Shadow Government

If Obama's foreign policy has been so successful, then why are we talking about Romney's advisors?

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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Shadow Government

Economic growth and good governance are the center of Romney's aid policy

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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