The Foreign Policy Debate- Strengths and Vulnerabilities
The third presidential debate tonight is supposed to be devoted entirely to foreign policy, though we can expect the candidates to inject contentious domestic issues if opportunities arise. What exactly is the role of foreign policy and where are the strengths and vulnerabilities of President Obama and Governor Romney in this area? And when and where do the candidates believe America should intervene militarily in another country?
The objective of America’s foreign policy is to enhance our standing throughout the world in order to maintain a leadership role. The links between America and its allies should be strengthened, a more positive relationship should be developed with neutral countries, and our adversaries should be weakened or persuaded to be less adversarial.
Obama’s election was an immediate plus for American foreign policy, showing that in our democratic system, an African-American could win the nation’s highest office. Taking less belligerent stances towards the rest of the world than the Bush administration, and a willingness to negotiate with Iran and other enemies, also put America in a more positive light. Obama was seen as a steady hand at the wheel, cool under fire and not easily rattled. His choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was a coup, and she has performed well in that position.
Under Obama, the war in Iraq ended and a strict timetable was set to end our involvement in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was greatly weakened with the death of Bin Laden and other top operatives. The drone strikes were successful in killing Islamic militants, but civilians were killed collaterally, inciting anger in Muslim countries. Together with our European allies and other nations, pressure was put on Iran with sanctions and in other ways to give up her nuclear program. A stronger relationship was forged with India and with ASEAN nations as a counterbalance to the increasing power of China.
Obama’s perceived weaknesses are: the fact that Iran is still enriching uranium to a high grade, though the sanctions may be starting to have an effect; trade with China is still imbalanced with the renminbi undervalued, unfair subsidies to industries, and disregard for intellectual property rights; Russia is uncooperative with us on a number of issues and has become more adversarial since Putin’s re-election; the Israeli-Palestinian impasse remains intractable and Netanyahu’s relationship with Obama is frosty; North Korea has still not abandoned its nuclear weapons. A particular problem is that the attack on the consulate at Benghazi and the killing of the ambassador and three other Americans were not handled by the administration in a clear and transparent fashion.
Romney, though inexperienced in foreign policy, projects a strong image which many Americans like. However, others see him as belligerent. And there are a number of concerns regarding his pronouncements about foreign policy and the advisory team he has assembled. During the campaign, Romney stated that “without question, Russia is the United States’ number one geopolitical foe.” This seems to indicate he is still living the cold war and does not understand that Iran and Al Qaeda are our main adversaries. He has made comments as well about China that could initiate a trade war if he is elected, which would not be good for either country. He has also recycled a coterie of Bush neoconservatives as his foreign policy team, some of the same people who initiated the war in Iraq and botched the outcome. (In destroying Saddam Hussein’s regime, these neoconservatives strengthened Iran by removing her longstanding enemy.) Dan Senor, one of Romney’s important advisors, was the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during the early stages of the Iraq War, whose actions guaranteed the chaos that was to follow.
Romney also insulted his British hosts during his trip abroad to bolster his foreign policy bona fides by saying that their security arrangements for the Olympics were inadequate, after which he backtracked. His overseas itinerary included Germany, Poland and Israel, old allies, but disregarded India, Japan and South Korea, though the importance of Asia in the new world order cannot be overlooked. A visit to Afghanistan, showing support for the troops, would also have been smart, as well as a stop in China to meet with her old and new leaders.
The revelation yesterday that Iran may want to meet directly with American representatives after the election to solve the nuclear impasse adds a new twist to the dialogue that will occur between Obama and Romney, but its impact remains uncertain.
The debate on foreign policy should be interesting, the question being whether substantive issues will be raised, or whether the candidates will concentrate on “gotcha” moments.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.