Another debate! This one included a little foreign policy but not enough to be informative.
Americans don’t give foreign policy enough respect! The economy and jobs are important parts of domestic policy and affect our comfort and happiness. Other elements of domestic policy impact how good our highways are or how much access we have to the National Parks. For most practical purposes, though, only foreign policy involves us in wars or allows us to be victimized by international terrorists or causes us to be in danger if we travel abroad. All of our policies are interconnected but to me, the keystone is foreign policy.
I’ll recap what I’ve learned of the Obama administration foreign policy in this post and then update both candidates after the next debate which will be focused on foreign policy.
Obama’s foreign policy can be viewed, in part, through the lens of history. We also have his campaign website and the White House site to show us expectations for the future. The administration’s Foreign Policy paper presents the intent of their foreign policy plans from May, 2010. Interestingly, the campaign site has absolutely no mention of foreign policy. The closest it comes is “Nation Building at Home” and that has to do with how to spend at least some of the money “saved” from ending the war in Afghanistan on domestic programs. The Foreign Policy paper at the White House website does relate building the economy and infrastructure to foreign policy plans but the campaign web site does not.
The White House talks about a world in which the risks have changed from ideological conflicts to ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts. They also address shared risks to the global community stemming from environment, food security, inequality and economic instability. In this world, the United States will continue to underwrite global security by “renewing American leadership . . . building on the sources of strength at home, while shaping an international order”. The Romney campaign also talks about shaping world events and has their own set of principles to do the shaping. Both see the world as a dangerous place.
The president sees a holistic approach to foreign policy. The paper describes a “whole of government” approach based on renewing American strength at home and promoting engagement abroad. It sees strength based on our prosperity which in turn is based on education, growth, innovation, healthcare and a controlled federal deficit. Our prosperity and resulting economic strength support our military, our diplomatic efforts and serves as a major source of our influence in the world. The administration also sees a United States in which we have slipped from world leadership in several areas such as education, health care and science as a result of “underinvestment”.
Our engagement would include international institutions, which they admit need to brought into a 21st century role, as well as through other nations, including our traditional allies and new ones. The administration also stresses engagement with people throughout the world through business, travel, government educational and public service programs and student exchanges.
The principle behind our leadership and engagement with others is respect for human rights. The administration specifically rejects the
false choice between the narrow pursuit of our interests and an endless campaign to impose our values. Instead, we see it as fundamental to our own interests to support a just peace around the world—one in which individuals, and not just nations, are granted the fundamental rights that they deserve.
Our strength and engagement are the levers to help move the world into a more “just and sustainable international order”. It depends on our moral leadership as well as our military and economic leadership.
The strategy goes on to list some specific initiatives such as reversing the spread of nuclear and biological weapons, advancing peace in the middle east and destroying al-Qaeda and related groups.
The question is have they been successful? They certainly have been striving for improved economy and all it brings with it. Even though they include deficit reduction as a foreign policy issue, their plan for dealing with it is sort of murky and not nearly as aggressive as alternate plans. The administration has been steadfast in getting engagement with other countries before taking major actions as in Libya but at the same time we execute drone strikes in Pakistan without their engagement, to the detriment of our reputation and, some would say, in violation of our principles (life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, habeas corpus, probable cause . . .). That is where the rubber of ideals meets the road of pragmatism.
It is also clear that they have not promoted middle eastern peace between the Palestinians and Israelis effectively. This issue has never seemed to be a major priority for the Obama administration.
Where they have undoubtedly been successful is in pursuit of al-Qaeda leaders. That, along with improving relationships with Europe, establishing three free trade agreements and focusing at home on the economy, jobs and healthcare are areas where the administration has executed to their plan.
The greatest asset the administration has brought to bear is patience and not rushing to judgement. The recent flap about the Libyan consulate seems to result from a number of missed signals and mixed messages within the administration. However, their ability to manage messages under these circumstances is a sign of possible failure in their communications, not a failure of their foreign policy.
After Monday’s debate on foreign policy, I’ll come back to the subject one more time and compare what the candidates have said and done so far to what they say on Monday.