from The Water's Edge

Campaign 2012: Does the GOP Have a Foreign Policy Problem?

November 15, 2011

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The White House is seen with the Washington Monument (L) behind it and the Jefferson Memorial (R) in Washington, May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Gary Hershor
The White House is seen with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial behind it. (Gary Hershorn/courtesy Reuters) has posted a piece I wrote sizing up what the GOP presidential candidates have been saying about foreign policy. The piece makes two main points. The subtitle that Foreign Affairs gave the piece summarizes the first one: “Why the GOP’s Worldview Looks More Like Obama’s Than Anyone Cares to Admit.” News stories and op-eds often like to claim that the Republican candidates are embracing isolationism. But aside from Ron Paul, who has long been a principled non-interventionist, they aren’t. The criticisms they have leveled against Barack Obama have more to do differences over tactics and doubts (real or imagined) about his leadership abilities than about the dangers or opportunities facing the United States overseas.

The second point the piece makes is that none of the GOP candidates has begun to grapple (at least so voters can see) with how the dispersion of economic, political, and even military power around the world is complicating U.S. foreign policy. Contrary to what the candidates have been implying in their stump speeches and at the debates, fewer and fewer foreign policy problems are susceptible to being solved by the unilateral application of American power. They instead require cooperation with others. As Obama administration officials would be happy to tell you, that can be very hard if not impossible to come by. Do I expect GOP candidate to fess up to the difficulties in achieving America’s goals overseas? No. But remember, what sounds good while campaigning often doesn’t work well when governing.