Tuesday, June 5, 2007

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Obama says potato, Romney says potato....

Last year I blogged about how, despite clams claims of growing partisan and ideological divides, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot separating the leading presidential candidates.

This year, we'll continue this theme by doing an ol' compare and contrast of the foreign policy visions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- courtesy of Foreign Affairs.

Here's the game. I'm going to name the issue, then put forward statements by the two candidates. See if you can guess which is which!


Candidate A: "I will work to finally free America of its dependence on foreign oil -- by using energy more efficiently in our cars, factories, and homes, relying more on renewable sources of electricity, and harnessing the potential of biofuels."

Candidate B: "[T]he United States must become energy independent. This does not mean no longer importing or using oil. It means making sure that our nation's future will always be in our hands. Our decisions and destiny cannot be bound to the whims of oil-producing states....

We need to initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative -- an energy revolution -- that will be our generation's equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon. It will be a mission to create new, economical sources of clean energy and clean ways to use the sources we have now. We will license our technology to other nations, and, of course, we will employ it at home. It will be good for our national defense, it will be good for our foreign policy, and it will be good for our economy."

Candidate A: "We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines. Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed. That means providing our servicemen and servicewomen with first-rate equipment, armor, incentives, and training -- including in foreign languages and other critical skills. "

Candidate B: "[W]e need to increase our investment in national defense. This means adding at least 100,000 troops and making a long-overdue investment in equipment, armament, weapons systems, and strategic defense."

Candidate A: "As China rises and Japan and South Korea assert themselves, I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea. We need an inclusive infrastructure with the countries in East Asia that can promote stability and prosperity and help confront transnational threats, from terrorist cells in the Philippines to avian flu in Indonesia. I will also encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power -- to help lead in addressing the common problems of the twenty-first century. We will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others. Our essential challenge is to build a relationship that broadens cooperation while strengthening our ability to compete."

Candidate B: "A critical part of the economic resurgence and peace of postwar Europe was the United States' support for a unified market and U.S. engagement in cross-country ties. Today, we must push for more integration and cross-border cooperation in the Middle East. As a group of experts working on the Princeton Project on National Security noted recently, 'The history of Europe since 1945 tells us that institutions can play a constructive role in building a framework for cooperation, channeling nationalist sentiments in a positive direction, and fostering economic development and liberalization. Yet the Middle East is one of the least institutionalized regions in the world.'"

Candidate A: "To see American power in terminal decline is to ignore America's great promise and historic purpose in the world."

Candidate B: "We are a unique nation, and there is no substitute for our leadership."

Answer key is below the fold:

Candidate A is Obama, candidate B is Romney.

So, what are the differences between them? There's a few:

1) The Middle East. Romney thinks the problem is radical jihadism; Obama thinks the problem is a failure to solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem. For the record, I think both answers are facile (though Americans like hearing the latter answer).

2) Iraq. Obama wants to withdraw; Romney does not.

3) Nuclear proliferation. Obama devotes a fair amount of space to this issue; Romney does not.

4) Reorganizing the foreign policy chain of command. Obama doesn't say much about this; Romney makes an interesting proposal on this front: "Just as the military has divided the world into regional theaters for all of its branches, the work of our civilian agencies should be organized along common geographic boundaries. For every region, one civilian leader should have authority over and responsibility for all the relevant agencies and departments, similar to the single military commander who heads U.S. Central Command. These new leaders should be heavy hitters, with names that are recognized around the world. They should have independent objectives, budgets, and oversight. Their performance should be evaluated according to their success in promoting America's political, military, diplomatic, and economic interests in their respective regions and building the foundations of freedom, democracy, security, and peace."

Check out both speeches, and tell me if I'm missing anything.

Having read them, I feel a little better about Romney than I did before. His Iraq position is wrong, but the civilian proconsul idea is at least intriguing. This might be because my expectations of Romney were low to begin with.

I feel a bit worse about Obama than I did before. He focuses in the Israel/Palestine problem, blasts the Bush administration for inaction, and then suggests, "we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those [Palestinian] partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability." Ummm...... how is this different from current U.S. policy? Again, however, this might be due to elevated expectations.

See Matthew Yglesias for more.

UPDATE: Check out my colleague Jeff Taliaferro in the comments -- he wants to see more realist content in these proposals.

posted by Dan on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM



I normally don't post to your blog, preferring instead to lurk. However, I think the articles contributed by Senator Barak Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney are indicative of larger problems with the role of foreign policy in the upcoming presidential election.

Neither the Democratic candidates, nor the Republican candidates have questioned the underlying assumptions of the George W. Bush administration's grand strategy, but rather fault the incompetent of that strategies, especially in Iraq. While both Romney and Obama want to increase the size of the standing army and rebuild our tattered relations with European and East Asian allies, neither offers a realistic plan (or any plan)to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq or contain the civil war in that state. Neither candidate (or their respective rivals for their parties' nominations) question the notion that United States should promote liberal democracy abroad as the best means to ensure its security and prosperity. There is no recognition that preaching about democracy and open markets has won the U.S. few friends abroad and further alienates important regional players like Russia and China. Nor is there any recognition that in extolling its version of liberal democracy and market capitalism as universally applicable and the teleological end of all political development, the U.S. exposes itself to charges of hypocrisy and selective application. Neither acknowledges that the U.S., like every other great power in history, has permanent interests, not permanent friends. Both seem to offer simplistic diagnoses of the multiple security problems affecting the Middle East in general and the Persian Gulf, some which are a direct (and arguably foreseeable consequence of past U.S. policies).

What we need (but what will not get) is a presidential candidate who can make the case of a hard-nosed Realpolitik approach to grand strategy.


Your grouchy realist colleague who hasn't had his morning coffee yet

P.S.--I hope you and Erica had a nice time on that undisclosed Caribbean island.

posted by: Jeff Taliaferro on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]


You really miss the boat when you put Romney's focus on "Islamofacism" as an aside under "Middle East". Romney doesn't just toss Islam out as a short blurb on the MidEast, fighting against jihad, as he puts it, is the very centerpiece of his proposed grand strategy. He devotes over 20% of the essay to making the case that the struggle against Islam is the "defining challenge" of a generation. Here and in other speeches he has argued that Sunni and Shia, Lebanon to Indonesia, terrorist and radical groups must all be seen as one united movement to establish a "global caliphate", and explictly not seen as groups with disparate local grievances.

I'd say there's quite a bit of difference between two foreign policies when one of them has as its fundamental starting point that the U.S. is engaged in a "Long War" against a sizeable fraction of the Muslim world, against what appear to the naive to be a wide range of enemies but are really a united, undeterrable, unappeasable, irrational, movement seeking global domination.

I'm not that surprised that you downplay this. I'm at an institution where I have extensive interaction with senior civilian and military national security professionals (not all of them Bushies), and an awful lot of them really do use terms like caliphate, dhimmitude, Eurabia, and the like in all sincerity and really do believe that the Western world faces a decades-long struggle vs Islam that will be more expensive and far more bloody than the Cold War. At the same time, I see many realist-minded IR scholars find that worldview so absurd that they have trouble accepting that responsible adults actually believe it. So, they either write it off as political rhetoric or just tune it out and gloss it over, as Dan has just done.

posted by: AnIRprof on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]

Is it so surprising that two of the leading candidates both identify energy security, the military, and America's "unique place in the world" as critical issues? I would think that those are hard issues to argue against - has there ever been a strong candidate for either party that did not favor energy security, give a hat tip to the military, and extol America's exceptionalism?

You also forgot to mention Obama's nod to international development initiatives as both a moral AND a national security imperative - an issue that Romney completely neglected.

And Obama's characterization of global warming as one of the critical threats that we will be (are?) facing.

I was struck by clarity and simplicity of Obama's piece (he returns again and again to diplomacy and leadership). In comparison, without a similar organizing principle, Romney's seemed more scattershot. By the end of Obama's, we know that he wants to head an administration characterized by diplomacy - and Romney? Who knows.

posted by: meg on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]

"We need to initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative -- an energy revolution -- that will be our generation's equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon."

This meme has been floating around for a while, and it's a faulty comparison. The Manhattan Project and the space program relied on already-established research. The guys working on the Bomb knew they were working with nuclear fission, and NASA knew it was working with rocketry and other related technologies necessary to send humans into space.

The people calling for this wonderful "energy manhattan project" never tell us what energy source it will revolve around. Because they don't know. You can't have a research project unless you first know what you're researching.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]

"Clams" are becoming increasingly partisan and ideologically divided? Surely the only adequate response is "Clams of world, unite!"

posted by: JS on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]

It is possible that Sen. Obama shares the faith of some among his supporters that he is personally so inspirational that world leadership will just naturally flow back to the United States as soon as he is President and George Bush is not. We will condition aid on the transformation of recipient countries' internal political arrangements, but do so in the spirit of a partner, not a patron; we will increase and expand the effort we devote to everything, and contract and withdraw no worthy thing we are now doing. Sure we will.

I admire Sen. Lugar as much as I do any man now active in public life, but it appears he has not completed his tutelage of Sen. Obama in the field of foreign affairs. For one thing, Obama mentions nowhere that the State Department, the principle instrument of the diplomacy in which he sets such store, was allowed to atrophy during the Clinton administration while foreign policy responsibilities were shifted to the Defense Department and the Treasury. The Bush administration has not restored State; it has not repaired the public diplomacy infrastructure that the last Democratic President allowed to all but disintegrate; it has not removed the Congressionally-imposed conditions on American foreign aid programs or altered the fact that a hugely disproportionate amount of that aid is directed at just two Middle Eastern countries.

One would think a Presidential candidate running against President Clinton's wife would at least mention some things he would try to do better than her husband did. But the thing about banking on one's own inspirational qualities is that it allows economy of effort in those areas of policy in which one is not, at the end of the day, all that interested. Sen. Obama, like most national Democratic politicians, would much rather talk about domestic issues and address domestic constituencies than grapple with national security issues. He reckons, I suppose, that if his foreign policy turns out to do few of the things he now proclaims it must, few of the people likely to vote for him will notice.

posted by: Zathras on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]

Regarding the supposed similiarity of Riomney's and Obama's foreign-policy views: well, there ARE those little differences that Dan has oddly failed to mention -- such as the fact that one candidate thinks that we should start preparing immediately to pull out of Iraq while the other doesn't; and that one thinks we should close down Gitmo and totally reform Bush's system of military trials, while the other thinks that we should not only retain Bush's system but (somehow) "double" the number of people in Gitmo.

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 06.05.07 at 09:19 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?