Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Presidential options on foreign policy

David Henderson thinks Obama will be re-elected due to foreign policy. In his post he argues Governor Romney would be the "war candidate". But there's no quotes from Romney or even outlines of his statements or thinking in any real detail. Nothing at all but vague assertions and implications.

2. The article that David links to calling the Romney advisors "neo-con retreads", in fact, doesn't call any of the advisors neo-cons. In fact, it says of his closest and most well-known advisors:
Zoellick: "He is a generally regarded as a relative moderate on foreign affairs, a pragmatism, at the other end of the spectrum in the Republican party from the neocons."
Williamson: "He is a state department veteran who served in the Reagan administration and during the George W Bush administration opted to concentrate on the Darfur crisis in Sudan rather than become bogged down in the Iraq war. One of his jobs is to co-ordinate the divergent views coming from Romney's 40-plus pool of foreign policy advisers."
Kagan: "One of the best-known thinkers in US foreign policy and a heavyweight adviser to Romney. He was a foreign policy adviser to John McCain in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He is co-founder of the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century. In spite of that, he is not generally regarded as a neo-con but a realist. His latest book, The World America Made, was praised by Barack Obama."
Friedberg: "Professor of politics and international relations at Princeton. Another realist has focused recently mainly on the rise of China and argues that the Obama administration should be preparing for a potential conflict. In spite of that, he does not believe such a conflict is inevitable."
3. I don't understand why David is asserting that immediately withdrawing from war and the Middle East would be a winning strategy while posting links to public opinion research suggesting that majorities of voters support the policy of continued war offered by President Obama.

How about some specifics. In the comments to that post, Greg G says:

It is quite true that there is a lack of policy specifics that we have "heard from Romney." One specific that we have heard is that he is outraged that Obama has not been more supportive of the current Israeli government which is seeking our support in attacking Iran.
That has been the specific that he has chosen to emphasize the most. He has also criticized Obama for being willing to announce a specific date for leaving Afghanistan.

But... I don't interpret either of those specifics as favoring military action nor do I think he's unambiguously more "warlike" than Obama's policies. Rather, both cases relate to the feeling that Obama is sending the wrong signals to our friends and enemies around the world.

Foreign policy largely seems like a signaling game to me. Sometimes conflicts might be unavoidable, but history shows that lots of conflicts arise from misunderstanding the signals both our friends and enemies send. In that vein, once you've reached the stage of armed conflict, you've already lost.

Put simply, it's wise to tell an enemy you'll hit them back with overwhelming force if they attack. If an enemy questions your will to fight, it's wise to give every appearance that you'll fight and fight forever, even if you don't want to.

With respect to friends, giving them ambiguous signals of support is also dangerous. If your friend starts a fight, do you have his back? Will he start the fight if you say you don't? Will the enemy start a fight with your friend if he thinks you'll jump in? How about if he thinks you'll sit it out and let the friend go it alone?

All of this is pretty common sense stuff from both an every day perspective and a foreign policy perspective. And to my mind, Romney's specific criticisms are pretty valid. We very well might avoid (more) war by signaling our endless resolve to our enemies and communicating our exact intentions to our friends, regardless of what we actually intend.

Not to drag this on forever, but my true belief is that we're much more at risk for further and indefinite war under Obama than under Romney.

1. I largely agree with Romney that the mixed signals sent by the current administration encourages our enemies to take their shots at us. But the reality is that the current administration has done nothing to make me think it wouldn't go off and bomb Iran or anyone else (Syria, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Iraq Pakistan, and so forth) if push comes to shove.

2. We already have an administration that's been loose on the trigger and the default future I predict is that we will have more war in the future. It's quite plausible to imagine the President following through on his statement that Iran having nukes is unacceptable to the US by bombing them. He's said as much in pretty clear language (for him) as recently as... yesterday. It's quite plausible to imagine the US becoming militarily involved in Syria and clearly we will continue our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, etc under Obama.

3. In large part, recent history and political reality strongly suggest that Democratic presidents can and will unleash the military much more readily than Republican presidents. I mean "can" in the sense that, Democratic presidents face much fewer political obstacles to doing so, because the normal political opponents of war largely mute their opposition because they are... Democatic partisans. This is obviously even more true in the aftermath of the Iraq War, but it was pretty well evident before that through 8 years of Clinton bombing a smorgasbord of foreign nations.

I say will, because, again, you've got 8 years of expansive military action under Clinton in addition to Obama to pull from. Republican military action tends to be larger in scope but (Iraq aside) I would consider it more limited when it happens, owing to the fact it's much more highly scrutinized and opposed, quite a bit less frequent. At this point, I don't imagine any place where a Republican president is going to be willing to wage war where a Democratic president would not.

To sum that up, there's a lot to suggest Obama would continue and expand the use of military force. In contrast, think there's a lot standing in the way of Romney bombing places willy-nilly the way Obama does.

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