Tag: campaign 2012 (page 1 of 2)

Mandates!

Krauthammer says that Obama doesn’t have a “mandate.” In 2004 he argued that Bush had one. According to Krauthammer:

[Obama] won by going very small, very negative,” said Krauthammer, speaking on FOX News as throngs of Obama supporters danced in celebration over Obama’s re-election victory. “This is not a mandate either in the numbers or the way he campaigned,” warned Krauthammer, adding, “He did not campaign on any ideas, anything large, anything important.

If memory serves, Bush did not wage a relentlessly positive campaign against Kerry.

Moreover, consolidating the largest expansion of health insurance in decades, protecting laws designed to reduce the risk of catastrophic failure in the financial sector, advocating major immigration reform, and supporting a major expansion of civil liberties in the form of same-sex marriage*… well, such things strike me as big ideas and important policies.

I admit that these (and other) parts of the Obama campaign may seem “small” for relentlessly self-interested gainfully employed white heterosexual males who really, really like invading other countries with large numbers of combat troops. But for a lot of people they matter a great deal.

Given that Krauthammer’s “big ideas” criteria doesn’t make much sense, maybe we should look more closely at what might drive his conclusion. As the numbers from 2012 are basically in, maybe we can figure out what does, in fact, transform a mandate of “0” into a mandate of “1”. Below are some possibilities: Continue reading

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Wednesday Morning Election Reaction

One nice thing about a status-quo election: it doesn’t leave international-affairs experts with a great deal to prognosticate on. It will be interesting to see if the administration does, indeed, show more “flexibility” on BMD cooperation with Moscow and if it makes a push on Israel-Palestine. We should see a fresh wave of talent coming into the administration. While the money right now is on John Kerry for Secretary of State, I’m more interested to see if people like Colin Kahl come back into the bureaucracy.

My main reaction last night was relief. And pride that the people of Maryland endorsed same-sex marriage at the ballot box. But the 2012 election makes clear how far the GOP has strayed into the epistemological wilderness. In 2009 the Republican elite made a decision to destroy Obama by blocking his center-right agenda. On issue after issue, the Democrats had adopted Republican policy positions: on health care reform, on the war on terror, on reducing carbon emissions via “cap-and-trade,” and on immigration reform. As the joke during the closing days of the 2008 campaign went, the difference between “socialism” and “faith in free markets” amounted to nothing more than a slightly higher rate on income in excess of $250,000.

The GOP doubled down on this rhetoric. The conservative movement adopted the strategies of the 1990s that they’d deployed against the Clinton Administration. These strategies, however, played out in a different context.

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Hey! Poll Adjusters: Unskew This!

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Prewritten November 7 Openings

As this election is, by many accounts, “too close to call,” I’ve generated different opening paragraphs for November 7. Each, I hope, confirms the retrospective “conventional wisdom.”

1. If Romney wins a decisive victory

In a surprisingly decisive victory that will draw inevitable comparisons to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 defeat of Jimmy Carter, Mitt Romney defied the pollsters and statisticians to become the 45th President of the United States. Barack Obama, perhaps derailed by Hurricane Sandy, failed to overcome a sputtering economy and his own lackluster performance in the first Presidential debate. Mitt Romney’s victory continues a string of historic elections. In 2008 Barack Obama became the first African-American elected President. Yesterday Mitt Romney became the first member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to ascend to the Presidency.

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A Note on Newspaper Endorsements

Last year Nate Silver posted numbers going back to 1972. Bottom line: for Obama and Romney to be running roughly even at this point tracks with 2004–and represents an improvement for the Democrat over most pre-2004 cycles.

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Tuesday Morning Debate Reaction

The final 2012 Presidential debate was a decisive “victory” for President Obama on both style and substance. Romney’s tack to the center left him with no other arguments than to invoke the resolve fairy and to call for a large increase in defense spending.

The dominant narrative among the pundit class seems to be that Obama won and that Romney did well enough for the debate not to matter. I’ve decided against making judgments about the political impact of debates, so I won’t comment on that.

The dominant narrative among international-affairs commentators is different. We found aspects of it downright painful.

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Three Things I’d Like to Hear During Tonight’s Debate

 

 

I’m guessing we’ll get more of the standard fare tonight: that the Benghazi attacks were bad; that Iran has to be deterred (will Romney bring Bibi’s bomb sketch?), that Syria is tragic, that the Arab Spring is scary, and that China and Russia are both really mean.      Afghanistan will get some attention, Iraq almost none.    Apparently, Bob Schieffer is not going to address a broader list but if he does, here are three issues I’d like to see addressed by the two candidates: Continue reading

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The Difference Parties Don’t Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.

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Wednesday Morning Linkage

There’s some rambling analysis after the linkage.

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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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Should Progressives Vote Green?

A few weeks ago we saw a nasty eruption of the should “progressives vote for Obama” debate–prompted, ironically enough, by a libertarian columnist. My reaction at the time was rather short. But I feel moved by Russel Arben Fox’s explanation of why he’s voting Green, albeit in Kansas, and the ensuing discussion at LGM, to say a bit more. Note that I’ll focus on the left-wing variant, but my comments apply equally to the right side of the spectrum.

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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

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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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Thursday Morning Debate Reactions

I had three immediate reactions to last night’s Presidential debate.

First, when one side is ecstatic and the other side is talking about how “debates don’t matter,” that’s a pretty good indication of who “won.”

Second, #bizarro2004 continues, with Mitt Romney playing the role of “John Kerry” and Barack Obama of “George W. Bush.”

In fairness, though, Romney was less stilted than Kerry and Obama wasn’t as bad as Bush was during the first debate of 2004.

Third, as a former policy debater and debate coach, I felt a bit like I was watching a decent national-circuit debater take on a decent regional debater in a round at a National Forensic League tournament. The regional debater simply couldn’t cover “the spread,” and so he didn’t try.

In the muggy air of a DC morning I stand by each of these snap judgments, but I do have some things to add.
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Slow boring…

Shorter LGM response(s) to Connor Freidersdorf: “Weber.”

Of course, that doesn’t resolve the debate. It merely puts it on the correct footing. 

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What’s Most Distressing about the Leaked Romney Video

Just like Barack Obama in 2008, Mitt Romney apparently believes the silly theories of partisan preference popular among his base. Or he’s craven enough to peddle the argument to his donors. Neither is good news.

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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.” 

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Inside the Bubble

Erik Erikson’s full-throated attack on the US media and Obama is getting bounced around the right-wing twitter-verse today.  For those of us who aren’t part of that universe, it provides an interesting glimpse inside the bubble.

It begins thus:

Yesterday, as the American consulate in Libya was smoking and the rioters were returning in Egypt, the President of the United States flew off to Las Vegas for a fundraiser while his spokesman was telling the American press corps that yesterday wasn’t really a normal political day. Had it been George W. Bush, the media would, right now, be marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches.

Should Obama have suspended his campaign on September 12th? In the absence of any major foreign-policy decisions, I don’t really understand the argument here. And I don’t see how anyone who lived through the Bush presidency can say, with a straight face, that “the media would have been marching on the White House with pitch forks and torches” under similar circumstances.

He continues:

I get that Chuck Todd is a former Democrat hill staffer. I get that the Politico is riddled with Democrats, some former activists and a former staffer for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I get that Michael Scherer from Time magazine is a left wing reporter for Mother Jones and Salon.com turned respectable, “objective” journalist. I get that Ben Smith, leading up Buzz Feed, is a leftwing journalist paraded about as if he is some sort of objective reporter at a trendy site full of cat photos. What I really get is that the American media runs with a herd mentality, leans left, and yesterday collectively fell over their group think as they leaned so far left to focus on Mitt Romney and not President Obama. Yesterday, the American media beclowned itself in ways I didn’t really even think was possible, even knowing how in the tank for Barack Obama they are.

Of course, it wasn’t just “the media” that was shocked and appalled by Romney’s disingenuous opportunism.

Yesterday, we learned that there were no Marines protecting our Ambassador to Libya despite State Department warnings about violence and kidnappings in the Benghazi. We already knew Al Qaeda was coming on strong there. But we relied on locals for support and now we know the locals betrayed us as they have in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq too. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Speaking of “the media,” both of these links go to posts at Breitbart.com. Both of those posts are riffs on…. wait for it…. mainstream media reporting. Anyway, according to google news there were 71,500 English-language stories that mentioned “Egypt OR Libya” and “Embassy OR Consulate.” Of those, 47,800 did not include the word “Romney.” A quick browse suggests that the ~60% of the stories mentioning Romney simply included a reference to his campaign statement condemning the attacks and the Obama Administration. Note that the Romney campaign issued its condemnations with the aim of getting them included in stories about the attacks.

Is 60% too much of a focus on Romney? That’s a subjective judgment. I tend to think that the answer is “yes,” but I’m also convinced that if the media had ignored Romney’s campaign statements then Republicans would be crying foul. No, what Erikson is actually upset about — and this is clear from his rundown of biased reporters — is that the political media focused on Romney.

Let’s repeat that again: the political media focused on Romney. Chuck Todd is not a Middle East reporter. Politico’s main goal is to call who “won the morning” in American politics. Ben Smith’s gig at buzzfeed? Definitely not “foreign correspondent.” These people were doing their jobs. Now, you and I may not think much of the inordinate attention that they get. I’d prefer that we focused more on foreign affairs qua foreign affairs. But I suspect Erikson wouldn’t have been at all upset if these same people had been lambasting Obama for his “poor handling” of attacks. Scratch that: I’m almost certain he’d been dancing with glee.

Why am I certain? Because his next line is:

Night before last, the President condemned Mitt Romney in harsher tones than he condemned the rioters. It took him until sun up yesterday to condemn them.

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

And, of course, the link is to Breitbart (linking to Talking Points Memo). The TPM story says no such thing. It covers Secretary of State Clinton, who is, I should remind readers, speaking on behalf of the US government, condemning the attacks. Here’s Clinton:

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.”

 It also reports the following:

Mitt Romney seized on the embassy attacks as an opportunity to condemn Obama’s “disgraceful” handling of the situation in a statement late Tuesday. Despite the embassy’s assertion that its statement was drafted before protests began, Romney slammed the White House for turning to apologies as the “first response” to violence. 

“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,” he said. “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.” 

That didn’t sit well with the Obama campaign, who accused Romney of exploiting the crisis for electoral gain. 

“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” Obama’s campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said in a statement.

Are the tones used by the Obama campaign harsher than those used by Secretary Clinton? You can judge for yourself. The important point, however, is this: “Obama campaign,” “President Obama,” and “Secretary of State Clinton” are not the same things. Indeed, the idea that there’s something wrong with the Obama campaign responding to an attack by the Romney campaign prior to the President’s own official statement is rather bizarre.

Obama’s official statement, which came yesterday, carried no mention of Mitt Romney. Obama’s comment on his rival’s statements was, in fact, rather terse.

Back to Erikson:

Yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a man who swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, called an American civilian to ask him to stop exercising his first amendment rights. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

I’m well into tl;dr territory, so I’ll just point out that unless Dempsey threatened Jones, there’s nothing unusual about what he did — nor anything unconstitutional.

We also now know that the President, close to 60% of the time, has opted for printed intelligence briefings, which this White House thinks are as useful as an intelligence officer in the room who the President can probe, prod, challenge, and question. 

But the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney.

Written briefings convey information much more quickly than verbal ones. I’m also sure that if the President wants to “probe, prod, challenge, and question” intelligence reports, he has ways of doing this that don’t involve having a briefer in the room. Those ways might even be more effective, as briefers will never be experts on every aspect of intelligence in the PDB.

And in focusing on Mitt Romney, finally, of all the places, Slate and Dave Weigel finally point out that Mitt Romney’s gaffe was no gaffe, it was a consistent view of foreign policy foreign to the ears of the political press. He, I, and many others really do think Barack Obama is an apologist. We really do think his speech to Cairo after his entrance to the White House was part of a world apology tour. And we sure as hell think his actions in the past year to foster the Arab Spring were the actions of a naive fool.

But then the media has been playing the naive fool for him.

Uh. Ok. Even if the term”gaffe” was a central part of the criticisms being leveled at Romney — and, of course it is not — I don’t think Weigel’s column means what Erikson wants it to mean.

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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. 

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Romney’s Poland Obsession

Associated Press

Although he doesn’t get the European Phased Adapted Approach (EPAA) quite right, Mark Adomanis at Forbes makes the right point about the BMD portion of the Romney foreign-policy memo:

I don’t think I’m being uncharitable, but if you read this paragraph and didn’t have any background knowledge about US missile defense in Eastern Europe you would come away with at least two very clear conclusions 

1) Obama canceled a missile defense system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic
2) Obama did not replace this planned missile defense system with anything else

Conclusion 1) is accurate, Obama really did kibosh the Czech/Polish system that had been planned by George W. Bush. Conclusion 2), however, is absolutely, categorically false. Obama , you see, replaced the system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic with a system in Romania. The United States is, right this second, continuing with a play to deploy land-based interceptors in Romania by 2015. Even the Heritage Foundation, hardly an Obama fan club, has recognized this

You can criticize Obama for pulling the system out of Poland and the Czech Republic, you can criticize him for needling the always sensitive Poles, you can criticize him for not moving quickly enough with the system in Romania, you can criticize him for being overly accommodative of the Russians, you can, truthfully if not compellingly, criticize him for an awful lot of things regarding foreign policy in general and missile defense in particular. But what you absolutely cannot criticize Obama for is “canceling” or “abandoning” ballistic missile defense in Europe. By any minimally honest reckoning, Obama has not done that.

This provides an excuse for me to peddle my current theory of the “you betrayed Poland on BMD” argument: former Bush administration officials are just really and truly pissed off that the Obama team undid their hard work on the third-site negotiations with Warsaw.

Recall that Polish public opinion was against the BMD agreement. The negotiations were difficult and took an enormous amount of work. The Bush administration scrambled to complete the agreement before leaving office. The fact that Obama’s people botched the announcement and upset the Polish government just rubbed salt in the wound.

Of course, Romney’s advisors also don’t like the Russians, arms control, and all that. Clearly “abandoning allies” is one of the few lines of attack the Romney campaign considers potentially potent against Obama when it comes to foreign affairs. But I suspect a lot of this comes down to a much more mundane emotion: frustration as seeing difficult work tossed into the proverbial garbage can.

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