Sunday, October 21, 2012

Foreign Affairs

Remember when foreign affairs wasn't supposed to be a major part of the presidential campaign? It was supposed to be about jobs, jobs and jobs, but now that the world has intruded on our parochial election, the third debate will play a major role in the last two weeks of this contest.

This does not bode well for Mitt Romney, and it plays into one of Obama's strengths.

Romney's first problem is with Libya. He's been wrong about what actually happened since the attack on September 11, and made an error of both fact and tact in last week's debate. And now that internal documents show that the president was right about the Benghazi attacks, Mitt will need to find another avenue to question Obama's leadership.

He won't find that with Iran, due to the latest reports that show the Iranians interested in having face-to-face discussions with the United States about their nuclear program. Romney has been critical about the way that Obama has been handling the Iran issue, but reaching out for talks, even if they take place after the election, shows that the economic sanctions are having a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. On the campaign trail, Romney has been talking about military strikes on Iran as a way of protecting Israel. Now, however, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees that sanctions are an effective policy.

Romney has also boxed himself in on Afghanistan. According to this story in the LA Times, his policy is much like the President's.

In the 16 months that he has been running for president, the thrust of Mitt Romney's policy toward Afghanistan has been this: He would hew to President Obama's timeline to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2014, but he would part ways with the president by giving greater deference to the judgment of military commanders.

Beyond that, Romney has revealed little about what his guiding principles would be for committing U.S. troops in conflicts around the world or what elements have shaped his thinking about Afghanistan — subjects likely to be broached in Monday's foreign policy debate.

Excuse me for being naive, but don't we need a sense of Romney's worldview? Would he keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan if he already was president? And how much deference would he give to the military commanders? I thought that our Constitution guaranteed civilian control of the military. Ultimately, the president is the Commander-In-Chief. President Obama has made those tough decisions. It looks like Mitt is ready to...defer.

But the above policy represents a shift from previous Romney statements on Afghanistan, so it's difficult to tell exactly where he stands.

Obama's foreign policy has been pragmatic, and at times he has angered the left by keeping some of the Bush security laws and not closing Guantanamo Bay. But the killing of Osama bin Laden and treaties with Russia on weapons and Colombia, Panama and South Korea on trade prove that he is a president who has his eyes on the future and a keen sense of how the United States will succeed in a truly global environment. He needs to hammer these points home and expose Mitt Romney as the foreign policy rookie that he is.

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