Foreign Policy Debate Preview -- Do You Believe in Magic?
Posted by David Shorr
Monday night's debate on foreign policy will feature one candidate with a strong pragmatic record and another with a lot of rhetoric about strength that he tries to pass off as a policy platform. Three weeks ago Governor Romney published a universally panned Wall Street Journal op-ed on the Middle East, prompting me to wonder whether the mere veneer of a foreign policy is the best Romney can muster.
The truth is, Romney has a one-point foreign policy plan to go with his economic plan. For the past year, Romney has argued that a more bullheaded approach -- brooking no possibility of others resisting American wishes -- will get the rest of the world to straighten up and fly right. As I've said before, right-wingers like Romney really should heed an adage widely cited in the military: the enemy gets a vote. Meaning, other players aren't necessarily obliged to do what we want them to.
Meanwhile, Governor Romney and his advisers regularly emphasize words like leadership, resolve, strength, and exceptionalism as if they're the Republicans' magical powers to melt away the world's problems and problem-makers. This naive ideological faith that steely determination can shape world events seems to be the essence of Romney's approach, and it prompted me to borrow a page from Paul Krugman and coin the idea of the Resolve FairyTM. (The trick-or-treating daughter of a fellow Krugman fan dressed as the Confidence Fairy is pictured above.) And I have to give a shout-out to Daniel Nexon over at Duck of Minerva for putting it all together and casting Romney as a misguided Teddy Roosevelt wannabe who advocates "talking loudly and carrying a magic wand."
But going back to the debate, let's get a few things clear:
- President Obama has put Iran under the strongest sanctions and international pressure it has ever confronted -- a success he's achieved not through bluster but dilligent coalition-building. The sanctions that have spurred hyperinflation in Iran are the major inconvenient fact for the Romney campaign, and it would be impossible to carry them out without the cooperation of other nations. As for the relatively new GOP talking point that they call for quicker, earlier imposition of sanctions, it's important to note that recruiting international support gets much harder when the United States tries to rush things -- rather than persistently yet steadily spotlighting Iranian intransigence as President Obama's done. For one thing, the international community is a little leery of American alarmism after that whole episode with the WMD that turned out weren't in Iraq. Also NB: for all the Romney-ites emphasis on supporting America's friends and allies, South Korea, Japan, and India are among the biggest importers of Iranian oil.
- If Romney had been in the White House last year, Qaddafi would still be ruling Libya. Can we finally call BS on the Republicans' way over-hyped Benghazi "scandal?" For one thing, I have a hard time listening to Chairman Darrell Issa's supposed concern over national security when he mishandles sensitive information and endangers the lives of Libyans who have helped the United States (not to mention House Republicans slashing the State Department security budget). For another thing, by now it's obvious what Obama's harshest critics are really after: not the facts of the attack (when and by whom it was planned), but playing word games over which political side makes the attack sound worse. And for Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans killed, it would be a sad legacy if we forgot the real meaning of Benghazi. President Obama worked with NATO allies and Arab partner nations to mount Operation Unified Protector to keep Qaddafi from slaughtering thousands of his own people in Benghazi -- where Stevens was the first senior official on the ground, despite the dangers -- and at the time Romney said Obama was going too far.
- China is another case where Obama has shown results in contrast to Romney's hotheadedness. Believe it or not, the Benghazi attack wasn't the first time Romney inserted himself in the middle of a delicate international situation before the dust had even settled. President Obama's team was still working closely with a Chinese dissident who had been hosted and protected by the US embassy, Chen Guangcheng, when Romney impulsively seized on a sudden reversal by calling it “a dark day for freedom” and “a day of shame for the Obama administration.” Today Chen and his family are living in Manhattan, where he is a visiting fellow at New York University. And as for the Chinese currency, President Obama's persistent pressure on Beijing helped induce an 11% appreciation in the value of the renminbi -- to the benefit of US exports -- having success where President Bush failed to achieve any in his eight years. (For a reminder of John Bolton's role in the Romney campaign's hot mess of a foreign policy, see this dissection of Bolton's own op-ed on Chen Guangcheng.)
So on Monday night I expect Romney to fall into the trap H.L. Mencken famously described: "for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." And I expect President Obama to call him on it.