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The All-Powerful President

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
October 23, 2012
Foreign Policy


Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic political operatives have strived to articulate major foreign-policy distinctions between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Several close foreign-policy watchers, however, have struggled to identify any such differences.

The final presidential debate on Oct. 22 finally cemented what has been apparent to many over the course of the campaign: Neither Romney nor Obama wants to discuss foreign-policy issues because they don't matter to prospective voters, and there are no substantive distinctions about how either candidate would deal with prominent issues such as Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and targeted killings via drones. The only potential variation is that Romney has promised massive defense budget increases, but his advisors admit that they would "very much depend on the state of the economy."

On a deeper level than specific countries or issues, there are five core principles of U.S. foreign policy that are widely held on both sides of the aisle. These principles underscore how presidents -- Republican and Democrat alike -- conceive of the U.S. foreign-policymaking apparatus, their role as the chief executive officer, and the responsibility of the United States in the world. However, these principles also rest on shaky ground and often undermine U.S. national interests because they reflect a profound misunderstanding of policymaking and how the rest of the world views the United States.

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