Obama speech: Despite foreign policy successes, a need for the big view (+video)
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama pointed to foreign policy successes, such as killing Osama bin Laden. But he and GOP nominee Mitt Romney still need to lay out a vision for a changing world. US influence depends on its competitiveness.
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Romney’s course is harder to anticipate. On the one hand, an abiding feature of American foreign policy is continuity from one president to the next. President Clinton’s emphasis on peacekeeping grew out of the first humanitarian military mission launched by his predecessor, George H. W. Bush, in Somalia. Mr. Obama’s escalation of drone strikes is an extension of counterterrorism strategies adopted under his predecessor, George W. Bush. For all of Romney’s strong show of support for Israel, he has refrained from pledging to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.Skip to next paragraph
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It is equally unlikely that he would tack hard on Iran or alter the disengagement process in Afghanistan. His stated concerns over Russia, while sounding like a throwback to the cold war, actually reflect Western frustration at Moscow’s and Beijing’s defiance of international sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
It may be that Romney is either holding his cards closely or, more likely, still developing his approach in an area of policy in which he has little experience. The problem is that if he wins the election without having defined a clear foreign policy philosophy, he will have sown confusion and skepticism abroad. And he will have possibly limited his ability to carry out strategic ideas for which he either had not built a case or that conflict with goals more important to his party base.
For as little as has been said about foreign policy during the campaign season so far, one point of consensus has emerged. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it this way at the Republican National Convention last week: “There is no country, no not even a rising China, that can do more harm to us than we can do to ourselves if we fail to accomplish the tasks before us here at home.”
Obama made a similar point last night: “After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it’s time to do some nation-building right here at home.”
Domestic and foreign policy intersect at the imperative of economic competitiveness. Put differently, future US influence abroad will depend on how the next president begins to find a balance between debt and deficit reduction and the costs of modernizing infrastructure and educating the next generation of American engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs.
The presidential debates in October provide the last big opportunity for the candidates to address these issues. They should not pass it up.