by Michael Ambler
by Joel Shavell
It’s probably a compliment to the President that Mitt Romney’s foreign policy talking points generally boil down to “what Obama did, but more so.”
It’s also indicative of the Republicans’ near total lack of ideas. Over the last year of campaigning, the Romney team has failed to articulate a single major change he would make to US foreign policy, instead articulating an agenda that is all posturing and no substance.
Consider the recent debate over whether the US should set a deadline for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The Obama administration has made it clear that it expects to end combat operations by the end of 2014. The Romney campaign has waffled between endorsing the deadline (which, unsurprisingly, is overwhelmingly popular among American voters) and arguing that it would demonstrate a lack of ‘resolve’. Romney supports the policy, just not the aesthetics — and can’t decide which is more important.
Or take Iran: the Obama administration — through negotiation and cooperation with other world powers — put in place a package of sanctions which has demolished the domestic Iranian economy so severely there have been riots over the price of staple goods. The Romney campaign has repeatedly claimed these measures aren’t strong enough, but when pressed, Romney can only say he will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by doing all the things Obama has done, but with more ‘toughness.’ According to Republicans, sanctions haven’t worked yet because the ayatollahs just don’t think Obama is “tough enough,” a quality that evidently has nothing to do with the actual policies he has enacted.
The reliance on toughness as a geopolitical cure-all continues. Romney will ‘get tough’ on China, on Russia, on Pakistan, and on North Korea — all the world’s bogeymen. But when it comes to specifics, the campaign is suspiciously silent.
In reality the Obama administration has been about as ‘tough’ as possible. Four years after Obama took office, al-Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated by drone strikes and special operations, Moammar Gaddafi has been removed by an international coalition (without a single American casualty), and Russia has agreed to a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Opinion polling shows that America is more widely respected abroad than it has been for nearly two decades. The only real question is whether the Obama administrations’ foreign policy successes have left Republicans without substantive avenues of attack, or whether Romney truly believes Obama’s policies would magically become more successful if only they were accompanied by a bit more flag waving.
This privileging of rote ideology over empirical reality is perhaps best exemplified by the Romney campaign’s continued criticism of President Obama for failing to loudly support the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran. In Romney’s world, the way to lend legitimacy to an Iranian political movement is to ensure everyone knows the US is 100% behind it — relying, of course, on America’s wild popularity among the Iranian public. While it’s easy to dismiss such statements as simply ignorant or naive, in truth they reflect the basic tenets of modern Republican thinking about international relations — that foreign policy can be evaluated by how macho it sounds, that American military might is limitless, that American moral authority is universally recognized, and that military force is preferable to negotiations because talking to our adversaries is a form of mild treason. This is the ideology that convinced George W. Bush that everyday Iraqis would race to the American cause once they had been ‘liberated.’ And this is the ideology that has brought Mitt Romney so wildly out of touch with geopolitical realities that, with a straight face, this formerly moderate Governor of Massachusetts can advocate abandoning a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, refusing to negotiate arms deals with Russia, and addressing all of America’s foreign policy challenges by spending still more on the military.
Whether the Romney campaign’s repeated failure to articulate substantial policy differences from the President is the result of a spectacularly successful four years of American foreign policy or a naïve insistence on form over function is ultimately irrelevant. President Obama has overseen the withdrawal from Iraq and is on track to remove American troops from Afghanistan by 2014. He has crippled the Iranian economy without firing a shot, largely by convincing even Russia and China to back sanctions — a task no other American President has been able to achieve. He has crippled al-Qaeda’s operational capacity and killed Osama bin Laden. Compared to that track record, the Romney strategy — repeat the word ‘resolve’ a lot — doesn’t cut it.
Is Romney the better choice to determine foreign policy and keep our country safe from external threats? To answer a question like this, we the people have to determine what we want in the realm of foreign policy and be critical enough to understand the complicated world we live in.
In little more than a hundred years, the world has experienced genocide in Germany, Rwanda, Tibet, Sudan and Turkey, just to name a few. Pundits try to make sense of these atrocities retrospectively, providing political, religious, or economic explanations. In reality there is no explanation. The world is not a Utopia. It is a schizophrenic dangerous place and it always has been. America has tried to equalize the playing field through legislation like the Affordable Care Act and other progressive measures. Because of these attempts, our national debt is over $15 trillion dollars and is far in excess of our ability to pay with economic growth. Obama has significantly increased our debt by 5 trillion and, according to his economic plans, the deficit will increase by 1.5 trillion every year. As a result, the people will not be able to service the debt and we will have to severely curtail money for defense, highways, schools and medical care. At this rate we will have no money to pay for anything.
Obama says to tax the rich. The reality is, if the rich gave out all their money it would only pay down the national debt for six days. Eventually the middle class will have to pay taxes towards this unsustainable debt. How will removing trillions of dollars from the people help us grow our economy? Is burdening businesses with more taxes going to help hire new people? There is a choice: we can continue to be euphoric and spend money we aren’t making on social programs until the government will inflate the currency so there will be no money for anyone. Continued spending means no jobs for college graduates and no jobs for the public at large.
American power, be it military or economic, helps citizens maintain the utopic thoughts they feel and share in classrooms—even though ‘utopia’ is a thought, not a reality as there are real massacres that will always be a part of man’s history. Only a strong US military presence and strong economy will provide stability in our modern world. Any attempt to weaken the military or the economy will result in dire consequences—and Obama is doing just that.
Obama’s policies are making the military unsustainable and unstable by creating a power vacuum and putting us more at risk for a catastrophic war. Obama has reduced our missile capacity and cut NASA in an attempt to control the debt. Along with other research programs, these programs contribute to the technology necessary to expand our economy through product development. Obama has also squandered billions on solar energy projects, which we know have gone nowhere, and he has all the while blocked a Canadian oil pipeline around North Dakota where huge oil and gas reserves have been found. This decision resulted in the loss of thousands of American jobs and the decision is reflective of a larger trend that is endangering our standing as a world power. How else can you explain why a Chinese construction company is helping the US reconstruct the Golden gate bridge with foreign Chinese workers while so many Americans are out of work?
Obama’s foreign policy, following the same trend, has been unorganized and unprincipled. He supports Libyan rebels militarily without congressional support, yet doesn’t support the Iranian people in their attempt to promote change and gives monetary and diplomatic support to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama’s foreign policy is not cohesive enough to support America’s security in the world. Following the Benghazi debacle, our President blamed the incident on an inflammatory video rather than recognizing it for what it was – a terrorist attack.
Immigration is also a national security issue, and Obama’s record on immigration is not promising. How can one rationalize people coming to the USA illegally through unprotected borders and given American citizenship with rights to vote prior to becoming legalized citizens? Billions of dollars are spent allowing lawful immigration, through which one million people become American citizens annually. In addition, we provide schooling, sustenance and housing for these individuals that are here illegally. No country can possibly sustain our current immigration policies.
Obama’s record is known and so is Romney’s. Although, Romney has not been President, he has restructured the Olympics to make it viable, was able to compromise as a productive governor with a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts and successfully revamped companies to make them viable. Romney is the clear choice when it comes down to the safety and security of this nation.
About the Issue
Point author: Michael Ambler is a University of Michigan senior studying in the Ford School of Public Policy, with a focus on election policy. He also serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Michigan Journal of Political Science.
Counterpoint author: Joel Shavell is a rheumatologist physician who is an avid, life-long student of current events and politics.
Edited by: Michael Guisinger, Lauren Opatowski, Noah Gordon, and Ryan Roberts
Cover by: Lindsey Abdale