President Obama and Governor Romney Approach to International Relations Issues Essay

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Obama & Romney -- Foreign Policy Approaches

If "realist" stands for a person who pursues "security" based on "self-interest," "determinism," and "morality" on the international scene (quotes chosen from Chapter 1); and if "liberal" stands for "capable of cooperating," "cooperation," the impact of "non-governmental groups" (NGOs), "having many interests" and "international society," then President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both reflect some of each of these traits, albeit Obama leans more toward a liberal, cooperative approach to international relations and Romney stalks a position based more based on power and self-interest and -- although he doesn't spell it out in specifics -- he embraces the concept of American exceptionalism (that is, the U.S. has the moral role of providing leadership for the world because American values are on a higher plane than other values). This paper reviews and critiques positions each candidate has taken on foreign policy issues, referencing the concepts of realist and liberal within the context of their various positions.

Romney's "realism" attacks on Obama

The Republican candidate has recently blamed Obama for the uprisings and revolutions in the Arab states, referred to as the "Arab Spring." The New York Times reports on Romney's attack, explaining that Romney claims Obama could have "headed them off by pressing the region's autocrats to reform first" (Baker, 2012). Romney attacked Obama in July, 2012, saying that the president "…abandoned the freedom agenda," which was in reference to President George W. Bush's policies (which Obama attacked repeatedly during the 2008 primary and presidential campaigns, and which Obama was not expected to adopt).

Baker referred to a recent Romney foreign policy speech (before the Veterans of Foreign Wars) as one that was full of "incendiary flourishes." One of those flourishes clearly establishes Romney's "realist" -- hard line -- position in the campaign; "If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president," Romney asserted, using a double negative to cast a shadow over Obama's leadership. "You have that president today," he concluded (Baker, p. 2). Romney went on to suggest that Obama is weak on Iran's plan to build a nuclear bomb, saying (through one of his campaign surrogates, Richard Williamson (a former envoy under George W. Bush) that "…No one in Tehran or in the region feels that the Obama Administration will use force…There is no credible threat of force…" from the White House, Williamson charged. This too is an example of Romney taking a hard line on a security issue (realism).

However, the rhetoric on Iran may be nothing more than campaign oratory designed to make Romney appear to be a strong realist on foreign policy. A former undersecretary for defense under Obama, Michele Flournoy, responded to Romney's assertions by saying that military planning under the Obama Administration for an attack on Iran is "incredibly robust" and that a strike against the nuclear facilities in Iran was "a real possibility" (Baker, p. 3). "It's ready," Flournoy stated, "It's there as an option" (Baker, p. 3

In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Romney asserted that "…we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history in a more peaceful manner" (Baker, p. 1).

On the face of it, that last sentence attributed to Romney, while it is clearly political rhetoric, is nonetheless absurd. Could any American president successfully have coaxed these Arab dictators to change their approach to governing, simply because they had not been governing with democratic principle? Would these dictators, Mubarak in Egypt and Kaddafi in Libya, and the others (including Assad in Syria) have bent over backwards to please the U.S. -- in effect acknowledging American exceptionalism? It is highly unlikely (and even impossible) that the dictators in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen -- among several others -- would suddenly change policies in the direction of democracy just because an American president asks them to.

Journalist Michael Crowley writes in Time magazine that what Romney was doing when he launched those attacks was not really seriously questioning Obama's stewardship in the Middle East but in fact he was making an effort "…to make headlines about national security leaks" (Crowley, 2012, p. 2). Romney actually made only vague proposals as to what he would do in terms of Middle Eastern diplomacy (which was to support Syrian rebels "who share our values"), and his points were based on "…rhetorical swagger and affirmations of American greatness and determination" (Crowley, p. 2). Romney's self-interest is in play here; he wants to deflect criticism of his lack of foreign policy experience by simply attacking the president. In other words, rather laying out his own strategies, it is easier for a man with virtually no foreign policy experience to pick away at the current president.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that realists tend to believe "...the principal actors in the international area to be states, which are concerned with their own security, act in pursuit of their own national interests, and struggle for power" (SEP, 2010). Realists tend to be skeptical about the possibility of "ethical norms" in states, in fact they believe that the international politics "…is a sphere without justice, characterized by active or potential conflict among states" (SEP, p. 1). When Romney claimed that Obama had made "…deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military," he was either ill-informed or simply reaching out for something to attack as a sign of his realistic approach.

That is because the cuts to the military budget were not Obama's ideas; Crowley points out that there were automatic Pentagon spending cuts as part of "…last year's budget sequestration deal between Obama and Congress." Blaming Obama without mentioning that Congress signed off on the cuts to military spending "…is highly unfair," and to call those cuts "…deep and arbitrary" is, Crowley concludes, "a real stretch" (Crowley, p. 2). But the larger point here is that Romney needs to sound tough and present the case that he (as president) would take a hard line against all perceived enemies of the United States (a realism trait to be sure).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out that realists are defined as having a "set of premises" vis-a-vis state actors that embrace "…egoism, anarchy, power, security, and morality" (SEP, p. 4). Realists are "generally skeptical about the relevance of morality to international politics," which leads them to believe "successful political action" is necessary to increase the military power of their own country and limit other countries from having similar strengths (SEP).

Baker points out that Romney has labeled Russia "…our No. 1 geopolitical foe" and referred to Obama's interactions with Russian leaders "a failure." In fact, notwithstanding Romney's promise to "challenge Mr. Putin's authoritarianism" the Obama Administration has shown international cooperative efforts toward Russia that have been manifested in progress toward improved relations. This places Obama firmly into the liberal camp because Obama has successfully negotiated an arms reduction treaty with Russia.

When Obama and then Russian president Dmitri Medvedev "put aside the tensions of recent years to seal the New Start pact paring back their nuclear arsenals, which prevents both the U.S. And Russia from "…deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads or 700 launchers," Medvedev said he and Obama had developed "…a very good personal relationship and a very good personal chemistry" (Baker, et al., 2010, p. 2). Obama called the Russian president "a friend and partner" and he said the new treaty was "a truly historic event" that would "…open a new page" in the relations between the two countries. Hence, by attacking Obama Romney shows he would be a hard-liner regarding foreign relations, in other words, a realist.

By choosing former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, to be an advisor on international relations, Romney clearly indicated what kind of foreign policy he would embrace -- a very hard line realist position. Time magazine journalist Joe Klein calls Bolton a "congenitally bellicose and warmongering" adviser. Bolton was so hawkish and controversial during the George W. Bush era the Senate wouldn't confirm him as UN ambassador -- so Bush made the appointment when the Congress was in recess.

Bloggers Zack Beauchamp and Ali Gharib point out the hard-liners (realists) that Romney has gathered together as foreign policy advisors, and the list clearly indicates the realist approach to international relations the Republican candidate has taken. Besides Bolton, Romney has enlisted Eliot Cohen (who makes the case for war with Iran), Cofer Black (former Blackwater vice chair who advocates for the use of torture), Michael Hayden (helped cover up the Bush-era torture), among several others tied to aggressive policies in foreign affairs.

Graham Allison writes in the peer-reviewed journal Foreign Affairs that Romney's assertion that "…on day one of my presidency I will designate [China] a currency manipulator and take appropriate counteraction" has received a "…nearly unanimous rejection" as "reckless…[continue]

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