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August 24, 2012

Give Romney Foreign Policy Adviser an 'F' for Cribbing from Obama Policy
Posted by David Shorr

20060806 Hadley-Bush _d-0054-1-515h (1)How can we tell the Romney campaign foreign policy platform proposes things the Obama administration is already doing, while masquerading as a starkly different approach? Because the Romney camp's Stephen Hadley, who was national security adviser in the GW Bush White House, is so transparent about it in his Washington Post op-ed on Syria last week. 

First of all, there's no denying that the Assad regime's barbaric attacks on their own people have wreaked horrendous death and suffering on ordinary Syrians and leave the regime without a shred of legitimacy. It's obvious that Assad should go and Syrians should have a chance to build a new political order that addresses their needs and aspirations. For Americans and the rest of the outside world looking on in horror, it's one thing to know generally what sort of outcome we want and another thing to get there.

So the real question for a US administration (and would-be policy makers) concerns what real leverage outside powers have and how it can be used for the intended aims, without too many unintended consequences. As with so many challenges on the foreign policy agenda, the Obama administration is working the problem and navigating the pitfalls -- from the splits within the international community and Syrian opposition itself, to the Al Qaeda-linked elements involved in the insurgency. 

In an election year, and for the politics of foreign policy more broadly, this poses another problem. Over and over again, we see the Romney camp wanting it both ways. They want to represent a bolder foreign policy, with more steely resolve, but they won't really deal with the difficult trade-offs. They can see the same difficulties and considerations that shape President Obama's policies, and they want to slam his policies without being bold enough to set aside the constraining factors. On Iran, this is the underlying reason why Team Romney decries the failure of sanctions and diplomacy but won't call for war. They don't really have an alternative, because it isn't easy coming up with one.

With all that as background, the Hadley piece on Syria shows how Romney's advisers contort themselves into pretzels. Here's how Hadley starts off his bullet point list of recommendations:

To avoid this looming debacle, the United States needs a much more active Syria policy. Necessary steps include:

●Accelerate efforts to help develop a more unified and inclusive Syrian opposition with an inclusive, cross-sectarian message. U.S. officials have made a significant effort and found it frustrating work, but there are signs of progress. 

Okay, the Obama administration should adopt a "much more active" policy of the significant effort they're already making. Huh? Is this a critique or a pep talk? For Hadley's first three bullet points, it's clear just from the verbs he uses that he's calling for a continuation of the current policy. (Something something, more active!) In addition to accelerating efforts with the Syrian opposition, Hadley wants to "increase" vetting of the opposition by US intelligence and "expand" non-lethal support. Then there's

●Work closely with the Syrian opposition and regional allies to prepare for a post-Assad Syria. Include steps to secure Syria’s chemical weapons. A good place to start would be the U.S.-Turkey collaboration that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Ankara last week.

Yeah, use that new thingy you've set up. More actively. 

Look, there may indeed be ways to improve on the administration's current efforts on Syria. There's probably a version of Hadley's op-ed that, coming from the kinds of policy advocacy groups I know and love, would represent solid work. Heck, it's probably already been published several times over. But in the great 2012 debate over the direction of US foreign policy, when Hadley alludes to all the things Obama is already doing, he only highlights what thin gruel the Republicans are offering as an alternative.

White House photo by Eric Draper


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