STIRRETT: Foreign Policy in Focus
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 23:10
According to Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast, neither President Obama nor Governor Romney won the recent foreign policy debate. The real winner was George W. Bush because “the framework for understanding the world that he put in place after Sept. 11 still holds.” He describes this framework as the viewing of foreign policy almost through an exclusively military lens.
I would actually argue the opposite. The reason why there was so little conflict in the debate is because both candidates envision a world where American power is driven more by economics and relationships than boots on the ground.
While much of the debate was focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, what stood out was the level of agreement between the two candidates on significant military withdrawals.
For instance, both Obama and Romney support keeping the United States out of Syria as well as removing an American military presence from the country by the end of 2014.
On the issue of China, both candidates appreciate that the country is quickly becoming a global superpower, if it is not already. Moreover, Obama and Romney both understand the increasing sensitivity on the issue of China in many parts of the United States.
For his part, Romney has pledged to label China a “currency manipulator” and to generally push a tougher line. Obama has responded by using the power of incumbency to press trade cases against China at the World Trade Organization.
Most of Romney’s criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy are relatively broad, centering on the theme that the president has apologized too much for the United States’ actions. These relatively minor grievances are just another indication of how the differences between the two candidates are sometimes more based on tone than actual policy.
Even though the GOP has been dominated for most of my own life by neoconservatives who support military interventions internally by and large, the Republican Party also has a substantial isolationist component embodied in some ways by Rand and Ron Paul.
The era when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) were emblematic of the GOP foreign policy establishment are fast dissolving. In its place are an increasing number of Republicans who are asking whether Americans can afford as many commitments abroad, especially as the deficit becomes a greater and greater risk to long-term American vitality.
The reality is that it is difficult for Republicans to criticize the president’s record, as under the Obama administration the United States has had a slew of victories abroad, such as bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. Obama has also finally ended the disastrous war in Iraq and set a timetable for American soldiers leaving Afghanistan.
At the same, the United States has worked to shift its focus towards Asia, which is fast becoming the center of global geopolitics. Obama has worked to expand upon historic relationships with countries such as South Korea and Japan while broadening American military presence in the region to countries such as Australia.
While foreign policy is traditionally an issue that benefits Republicans, it appears to be the opposite in this election. In the instant CBS polls after the recent debate, viewers selected Obama as the winner by as much as 30 points. Couple this with the fact that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has a stratospheric 66 percent approval rating, her highest in almost 15 years.
These relative successes have resulted in the GOP and Romney adopting policies similar to those of the president.
In the end, regardless of who is elected president, the United States will end up with a roughly similar foreign policy. In contrast to what Beinart argues, this country will increasingly view the world through an economic, rather than military, perspective.
Scott Stirrett is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.