Tag: US foreign policy (page 1 of 2)

Wait, what? Or, Trump through the looking glass

The Trump Administration’s foreign policy, if we can call it a policy, has certainly injected a degree of excitement into the foreign policy commentariat and IR classrooms around the world. Reading all the output is a full time job. But it is fair to say that most of the coverage has been, shall we say, less than favorable. Recently, Dani Nedal and Dan Nexon tackled the problems with Trump’s foreign policy unpredictability. Stephen Walt argued that Trump does not really care whether his foreign policy is successful. And the list goes on.

 

Which is why Matthew Kroenig’s recent piece in Foreign Affairs caught me by surprise. Continue reading

Mind the Power Gap

I have new online piece, co-authored with Dani Nedal, at Foreign Affairs:

President Donald Trump believes that America makes terrible deals—from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Why, according to Trump, do other countries take such advantage of the United States? Because our leaders and officials are stupid and incompetent and are terrible negotiators.  “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have people that are stupid,” said Trump when he announced his decision to run for president. On immigration, he was similarly blunt: “the Mexican government is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning.” And during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, he claimed that “we are making a terrible deal” because “we have the wrong people negotiating for us.” He added that “the Persians are great negotiators” and that “they are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.”

If the Trump Doctrine is to put “America First” by focusing on bilateral bargains—understood in terms of short-term winners and losers—then its corollary is the “Good Negotiator Policy.” In the president’s world, bad people make bad deals.  The best, smartest people—most notably, Trump himself—always get the best bargains. He is right that personal attributes and interpersonal dynamics can make an important difference in international negotiations. But Trump’s focus on individual skill overlooks the most important factor that shapes political agreements in general and international ones in particular: the relative leverage of the parties involved.

The problem is that when the Washington locked in most of its bargains and arrangements, America was much more powerful, in relative terms, than it is now.

It takes a rather naïve negotiator to attempt to overhaul relatively favorable deals from a position of comparative weakness. The United States will not get better bargains than it achieved when it controlled more than twice as much of global power as it currently holds. If Trump abandons long-standing practices of American-led liberal order for bilateral, transactional, and zero-sum relations, other states have little reason to prefer dealing with Washington to China, Russia, or any other country.

When it comes to stiffing contractors, he’s shown a very good understanding of how power asymmetries shape bargaining outcomes. But, overall, Trump’s rhetoric is in keeping with a man who was born on third base and thinks staying there is a testament to his mad business skillz.

Anyway, go read the whole thing, if you’re so inclined. You may need to register to get access.

(cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money)

Party Trumped Policy in 2016

This is a guest post by Christopher Gelpi and Elias Assaf.  Christopher Gelpi is Chair of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies and Professor of Political Science and Elias Assaf is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at The Ohio State University, both at The Ohio State University

President Donald Trump adopted a variety of controversial and unorthodox foreign policy stances during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Since taking office, Mr. Trump has moved quickly to begin implementing many of these policies – including a border wall with Mexico, a ban on immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries, and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  While Mr. Trump was very clear about his intentions during the campaign, public reaction to his implementation of these policies has nonetheless been quite negative.  Protests among left-leaning progressives in response to the anti-Muslim travel restriction are not surprising, but even prominent Republican leaders have been critical of Trump’s foreign policy actions since taking office. Moreover, according to Gallup’s tracking poll, President Trump’s disapproval rating rose sharply during his first week in office.  Within eight days of taking office, a majority of the public already disapproved of the job he was doing as President.

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Trump and the Fall of Númenor—a comment from a sad political scientist

sauraonThis is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, an Associate Professor of Political Science at International Affairs at George Washington University. He is the author of Constructive Illusions (Cornell, 2014) .He studies sociological approaches to cooperation and conflict, and international ethics.

Over the last few days, protestors have taken to the streets to combat what they believe is an evil power that will soon occupy the White House. The problem of evil has featured in rhetoric about this election, in fact, for months, as featured in the Washington Post commentary on the election. The tropes “politics is evil,” “Hillary is evil,” and “Trump is evil” have a new significance when people are confused and disoriented by Trump’s surprising win.

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Ben Rhodes, Part the Second: Or, Journalistic Interpolations are Not Evidence

For those of you not on Twitter.

(yes, I know the post is displaying parent tweets; WordPress is stripping the code to remove them)

The White House Pushes for its Policies, and Other Surprises from Ben Rhodes

It seems that everyone (at least on the political right) is in a tizzy about the “revelations” in David Samuels’ New York Times Magazine story on Ben Rhodes. For example, Lee Smith, at the Weekly Standard, headlines “Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru Boasts of How the Administration Lied to Sell the Iran Deal.” As I’ll explain below, that’s, at best, massive hyperbole.  But what we really learned is that Ben Rhodes has a massive ego—Thomas Ricks is less kind in his assessment. We also learned that Samuels—like any reporter—wants to break big stories. Put the two together, and you come away less, not better, informed.

Let’s start with one of the passages from the story that’s receiving a lot of attention—and that Smith partially blockquotes:

As Malley and representatives of the State Department, including Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry, engaged in formal negotiations with the Iranians, to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon, Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.

This is, more or less, a description of what every single White House does when seeking to pass a major, and controversial, initiative. They connect with allies, they disseminate talking points, they coordinate with like-minded policy and industry groups, and they feed those groups information. Administrations create multiple information channels to the press, the public, and elected officials.The Obama Administration did this for the Affordable Care Act. The Bush Administration did this for its massive tax cuts, for the Iraq War, and, unsuccessfully, in its efforts to privatize Social Security. Continue reading

Interventionism and Restraint in Democratic Foreign Policy

At War on the Rocks, Mieke Eoyong intervenes in the Sanders-Clinton foreign-policy debate. Although the case made for Sanders’ foreign policy by those she critiques—including Sean Kay—is much broader, she focuses on three arguments: that “Sanders has superior judgment because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton didn’t; Sanders would exercise restraint in intervention, where Clinton is on record supporting U.S. intervention in a number of cases; [and] Sanders would restrain defense spending.”

I’m going to respond to the first two. I do so as a recovering liberal hawk. In the 1990s, my views on foreign policy were profoundly shaped by the pages of The New Republic. But over the last fifteen years, I’ve moved further and further away from liberal interventionism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still more of a ‘strong defense’ type than most people on the left. But the problems that I see with Eoyong’s case reflect the reasons for my own evolution.

Indeed, Eoyong’s first argument is that the real test of judgment is learning from mistakes. As she writes:

A candidate’s ability to admit he or she has made a mistake and take corrective action is far more important in the world where imperfect information and changed circumstance may render initial judgments as poor decisions. No one gets it right all the time. How do candidates cope when they get it wrong? What lessons do they learn? What steps do they take to address the problems?

Fair enough. And this is one reason why I don’t worry about a possible Clinton presidency the way that many on the Democratic left do (indeed, if and when Clinton wins the nomination my pocketbook will open up to her campaign and I will do everything I can to support it). But I think it telling that Eoyong has nothing to say about the actual lessons learned by liberal interventionists from Iraq. Continue reading

Why Foreign Intervention in Nigeria is a Bad Idea

This is the first of two posts about Boko Haram & possible US involvement in Nigerian counterterrorism operations. For the second, see “What is to be done in Nigeria?”. Note: two sentences added shortly after publication to clarify that my concerns encompass the full range of foreign intervention, from direct intervention to operational support to limited strikes to an expanded role in shaping Nigerian policy.

Yesterday, American drones began flights over northern Nigeria in hopes of locating the 276 girls abducted a month ago from a school in Borno State. American and British counter-terror experts are on the ground; Nigeria will attend a French-convened regional security summit. Continued foreign involvement seems likely, especially as the US has confirmed that Boko Haram is a top US foreign policy priority. This kind of concrete international action is an emotionally satisfying response to a particular narrative, one that stresses Nigerian government inaction as the heart of the Boko Haram problem. In this context, the example of the speedy and successful French intervention against Islamists in Mali in 2013 looms particularly large: could foreign intervention work similar magic in northern Nigeria? Might a more limited intervention provide the same kind of low-risk, high-reward opportunity?

There are powerful forces pushing both foreign and Nigerian decision-makers toward action, perhaps limited, perhaps more substantial. As with other advocacy campaigns, the #Bringbackourgirls movement has stressed the solvability of this problem: if “serious” investments were made or if the Nigerian government were “serious” about taking action, Boko Haram would be easily countered. This narrative elides the very serious – and very flawed — counterinsurgency campaign that has been waged in northeastern Nigeria since 2009. But it also likely overstates the likelihood of success even for the most well-implemented, well-coordinated military campaign. And, since more limited intervention is almost certainly what is being considered, the likelihood of concrete gains or definitive successes against Boko Haram is even smaller.

Here are three inconvenient facts that make Nigeria rocky terrain for interventionism.

The Nigerian military is part of the problem.

In addition to garden-variety problems of capacity, training, and provisioning, the Nigerian military has serious human rights problems. Since its deployment to the three states of northeastern Nigeria (Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa) in 2009, reports have consistently documented the military’s involvement in disappearances, masses of extrajudicial killings, and general terrorizing of the civilian population. On top of these clear and widespread human rights abuses, there are sanctioned counterinsurgency tactics, such as the military’s cordon-and-sweep operations in Maiduguri in late 2010, that likely sew local resentment and boost Boko Haram recruiting.

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Reporters and Foreign Affairs Analysis: Ukraine Edition

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Dan Nexon. It is cross-posted at his personal blog, Hylaean Flow.

One of the ongoing rationales for The Monkey Cage is that journalists do a poor job of covering US electoral politics. They focus on personality and style. They downplay the role of fundamentals, such as economic forces and the nature of the electoral system. The same is too often true in foreign-affairs reporting. Consider a recent piece by multi-award-winning reporter, Scott Wilson: “Ukraine crisis tests Obama’s foreign policy focus on diplomacy over military force.”

What is Wilson’s argument? A sample:

Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor….

“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”

And another:

The signal Obama has sent — popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies — has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.

But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.

Let’s consider a bit of history.

  • In April of 2008, President George W. Bush pushed hard for a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest NATO summit. Germany and France balked, for both self-interested and prescient reasons.
  • In August of 2008, Russia baited Georgia into invading South Ossetia. At the key principals meeting in Washington, no one was willing to risk war with Russia over Georgia.
  • In 2009, Yanukovich and his Party of Regions wrested power from the unruly and ineffectual Orange coalition that had ousted him in 2004. Yanukovich adopted a pro-Russian tilt. Although he was more than happy to leverage Moscow against Brussels, under no circumstances was he going to make a serious push to bring Ukraine into NATO.
  • While Georgia is a small country on the Russian Federation’s periphery; Ukraine is a large country of significant affective and geo-strategic significance to Russia.

See the problem? There’s no obvious counterfactual set of Obama policies that would better position the United States to handle Russia’s gambit in Ukraine. Continue reading

Avoiding the Joint Security Trap (and Countering Conventional Wisdom)

Obama-Cameron

The diplomatic dustup over Syria brought Russia in from the cold but simultaneously froze any notion that western allies were getting their strategic act together. Nonetheless, although the mistakes in the U.S. and UK’s approach to building support at home and abroad for an intervention in Syria confused leaders and citizens alike, these mistakes should not be interpreted as an abrupt turn-around in their and their allies’ strategic thinking.

In fact the Europeans, even under a prolonged condition of austerity, are making progress filling in the capability gaps made clear in the course of the Libyan operation. Recent history has demonstrated that arguing the U.S. should keep its security blanket in place despite the end of the Cold War—out of fear that Europeans would not increase their own defense capabilities in kind—was mistaken. Still, austerity has prevented sufficient progress to avoid the joint security trap.

Were the Arab Awakening to go awry and were an al-Qaeda affiliate to begin setting up training camps and operating somewhere such as Yemen, the U.S. or possibly NATO would no doubt heed the call once more to deal with the threat.  But any future crisis in Europe’s direct neighborhood, somewhere like Tunisia, will require Europe to take the lead as the U.S. is likely to take a pass.  It is therefore in the joint interests of the U.S. and Europe not to reduce their mutual security at this critical juncture.

However Europe has yet to develop its own integrated, deployable, expeditionary military capability; instead a number of European allies à la the U.S. have been slashing their defense budgets under austerity.  But akin to the classic prisoner’s dilemma, if the U.S. and European allies do not coordinate their cuts and agree to begin “combining” what is left, both will become worse off and experience a mutual loss of security in lieu of cooperating.  In fact, at this juncture western allies are actually on the verge of becoming ensnared in the joint security trap. Continue reading

The “Israel Lobby” and the Nixon Administration

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.

When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote the Israel Lobby, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that supporters of Israel influenced US policy, but because I am not a realist, I did not buy the argument that this necessarily deflected the US from pursuing specific policies during the cold war or afterwards. The primary reason for my skepticism was the evidence: because of how recent US support for Israel is, there are few archival documents that have been opened that show the extent of the ‘Israel Lobby’s’’ influence. This is compounded by the book’s focus on recent episodes, like Iraq, where there are few available documents. And, as many have argued, it’s unclear whether Israel exerts more influence than other lobbies in the United States.

While doing research for a book that is will come out with Cornell next year about the US-Soviet détente, I read the recently released Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war. This is a very important case for the Israel Lobby argument because there was a lot of political organizing around Jewish-related issues, especially Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration, featuring one early episode for organized lobbies in the United States pressing an administration over Israeli security issues. In the language of case selection, it is a ‘hard’ case for the Israeli lobby argument because the ‘lobby’ was only beginning to become an organized political force in Washington.

This volume is enormously interesting for the Israel lobby argument, in part, because it showcases Nixon and Kissinger’s fears of the lobby. I’ve read a lot of cooky Nixon and Kissinger shenanigans over the years, but these do stand out, in part because they emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations.

My reading of the volume is that it provides some direct evidence of the influence of pressure from the Israel lobby on US policy, bearing out not only the Israel Lobby argument but more generally the importance of domestic politics to Nixon’s foreign policy.

Below are excerpts from four documents released as part of FRUS, recounting different statements made by Nixon and Kissinger about political pressure brought to bear and how they saw it organized. Continue reading

Syria and the Politics of Prudence

According to the Washington Post, the Obama Administration is meeting to “reassess” US policy toward the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah’s intervention appears to have tilted the balance in favor of the Assad regime. Sectarian violence is on the rise. This has, naturally enough, led to hand-wringing about growing Iranian influence throughout the region.

Defenders of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy sometimes stress its general commitment to prudence and deliberation. John McCain and Lindsey Graham may call for ‘strong’ and ‘decisive’ US commitments at the drop of a hat, the argument goes, but the Obama Administration knows better. Except, of course, when it doesn’t. Or, perhaps, when the costs seem relatively low. As Michael Crowley observes (see also an old post of mine), “The unfortunate truth is that Obama didn’t intervene in Libya despite great risk. He did it because it was a relatively low-risk venture. Whatever you think should be done, the same can’t be said about Syria.”

The problem, of course, is that “prudence” and “deliberation” can translate into “hoping for the best.” This looks to have been the case with the Syrian civil war. If the Obama Administration considers gains by Hezbollah and Iran intolerable, then perhaps it should have adopted policies that took that contingency far more seriously.

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Beyond Reading the Tea Leaves: Using Data to Understand Partisanship and Foreign Policy

My frequent collaborator Jon Monten and I have a guest post on the new Chicago Council on Global Affairs blog Running Numbers. As our readers likely know, the Chicago Council runs periodic surveys about public attitudes towards foreign affairs and has historically run a number of important surveys of elite opinion. I’m cross-posting our piece here.

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Thinking the Unthinkable?

Yesterday, climate activist and environmental writer Bill McKibben tweeted a link to this eye-opening graphic:

In many ways, this chart is merely another disturbing bit of information about weather in a year of shocking weather news. Continue reading

Snap Reaction: Foreign Policy and the 2nd Presidential Debate

Topics covered:

  • Process arguments about Libyan attack;
  • Obama likes to kill Islamic terrorists;
  • Energy independence is good, because… jobs; and
  • Romney wants to start a massive trade war with China, Obama just wants to keep it low-level.

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The Stupidest Article in Foreign Policy?

The Ride of the Resolve Warriors

tl;dr notice: 1200 words.

Zack Beauchamp points us to Douglas Feith’s latest broadside against the administration with the tweet:

LOL Feith cites @slaughteram and Sam Power’s jobs as evidence that Obama wanted to limit American use of military force

It turns out that the absurdity runs far deeper in Feith’s piece. I know that Obama’s fecklessness in the face of the Russian threat is an article of faith among neo-conservatives. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I think there’s a case for the administration overestimating the willingness of Moscow to accomodate US policy priorities. But Feith’s framing of the Reset owes more to the fevered imagination of right-wing bloggers than to anything resembling facts. Continue reading

Friday Morning Debate Reaction

I scored the Romney-Obama debate as a tactical win for Romney. As of now, it looks more like a strategic one. The lesson for me, I think, is not to assess the political ramifications of debates. So in this post, I’ll simply stick to reflecting on the foreign-policy component of the debate, which turned out to be much more prominent than most of us expected.

The bottom line is that, with the exception of the earlier Libya exchange, Biden owned Ryan. Indeed, the debate continued to underscore the vacuousness of much of the Romney campaign’s “political” critique of Obama foreign policy.

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Inside the Bubble, Round II

Richard Grenell was pushed out as Mitt Romney’s national-security spokesman. In The Daily Beast, he attempts to defend his former boss.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got it right. The Middle East desk at the State Department got it right, too. And so did Mitt Romney. All three correctly rejected the initial Cairo Embassy statement on the developing violence in Egypt and Libya as weak and inappropriate. And yet Romney was the only one to become the focus of media ire for it.

Again with “the media.” That horrible, terrible, no-good lamestream liberal media that also appeared in Erik Erikson’s evasive blame-the-messenger defense of Romney. And just how palpable is their double standard? Here’s Mitt Romney’s statement:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said in the statement. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Here’s Secretary Clinton’s:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. 

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. 

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. 

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.

As you can see, they are identical. Both characterize the US embassy statement as “sympathizing” with  the attackers. Both characterize that statement as the official position of the Obama Administration.

Okay, maybe Grenell’s talking about the actual remarks that disowned the US embassy statement. Like President Obama’s…. Right. He didn’t actually do so in his official remarks. Well, what about his 60 minutes remarks?

In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton. It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger,” Obama said. “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.

Okay. So maybe Grenell is referring to reports that numerous people inside the Executive Branch were angry about the statement, e.g.,

“People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'”

You see, exactly the same thing as claiming that theObama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks…” but to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

But what else would you expect, argues Grenell, from the aforementioned liberal media?

The mainstream media has so far failed to ask persistent and tough questions of the State Department or the White House. In fact, NPR’s Romney campaign correspondent, Ari Shapiro, and CBS News’ Romney campaign correspondent, Jan Crawford, were caught on tape minutes before Romney’s press conference conspiring to trap him. Why had reporters like Shapiro and Crawford not tried to get the real story? Why were they following the Obama campaign’s playbook?

Evidence? You want evidence of this fiendish trap? Why here it is:

Off camera, you can hear CBS’s Crawford strategizing:

JAN CRAWFORD: That’s the question….Yeah that’s the question. I would just say do you regret your question.
ARI SHAPIRO, NPR: Your question? Your statement?
CRAWFORD: I mean your statement. Not even your tone, because then he can go off on –
SHAPIRO: And then if he does, I think we can just follow up and say ‘but this morning your answer is continuing to sound’ –

Then the feed is cut off. Crawford later added, “No matter who he calls on, we’re covered on the one question.” A man who is not Shapiro states, “Do you stand by your statement or regret your statement?”

Even Tim Graham at Newsbusters admits that there’s nothing really wrong with reporters collaborating to make sure that Romney answers a specific question. He (correctly) suggests that it would have been more appropriate to focus on substantive policy — what Romney would do diff… differ… different… look, I’m sorry, but….

… frack yes, it would be AWESOME if the media made Romney provide detailed policy ALTERNATIVES. I mean, have you seen the Mitt Romney official campaign site? The Iran policy is basically the same as the current policy. Seriously. Except that he “reserves” the right to go back to the inferior “third site” BMD option. The Middle East proposal is to create a we-won’t-call-it-a-Czar-Czar for the region — and it isn’t a Czar because it will have authorities that strike conservatives as even more extra-constitutional than what they’ve been after Obama for! Okay. Look, I know it isn’t fair to pick on campaign sites, but this is a candidate who believes specifics are for ordinary working people… 

Anyway, what was I writing? Graham’s fallback argument is that there’s nothing per se wrong with this coordination except that the liberal media are biased and liberal and stuff… because Clinton.

Been an interesting day. At least Obama’s “this is crazy, but Egypt an ally? Call it, maybe?“* line will introduce some new wrinkles into the narrative.

*I sure hope this is the kind of mixed-message signaling designed to “warn” another regime in an ambiguous way. How boring if it just turns out to be a “gaffe.” 

The Triumph of Liberal Internationalism?

Robert Golan-Viella reflects on a tectonic shift in partisan foreign-policy debate, i.e., the fact that the Democrats have the upper hand. He chalks this up to campaign politics: the key to a Republican victory runs through the economy. I agree that there are “strong critiques” of Obama foreign policy and that “leading Republicans aren’t making them.” But I don’t think this is “politically smart,” insofar as leading Republicans are making attacks on Obama foreign policy–just not very good ones.

As Blake Hounshell noted on twitter of the latest broadside from the Romney campaign:

I expect that I will return to this theme on a number of future occasions, but I should note that this is something quite similar to what’s been happening on the domestic politics front.

While there’s plenty of room to eviscerate Obama, the Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner from which they’re forced to make a lot of deeply questionable claims. This is what happens when you’ve convinced your base that the label “socialist” is broad enough to include a center-right President whose major domestic initiatives — national Romneycare, a tax-cut and infrastructure oriented stimulus, a cap-and-trade approach to reducing carbon emissions — were mainstream Republican positions only four years ago.

Indeed, the fact is that Obama foreign policy doesn’t look that much different from what Bush was doing in the later part of his second term. Sure, the Obama Administration cancelled an inferior BMD program and replaced it with a better one (props to Sean Kay for that phrasing). But on Iraq and Afghanistan Obama largely followed the path developed toward the end of the Bush administration. Even its position on Iran is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Obama’s more explicit offer to engage with Iran  highlighted Teheran’s intransigence; to the extent that it “worked,” it did so by generating greater international support for tougher sanctions — it convinced other countries to get behind preexisting US policy. Even the “Israel” issue is often more about style than substance (cf. Erik Voeten on the status of Jerusalem).
In that sense, it isn’t surprising that Russia has become a focal point. The “reset” policy really was a break from Bush foreign policy. On the one hand, though, that “break” has worked to secure Bush administration objectives, such as expanded transit routes to Afghanistan via Russian territory. On the other hand, we can imagine that McCain administration might have been much more aggressive on Georgia and not have pursued New START. I can see a case for recalibration of the US policy toward Tbilisi, but August 2008 pretty much revealed the limitations of full-throttle support for Georgia.
Nuclear-weapons policy, however, provides an opening for real attack on the Obama Administration. But once again, we’re not getting substantive criticism about nuclear doctrine but rather blog-serious level discourse about selling out US interests to Moscow on BMD and the aggregate size of the US nuclear arsenal. Recall that US-Russians relations have deteriorated lately precisely because Washington won’t capitulate to Moscow on matters such as Syria policy or EPAA.

One lesson of this, I think, was that we didn’t need all of that “security Democrat” handwringing during the first five years after 9/11. Remember all those people who were in a tizzy about how liberals and progressives needed to come up with “new thinking” to respond to the neoconservative challenge? That all looks pretty silly now. The Obama Administration’s foreign policy fits pretty squarely within the broad liberal-internationalist tradition, albeit with, on some issues, a significant lean toward its “pragmatic realist” variant. Indeed, with a few exceptions — such as the aforementioned disaster that was US policy toward Georgia — the Bush administration basically abandoned neo-conservativism after the 2006 midterms.

That’s not to say that we won’t get another taste of neoconservative crusading bluster if Romney wins. My guess is that his impulses aren’t in that direction, but foreign-policy novices often go where their advisors take them. But I think what the record of the past two decades suggests is pretty clear: Republican and Democratic foreign-policy centrists never needed to “rethink” anything. Their ideas have acquitted themselves quite well. Neo-Reaganite foreign policy? Not so much. 

Podcast No. 6 – The Brain-Melt Episode

The sixth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I and PTJ discuss academic administration before turning to the foreign-policy rhetoric of the 2012 campaign. This leads to under-developed ideas about American cultural identity, liberal order, Europe’s troubles, and why supplanting trans-Atlanticism with trans-Pacificism isn’t gonna be easy.

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Dan and PTJ Blather about Admin Stuff
  • The Foreign Policy Rhetoric of the 2012 Campaign
  • Can American Culture Handle Relative Decline?
  • Would a Commitment to Liberal Order Work?
  • From Liberal Order to Liberal “Space”
  • The Impact of Europe’s Crisis on American Identity
  • Trans-Pacificism is a Hard Sell
  • Dan and PTJ Engage in Self-Congratulatory Claptrap
  • End Matter

Note: the publication date of the podcasts remains in flux, but I am aiming to have them appear Friday-Sunday each week.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.

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