Critics of current U.S. policy towards Cuba have already begun speculating what unilateral changes may be in store for that contentious relationship during President Obama's second term. By winning the state of Florida -- home to the highest concentration of Cuban exiles -- despite implementing some initiatives in his first term that were opposed by Cuban Americans in Congress, President Obama, in their view, can be aggressive in further liberalizing policy without fear now of any political fallout (although widely reported exit polls that suggested up to 48 percent of Cuban Americans voted for Obama have been debunked by CapitolHillCubans.com).
Yet however the numbers play out in Florida, frankly it is no more than irrational exuberance to expect any significant change in U.S.-Cuba relations over the next four years -- that is, barring the deaths of both Fidel and Raul Castro.
In the first place, the Cuban American bloc remains solid in Congress. In the Senate, the formidable duo of Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been augmented by Senator-Elect Ted Cruz (R-TX) to keep the administration honest on policy. In the House, anyone who believes newly elected Joe Garcia (D-FL) is going to carry the banner of appeasement is sorely mistaken. He favors family contact, not overturning the embargo.
Secondly, critics have convinced themselves that if it weren't for the Cuban American lobby, the U.S. would have long ago reached an accommodation with the Castro dictatorship. What they refuse to recognize is that the biggest impediment to any fundamental change in the relationship is the absolute unwillingness of the dictatorship to undertake significant reforms that would put pressure on U.S. policymakers to reciprocate with policy changes.
That said, to contemplate any serious re-evaluation of relations on the U.S. part as long as the regime systematically represses the Cuban people - to say nothing of the continued unjust incarceration of U.S. development worker Alan Gross -- and relentlessly continues to thwart U.S. interests in international fora is just self-delusion.
Moreover, even in the space the administration thinks it may have some flexibility on the issue -- expanded travel, supporting micro-enterprises, and increased agricultural sales -- there are complications. The 1996 Cuban Liberty & Democratic Solidarity Act (a.k.a., Helms-Burton) is still on the books and it states that anyone improperly using property illegally confiscated from U.S. citizens (including naturalized citizens of Cuban descent) can be sued in a U.S. court of law. While it is true that the "right of action" has been suspended by successive administrations, the law still holds that anyone using or accessing those properties is liable.
Will a U.S. administration sanction activity that might violate the letter and spirit of U.S. law? For example, what happens when a U.S. tour group traveling under a license as part of the administration's expanded travel program entertains itself at a venue illegally confiscated from its original owners? Or, what happens when a U.S. agricultural company sells its products to Cuba and has to utilize a port, a dock, or otherwise come into some contact with what U.S. law considers stolen property?
It matters little what anyone thinks about the matter; the law is the law. I'm not a lawyer, but one has to wonder how long U.S. law can recognize a wrong was committed against U.S. citizens without giving them the opportunity to redress it. No doubt some creative attorneys are thinking about the same thing.
So, advice to critics of U.S. policy towards Cuba is to re-cork the bubbly. Absent any significant change in Havana, including the earthly expiration of Fidel and Raul Castro, the Holy Grail of unilateral change in U.S. policy is unlikely to be forthcoming. Their energies should instead be directed towards convincing Cuban leaders to establish a concrete rationale as to why any U.S. administration would need to re-evaluate the relationship.
Conservatives need to face it squarely: We lost the argument. Voters gave us a hearing, gave us the opportunity to make our case, then decided they didn't trust us to solve their problems any more than they did a president who passed legislation they didn't like, by means they didn't approve of, behaved recklessly with the nation's finances, and seemed uninterested in working with the opposition. We need to take ownership of losing the argument rather than taking refuge in excuses or despairing for the future.
Foreign policy was not the fulcrum of this election, but it did matter, and in ways that helped President Obama. Governor Romney is a pragmatic, problem-solving politician who failed to believe he could be elected as one, and adopted an amalgam of policies to cast him in Ronald Reagan's mold. But amidst the mythologizing of Reagan on the right, we ought to consider whether Reagan's national security stance would make sense in our current conditions: When our defense budget is half the world's total, when an actual peer able to contest American primacy is fifteen or twenty years in the future, when our people are weary of all we've undertaken and discouraged at how little help other countries have been, when our economy is shaky and its recovery slow and household incomes pinched, when we are poised to ask Americans worried about the future to receive less from government retirement and medical programs.
Conservatives talk an awful lot about the public losing its commitment to defense spending, and Governor Romney outlined an increase to 4 percent of GDP even as government spending contracts, while the president kept repeating the importance of nation building at home. We ought perhaps to consider that our taxpayers simply aren't persuaded by our arguments that the world is so dangerous or our defense spending too low. Looking at what we have spent across the past decade, and the cost-exchange ratio we are experiencing with our enemies, they may not be wrong. Voters are worried about the state of our union, appear willing to accept near-term risk in national security in order to gain more near-term confidence in our domestic security. It's not an irresponsible choice, given how wide our margin for error is on national security issues and the multiplicity of means beyond military we have to affect them.
The president more accurately read the public mood about the wars than conservatives, too. We Republicans are savagely and rightly critical of President Obama's handling of both Iraq and Afghanistan. But voters don't want to hear it from the people who lost the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the first time, even if we righted the ship on Iraq. The cost of our mistakes remains fresh in the public mind, and Team Obama got lots of mileage off the trope about returning to office the same people who made the mistakes in the first place. Maybe if we sounded less strident about going to war they would trust our judgment more; but maybe our credibility problem will persist until all of us with connections to the Bush administration are purged from the rolls of future administrations.
We can celebrate that we have won half the argument about the direction of our country: we have pushed debt into the center of political discourse. Voters are worried about our national insolvency, understand it is constraining our ability to fix our problems and sure to lead to even worse problems unless we take corrective action. But we were implausible in our policies. We insisted defense must increase and emphasized growing dangers that will demand more wars. We railed about the Obama administration's defense cuts when our alternative in the House included the same reductions. We criticized the president for not embracing Bowles-Simpson but didn't vote for it ourselves. After arguing debt's centrality, we flatly rejected deals that would have a ten to one cuts to spending ratio. We sounded unsympathetic to our fellow Americans receiving government assistance. Voters considered us right in our descriptions, but reckless or mean in our prescriptions. Perhaps we ought to return to the idea of compassionate conservatism as we frame and argue for our policies. We need more Paul Ryan, not less: Details and principles did get traction, but we didn't have the consistency across our policies to build voters' confidence.
One of the most grevious mistakes of the Bush administration was to assert by executive order what could have been achieved legislatively; it made solutions more brittle and less enduring not to reach for broad public support. In some senses, it feels like we conservatives may be making a similar mistake of asserting what we believe should be done on national security issues instead of listening more to what limits our public wants to place on what we will do and negotiating solutions that don't overwhelm voters.
I urge caution on our Democratic opponents: You ought to be worried that with all its problems, the Republican party captured 48 percent of voters nationwide. And you ought to remind yourselves that every single member of the House of Representatives just got reelected, too; the president isn't the only politician returned to office. That's not a mandate, it's an invitation to compromise.
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From an economic perspective, should we be optimistic or pessimistic in the wake of the election? The redoubtable Wolfgang Munchau offered an appealing and different way to think about this in the Financial Times over the last couple weeks. In the context of the euro crisis, he asked not what a crystal ball foretells for the future of the euro crisis, but rather what you have to believe in order to be optimistic about that future. How heavily tinted do your rose-colored glasses have to be for things to look good?
So, what does one have to believe to be optimistic about the U.S. economic situation? There certainly are such optimists. A fundamental premise of the Obama campaign was that the president had adopted all the right economic palliatives, but that they just took time to kick in.
There are at least a couple broad economic arguments one could make in support of a cheery view. Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff cannot usually be accused of excessive cheerfulness in their forecasts. They have been vehemently arguing that downturns that stem from financial crises take a long time to sort out. This is a prompt to lower our expectations. We need not be disheartened by weak economic performance, the message goes. These things just take a long time; they get better eventually. This suggests restored confidence in tools (such as the stimulus) that might otherwise seem to have been ineffective. It would seem to promises payoffs to the patient and perseverant. That was an Obama campaign theme: Give it more time.
This plug for patience is consistent with the second principal positive premise: It's all cyclical. Economists have long discussed the booms and busts of business cycles. Such discussions had faded during decades of relative prosperity (sometimes referred to as "the great moderation"). Moderation is now out the window, so we can turn back to some familiar cyclical arguments. Why should things turn around? Cars and dishwashers and machine tools wear out. People can put off replacement purchases for a while, but eventually they need something new. Along the same lines, young people who may have stayed in their parents' house a while longer than otherwise finally go out, get married, get a place, and furnish it. The price of the house they had looked at may finally seem to have bottomed out. These are all cyclical arguments for a turnaround. Enthusiasts of such explanations point to blips in consumer confidence like buds signaling the start of spring.
If one buys this reasoning, President Obama will now get to reap the benefits of his work and take credit for the inevitable recovery to follow. Had Gov. Romney won, the reasoning goes, he would have unjustly taken credit for the good times to come. Perhaps.
What does one see with untinted glasses? U.S. economic growth has to come from somewhere. It is hard to argue that it will emerge from a bold revival of consumer spending. Pessimism on this point is part of what is behind discussions of a "new normal" that features slower growth. Consumers are still working their way out of debt, the country is still borrowing, and the future liabilities toward an aging population loom large. This is a difficult time for a spending binge. The impending fiscal cliff is one sign of this, though much bigger pension and entitlement challenges remain unaddressed. If you tax people now, they have less money to spend. If they worry about future taxes, they may well save to meet those coming obligations. That would be in lieu of spending.
If the growth is not to come from selling to U.S. consumers, what about selling abroad? The Obama administration did this math quite a while back. The president set a goal of doubling exports in 5 years. Laudable, but how to achieve it? The administrations proposals largely centered around small export promotion initiatives and initial success was claimed when exports rebounded from their recession lows. When the administration finally moved to pass the free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama, it claimed those, too, as part of its plan to double exports. Serious new market-opening could help spur markets, but the only such initiative that President Obama has pushed forward -- an expanded version of President Bush's Trans-Pacific Partnership -- faces major obstacles.
In terms of growth through exports, all of these policy measures pale in comparison to the economic health of trading partners. For the United States, NAFTA looms largest, taking almost 1/3 of U.S. exports in 2011. Any economic booms to be found there? The latest IMF World Economic Outlook predicted that Canadian growth would slow from 2.4 percent in 2011 to under 2 percent in 2012 and 2013. Mexican growth, while faster, was 5.6 percent in 2010, 3.9 percent in 2011, and is supposed to keep decelerating through 2017. So where else might we see growth? The European Union takes 18 percent of U.S. exports, but it has its own well-publicized troubles. The latest figures show that Germany may be approaching a recession. China buys about 7 percent of U.S. exports, but its growth has also slowed. Add in a troubled Japan and we've now described just over 60 percent of U.S. export markets.
In all likelihood, the actual picture is worse than just described. These tepid growth prospects assume nothing drastic will happen to throw off the world economy. One of the striking things about this last election season was that there were any number of foreign policy and economic crises that could have exploded. Syria came closest, but Iran, U.S. fiscal troubles, and the euro crisis all remained relatively quiescent. That may be considered good fortune, or it could be the result of hard policy work sweeping problems under the rug. It was no accident that the fiscal cliff arrived after the election. Treasury Secretary Geithner was pretty blatant about asking European countries to move smoothly past deadlines that might have ignited an economic conflagration. I do not have the expertise to speculate about why Israel was so well-behaved over election season, despite its deep-seated concerns about Iran. The upshot was that there was no Middle East conflagration disrupting oil supplies.
These all appear to be problems deferred, not problems solved. Such deferrals often lead to more explosive outcomes later on. To foresee that these potential problems will all remain tranquil for the four years to come would require one to look through a particularly garish set of lenses.
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Tomorrow is election day. It brings -- at last -- an end to this exhausting campaign season. A respite that I'm sure President Obama and Gov. Romney welcome more than anyone. By this point just about everyone who cares in the outcome has had their chances to pontificate, contribute, mobilize, volunteer, and otherwise do their part for their chosen candidate. Our crew here at Shadow Government has expressed our opinions.
Many have observed that this is one of the most consequential elections in recent American history, and I don't disagree. There are not just two candidates competing but two different visions over the American future, and fundamental questions such as whether our nation can still be a place of opportunity, enterprise, aspiration, upward mobility, and limited yet effective government. But without downplaying the gravity of tomorrow's vote, here I want to pivot away from any last minute campaign interventions and instead reflect on this moment in the life of our nation - at once still young yet also the oldest constitutional republic in the world. History and geography both offer some welcome perspective and, I hope, reassurances for all Americans.
First, let us take pride in but never take for granted the fact that whichever candidate loses will honor the will of the electorate. Every time an incumbent American president is defeated, he willingly steps aside and permits the greatest peaceful transfer of power in world history. Every time a challenger loses to an incumbent, he accepts the result and submits to the authority of his president. Even the most fervent partisans on both sides will appreciate that should President Obama lose, he will graciously relinquish power to President-elect Romney. And if Gov. Romney loses, he will graciously step aside and honor President Obama's second term. Americans don't have to worry about the defeated candidate mobilizing a militia of tanks in the streets, or riots in the cities, or secession. (Sure, Florida in 2000 wasn't pretty, but the fact that it was peacefully resolved further reinforces this point).
Second, while the consequences of this election are substantial, they are not existential. Our nation's current trials are severe, but we have been through worse. This is not 1796, when the question of whether our republican experiment in ordered liberty would endure was answered by George Washington's willingness to step aside and allow an election for his successor. This is not 1860, when secession and war loomed, and the nation's very existence was in peril. This is not 1940, when world war approached. And this is not any of the Cold War elections, when Americans voted not just for the man who would preside over their economy but also over the launch codes and contest with the Soviet Union that threatened global apocalypse.
Third, the very fact that we can vote and choose our leaders is a blessing that many in the world today do not know. Two days after our presidential election, the Chinese government will also begin to transfer power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping - an outcome that is foreordained, and that 1.3 billion Chinese citizens will have no say in. Russia held its own stage-managed election earlier this year, when the only uncertainty was the final numbers in the manufactured margin of Vladimir Putin's coronation. Some 35,000 Syrian citizens have been killed by their own government for their efforts to demand accountability of their rulers and a voice in their nation's future. Many Iranians risked (or even sacrificed) their lives for the same thing in 2009. The freedom we have in the United States to choose our own leaders and know that they will honor the democratic process "has been bought with a price," to invoke the biblical phrase. Let us honor it, and be thankful, as we vote this election day.
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There are two contradictory narratives about the last four years of Obama's stewardship of foreign policy.
One is advanced by Obama supporters, former and wannabe-future members of the administration along with sympathizers in the media and the academy. This narrative would have you believe that Obama has been a foreign policy maestro, responsible for no consequential errors of commission or omission.
The other is advanced by Obama's most hardened detractors, and at times has included official statements from the Romney campaign. This narrative would have you believe that Obama has been an unmitigated foreign policy disaster, responsible for the wholesale surrender of American interests around the globe.
The truth is somewhere in between. Obama has had some successes on the foreign policy front (chiefly when he has followed along a policy trajectory laid down by Republicans), but he has also presided over choices and actions that have hurt American interests. He has avoided the worst possible foreign policy blunders, but he has been responsible for many other decisions that were probably mistakes. He has erred on the side of taking the popular course rather than wise course, and this pattern means that his foreign policy spins today better than it will look in the years to come.
If Obama loses, there will be plenty of time for the historical record to balance itself and for the more reasonable mixed assessment to take root.
If Obama wins, however, there will be an urgent need for the Obama team to stop drinking their own bathwater and to do a sober self-assessment. The Bush administration did just that after winning reelection and the second term was, in some important respects, a distinct improvement over the first.
It is very difficult for any administration to do that, but I think the Obama team is especially challenged because they are so wedded to a distorted narrative about the first four years.
There is hope, however, in the form of insider voices calling for change. To that end, as the DC community hunkers down to endure Hurricane Sandy, my recommendation is that everyone involved with the foreign policy establishment read carefully two articles from FP.com, both by Rosa Brooks: "The Case for Intervention" and "You'll never eat lunch in this town again!"
The articles have already generated considerable controversy in certain circles, but I am surprised how little they have penetrated the mainstream media. I asked a very distinguished reporter who has specialized in reporting on the Obama national security process about them the other day and he indicated he had never read them, even though her article effectively rebuts one of his primary story-lines.
Nor do I consider Brooks' critique to be indisputable. For instance, I give Obama more credit for a strategic vision than she does and I think Obama has resisted Congressional pressure far more vigorously than she claims -- for instance, he resisted Congressional pressure to ramp up sanctions on Iran in 2009 and 2010 so as to preserve his preferred policy of offering unconditional bilateral talks.
Yet on balance her critique is persuasive, all the more so because she cannot be dismissed as a shill for Romney. Indeed, in prior and subsequent posts, she has made her loyalties to Obama unmistakable.
But when she writes about her personal experience inside the Obama national security team, and when that is supplemented with ample quotes from other insiders, her critique has a unique authority.
Brooks' two pieces combine to make up a compelling transition memo for those planning a possible Obama second term. Perhaps a Romney victory will preempt that planning. But just in case he wins a second term, we should all hope that Obama has a planning cell that gives greater credence to what the critics are saying than what the campaign is spinning.
One of the favorite canards that Obama activists and surrogates hurl at Mitt Romney is that he is surrounded by a group of wild-eyed George W. Bush neo-cons who cannot wait to bomb Iran and bring America into yet another Middle Eastern conflict, even before the war in Afghanistan has come to an end. A recent diatribe by Kwame Anthony Appiah in the November 8 edition of the staunchly left-wing New York Review of Books highlights the tone of these attacks. "Romney's bellicosity about Iran is not encouraging," he asserts. "Nor is the fact that he has turned for foreign policy advice to the architects and advocates of the Iraq War."
Appiah and his colleagues have it all wrong. None of the staunchest "architects and advocates" of the Iraq war, I repeat, none, is advising Governor Romney. Not Donald Rumsfeld. Not Dick Cheney. Not Paul Wolfowitz. Not Doug Feith. And none of their camp followers. None.
Admittedly, Romney has a few neo-cons advising him. But there are less than a handful of those -- Dan Senor, Robert Kagan, possibly Eliot Cohen, though he denies that he is a neo-con. Then there is John Bolton, whom Appiah singles out in his article. But apart from Bolton, none of these men was serving in the Bush administration when the decision was made to attack Iraq. Moreover, they are far outnumbered by so-called "realists" and other non-neo-cons who are advising the governor -- Ambassador Rich Williamson, Senator Jim Talent, Secretary John Lehman, former World Bank Chief Bob Zoellick, former Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriasnky, former Assistant Secretaries of State Kim Holmes and Chris Burnham, former Director of Policy Planning and State Mitchell Reiss, former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Nor is it fair to term Eric Edelman a "neo-con" because he worked for Dick Cheney. Edelman is a career diplomat, a highly successful ambassador, and like the best of that group, he was a nonpareil advisor to whatever administration he served. And that is how it should be.
In fact, there is nothing inherently wrong in Governor Romney's having some neo-cons on his advisory team. Having everyone of the same mindset leads to mistakes of the first order. On the other hand, by allowing for the airing of different, indeed contradictory points of view, Romney is simply demonstrating that he is indeed a judicious leader, who is prepared to make choices rather than have them made for him. In his pathbreaking book, "Presidential Power," Richard Neustadt pointed out that FDR -- that liberal hero -- thrived on differences within his administration before making up his own mind. No one doubts that FDR was a great president; if Romney's decision-making process emulates FDR's, that is not a bad thing at all, the New York Review of Books notwithstanding.
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I got roped into writing my debate reaction for a local newspaper, so I didn't post it on Shadow yesterday. You can read it here -- but note a correction: Rosa Brooks' title was Counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, not Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. (I referenced her article and follow-up piece in my oped because they are two of the most important and revealing items ever written by an Obama insider and should be required reading for anyone interested in the conduct of foreign policy over the past four years.)
The gist of my op-ed is pretty simple: Romney's goal evidently was to thwart the hundreds of millions of dollars of attack ads and countless attack opeds that tried to paint him as unfit to be president and especially commander-in-chief. In this debate, he wanted to show that he had a solid grasp on the issues, could set recent events in their broader strategic context, was not a war-monger, and was not so blinkered by partisanship that he would gainsay every policy Obama has followed. He was willing to draw contrasts, but he was not focused on a point-by-point critique of all of the foreign policy mistakes the Obama administration has made.
Obama pursued a very different approach, taking every opportunity to level attacks, some false, many misleading, and most rehearsed. It was a performance that his base clearly enjoyed and that seemed to win him the debate at the superficial level of who delivered more zingers suitable for replay in Jon Stewart's monologue.
Romney's approach was aimed at the undecided electorate, not at his base and definitely not at foreign policy wonks like me. In many wonkish discussions since, I and my colleagues identified numerous opportunities to critique Obama or rebut an Obama critique of him that Romney chose not to exploit. I have to assume this was a deliberate strategy and while it is not the approach I would have taken, I also concede that he has a lot more experience running for president than I do. Certainly the CNN poll of debate viewers, which had a clear majority saying Romney has passed the commander-in-chief test, suggests that his performance accomplished something important.
Before the official debate, I moderated a surrogate debate at Duke between Governor Howard Dean and former Bush Senior Advisor Karl Rove. Our debate prefigured some of the subsequent discussion -- though ours had much greater infotainment value! -- and also reached a similar conclusion about the overall state of the race. Both Dean and Rove said the race was exceptionally tight, but each called it for their side. Dean thought it was possible Obama would lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College. Rove thought it would come down to a very close Romney victory in Ohio.
In an election that close, perhaps even the slightest tactical calculation will have proven decisive. If Obama loses overall because he loses Virginia narrowly, I wonder if he will regret the snarky and misleading zinger he delivered about the size of the Navy -- a crack that likely appealed to Jon Stewart's audience, but not to the Virginia communities that understand how Obama's cuts to the Navy have strained the force and undercut his pivot to Asia. If Romney loses narrowly, I wonder if he will regret not calling the president out for the many misleading claims he made.
Is it possible that a debate on foreign policy will matter that much in election when most of the public says the domestic economy is their top priority?
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The conventional wisdom coming out of last week's presidential town hall debate is that it is Gov. Romney, not President Obama that has a foreign policy problem going into today's third and final debate on foreign policy.
Gov. Romney supposedly got the worst of a dispute over President Obama's willingness to concede that the September 11th attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Obama campaign official Jen Psaki went so far as to call the exchange "one of the best moments in recent debate history."
Libya is important because it has revealed several uncomfortable truths about the Obama foreign policy. Despite the emerging narrative, Gov. Romney should double down on Libya and foreign policy more broadly. He's got a good case to make about the failures of President Obama's leadership when it comes to world affairs.
The real story of the two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate is the insight they have provided into the Obama worldview. What President Obama and Vice President Biden have put on display has been little more than spin and bluster, backed up by trite sound bites -- accusations that Gov. Romney wants to spend $2 trillion on the Pentagon that the generals don't want, talk of ending wars to fund projects at home and bumper sticker slogans about bin Laden being dead, as if that alone means Americans are safe.
This has been the Democratic Party's playbook for decades. As Jim Mann writes in his book The Obamians, the party elite has struggled since the Vietnam War to reconcile an antiwar progressive base with their desire for the opportunity to control the nuclear codes.
In recent years, this has resulted in the spectacle of Democrats overplaying their hand, whether it was Sen. John Kerry saluting the crowd and "reporting for duty," at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 or this year's veteran and war-themed convention of a party that doesn't know the difference between foreign and American military materiel and is presiding over $1 trillion in defense cuts and pledging to end wars to fund their domestic agenda.
Despite the spin, President Obama's record is clear.
His doubling down in Afghanistan in 2009 has been replaced by an increasingly uncertain and under resourced strategy that he has failed to explain to the American people. His trumpeting of the killing of bin Laden and the narrative that "al Qaeda is on the run" has been undermined by the very real gains that the terrorist organization is making in North Africa and other regions.
His policy of "leading from behind," which we were told by administration officials was the better, safer, and cheaper alternative to the policies of George W. Bush, deposed a dictator but has led to proliferation of weapons throughout the region and the very instability that resulted in the deaths of four American officials on September 11th. His humanitarianism supposedly on display in Libya has now been shown to be nothing more than rhetoric as tens of thousands are dead in Syria and America stands idly by as the Syrian people and our allies in the region plead for American leadership.
He has serially alienated allies and failed to speak out on behalf of those oppressed by despotic regimes, even as he engages the tyrants who threaten U.S. interests and crush dissent. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapons capability by the day, the gap between the United States and our ally Israel, grows and terrorist plots and attacks on U.S. personnel ordered by Tehran go unanswered.
With the polls tight and the last debate on foreign policy, this could now be the decisive issue in this election. Earlier this year, Gov. Romney consistently trailed President Obama, often by double digits, when voters were asked who they trusted more on national security. Now, with the administration's bungling response to the Libya attack, Gov. Romney, with no firsthand foreign policy experience, has narrowed the gap and in many polls, rates better than President Obama.
Gov. Romney needs to ignore the chattering classes and continue to make the case against another four years of "weakness, indecision, mediocrity, and incompetence," and ask "Is the world today a safer place in which to live?" just as Reagan did in 1980 when he smartly described Carter's foreign policy.
Squabbling over transcripts and who said what when will not win Governor Romney the presidency. Reminding Americans that they -- and the world -- deserve a president that is willing to unashamedly stand up for our values and interests overseas might.
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While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
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Independent fact checkers are in a tough business. Unlike their partisan counterparts, who merrily use double standards to excuse their own whoppers and slam their opponents for the slightest infractions, independent fact checkers are supposed to apply the same standard scrupulously, letting the chips fall where they may.
The biggest no-no for a fact checker who covets a reputation for independence and fairness is to strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel.
Which brings me to two posts by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, the dean of political fact checkers. Kessler takes his job seriously and, I believe, works hard to earn a reputation for fairness. He has earned the benefit of my doubt by virtue of his repeated efforts to patrol both sides and, on occasion, to engage with his critics.
Today, I am one of those critics, because I cannot see how he swallowed the camel of Obama's claim that Romney "wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs even though the military's not asking for them," whilst straining at the gnat of Romney's claim: "The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916."
Kessler awards one Pinnochio to Obama's claim about what the military is seeking, which in his scale means "Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods." He awards Romney's claim about the Navy three Pinnochios, which means "Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions."
I do not see how, using the same standard, he arrives at these two codings.
For the World War I navy claim, Kessler concedes that the number of ships today approximates the size of the Navy before we entered WWI, but dings Romney for failing to note that the Navy reached an even slightly lower number in 2007 -- so, technically, "the trend line is up."
Yet Kessler understands that this sort of petty number parsing is not what varsity Fact Checking is about, and so spends most of his time dinging Romney for failing to credit the Navy with all of the qualitative improvements in technology since World War I. The most powerful ship today, an aircraft carrier, packs vastly more punch than the most powerful ship in 1916, a battleship, and so a 300 ship navy today is vastly more capable than a 300 ship navy in 1916.
Failing to contextualize the reference, Kessler concludes, makes it a "nonsense fact," even if it is technically mostly true on the surface. (So maybe it isn't a "significant factual error" then?)
One could devote a lengthy analysis to the context Kessler himself omits from his analysis. For instance, anti-ship technology has greatly improved since 1916 and so if the real underlying question is "How adequate is our naval modernization plans to confront the threats we are facing tomorrow?" then what matters is the net assessment of the ships we are planned to have tomorrow against the threats we are likely to face tomorrow. Comparing the capacity of today's ships with yesterday's ships, as Kessler does, is at least as much a "nonsense fact" as what he credits Romney with.
Moreover, as Joseph Stalin observed, it is not merely a matter of quality: "Quantity has a quality all its own." A qualitatively superior force can be defeated or at least thwarted by a quantitatively superior swarm. And, when the issue is regional coverage, even a qualitatively superior ship cannot be in two oceans at the same time.
Bottom line: Romney's underlying claim that Obama's defense budget does not adequately address the threats confronting the United States over the lifetime of the navy Obama has programmed is at least arguable. The World War I reference is suggestively supportive -- though not dispositive -- and probably merits at worst 1 Pinnochio.
Don't take my word for it. Simply apply the standards of reasoning Kessler applies to Obama's far more egregious claim about the military not asking for the programs Romney promises to include in his defense budget.
Kessler begins this fact-checking exercise with another careful parsing of the numbers and finds that Obama is engaging in a bit of hyperbole by worst-casing it and not crediting Romney for all of the caveats he has included -- but that is not the interesting (to me) part of the assignment since both sides agree that Romney is promising to spend more on defense than Obama is promising to spend.
What gives Obama's quote punch is not the precise dollar estimate but rather the claim that the military has not asked for the programs that Romney's extra spending would allow. This claim, if true, would make Romney's proposed spending frivolous and thus, in a time of fiscal constraint, beyond reckless.
Kessler, to his credit, partially investigates this part and finds several instances of Obama's own national security team asking for roughly the amount of spending Romney's proposals would entail. Yet Kessler does not consider this to be proof that Obama is dissembling because he also notes that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified on behalf of the president's budget in January 2012.
Kessler acknowledges that Dempsey may not have wanted Obama's downscaled budget but since he testified on its behalf, Kessler is not going to ding Obama about whether the military asked for it. Kessler gives Obama the barest slap on the wrist because his "phrasing is certainly carefully parsed."
The facticity of Obama's claim does not turn on the difference between want and ask, but rather on when you credit the military with asking.
What Kessler fails to adequately credit, but which I emphasized in my own analysis (which concluded there may not be "enough Pinocchios in Tuscany to describe how misleading" the Administration's position is), is that by the time of Dempsey's January 2012 testimony, the military had already been ordered to accept these cuts.
Obama decided on a cut to the defense topline, then ordered the defense department to come up with a strategy that fit under that topline, and then ordered the department to come up with a budget that fit that tailored strategy that fit that arbitrary topline. In order to reach that budget goal, the department had to cut many programs that just the year before they had asked for and defended as necessary for national security.
Its worse than that: Since the development of any given year's budget takes so long and Obama's cuts came relatively late in the game, the department had to cut things that they were preparing to ask for in that very budget year cycle. Kessler could have done some reporting to compare what the military had been asking for in the development of that fiscal year's defense budget with what the president permitted.
Obama wants to pick the latest possible time for assessing what the military is asking for: when the military testifies on behalf of the president's budget. But by that time, the military has been ordered to accept that budget. Their choice at that point is to accept or resign in protest. If they testify on behalf of it, what you can conclude is that they think they can live with this budget and are not willing to resign in protest over it. If you want to know what they asked for, look at the budget requests they submitted in the development of the budget process, before they were told what they would have to settle for.
Now it is true that the military services always ask for more than they get, so it hardly ends the debate over whether the spending is needed simply to note that at some point the military asked for that program. But, at the same time, the fact that they asked for it rather gives the lie to the claim that they didn't ask for it.
In my piece, I emphasized the damage to civil-military relations that the Obama administration was doing in peddling this partisan line. Kessler's in a different business, so I don't blame him for ignoring the damage to civil-military relations.
But he is in the fact-checking business, and he does claim
to want to avoid a double-standard.
So I asked him for his explanation, and he kindly gave me his answer:
"The Pinocchio ratings are the toughest part of my job, and I strive to be consistent in how I apply them. I evaluate statements on a case by case basis, and politicians have become quite clever at figuring out ways to avoid getting trapped by a fact checker. That's why Obama uses the word "ask" in his statement; it was clearly a carefully chosen word.
Readers of the column on the defense budget will note that I essentially took a pass on rating whether Obama was correct in the distinction between "ask" and "want," leaving the judgment up to the readers -- or defense analysts. So the One Pinocchio rating was essentially aimed at the claim of a $2 trillion increase in defense budget. I think it is fair to say I was dubious about the claim that the military did not want more money, and you certainly raise some good points about how they were ordered to shift course in the middle of the process."
I think he makes a good point for why he gave Obama some wiggle room, but, as Kessler himself might say, I leave it to the reader to determine whether he gave Romney the benefit of the same wiggle room. I am still not persuaded he did, but maybe I am the one straining at the gnat?
David Ignatius, who is recently back from Syria, has an interesting column in today's Washington Post.
Ignatius writes that Romney is right: Obama's policy on Syria is failing and that Obama should be doing more of what Romney has urged him to do.
Well, actually, Ignatius does not use precisely those words. Ignatius is a strong supporter of President Obama and would not write something quite so caustic as that. But that is the gist of his argument.
He doesn't say Obama's policy is failing, but he does say that Obama's "sensibly cautious policy toward Syria is unfortunately going to come to an unhappy end."
He doesn't say that the Romney critique is correct, but he does say this:
"To deal with this problem, the United States needs better intelligence on the ground. And that's where the hard calculus of U.S. interests meshes with the quixotic challenge of helping the Syrian rebels. Right now, the United States reportedly has a limited program to supply nonlethal assistance. This program should be tweaked so the rebels get more help building a stronger chain of command."
...and that is exactly what Romney has been saying on the topic for a long time.
And, (perhaps unintentionally) rebutting Obama surrogates who have slammed Romney for criticizing Obama on Syria and then recommending only a slightly different policy in response, Ignatius says "caution doesn't mean inaction, and some modest changes in U.S. policy could make a big difference in outcome."
I do not know whether Ignatius' specific policy proposal -- pooling all lethal and non-lethal aid and giving it in a lump sum to the Free Syrian Commanders -- is the right one. But I do know that his column would fit more easily in Romney's briefing book for the upcoming foreign policy debate than it would in Obama's.
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
In his second debate with Governor Romney, President Obama tried to convey the idea that his administration had treated the raid on the Benghazi consulate as if it were terrorism from the start. This was a hard sell to anyone who listened to the administration's messaging on Libya over the past month, but many Obama supporters seem inclined to buy it.
I don't buy it, but I am proud to say that I predicted it, several weeks ago.
Here is how I sketched out the evolution of the Obama administration's actual messaging, and the rationale behind it. I think it stands up pretty well (unlike most other things you write, I hear the pseudonymous trolls telling me) some two-plus weeks later:
"Based on what is presently known, the following 5-step scenario seems far more plausible to me:
Initial reports were confusing (initial reports are always confusing) and left open myriad possibilities, ranging from the fairly benign (Youtube-inspired hooligans got out of control) to the most malignant (Zawahiri exacted his revenge).
Romney's initial messaging on the 9/11 anniversary attacks went over poorly and the media outrage, partly real and partly manufactured, eclipsed coverage of the underlying attacks.
The Obama team did everything they could to keep the media focus on Romney's stumbles. Partly this involved tut-tutting about what Romney said, but mostly this required not feeding an alternate storyline that indicated the attacks might have been linked to a resurgent Al Qaeda. They could accomplish the latter simply by repeating what was known -- there was a lot of Youtube-inspired hooliganism -- and keeping quiet about anything that might simply be suspected, even as those suspicions grow stronger and stronger.
The Obama team also responded in typical campaign mode: They protected the candidate and did not say anything that would raise doubts about Obama's foreign policy and national security prowess until the facts accumulated to the point where some concession was necessary. At that point, they conceded the minimum and insisted on waiting until the outcome of a (hopefully lengthy) investigation that (again hopefully) will not report out until well past election day.
The Obama team was bolstered in steps 3 and 4 by one further factor: wishful thinking. As David Ignatius spells out so clearly: "The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al-Qaeda was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011. Obama would lose some of that luster if the public examined whether al Qaeda is adopting a new, Zawahiri-led strategy of interweaving its operations with the unrest sweeping the Arab world." In the language of political science, the Obama team had a strong motivated bias that colored the way they interpreted ambiguous data. They were receptive to information that reinforced what they wanted to believe and viewed with suspicion and skepticism information that challenged this view.
Given that 5-step scenario, the only tricky thing for the administration was navigating the evolving messaging, which they accomplished in three moves:
Initial message: A rowdy crowd was enraged by video, not a resurgent Al Qaeda.
Interim message: Anytime a ambassador is killed by armed thugs that is self-evidently a kind of terrorism.
Eventual message: We have long called the murderous attacks terrorism and we are learning more about the degree to which networks of violent extremists, some of them inspired by AQ, but not tactically controlled by AQ central, helped in those attacks."
Obama got to the "eventual message" in the town hall debate, and then built a firewall around it with self-righteous outrage at the suggestion he would ever play politics with national security. I think he is there to stay. Unless the moderator challenges him, I would be surprised if Obama provided a more candid response at the upcoming foreign policy debate.
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Shakespeare's Hamlet features a self-absorbed protagonist who confuses oratory for action and hesitates to shoulder his responsibility. Despite the obvious similarities to the protagonist of the Obama administration, the president and his campaign have engaged in a fresh, unexpected casting of the current performance: one in which the president is not Hamlet, but Ophelia. An administration that set a new and debased standard for politicizing national security is protesting against the politicizing of national security.
The White House is clearly feeling heat over their handling of the attack on our consulate in Libya. When challenged about it in the second debate, President Obama scolded Governor Romney that "you don't turn national security into a political issue." This was clearly a rehearsed rather than a spontaneous response, since Vice President Biden reiterated the charge yesterday, saying "it became so clear to the American people how Governor Romney and the campaign continue to try to politicize a tragedy." This would be the same Joe Biden that during his debate blamed both the intelligence community and the State Department of not doing their jobs in order to shield the White House from blame.
I share Peggy Noonan's view that the Romney campaign was too quick to criticize the administration when the attack in Libya occurred; it did feel like a moment for grieving the dead Americans, and it would have been graceful (and politically expedient, given the efforts to paint Romney as unfeeling) to have held off a day or two before prosecuting the administration's national security failings.
But the Romney campaign is not wrong to press the issue now. The White House made a choice to connect what occurred in Libya with protests elsewhere in the Middle East rather than connect it to increasing jihadist activity in Libya. The argument that al Qaeda is on the ropes and the tide of war is receding is much less persuasive when al Qaeda affiliates are attacking American consulates and killing American diplomats in friendly countries. Osama bin Laden being dead may turn out to be less significant than the White House has been claiming. The Obama administration persisted in attributing the attack in Benghazi to an anti-Muslim video long after evidence had called that explanation into doubt, which increases suspicion they made a politically expedient choice.
Moreover, this is the same administration that sent its national security advisor to Afghanistan to tell the commanders not to ask for more Marines. It is the same administration that set a politically-driven timeline for withdrawing surge forces from Afghanistan. It is the same administration that complained to journalists that the military was trying to "box the president in" during the Afghanistan review -- a very serious charge against the professionalism of our military. It is the same administration that excoriated its predecessor for under-resourcing the war in Afghanistan while it declined to provide the military either the troops or the time they said would be needed to win the war. It is the same administration that claims this president is uniquely courageous to have approved the raid on Osama bin Laden. It is the same administration that leaked highly classified information to try and portray the president as a decisive commander in chief. It is the same administration that is using the Joint Chiefs of Staff as political pawns by insisting they want no more money or weapons -- and banking on their professionalism not to call their commander in chief a liar. It is the same administration that has threatened to veto any reduction in the sequestration defense cuts -- cuts that Secretary Panetta and all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said will be devastating to our military power.
President Obama's sanctimonious protestations that his opponent is politicizing national security is a marvelous acting job -- that he can even get the words out with a straight face is a tribute to either thespian excellence or self-delusion. It's almost funny to watch the political actor that has done the most to politicize national security solemnly intoning against doing so. But Hamlet is a tragedy, not a comedy; and the president attempting to deflect criticism of his choices about the attacks in Libya by cloaking himself in righteousness is way beyond the pale.
Last night's presidential debate was largely devoted to domestic and economic policy, reflecting the primary concerns of voters during this election season. Yet one of the few times that foreign policy came up has also generated a considerable amount of post-debate commentary -- the exchange between President Obama and Governor Romney over last month's Benghazi consulate attack. The complexities of the case came out when debate moderator Candy Crowley's clumsy effort to officiate actually made things worse, and was widely seen as an unfair intervention against Romney -- as Crowley now admits.
Even more notable, today's purported effort by the New York Times at "Clearing the Record on Benghazi" seems to be an unfortunate case of either sloppiness or partisan distortion in the guise of fact-checking. Reporter Scott Shane goes to great lengths to absolve President Obama of mischaracterizing the Benghazi consulate attack on September 11. Specifically, Shane says that "Mr. Obama applied the "terror" label to the attack in his first public statement on the events in Benghazi" and "the next day, Sept. 13, in a campaign appearance in Las Vegas, he used similar language." The article then tries to excuse the fact that the Obama administration refused to characterize the Benghazi atrocities as an organized attack by a terrorist group with the head-scratching assertion that "the 'act of terror' references attracted relatively little notice at the time, and later they appeared to have been forgotten even by some administration officials."
As anyone who has worked in either government or the media knows, senior administration officials use their public words carefully, deliberately, and in a coordinated manner -- they do not simply "forget" how to describe a major event in which four American officials were killed.
The fact that President Obama used the word "terror" is beside the point, since even a spontaneous mob lynching (the White House's preferred characterization at the time) is an "act of terror." Moreover, as anyone who has read the White House transcript can immediately tell, Obama used the word "terror" in reference to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Curiously Shane's article omits this context and fails to link to the transcript.
Rather, the core question from Benghazi is whether it was a pre-meditated attack by an organized terrorist group, or spontaneous mob violence in response to the anti-Muhammed video. The available evidence overwhelmingly substantiates that it was the former, yet for over a week after the attack the Obama administration systematically insisted that it was the latter.
This line was most evident in U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's talking points, delivered verbatim at the behest of the White House on multiple news shows. Those talking points were explicitly designed to do two things: 1) knock back the "this was a terrorist attack" allegation and 2) advance the White House's preferred angle that the assault on the consulate was a spontaneous mob response to the offensive video. This deliberate messaging campaign achieved both goals temporarily, until more evidence began to surface publicly about both the nature of the attack and the early reporting on it by the American intelligence community.
Only after this campaign crumbled did the Obama administration decide to pivot awkwardly to the new angle that President Obama himself pushed last night -- creating the misleading impression that the White House had never peddled the "this wasn't a pre-meditated terrorist attack" line in the first place.
Why does this even matter? Because it is not a trivial quibble over words but rather a serious debate over some of the Obama administration's core national security doctrines and claims of success. To Shane's credit, he mentions this at the end of his article. Specifically, the White House has for months been boasting that Al Qaeda is near-defeat, and has been portraying the 2011 Libya intervention as an unqualified success. These are in part political claims that feature in the Obama re-election campaign, but they are also policy commitments that guide how the administration acts -- including mid-level State Department officials who deny requests for increased security in Libya.
The fact that an Islamist terrorist group with links to al Qaeda and operating in Libya could stage such a destructive attack on American property and personnel severely undercuts both of those White House claims. Al Qaeda and its fellow travelers may not be "on its heels" after all (as even the White House might now be acknowledging), and "leading from behind" coupled with anemic post-conflict stabilization efforts may not have led to a stable, peaceful Libya. At a minimum, those are legitimate topics for debate.
A new report that I have co-authored with James Golby and Kyle Dropp was released yesterday by the Center for a New American Security. The study, titled Military Campaigns: Veterans' Endorsements and Presidential Elections, can be found here. The New York Times also reports on the study.
We tested whether telling voters that "most members of the military and veterans" support one candidate or the other had an impact on voter's preferences for President Obama or Governor Romney. We found that in the aggregate, such endorsements did not seem to move vote choice by a statistically significant amount, but that they did have a statistically significant effect on voters who claimed to be independents and especially on independents who claimed not to follow foreign policy very closely.
President Obama received a statistically significant bump in support from those voters who were told of an endorsement, whereas Governor Romney did not. We believe that is because a military/veteran endorsement of Obama would be surprising, given public perceptions of the military as a conservative organization and the historical advantage Republicans have had on national security.
We go on to argue, however, that such endorsements are not good for civil-military relations because they involve the military in partisan politics. Of course, retired military may exercise their first amendment rights just as any other citizen could. But we argue:
"Retired senior officers may think they are drawing fine distinctions between the formal institution of active-duty military and their own views as retired citizens. But the truth is that no one, especially not the campaign team, is very interested in their views as private citizens. Rather, it is their symbolic role -- their role as spokespeople for the military -- that gives their endorsements significance."
We worry that the cycle of high-profile endorsements could in the long run help erode public trust in the military as a non-partisan institution and we find some suggestive evidence that such worries are reasonable.
The reactions to our report have been interesting. One person wrote complaining that our descriptive background section focused on the high-profile endorsements, such as Admiral John Nathman's cameo at the 2012 Democratic National Convention or General Tommy Franks' cameo at the 2004 Republican National Convention, but then our survey prompt was more general: "most members of the military and veterans."
We followed this research design for several reasons. First, as we explain in our study, campaigns prize high-profile endorsements because they symbolize something larger than simply a single citizen. That is why they tend to cluster them and announce them as a group (think Admiral Crowe standing in front of all those retired generals and admirals endorsing Clinton in 1992). The individual endorsements are meant to symbolize the endorsement of the larger institution. Our survey prompt captures that idea.
Second, as a practical matter, we had to design and conduct the survey during a campaign season but in advance of when the campaigns had publicized the lists of their endorsements. It would have contaminated the study to create false names or false endorsements.
One person also wondered why we didn't ask the question directly: "If a candidate is endorsed by a retired general, would you be more or less likely to vote for that candidate solely because that?" However, the whole point of survey experiments is to capture latent effects whether or not the respondent is aware of them. Social scientists have developed these tools because asking direct questions distorts or obscures the underlying phenomena they are seeking to study.
Another person wrote to complain that we had misidentified Jason Dempsey, author of Our Army, as an "Obama supporter." It was a minor point, but I am inclined to think the critic was right. Jason wrote a piece for Huffington Post analyzing a different poll and concluded that younger military personnel were not as Republican leaning as older cohorts. Several Obama supporters pointed us to that article (and others like it) as we were doing our research and argued to us that Obama had a decisive advantage among younger military and veterans, but we did not find similar results in our own survey, which is why we wrote what we did. However, since Dempsey has gone to some pains not to be identified with one candidate or another - and, indeed, has written persuasively of the danger of the military developing a partisan identity -- we should not have referenced him as an Obama supporter even though Obama supporters relied on his analysis to make their case to us.
We are grateful so many people are taking the study seriously and look forward to a lively debate. And, as is always the case in academic research of this sort, we end with a call for more funding for more research to follow all of the interesting lines of inquiry that commenters raise!
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Last night Martha Raddatz broke the media's code of silence and revealed to the American people that there is a country called Afghanistan, that American troops are there, and that we are at war. This shocking betrayal of omerta temporarily ruffled the presidential race as it forced Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to acknowledge these heretofore unspoken realities. In the epic two-year race for president, the candidates -- no, their seconds -- were forced to spend an entire ten minutes talking about it. How did they fare?
Ryan gave one of the clearest and most thoughtful comments on Afghanistan that I've heard from any American politician from either party in years (admittedly, that is a low bar). He made clear that the Romney/Ryan ticket is committed to a successful transition to Afghan leadership. It is remarkable for its moderation; for the fact that Ryan thinks and speaks in whole, complete sentences; and for its acknowledgment of the importance of finishing the job. It is worth quoting at length (Politico has a transcript).
We don't want to lose the gains we've gotten. We want to make sure that the Taliban does not come back in and give Al Qaida a safe haven. We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition...What we don't want to do is lose the gains we've gotten. Now, we've disagreed from time to time on a few issues. We would have more likely taken into accounts the recommendations from our commanders, General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, on troop levels throughout this year's fighting season. We've been skeptical about negotiations with the Taliban, especially while they're shooting at us. But we want to see the 2014 transition be successful, and that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists.
By contrast, Joe Biden said:
But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period. And in the process, we're going to be saving over the next 10 years another $800 billion. We've been in this war for over a decade. The primary objective is almost completed. Now, all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's.
Biden appeared to go rogue on foreign policy. The position he outlined last night -- a complete withdrawal of all troops by 2014 -- is not the Obama administration's position, at least not its public position. President Obama has committed to an enduring international military presence beyond 2014. At the very least, it will include continued training for the Afghan army and police and an American counterterrorism capability. At the NATO Summit in Chicago earlier this year, ISAF's Declaration on Afghanistan promised NATO support to Afghanistan "up to 2014 and beyond," and promised to establish "a new training, advising and assistance mission." In the new U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, signed in May 2012, Afghanistan agreed to "provide U.S. forces continued access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014, and beyond as may be agreed...for the purposes of combating al-Qaeda and its affiliates."
The post-2014 mission could easily require more than 20,000 - 25,000 troops to remain in Afghanistan. Because media outlets regularly report 2014 as a "withdrawal" deadline instead of a transition deadline, it will take Americans by surprise that this is already U.S. policy. In the absence of any decisions to the contrary, bureaucratic inertia will leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan well beyond 2014. Biden is either unaware of this, or unwilling to acknowledge it. And (hat tip to The Cable), he also misstated the administration's view on the war's basic purpose and goals.
Biden's comments give credence to conservatives' fears that the Obama administration is being disingenuous about its true policy; that it has no real plans to leave a stay-behind force in Afghanistan after 2014 and is only lip-synching the responsible rhetoric to keep things calm while they hasten to withdraw. That's essentially what they did on Iraq. Ryan could have highlighted the botched efforts to get a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq and the deteriorating security there as a result, and warned the same thing may happen in Afghanistan if Obama/Biden is left in charge for another four years. He didn't, but the Romney campaign could take up that critique in coming days. If you liked Afghanistan before 2001, or if you think Iraq today is a good model for post-2014 Afghanistan, then you'll love what a second Obama term will bring us.
Vice-President Biden may have fired up his base with his sneering condescension last night, but I wonder whether he may have unintentionally fired up others as well.
Before the debate had reached the 10 minute mark, FP.com's own Josh Rogin pointed out that Biden told a whopper on Benghazi security. This is not a trivial matter, and when even mainstream reporters are saying that Biden has some "clean up of his own to do today on Libya," Biden must know he made a grave mistake.
Moreover, as this careful reconstruction makes clear, the administration faces very serious and troubling questions about the way they have misled the public on what happened in Libya.
The administration desperately needs a scapegoat to keep this scandal as far from the White House as possible. And that is why I think that, beyond Biden's fact-challenged statements, the more consequential thing he did last night was to try to make the intelligence community (IC) the scapegoat (and I am not the only one who picked up on this). Based on this interview with Obama's deputy campaign manager, the fingering of the IC appears to be a deliberate, coordinated strategy by the politicos -- and it is very risky.
First, as numerous fact-checkers have already pointed out, the administration did not merely go with whatever the IC told them. They went with whatever was the most politically useful story at the time. The Obama campaign keeps complaining about how Romney-Ryan have politicized this issue, but in fact the Obama campaign has played this as a political issue from the very start.
Second, the IC can fight back. Frustration has been mounting for years within the IC over the way the administration has politicized intelligence. At some point, that frustration could bubble over into retaliatory leaks and damaging revelations.
So far, the Obama campaign has been careful not to finger a specific person as the scapegoat.Last night, Biden kept it vague. But the talking points Biden was hiding behind were CIA talking points and the head of the CIA is David Petraeus, undoubtedly the person in the administration the American people trust most on national security -- and yet, paradoxically, perhaps the person the hardened partisans in the Obama White House trust the least. I have been surprised that Petraeus has not personally been drawn into the fight thus far, but I wonder if he heard Biden calling him out last night.
The CIA was not the only national security institution Biden took aim at last night. Even more troubling was the damage he did to civil-military relations, which I will take up in a later post.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Like most foreign policy specialists, I have generally welcomed the way the presidential campaigns have begun to focus more on national security. Even if this election will be decided on economic matters or on base-turnout machines, it still is important for the campaigns to debate foreign policy. In that regard, Romney's speech yesterday at VMI was timely -- I would say, overdue.
Romney's speech was sound and sensible. One could quibble here or there -- a fair-minded Obama supporter can ask what more can Romney do than Obama has done to try to get the NATO allies to honor their defense budget commitments -- but as these sorts of speeches go, it was careful and precise. It didn't answer every question someone might have for the Governor, but it laid down some important markers.
In fact, it was so sensible that it made the Obama campaign's response -- or rather, "presponse," since they released it before the speech was given -- look rather nonsensical by comparison. The memo was written by two top Obama surrogates, former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl. I have great respect for both of them, but I having a hard time reconciling the various contradictions in their critique.
On the one hand, they try to dismiss Romney as extreme and ideological, to the right of President Bush. On the other hand, in the very next paragraph, they try to dismiss Romney as merely echoing Obama's own policies. Is Obama extreme and ideological and to the right of President Bush?
They try to dismiss Romney as vague and lacking in specifics on he would do in the next four years. But has there ever been an incumbent more reluctant to offer specifics about what he would do with a second term than President Obama? Is there anyone who can say with confidence how Obama intends to handle relations with China or with Russia going forward? Does anyone know what is the significance of Obama's promise to Medvedev to show Russia more "flexibility" after the election? Has Obama outlined a coherent strategy for how to deal with Syria? Or what he will do if the current sanctions do not convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions?
Given how dramatically the administration has retreated on Afghanistan from its "war of necessity" pose of 2009 to its "Afghan good enough" pose of today, does anyone really know what sort of commitment a second term Obama would honor in 2014 when the mission is scheduled to transition to a new phase?
These are difficult issues to debate. I had a chance to discuss them briefly with Flournoy on PBS New Hour last night and I am not sure I made my points as effectively as I should have. Of course there is some similarity between what Obama and Romney are proposing now on Syria or Iran. Obama's approach has backed us into a corner and there are only so many ways out of a corner.
Moreover, Obama's approach on both countries has evolved significantly in the direction of policies Romney has consistently supported for a long time. On Iran, the administration shifted from an unconditional bilateral talks approach of 2009 -- an approach they stuck with for far too long and which caused them to squander the opportunities of the Green Revolution and the Fordow surprise -- and only ramped up the pressure track after the Europeans and the U.S. Congress led the way. On Syria, Team Obama started off calling Assad a reformer and shifted to supporting the insurgents much later.
And on Iraq, there is no question that Flournoy worked diligently to secure a follow-on agreement and that Maliki was reluctant to compromise, as she claimed. But there is also no question that Flournoy did not get the help she needed from the White House and that all of the mistakes I listed (and more I could have but didn't) undermined the negotiations.
It is hard in a few minutes to get to the nub of these issues, but that is where the campaign debate should go.
I have great sympathy for Flournoy and Kahl. They are both smart and knowledgeable and they have served the country honorably. But in their campaign surrogate role they are operating under extreme constraints and may not be free to speak candidly about Obama's record. They know better than anyone else the long list of missed opportunities and implementation errors that has dogged President Obama's Middle East strategy since the very beginning. They were insightful in identifying similar problems in the Bush era. If they applied to Obama the kind of sharp-eyed standards they applied when they were on the opposition bench, the results would be a withering critique of the last four years.
Perhaps the Obama Team conducts that kind of sober self-assessment in off-the-record sessions. Let's hope so, because if they get the chance to govern for another four years, it would not be good for U.S. foreign policy if they governed according to the standards of their campaign memos.
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The Obama campaign recently took umbrage with criticisms of the president's Cuba policy by Paul Ryan in a campaign swing through Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community. Ryan charged that the policy amounted to appeasement of the Castro regime, to which the campaign responded that Obama "has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island."
Yet even as the campaign defended the president's policy, administration officials were furiously rewriting the rules of one of the president's signature Cuba initiatives that had gone scandalously awry.
Last year, the Obama administration significantly liberalized Bush-era restrictions on private travel to Cuba that were designed to deny hard currency transfers to the Stalinist dictatorship. The thinking behind the change was that "purposeful" or "people-to-people" travel can build relationships between Americans and Cubans and empower the latter to think and act as individuals rather than as vassals of the state.
Well, as it happens, the initiative came to serve no purpose other than to become a propaganda vehicle for the Castro regime with the complicity of fellow-traveling U.S. tour operators. Far from promoting contact with real Cubans, the trip itineraries revealed close collaboration with the Castro regime and featured interactions only with Cubans approved by the regime -- hapless minions who could only be counted on to spout the party line that all of poor, little Cuba's problems are caused by the big, mean old United States.
And where the indoctrination ended, it was rounded-out by frivolous tourist activities -- rum, salsa, Hemingway! -- that are carefully walled off from interaction with ordinary Cuban citizens.
In fact, the abuses became so flagrant that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) held up the nomination of a senior State Department official until the administration agreed to review a program that had egregiously gone off track.
Typical of the purposeless results is a recent report in which a professor at the University of Iowa gushed about an essay written by a student after meeting with "an American fugitive who had escaped the country and taken asylum in Cuba." That would likely be either Joanne Chesimard or Charlie Hill, two radicals wanted by U.S. authorities for the murders of U.S. law enforcement officials in the 1970s.
Then there is the Duke University Alumni Association promoting an "Art & Architecture Tour of Havana" next month. Not only is the trip wholly choreographed by the Castro regime, but the group is only allowed to meet with regime-approved artists. But the key line in their brochure is this: "The arts have long presented Cubans with an opportunity to cautiously express their views on society."
Such an assertion is patently false and only demonstrates the dishonest degree trip organizers will go to pretend they are serving a higher cause in traveling to Cuba -- and receive their coveted license to travel. And in it they provide the most salient lesson of all: that engagement with totalitarian regimes rarely changes them, but it does change us. It forces people to obfuscate their language, to compromise their values, and to accept unjust and immoral situations and arrangements they wouldn't tolerate anywhere else in the world.
It remains to be seen if the Obama administration will restore some sanity to its liberalized travel regime to Cuba by truly making it purposeful and people-to-people. They have an opportunity to act to demonstrate they really are working to help the Cuban people have more of a say in their own future and to support democracy movements on the island. Because the status quo is having the exact opposite effect: by further enabling the Castro brothers to suffocate the Cuban people's legitimate aspirations for freedom and a better future.
Gov. Romney's speech at VMI this morning offers a few new insights into his thinking about foreign policy, such as specifics on Egypt and Syria. But the rhetoric and tone also continue to reveal a leader willing to state in bold terms the foreign policies he would pursue if elected that are unlikely to be popular in the general election nor even with some of the Republican base. Finally, he continues to show that he grasps the ugly realities we face in terms of our enemies and the circumstances they manipulate for their good and our harm, and that the United States must lead if we have any hope for success.
A few portions of the speech demonstrate these points. First, Romney repeats his assertion that no video or enraged mob explains the widespread and violent attacks on our embassies and personnel, including the murder of Amb. Stevens. Says Romney: "No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West." In the speech he also uses the term "Islamist extremists." Not shying away from this term is important for defining himself differently from the Obama administration.
He goes on, nevertheless, to find hope in this situation, by noting the many Libyans who took to the streets to denounce the terrorism and express their desire to remain close to the United States and not "go from darkness to darkness."
For Romney, such displays increase our hope that the United States can shore up our interests in this region. We should start by calling the problems what they are -- Islamist extremists who commit terrorism -- and then countering them with force and in league with allies.
He draws upon the example of Gen. George Marshall and the defeat of our enemies in Europe and the rebuilding of those societies and free and prosperous countries.
"We have seen this struggle before. It would be familiar to George Marshall. In his time, in the ashes of world war, another critical part of the world was torn between democracy and despotism. Fortunately, we had leaders of courage and vision, both Republicans and Democrats, who knew that America had to support friends who shared our values, and prevent today's crises from becoming tomorrow's conflicts.
Statesmen like Marshall rallied our nation to rise to its responsibilities as the leader of the free world. We helped our friends to build and sustain free societies and free markets. We defended our friends, and ourselves, from our common enemies. We led. And though the path was long and uncertain, the thought of war in Europe is as inconceivable today as it seemed inevitable in the last century.
This is what makes America exceptional: It is not just the character of our country -- it is the record of our accomplishments. America has a proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership -- a history that has been written by patriots of both parties. That is America at its best."
Second, Gov. Romney offers some specific policy goals regarding several countries and issues. Some statements reflect what he has already said, but in a couple of cases, he offers new policy that is not necessarily the safe stuff that a campaign advisor likes to see. To focus on two (and not the obvious ones of Iran and Afghanistan), regarding Syria, he calls for U.S. involvement in the form of picking a side among the rebels and helping them succeed with arms:
"In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran-rather than sitting on the sidelines. It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East."
For Egypt, he makes it clear we should use our aid to require the Brotherhood government to be open to all voices and be truly democratic, as well as to respect its treaty with Israel:
"In Egypt, I will use our influence-including clear conditions on our aid-to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel. And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid."
There are a number of other points Romney makes in this speech, which is clearly an attempt not only to lay out his views but provide a stark contrast to President Obama. Gov. Romney succeeds at drawing the contrast and in ways that show the same kind of bold and clear leadership, complete with specifics, that he offered recently in the first debate on the economy and healthcare. Thus, we've got a preview for the debate that covers foreign policy.
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Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has cast himself as the arbiter of military conduct and guardian of the military's prerogative to remain outside America's bruising political battles. He has said, "one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy -- in our form of democracy -- that's most important is that we remain apolitical." More than just staking out the high ground, he has chosen to police it, objecting to retired veterans criticizing the president.
Gen. Dempsey also rebuked Congressman Ryan during budget season for suggesting the military leadership had concerns about President Obama's new goal post of another $400 billion in cuts to free up money for domestic spending. Gen. Dempsey turned up the volume in that exchange, invoking his impugned honor that Ryan would "collectively call us liars."
Which is why it is so odd that Gen. Dempsey has not held the president to the same standard. On several recent occasions, President Obama has asserted that his Republican challenger for president would force on our military money and weapons they don't want.
In his convention speech -- an overtly political occasion -- President Obama said, "my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don't even want." No reaction from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During last night's presidential debate -- another overtly political occasion -- the president twice insisted Governor Romney was peddling "$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military isn't asking for."
Really? No one in the American military believes defense spending should be higher than the president's FY2013 budget request? The president of the United States was misrepresenting the views of many in our military, counting on their professional reserve to remain silent while he uses their credibility with the public for political advantage in an election. How does that not count as politicizing our military?
The Budget Control Act would cut $50 billion a year for the next ten years from DOD's budget, something Gen. Dempsey has said would be a disaster of such proportions that the United States "wouldn't be the global power that we know ourselves to be today." Most of my military colleagues are concerned about the gap between demands and resources, and most believe the defense budget should not be further cut. Some believe near-term risk should be accepted in the military realm in order to solve the much larger vulnerability of our national debt; others believe civilians are asking the military to make yet more sacrifices so that politicians don't have to face up to the hard choices of entitlement reform. Which is to say that our military is not of one view on practically any subject, even those that touch on the center of their professional judgment.
To be fair, Gen. Dempsey is in an awkward position, caught between the commander in chief playing politics and the desire to stay out of the political mud-slinging. And this is a thin-skinned and stridently political president who it may be difficult to remain effective as the senior military advisor to if Obama takes umbrage at being corrected (which he surely will). But Gen. Dempsey has put himself in that position with his forceful interventions on the issue previously. Other generals have labored under no lesser burdens.
I'm very much in favor of our military staying out of politics; but if Gen. Dempsey is going to set himself up as the arbiter of the civil-military boundary, he needs to actually police both sides of it. And that means correcting the record when the president misleads the public or caricatures our military as having only one view about an important national issue that goes directly to their military judgment.
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Like everyone else, I thought Governor Romney helped himself last night. I won't dwell on my reactions because the debate focused on topics far removed from Shadow Govt's ballpark, though both candidates did make a passing reference to foreign policy. Doubtless the Shadow Govt. team will have more to say when the ball moves into our court with the October 22 foreign policy debate.
However, I can't resist making two observations that I haven't seen get much emphasis in the commentary I have read thus far:
1. Obama talked the longest but Romney said the most. I was watching on MSNBC (I wanted to get a sense of what my Duke colleagues were thinking to gird myself for the inevitable hallway ambushes) and their pundits all seemed to think that Romney had run roughshod over the moderator and, in Rachel Maddow's words, won on "time of possession." That struck me as odd, because my sense was that Obama had droned on longer than Romney. It turns out I was right, according to CNN's clock,which had Obama speaking for 42 minutes and 50 seconds while Romney spoke for only 38 minutes and 32 seconds. It felt like Romney was more efficient with airtime -- alternating between rapid-fire statistics and repetition of key points -- whereas Obama meandered and often seemed at a loss for words, maybe even at a loss for thoughts. There is no question Romney was more commanding -- more sure of himself and more sure of the facts -- but he was not commanding the clock.
(2) Obama seemed like he had something bigger on his mind than the debate. In part because the president came off as distracted, I began to wonder what was distracting him. There have been many hypotheses advanced: maybe he was distracted by actually getting challenged, given how gentle the press usually treats him; maybe he needs his teleprompter to help him; and so on. Perhaps because of the bias of my interest in foreign policy, I wondered whether he had just had a very troubling intelligence briefing. I imagined him standing there and thinking about this briefing about some horrible pending threat and then having to overcome that distraction to focus again on, what was it, oh yes, my $716 billion worth of cuts to Medicare. Of course, there is no evidence for my hypothesis beyond Obama's halting performance, but an enterprising reporter might want to dig in that direction a bit.
After giving the Obama team a pass for the first couple weeks on the likely al Qaeda 9/11 anniversary attacks in Benghazi, the media is finally asking tough questions. And what they are finding raises troubling questions about what the Obama administration did before, during, and after the al Qaeda anniversary attacks.
Republicans risk over-reacting to this evolving storyline, particularly with the "Obama lied, Ambassador died" meme that is rising in certain sectors of the pundit world.
We may find evidence that Obama or his spokespeople lied -- that is, said things that they knew at the time were not true -- but I haven't seen convincing evidence of that yet. And, frankly, I would be surprised if that were the case. Most often, what partisans call "lies" are actually something far less sinister: inferential errors and wishful thinking. Since Democrats have peddled for years their own Big Myth about the Bush Administration "lying" about Iraqi WMD, the desire to pin that same tale/tail on the donkey is understandable. But Republicans should hold themselves to the higher standard they wish Democrats would meet rather than sink down to the level of their partisan attackers.
Based on what is presently known, the following 5-step scenario seems far more plausible to me:
Given that 5-step scenario, the only tricky thing for the administration was navigating the evolving messaging, which they accomplished in three moves:
Initial message: A rowdy crowd was enraged by video, not a resurgent Al Qaeda.
Interim message: Anytime a ambassador is killed by armed thugs that is self-evidently a kind of terrorism.
Eventual message: We have long called the murderous attacks terrorism and we are learning more about the degree to which networks of violent extremists, some of them inspired by AQ, but not tactically controlled by AQ central, helped in those attacks.
This is all very
understandable, and I just don't have much patience for the view that pretends
to be genuinely shocked that the Obama team has been playing politics with
national security at this stage in the campaign.
Perhaps we also shouldn't be shocked that the media let them get away with it for so long. The political game of footsie I outline above was only viable if the media played along, which they were willing to do for a while but no longer. The media was willing to play along because they are biased, even when they do not want to be. They find it easier to understand people like themselves, Democrats, and have to work harder to understand people not like themselves, Republicans. They are as prone to reading events through pre-established filters -- for instance, the filter that says Romney is gaffe-prone on national security and Obama has a strong record on terrorism -- as everyone else. And they must work in the hostile environment of the White House's "Chicago rules," which punishes reporters who challenge the administration. The better reporters overcome this, and we can see the fruits of their labors in the new scrutiny and skepticism of recent stories.
Campaigns should certainly point out and push back against biased media coverage, but campaigns should also understand that media bias is a given, rather like the Electoral College, and strategize accordingly.
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Prior to the terrorist attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the subsequent anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout the Muslim world, the conventional wisdom held that President Obama was unassailable on foreign policy during the election campaign. Yet rather than tout the administration's successes -- which have produced an edge in polls as to who the public trusts on foreign affairs -- the Obama campaign and its allies seem more eager to warn voters that Mitt Romney is planning to bring back George W. Bush's foreign policy than tout the president's "successes." "Of Romney's 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration," wrote Adam Smith, the most senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee -- and that's "a frightening prospect." Similarly, during the Democratic convention, Senator John Kerry said: "[Romney] has all these [neoconservative] advisers who know all the wrong things about foreign policy. He would rely on them." Now, noted foreign policy scholar Maureen Dowd has written not one, but TWO columns decrying "neocon" influence over Romney's foreign policy.
This is an especially odd line of attack given that most of the Obama administration's foreign policy achievements are little more than extensions of Bush administration policies.
President Obama frequently boasts that he fulfilled his promise to "end the war" in Iraq. In reality, he merely adhered to the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement negotiated and signed by the Bush administration in 2008. What's more, as a senator Mr. Obama opposed the 2007 surge of U.S. forces that made this agreement possible. The Obama administration's only policy innovation on Iraq was last year's failure to broker a new strategic framework agreement with Iraq, a deal they had previously insisted was necessary and achievable.
Then there's the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. To be sure, the president deserves credit for launching the raid against the advice of so many of his advisors, including Vice President Joe Biden. But Mr. Obama fails to acknowledge that the intelligence chain that led to the Abbottabad raid began with detainee interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and CIA "black" sites that he vowed to close upon taking office.
What about drones? President Obama deserves credit for the successful "drone war" against al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but the uptick in U.S. drone attacks there began in July 2008. The Obama administration's continuation of this policy is an acknowledgment -- unspoken, of course -- that the Bush administration was correct to treat the war on terror as an actual war rather than a global law-enforcement campaign.
On Iran, President Obama brags that "Iran is under greater pressure than ever before, "and "few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime." Putting aside the fact that these sanctions were imposed upon the president by a 100-0 Senate vote, and that Obama's State Department has granted exemptions to all 20 of Iran's major oil-trading partners, this triumphalism ignores that the Bush administration worked for years to build multilateral support for sanctions (both at the United Nations and in national capitals). The Obama administration broke from this effort for two years, attempting instead to engage the Iranian leadership. When this outreach predictably failed, the Obama administration claimed that Tehran had proven itself irrevocably committed to its nuclear program -- precisely the conclusion the Bush administration had reached years earlier.
Yes, there's more to the Obama administration's foreign-policy case, but the other "achievements" are muddled ones. Even before the Benghazi attack, post-Qaddafi Libya was so insecure that the State Department issued a travel advisory warning U.S. citizens against "all but essential travel to Libya," and NATO's intervention in Libya raised the inconvenient question of why the administration intervened to alleviate a "medieval siege" on Benghazi but sits silently as tens of thousands of civilians are slaughtered in Syria.
In Afghanistan, the surge ordered by President Obama in December 2009 had the operational effect intended. But even in taking this step, the president undermined the policy by rejecting his military commander's request for 40,000 troops, declaring the surge would end according to a fixed timeline rather than conditions on the ground, and announcing the withdrawal of the last 20,000 surge forces before the Afghan fighting season ended (but before the November election). The Bush administration veterans advising Governor Romney surely know more about the importance of seeing a policy through to its fruition.
The Bush administration made many foreign policy mistakes during its eight years in office, most notably the conduct of the Iraq War after the fall of Baghdad. And Governor Romney still needs to provide details demonstrating why he would be a better steward of U.S. national security than President Obama. But the potential devolution of the Arab Spring into anti-U.S. violence demonstrates why both candidates owe the American people a serious discussion about foreign and defense policy. Hopefully in the election campaign's waning weeks the Democrats will offer much more than the ad hominen anti-Bush attacks they have provided to date.
Benjamin Runkle served in the Department of Defense and National Security Council during the Bush administration, and is author of Wanted Dead or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to bin Laden.
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Governor Romney delivered a major speech at the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday, focusing on foreign assistance, global development, and how U.S. policy should evolve in these fields. He laid out a vision for placing development assistance squarely in the center of the nexus of trade, investment, and policy reforms. He sees the private sector and capitalism at the center of human progress (read "economic growth" for those in the business), and he also stressed the central place of institutions that support political freedom and rule of law (read "democracy and governance" for those who follow this stuff closely). He strongly endorsed 10 years of progress on public-private partnership in development -- a major factor in development since the Bush administration, adopted energetically by the Obama administration, and a central focus of the Clinton Global Initiative (so, no, he was not in favor of "privatizing foreign aid," just as no one would say that about Hillary Clinton when she talks about public-private partnerships through her Global Partnerships Initiative, as she does here).
Finally, he emphasized what serious development thinkers have been talking about but have only found limited appetite for within development bureaucracies -- a much larger focus on small and medium sized enterprises.
Governor Romney's speech is by far the most detailed speech by either of the major candidates on development in this electoral cycle and likely the most detailed speech of any candidate during the primaries in this cycle.
There has been a series of responses (including a GREAT post from my friend Paul Bonicelli yesterday and a thoughtful op-ed from Amb. Mark Green and Rob Mosbacher) to Governor Romney's speech, not surprisingly, as it outlined a bold plan for American assistance moving forward.
In sum, serious thinkers about development and America's role in it have been positive in their praise as they recognize the depth of the thinking behind this speech and know that the most serious change and advancement in U.S. development policy have happened under Republican presidents.
Governor Romney's strategy would place U.S. assistance on the cutting edge of development theory and practice. By linking greater investments in economic growth and the institutions that promote liberty with a renewed vigorous global trade agenda and pro-growth domestic policies under a Romney administration, along with the sorts of investments in assistance Gov. Romney described in his speech, we are talking about a very powerful combination of forces that are pro-development and help the United States share in that prosperity.
Development theorists and practitioners talk about "private sector led development," but when push comes to shove and the money is allocated, the temptation is always to fund pressing social service delivery projects or photogenic or politically connected causes. At the end of the budget allocation race, policy reform investments that support economic growth, and investments that support democracy and governance --the two sorts of investments that most development practitioners know matter -- often get left behind.
Finally, Governor Romney's speech recognizes the changed world that we live in and the need to change our development policy, processes, systems, and priorities to reflect this changed world. First, foreign aid can help but is dwarfed by trade, investment, remittance, and private philanthropy by foundations, individuals, church groups, and corporations. He cited the central fact that U.S. economic engagement has changed over the last 40 years with massive foreign direct investment flows going to middle, lower, and poor countries in massive amounts, the massive flows of remittances and, the massive amounts of private charity. At the same time his description of "corrupt governments" suggests a skeptical view towards various forms of budget support and an interest in aid transparency initiatives.
Another central change from the past is that the United Nations Development Program estimates domestic resource mobilization in low income countries will reach $394 billion by 2015. Compare that to global ODA of approximately $120 billion, and domestic resources are only going to get bigger over time as societies continue to move up the ladder of development. Foreign aid is a minority shareholder in the business of development already. Development practitioners can provide expertise, technical support, and strengthen the institutions that support private sector led growth and democratic governance, but ultimately over time/in due course (please note emphasis here, so no panicked misinterpretations, please) we want to be moving out of the direct social service delivery business and instead have governments themselves "pick up the tab" using domestic resources similar to the way that PEPFAR is evolving.
The global economic situation means that budget austerity is impacting foreign assistance around the world including the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and possibly the UK. We should assume that the 150 Account (the account in the U.S. budget where foreign aid is housed) which has until now has defied gravity is going to be examined in the light of trillion dollar deficits and $16 trillion in debt. Regardless of the overall topline number, questions about aid effectiveness and development priorities are going to be at the forefront of any U.S. development conversation under any administration just as that conversation is happening in the rest of the "DAC" (the Major League Baseball Commission equivalent for foreign aid donor) countries. Pressing humanitarian needs (such as ending polio in our time) will always be a part of the U.S. foreign assistance policy as the U.S. still stands ready to respond in situations international disaster relief, but long term foreign aid's role needs to change with the changed global context.
Governor Romney sees foreign assistance as a form of "soft power." It is clear that Governor Romney sees foreign assistance as an instrument of American power and influence and one that we should use to ensure that the 21st century is an American century.
Note: While Dan Runde co-chairs the Romney Campaign's International Assistance Working Group, the blog post above contains Mr. Runde's own opinions.
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Josh Rogin's take on Gov. Mitt Romney's speech Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative gathering left me scratching my head. Much of his piece quoted Romney's remarks to good effect by highlighting portions where Romney calls for reforms designed to treat the causes of poverty, oppression, and suffering, not just the symptoms. But in a couple of key places Rogin draws inferences the text does not support, such as the inference that a Romney administration won't be as interested in humanitarian assistance. In another place, he says that Romney believes that the corruption that results from foreign aid is because today the vast majority of foreign aid comes from private sources (investment and charitable giving) and not from governments. But Romney simply did not say any of this. Let's look at these in reverse order.
Rogin notes that Romney understands the American public's frustration with decades of aid that is ineffective and doesn't solve problems. And worse, as Romney notes, the aid gets into the hands of corrupt governments. That is, Americans believe that for too long the U.S. provided aid that didn't do what it was supposed to do: End suffering and promote prosperity. The context of the entire quotation is historical in nature, and that is important to understand in order to get Romney's next point.
Romney asserts that "Perhaps some of our disappointments are due to our failure to recognize just how much the developing world has changed. Many of our foreign aid efforts were designed at a time when government development assistance accounted for roughly 70 percent of all resources flowing to developing nations. Today, 82 percent of the resources flowing into the developing world come from the private sector. If foreign aid can leverage this massive investment by private enterprise, it may exponentially expand the ability to not only care for those who suffer, but also to change lives."
But Rogin takes these comments -- the lament about ineffectiveness and corruption -- and interprets Romney to be saying that the failure is due to this very privatization of aid. This is odd. Romney cannot possibly believe that for two reasons. First, as an advocate of the private sector, the governor knows that corruption results from too much government control and power over people's lives, not less. More aid flowing from the private sector of the developed countries to the private sector of the less developed countries is a good thing. The only corruption I can think of that could be suggested by increased inflows of private sector money is when foreign businesses pay bribes to get an advantage, but Romney says nothing about that and Rogin does not suggest it. Besides, that would be an argument about too much power in the hands of government, the very thing Romney decries because it makes aid ineffective and breeds corruption.
Second, as I noted above, Romney is referring to Americans' frustrations in historical context, the "years of aid relief" that don't work as planned. So he states what Americans have been seeing and thinking over the years, and says they want something different. Romney thinks that something different is here and now but we haven't adapted to it yet. That is, more aid flows from and to private hands and that is a good thing, but our policy is outdated and needs to catch up to that fact and build on it. Says Romney, "If foreign aid can leverage this massive investment by private enterprise, it may exponentially expand the ability to not only care for those who suffer, but also to change lives." The point should be clear: If we want to avoid foreign aid ineffectiveness and corruption, we need to make sure our policies promote the private sector in the developing countries. This is the point about partnerships and trade.
Another problem with Rogin's interpretation of Romney's remarks is the former's assertion several times that Romney wants to "deprioritize" or "lower the priority" of humanitarian assistance. Romney simply did not say this. Let's first note exactly what Romney said the priorities of foreign assistance should be.
"There are three, quite legitimate, objects of our foreign aid. First, to address humanitarian need. Such is the case with the PEPFAR initiative, which has given medical treatment to millions suffering from HIV and AIDS.
Second, to foster a substantial United States strategic interest, be it military, diplomatic, or economic.
And there is a third purpose, one that will receive more attention and a much higher priority in a Romney administration. And that is aid that elevates people and brings about lasting change in communities and in nations."
This is a clear and definitive statement of Romney's priorities and goals with his suggested reforms. At no point in these lines does he suggest what Rogin appears to infer, that Romney wants the U.S. to provide less humanitarian assistance. But Romney would put a higher priority on aid that works; on aid that keeps governments from getting in the way of free people and free markets; and on aid "that elevates people and brings about lasting change." It is a stretch to say this means deprioritizing humanitarian assistance unless you believe that the one and only way to deliver humanitarian assistance is by means of government, or that there are no partnerships between the public and private sectors to fulfill this foreign assistance goal.
The GOP nominee laid out one of the boldest and clearest reforms since the U.S. foreign assistance regime was inaugurated with the Marshall Plan more than half a century ago. In doing so, Romney recognizes the problem of too much government control over problems that only the private sector can solve. He celebrates work and personal achievement over never-ending government programs that treat symptoms and not causes...sort of like he does with the U.S. domestic economic problems.
Has Obama fulfilled his most famous national security campaign commitment from 2008: to end the Iraq war "more responsibly" than he says we began it? According to this excerpt from Michael Gordon's new book on Iraq, the answer may well turn out to be no.
Gordon is considered by many to be the best reporter on the Iraq war and his long-awaited book is likely to shed new light particularly on the last half-decade of U.S. involvement. The excerpt in Sunday's New York Times covers the Obama administration's failed effort to negotiate terms for the long-planned-for stay-behind military force. The Obama administration is understandably reluctant to talk about these efforts much, and nowadays when the president mentions Iraq he makes it sound like he never considered anything other than withdrawing all but a handful of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. However, if that was what the president secretly intended all along, it was not what the administration was officially pursuing for the first several years when it tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement.
The picture is not very pretty. Gordon documents:
Perhaps a more adept president would have also failed to secure a follow-on Status of Forces Agreement. It is true that what the United States wanted from the Iraqis to secure an agreement was a very big ask, one that Prime Minister Maliki proved ultimately unwilling to give: immunity granted by the Iraqi parliament for all U.S. troops. But it is also true that the way Obama approached Iraq made it even harder for Maliki to deliver on his side.
Given the prominent role that the Iraq story played in Obama's approach to the 2008 election, it is ironic that it seems to play no role whatsoever in 2012. If Gordon's book reinforces the assessment that his excerpt provides, the lower profile may benefit Obama. The closer one looks at the facts, the less they seem to support the campaign spin of a "responsible" end to a troubled war.
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Recent days have witnessed the emergence of two divergent narratives regarding the wave of anti-American protests that have spread throughout the Islamic world and beyond.
The first, which originated from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at the very beginning of the unrest, is centered on the spontaneous and righteous indignation of the Muslim street in the face of an amateurish film defaming their religion. Although the administration subsequently distanced itself from the embassy's statement laying blame for the violence at the feet of the filmmaker, the assertion that the ongoing unrest was the result of a trailer posted on YouTube, rather than a more fundamental outpouring of rage, remains at the core of the administration's narrative.
The second narrative, which the administration appears keen to play down, involves a deliberate attack by an Al Qaeda affiliate on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Although senior administration officials, most recently United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, have termed the attack a spontaneous event, such a view is increasingly at odds with the facts. In an interview with National Public Radio (hardly at the forefront of the vast right-wing media conspiracy) Libya's interim president, Mohammed el-Megarif, described the attack on the U.S. consulate as pre-planned and multi-phased.
Each narrative is problematic for the Obama administration. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is a coincidence that this wave of protests began on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. But perhaps not. Regardless of its origins, the ongoing violence is stark testimony to the failure of the outreach to the Muslim world that lay at the heart of Obama's Middle East policy.
Obama, a Christian originally of Muslim heritage who lived in Indonesia and attended a predominantly Muslim school as a child, has seen himself as uniquely qualified to use the force of his personality to transform America's relationship with the Islamic world. Speaking in Cairo in June 2009, Obama pledged to repair relations with Muslims. The logic undergirding Obama's policy was that a conciliatory approach would increase America's standing and improve its security.
Such logic appears increasingly open to question. First, data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows that the United States is more unpopular now in key Muslim states than it was when Obama first took office. In 2009, for example, 74 percent of Jordanians held an unfavorable view of the United States; today it is 86 percent. In 2009, 68 percent of Pakistanis held an unfavorable view; today it is 80 percent. And in 2009, 70 percent of Egyptians held an unfavorable view of the United States; today, after Obama's Cairo speech and the overthrow of Mubarak, the number stands at 79 percent. In other words, the roots of Muslim rage lie not in who occupies the White House, but in more fundamental and less tractable causes.
Second, the logic of Obama's policy was that if Muslims liked the United States more, then Americans would be more secure. Despite Obama's admonition that U.S. leaders not "spike the football" in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration has initiated repeated bouts of chest thumping. In recent months, administration officials have repeatedly portrayed Al Qaeda and its affiliates as organizations in decline.
The situation on the ground would appear to be somewhat different. Aside from the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, the U.S. position in Afghanistan has suffered setbacks at the hands of Al Qaeda's friends, the Taliban. On Friday, U.S. forces at Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan suffered an attack that killed two Marines and destroyed seven percent of the AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft in the U.S. combat inventory. Yesterday the U.S. military suspended combat patrols with Afghan forces because of a mounting wave of attacks by Afghan security forces on their American partners, undermining the thrust of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
It remains to be seen how the past week's events will affect the presidential election. At the very least, these emerging narratives call into question Barack Obama's stewardship of American foreign policy. More seriously, they could prefigure a more serious weakening of our position in the Middle East.
Like every other foreign policy specialist I know, I have spent the last week thinking and talking (hopefully in that order) about the unfolding crisis in the Middle East. My initial thoughts hold up pretty well, I think, but some revisions and extensions are in order.
First, an additional level needs to be considered: the ceremonial. The killing of Ambassador Stevens -- the first U.S. ambassador to be killed like this since 1979, a painful echo to the troubled times of the Carter administration -- elevated the crisis from mere anti-American riots into a far more serious dimension, one that called for a different, more elevated response than the Cairo riots required. President Obama performed well at this ceremonial level, and Governor Romney did not. For the subsequent 24 hours, Obama and his administration fulfilled the role of Mourner-in-Chief and Spokesman-for-the-Country, and did so with eloquent eulogies to the slain and to their professions. The anti-Romney critics were wrong to claim that Romney's less than satisfying performance of this ceremonial role called into question his capacity to be an effective commander-in-chief, but they had a legitimate point that Romney has a way to go before he can be as effective a Consoler-in-Chief as Obama. This is a reasonable, albeit limited, critique and the Romney team should take it on board and not dismiss it just because it is usually delivered in a package wrapped with partisan sneer.
Second, if I was too kind to Romney by omitting the ceremonial level of analysis, I was probably too kind to Obama on evaluating his performance at the tactical level. The more we learn about what was happening at the tactical level, the more troubling the picture gets. We still have much to learn, and hopefully a vigorous Congressional oversight process will bring this all to light, but here are just some of the questions that need to be resolved:
And, finally, those infamous tweets merit a bit more serious attention than most of the media has given them thus far. All along, Obama partisans have sought to criticize Romney for the timing and tone of his complaint about the tweet -- the complaint came late at night while the crisis was still unfolding and Romney reiterated the complaint rather than pivot to language befitting a Mourner-in-Chief once he learned about the fatalities in Benghazi. As I said in my original take, and repeat more forcefully here, I think there are legitimate complaints to make about Romney's timing and tone. But Romney's original complaint itself also had merit, and perhaps it is time to spend a fraction of the electrons devoted to criticizing how Romney said it to exploring what Romney said. When we do, several questions arise:
Both the Obama and the Romney campaigns agree that the events of the last week raise important and perhaps awkward questions for the other side. I hope both sides will step up and answer those questions. That will only happen if we keep asking them.
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Reading the recent spate of Democratic attacks on Republican foreign policy, particularly against the Romney foreign policy platform, I have been struck by how frequently Democrats invoke the "bipartisan" foreign policy traditions of the past, and laud previous Republican presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush for their wise statecraft. These sanctimonious hymns to bipartisanship are invariably accompanied by shrill denunciations of Gov. Mitt Romney and today's Republicans as "reckless," "ideological," and "extreme."
For example, Charlie Kupchan and Bruce Jentleson lament that "the United States is today deeply polarized, bereft of the bipartisan consensus that long anchored its statecraft." Democrat columnist Michael Cohen pines (or rather feigns pining) for the bygone days when "Republicans owned the issue of national security. They radiated confidence, experience, and self-assuredness on how they would manage the responsibilities of America's unique global role." Most recently, Democratic Senator and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry wrote here at FP.com that:
"The tragedy of the divisive remarks about Obama's national security record we have heard recently is the missed opportunity it represents. A more bipartisan approach would be in the best interest of the nation. The irony is it was not always this way and does not have to be this way in the future. In the past, both parties have come together in common cause. For example, President George H.W. Bush and his excellent foreign-policy team of James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Eagleburger did a very good job of uniting us after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the first Gulf War and even in Central America. Even if both parties didn't completely agree, they respected one another and held honest conversations about what was in the national interest."
Here's the problem: this "bipartisan consensus" has rarely existed. The Republican policies that now receive Democratic praise were often in their day subject to partisan Democrat attacks. And many of the past Republican presidents now lauded by Democrats on foreign policy grounds -- such as Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush 41 -- were often vilified by Democrats while in office. For example, after Reagan famously called the Soviet Union an "evil empire" in 1983, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill derisively accused Reagan of "red-baiting." As Steve Hayward points out in this excellent Commentary article, the next year O'Neill's rhetoric became downright vicious with his assertion that "the evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is [Ronald Reagan]." Likewise, reflecting the views of many Democrats at that time, Senator Alan Cranston made the reckless accusation that "Reagan is a trigger-happy president [with a] simplistic and paranoid worldview leading us toward a nuclear collision that could end us all."
Sen. Kerry's paean of bipartisan praise for the George H. W. Bush foreign policy also reflects a selective historical memory. Bush's signature national security initiative after the end of the Cold War was the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Bush's request to Congress for war authorization very narrowly passed the Senate by a 52-47 vote, with the vast majority of Senate Democrats opposing it, accounting for all but two of the negative votes. These opposing votes included one Democrat who compared the war to Vietnam, called it a "mistake," and declared on the Senate floor that:
"...if we do go to war, for years people will ask why Congress gave in. They will ask why there was such a rush to so much death and destruction when it did not have to happen. It does not have to happen if we do our job. So I ask my colleagues if we are really once again so willing to have our young and our innocent bear the price of our impatience. I personally believe, and I have heard countless of my colleagues say, that they think the President made a mistake to unilaterally increase troops, set a date and make war so probable. I ask my colleagues if we are once again so willing to risk people dying from a mistake."
That Democrat was Senator John Kerry. And while he now praises Bush 41's foreign policy for "uniting" Americans, at the time this unity did not include Kerry's support.
Yes, partisanship and history can go both ways. The Democrat Harry Truman is rightly revered by many Republicans today for his robust anticommunism and hawkish internationalism, but during his presidency his foreign policy endured partisan attacks from Republicans such as Robert Taft -- though Truman also enjoyed strong support from other Republicans such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee leader Arthur Vandenberg. In more recent years, some Congressional Republicans launched irresponsible partisan criticisms of the Clinton administration over the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign. Yet on the other side of the ledger, many Republicans have lent bipartisan support for some of the Obama administration's foreign policy initiatives. These include the letters organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative and signed by many Republicans (including me) endorsing the Libya intervention, or the fact that Republicans account for virtually all of the popular support for the Obama administration's ongoing deployment of 68,000 American troops to fight the war in Afghanistan.
Of course supporting one aspect of a foreign policy does not obligate an opposition Party to support all aspects, or to give the governing administration a free pass on the failure to implement the policy faithfully. Democrats who voted for the use of force against Iraq in 2002 (such as Kerry, Biden, and Clinton) certainly felt free to criticize the war when it went poorly -- and to continue criticizing it a decade later. And Republicans such as myself who supported Obama's decision to intervene in Libya are likewise free to point out how myriad failures in implementation and execution helped contribute to the ongoing chaos and extremism there. This by no means implicates the White House in the horrific murders of American officials in Benghazi yesterday, but as with Iraq it does highlight the tragic costs of post-conflict stabilization failures.
All things considered, looking through the light of history at the recent proliferation of Democratic paeans to past "bipartisan" foreign policies and previous Republican presidents, one cannot escape a suspicion. Too often the Democratic role has entailed vocally opposing Republican policies at the time, and then later when those Republican policies have proven successful, either embracing them retrospectively (as with the recent Democratic encomia to Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush 41), or adopting them outright (as President Obama has done with many of Bush 43's policies). All of which should at the least raise a skeptical eyebrow at the ongoing Democratic denunciations of Romney's foreign policy.
[Full Disclosure: Like Kori Schake, I have also served as an informal advisor to the Romney campaign, though I do not speak for the campaign.]
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.