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The Democrats' foreign-policy game

What you vote for isn't always what you get.

By Stuart Gottlieb / July 7, 2008

New York

The Democratic Party and its presumed presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, have made "restoring America's image" and "renewing American leadership" cornerstones of their foreign-policy promises for 2008.Nearly every Democratic foreign-policy speech, press release, or Web link says as much.

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This is a powerful message that certainly resonates with American voters and our friends around the world. However, if we look just below the surface of the rhetoric and analyze specific policies proposed by Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail, we find plans that would only further damage America's international standing.

On two critical issues in particular – trade and the war in Iraq – Democrats have been trying to have their cake and eat it too: They claim they will restore America's image and leadership and simultaneously promise unilateralist and irresponsible policies certain to have the opposite effect.

This foreign-policy "house of mirrors" (where what you're told is not necessarily what you get) may have been useful to get through the primaries. But it risks tying the Democrats up in a Gordian knot in the general election, and, if they win the White House, well beyond.

Regarding trade, Democrats have become unabashedly protectionist to the point where they are willing to thumb their noses at American friends and allies like South Korea, Colombia, Canada, and Mexico. In May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shelved a painstakingly negotiated trade pact with Colombia that would have primarily benefited American exports. If the US is wary of trading with tiny Colombia – a democratizing neighbor confronting terrorism and drug trafficking – what does that say about America's capacity for global economic leadership?

Ms. Pelosi also recently killed "fast-track" procedures intended to ease congressional votes on trade agreements, meaning new pacts with South Korea and Panama are also likely to remain in limbo. And just last month, Democrats in the House and Senate proposed a bill (containing many of Senator Obama's campaign promises) that would require the president to submit plans to renegotiate all current trade agreements – including the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico – before Congress would consider any new agreements.