheless drawing interesting contrasts between Obama and Mitt Romney.
So it was a great speech -- so long as you skipped the opening paragraph:
We gather here at a time of significance and challenge. This young century has been a difficult one. I will never forget the bright September day, standing at my desk in the White House, when my young assistant said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center – and then a second one – and a third, the Pentagon. And then the news of a fourth, driven into the ground by brave citizens that died so that many others would live. From that day on our sense of vulnerability and our understanding of security would be altered forever. Then in 2008 the global financial and economic crisis stunned us and still reverberates as unemployment, economic uncertainty and failed policies cast a pall over the American recovery so desperately needed at home and abroad
The problem with this paragraph is that, vague language aside, it reminds the listener that two of the three greatest negative foreign policy shocks of the last decade happened while Rice and the GOP ran the executive branch. Oh, and the third is Iraq, which also happened on their watch.
Whatever foibles and errors the Obama administration has committed on foreign policy -- and they've had a healthy share -- nothing they have done has been remotely close on the clusterf**k scale to the events Rice mentions in her first paragraph.
Once you skip that, though, it really is a great speech.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.