Obama’s Re-Election: Response from Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East

President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday, November 6, 2012, over Republican candidate Mitt Romney, winning the Electoral votes 332-206. With over 50% of the popular vote, President Obama was able to maintain, and in some cases better, his percentage of minority voters to not only gain a decisive victory over his opponent, but also demonstrated the impact of changing voter demographics in the United States. A critical component to President Obama’s victory was the growth of Asian-American voters, of whom more than 70% chose the incumbent over Mr. Romney.

Leading up to the election, many voters believed that President Obama’s handling of foreign policy over the last four years was a clear advantage to gain re-election. Under the Obama administration, diplomatic and military relations with Asia have received more attention, with administration officials seeking to create stronger ties with the region.

Leaders from around Asia offered congratulations to President Obama on his victory, with calls to promote and strengthen future relations. President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines stated on his Twitter page, “The Philippines looks forward to deepening the cooperation between the Philippines and the United States in Mr. Obama’s second term.”

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said, “[China will] look to the future and make continuous efforts for fresh and greater progress in the building of the China-US cooperative partnership.”

Leaders from Central Asia and the Caucasus’s reacted similarly, congratulating President Obama wholeheartedly, while stressing that he should maintain strong relations going into his second term. Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian responded by sending “warmest congratulations and best wishes” to the President, adding that “our multifaceted cooperation will yield new impressive results for the mutual benefit of our peoples.”

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sent Mr. Obama a telegram stating, “I am confident that in such a difficult period, under your leadership, the United States will become a powerful force for stability and prosperity in the world. I wish you and your family health and happiness, and success in your work, as well as the prosperity to the American people.”

The reaction from countries in the Middle East was a bit more mixed. Tensions within the region have grown over the last four years with the increases in drone strikes and rapid changes in leadership with the Arab Spring. The United States’ continued presence in the region will also come under scrutiny as the military begins its 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan. Despite these concerns, many leaders offered their hopeful support to Mr. Obama upon his reelection.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose controversial statements during the election became the center of many debates between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, stated that “I will continue to work with President Obama to preserve the strategic interests of Israel’s citizens.”

A representative for Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai remarked, “The president hopes that with President Obama’s re-election, relations between Afghanistan and the United States, based on bilateral interests, are further expanded.”

Pakistan and Turkey perhaps had the most enthusiastic reactions. A representative of the Pakistani government spoke on behalf of the President, noting that he “… Expressed the hope that the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. would continue to prosper during President Obama’s new term in office.” While Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul stated, “I am delighted to confirm that we share the same vision as you in especially strengthening the economic and trade dimensions of our relations in the next term.”

Not all leaders had positive reactions to Mr. Obama’s re-election. Many stressed the need for different positions from the administration in the next four years. The Hamas Government expressed harsh sentiments: “We listened to the moderate speech by Obama in the wake of his first presidential victory, but his policy did not fit into this discourse and in front of him now is an opportunity to apply what he had promised of the region away from the pressures of the Israeli lobby.”

Mohammad Shtayyeh, aid to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, added, “President Obama has spent four years in the office; unfortunately he hasn’t done much for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Given the current climate in the region and recent events in Gaza, the administration is likely to remain preoccupied with the Middle East for some time. Harsh criticism regarding President Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and escalating tensions between Israel and Iran will pose challenges in the next four years. With the anticipated resignation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, President Obama will have to make critical decisions about who will best be able to handle these situations going forward and adjust policies to address the new challenges and realities on the ground.

 

What are your thoughts about the Obama Administration’s relationship with Asia and the Middle East? Share your thoughts!

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The Election Results for Foreign Policy and National Security

There is little doubt that victory for President Barack Obama was also a victory for America’s responsible engagement in the world. 

There is now little doubt that crazy, counterproductive, and needlessly aggressive military orientated policies pushed by Romney and his neo-con advisors will now not be the hallmark of the next four years. The question then is what should be the goals and policies of a second term Obama and how should they differ from those of the past? What can be accomplished now?

The answer to this question, to be pragmatic and realistic, requires the acknowledgment that Obama will have some real restraints. These include blocked legislative efforts by the still crazy right-wing House majority Republican and (to some extent) from a Senate where the Democrats have only a slim majority, where they have not near the 60 votes to over-ride a filibuster unless the Democrats change the rules in the opening days of the new Congress next year. 

That makes it difficult, in some cases impossible, for him to get treaties ratified and domestically judges, let alone new cabinet members, confirmed. That itself is a tragedy for moving this country forward towards major accomplishments both domestic and international.

With that limitation in mind, what then can he accomplish and how?

ARMS CONTROL AND NON-PROLIFERATION/STRATEGIC POLICIES AND RELATED ISSUES INCLUDING DEALING WITH RUSSIA

His first effort should be to work again to move beyond New START reductions which were key –if modest accomplishment, but one that most thought would never happen with Putin still the “head man” and one most Republicans opposed. Now the issue is to get a cranky and myopic Putin to see the interest of Russia (and perhaps himself) in further reductions and better assurances by both sides of their security as well as reduction of catastrophic errors or clashes.

Clearly Obama is better positioned for this than would have been Romney with his unwise bashing of Russia. One can hope that perhaps after the next Congressional election in 2014 there might be reductions in Republicans in the House and some gains by the Democrats in the Senate.

The Comprehensive Test Band Treaty (CTBT) could maybe only see the light of day if that could happen. However, Obama can act to move executive agreements, short of a treaty, to advance important strategic goals. These include mutually agreed reductions of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, new “confidence building” measures, improved verification efforts, other weapons reductions, and military-to-military protocols that would reduce the risk of unintended skirmishes and address the European Missile Defense issue. Obama now can be even bolder than he was in his first term.

DEFENSE AND STRATEGIC RESTRUCTURING

Key decisions will have to be made to restructure our military to reflect current realities and threats rather than the Cold War approach that was dangerously offered by Romney and his cohort neocons which would have “ballooned” the military budget at the expense of rebuilding American industrial, technological, and educational base – all key components of true strategic national security. Obama’s early task will likely, in part, be through addressing the coming requirements of the legislative and financial “cliff” to undertake both significant shifting and in some cases reductions in unneeded programs while enhancing others relevant to the existing strategic landscape. Republicans will be pushing in a different direction.

This will result in a real clash between legislators wedded to the military-industrial interests and those seeking a more properly scaled and mobile military able to react to crises and with enhanced flexibility. Many experts believe with the draw down in Afghanistan, that a cut of up to $1 trillion over 10 years is not an unrealistic goal if done with a fine scalpel rather than a sequester sledge hammer. Already some $525 billion has been agreed by the military via shrinking the size and the growth rate of the DOD over five years. Under that added reduction program, we would still have a military capacity far greater than the next 10 nations – which include our closest allies. We certainly do not need as many as projected F-35s and other such cold war systems or unnecessary nuclear weapons “modernization” programs as are on the books today.  

INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL POLICIES

The time has come again to resurrect the global “stimulus” coordinated efforts that Obama and the UK’s George Brown tried at the start of the economic crisis which failed as conservative run states decided on the now clearly ruinous policies of forced austerity. That approach has brought disaster to those countries that practiced it or were forced to accept it.  Wiser heads might now see the wisdom of a U-Turn before we all fall into a global depression. Here, Obama should pick a new Treasury Secretary with a little more “guts” and fundamental economic judgment to deal with growth and unemployment and less prejudice towards rich bankers than the present incumbent. A stimulus program based on rebuilding the storm torn East Coast would help also if it would especially address the need for infrastructure and rebuilding “smart” against further climate change induced “super storms” of the future.

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION 

One of the greatest challenges Obama needs to face is the vital need in the next four years for Americans not only to work for national polices that will advance the requirement to reduce greenhouse gasses, but also to find a way to revive the effort to build a global consensus for broad international agreements on an ambitious action plan to turn back a looming global catastrophe.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be done via a single major treaty, since the Republicans will act to defeat any such effort.  The need is more a creative approach which depends more on informal and executive level agreements to achieve a cooperative approach which includes both the advanced developed countries and the developing world.

I would suggest it be part of a global “pact” for growth with the aim of “clean growth” which Obama has led here in the US even without much Congressional support.

We need to press ahead with the Law of the Sea Treaty ratification which the US military supports. While a hard sell with the right on the Hill; with industry backing it, it is worth again making an effort.

CHINA/PACIFIC

The “pivot” to Asia needs broadening and deepening and is crucial to long term peace in this key region.

Obama can do much to deal with China beyond what has been possible so far. The first need is to engage the new Chinese leadership which will be in power before the end of this year. Here, bold acts and wise words and lots of time with the key decision-makers could pay massive dividends on the direction of relations and the avoidance of conflict. Trade is a key, where “win-win” outcomes are doable, especially if we can achieve a global consensus on growth rather than “austerity.”  Dampening down nationalism and moderating conflicts over territorial disputes would do much to create a better climate for all sides to “reason together” and concentrate on issues that would move their economies forward together. 

A bold pan for economic growth in the Pacific region with a focus on clean energy would kill two birds at the same time. China’s two key cities Shanghai and Canton are among the most vulnerable urban areas in the world to the rise of oceans and storms. There is room for cooperation if each side’s right wing nationalists do not win the politics of their nation.

MIDDLE EAST/ARAB SPRING/ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE

In the Middle East, the time has finally come to try to cut the Gordian knot that has been a source of regional and indeed global instability for decades. It is a large lift but turning our back on this festering looming calamity would be worse. The only fair solution is known by all – and rejected by both sides now. But the time has come for a “full court” press by America, the EU, and Middle East states. A solution to this conflict and the institution of a program of regional joint economic growth and prosperity would go a long way towards making this globe a bit better and safe for many of its people.

The method most likely to work is to put on the table a “deal” that “cannot be refused” as it is so overwhelming good to all, even if parts of it are not desired by one party or the other, that it would create the political will to seal an agreement. This would require, simply put, security guarantees by all concerned powers, the US especially, but also the EU, NATO, Arab league, the UN and others. The second actor is an economic Marshall Plan for the region that would be structured to enhance economic and trade cooperation between all parties and address unemployment especially of youth. It could be seen as part of a global stimulus effort to move the world towards sustainable growth rather than stagnation and conflict.

That also is a fruitful approach to the uncertainties and problems of the Arab Spring. Unemployment and economic stress are a real part of the rise of conflict and terrorism especially proving a fruitful ground for terrorist recruiting of resentful youth. With a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict some of the fuel for the fire in the Middle East is likely to dampen.      

PAKISTAN-INDIA-AFGHANISTAN CONUNDRUM

One of the great challenges of the 21st century is to find some solution to this dangerous landscape and move to establish some kind of settlement which will set this area on a peaceful path. Here again, a “grand bargain” which enables all participants to see gains in their goals and security in the region and in their economy might help at last move the players toward a “win-win” approach rather than a “zero sum game.” Some kind of “settlement” of the Kashmiri conflict is a key element as well as agreement to “cool down” the nuclear arms race. Lowering military activities on the border would add confidence to all and help move toward cooperation on a host of issues. Here, America lead by Obama might leave an enduring legacy of peace. He has little to risk at this stage of his leadership but he will need the help of other powers in the region and especially of the EU and UN.

BUILDING A STRUCTURE OF MODERN FORWARD LOOKING INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS AND PROGRAMS

Perhaps the most important area under this category is the strengthening of international institutions devoted to peace making, peace keeping, and prevention of conflicts.  As Henry Kissinger once said, one has to “institutionalize” for the long-term institutions and capabilities that will endure and help peace prevail. These institutions include the IAEA, UNHCR, the various UN human rights groups, and the UN peacekeeping capabilities and programs…but with more standing capabilities and early intervention mandates. 

These issues will be examined in future posts as we elaborate on these sectors and other areas of America and international opportunity for innovation in the coming months.

“They Make Me Sick:” Colin Powell Endorses Obama

This short commentary on his blog by Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times says better the many problems that looms should Romney and his right wing gang of neo-cons gain control over our national security and foreign policy institutions. Only difference is that these people don’t make me “sick” as Col. Wilkinson said, but they make me fear — which is more dangerous.

Here is Mr. Rosenthal’s pithy comments:

“Colin Powell Endorses Obama”

By ANDREW ROSENTHAL

It turns out that Mitt Romney has not managed to snare every member of the Bush administration national security team that brought us the pointless and bloody invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

He missed the one high-level team member who actually realized what catastrophic mistakes those decisions were – Colin L. Powell. “I think we ought to keep on the track that we are on,” Mr. Powell said on CBS this morning. “I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012.”

Mr. Powell said he supported Mr. Obama in part because he is ending the war in Afghanistan and has a strong counter-terrorism record. “There’s some very, very strong neo-conservative views that are presented by the governor that I have some trouble with,” he said.

“I’m not quite sure which Governor Romney we’d be getting with respect to foreign policy,” he said.

With respect to Mr. Powell, I think know which Governor Romney we will get – the ideologically pliant one who will turn over his government to the neo-con hawks who now advise him.

It’s a group that Mr. Powell is right to fear. After all, he was George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Bill Clinton’s and George H.W. Bush’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser. He knows a neo-con when he sees one.

Mr. Powell did himself and his reputation harm by (albeit inadvertently) presenting fictional tales about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s supposed nuclear ambitions to the United Nations as part of the campaign to mislead America and its allies into war with Iraq.

But unlike other members of Mr. Bush’s team, many of whom are now advising Mr. Romney, Mr. Powell has since acknowledged the falseness of those claims.

Lawrence Wilkerson, Mr. Powell’s former chief of staff, had a pithier summation of the Romney foreign policy team the other day. “These people make me sick,” he said.

The Second Debate: Cheap Shots and Evasions

Photo belongs to ABC News

I sat last night to hear the “town hall” type debate and personally focused on some of the foreign policy issues which surprisingly were asked by the citizen participants.

 

One of the questions was about the security issues that resulted in the attack on our mission in Benghazi in Libya.  As a former diplomat who focused on the threat of terrorist attacks against our missions and personnel abroad for part of my career, I was outraged and saddened at Gov. Romney’s political attacks again. I chaired a committee of the American Foreign Service Association focused on these very questions.  With this perspective, I was appalled that Gov. Romney tried to use a tragic situation for cheap political gain. It brings into question his fitness to be a responsible president and “Commander-in-chief.”

This was not the first time he used this subject in order divert attention from his dismissal of 47% of our citizens and to undermine the existing approval of American citizens in Obama leadership abroad. Yet, he added little of our understanding of America’s role in the region. 

Further, I want all to know that decisions about security in a particular embassy or mission is NOT normally taken to the President – not even many times to the Secretary of State. I worked for several secretaries of state as a policy planner and also in the White House and have some concept of the chain of information and decision-making in this area.

President Obama made a courageous decision to take responsibility for a decision and situation for which he had no direct involvement and was not at the presidential level before the attack. He did, however, act afterwards in directing an investigation, increasing the security in our missions in the area, and put forth finding and punishing the attackers.

There are serious issues concerning our goals, policies, and activities to deal with the Arab Spring, unrest in the region, and helping in the building of decent governments while seeking peace in the region. Romney gave us not a single bit of new insight regarding his specific different actions from what Obama is already doing. In fact, Obama has carried out a wide range of useful actions and policies from the start of his administration. Reaching out to the Muslim world along with rebuilding our trust in the region (after the disasters of the Bush administration) help us deal with Iran and creates cooperation on other issues in the region. Obama, in fact, built a measure of trust and dialogue where only antagonism existed due to our previous policies.

The exploiting of this serious, tragic, difficult, and still not clear situation instead of a more broad debate on major policies was unfortunate. I hope the next debate will add and not detract from that goal rather than making it into a leaver against a president who was and is still acting with concern and responsibility. It was an effort to divert attention from Romney’s clear void of foreign policy depth.  Yes, it was a cheap shot and beneath anyone running for president.

US Elections: Middle East and Israeli-Palestine Peace

One of the most contentious issues that has arisen in the presidential campaign has been the effort by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (known widely as Bibi”) to intervene in the U.S. election on the side of Mitt Romney; an old pal of his from their greedy days of both making money in a company that was the creator of Bain Capital. You know who they are.  But that is not the full story since Bibi also wants to call the shots for the U.S. on a war with Iran over nuclear weapons by drawing us into conflict before it is necessary or wise.

On September 11th, in reaction to U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that the U.S would not set a deadline for Iran’s capitulation to halting its nuclear program, Netanyahu said, “The world tells Israel ‘wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’” He added, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

Netanyahu’s “Red-Line” is nothing more than an effort to set the time and conditions for a U.S. act of war against Iran. It is also designed to undermine and undo sanctions and diplomacy which previously, Netanyahu, in public words, has supported. The conclusion that could be reached is that Bibi does not really want a diplomatic or peaceful solution and would prefer to entangle the U.S. in a conflict that may not be necessary in America’s or the international community’s interest.

But the problem here in the U.S. is that politicians of all parties think they must bow to any and all of Israel’s demands, even if the demands are going to lead to making Israel’s security more at risk.  Just about every independent strategic expert has come to the conclusion that Israel would suffer the most in a war with Iran.  War would set loose in the region a catastrophic reaction of conflict and revenge that would be unbelievably costly to Israel.  The consensus is that an attack would only result in a delay of 2 or (at the most) 4 years in an Iranian nuclear weapon and such an event would likely lead to the spread of such weapons throughout the region.

Romney has been the most blatant in words and deeds in bending his remarks to mirror Netanyahu’s most absurd wishes. He has done so by suggesting support of the Prime Minister’s infamous ”Red Line” – which in effect demands that America go to war on his command.  No American president can or should accept this dictation.

As we have observed before, the path of real security rests in negotiations, mutual compromises, and in a two state solution; whose outline has long been known and been on the table which Israel and the Palestinians have been given some lip service at times for. Nevertheless, they are, as yet, still unwilling to accept the whole “package” for the sake of a wider enduring peace.

Israel has time and time again acted in ways to thwart the peace process and (under Netanyahu especially) has caused blockage by the expansion of illegal settlements and coercive acts against the Palestinians. The Palestinians also need to move towards accepting that they too should move on some key issues.

What Romney does not yet understand is that America remains an indispensable actor to “guarantee” security for both sides after an agreement. He has acted in such a way that our role as a honest broker and seeker of a fair balance outcome has been impaired by his foolish and reckless statements. These include his dismissal of the importance of working for a peace agreement and to the two state formula as its base, which he has only recently “re-stated” to include in his lexicon once its stupidity was exposed to public scrutiny.

His real sentiments were revealed in his leaked fundraiser recording of last May where he said that he intends to “kick the can down the road” on the Israel-Palestine issues. He added that he does not trust the Palestinians with a state. Which one may we ask is his real view and which is a lie?

This playing with a volatile and difficult situation is simply outrageous. Romney is playing into Netanyahu’s hands like a sheep going to slaughter with about the same level of brain power.

In a September 23rd interview with CBS’s 60 minutes, Obama properly stated, “When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people.”

What must be kept in mind for American policy is the situation in the entire region and how to help, with our allies, to guide as much as possible the major changes taking place toward peaceful, secure, and prosperous outcomes for all. This can’t be done by bluster, our military on the ground, cuts suggested by Romney in our assistance programs, nor by foolishness and ignorance of realities.  

Romney’s Foreign Policy Key Fallacy

Romney’s foreign policy speech to VMI on October 8th was a piece with his speeches on domestic policies: they just don’t add up much, have little substance, and were filled with misconceptions, empty rhetoric, and indeed lies. Too bad for Americans who want to understand how America can play a constructive role in the world. It seems that this speech is part of a tilt toward moderation that seems to be the new tactic to gain votes in the middle in addition to his existing right wing fanatics.

Let’s look at just a few of the quotes and ideas in Romney’s VMI speech which is hard to characterize as a “policy speech.” It is so void of any specifics, yet it gives some insight of his revised perspective and its other many problems:

 First, the Middle East:  Romney appears to try to walk back on his “47%” disastrous talk to his rich funders on the question of a “two state solution” being the basis of a peace deal. He leaves out the movement of the Embassy to Tel Aviv, but implies that we should be in lock step with “Bibi” and his hawkish backers on when America should act…a reiteration of the “red line” demand which out sources American decision making to Israel. “The world must never see any daylight between our two nations:” What the New York Times characterized as “seeming to tie America’s decision about whether to take military action to decisions made in Israel. This indeed would be a first! Not even Britain, our true closest ally, would claim that privilege.

On Iran he called for tougher sanctions without ever saying what they would be. Obama and the Europeans are now applying harsh sanctions and they are having a devastating impact on Iran’s economy. Any further action would require agreement with our allies and the UN Security Council. How would Romney get their agreement? He again implies acts of war and does not explain their consequences to the public.

On climate change, probably the greatest threat to our planet in this century…not a word. His past stance on “drill baby drill” and ever more coal burning plants would only accelerate the build up of CO2 and increase weather disasters around the globe. But again, only silence heard in his “major” speech.

Romney has accused Obama of not acting forcefully in areas such as Libya, Syria, and the Middle East generally. This was again his thrust in his recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute where, again, as in earlier talks, he talks the talk but does not walk the walk in giving us any specifics. His nostrums would endanger American leadership and vital interests abroad.  Again he raises in his speech the death of our American diplomats to gain political points for a tragedy not of Obama’s making nor significant for broad American engagement in the region. His remarks, as I said, were indecent and misplaced. 

 On military spending and our military capability, the New York Times called his statement in this area a “lie” for which I concur since the cuts were demanded by the Republicans as part of the debt ceiling deal. And to add a point, America already has two carrier task forces in the Gulf region. Again, Romney tracks Obama’s polices but seems to claim credit for making them his own.

 On Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan, Romney wants to sound more aggressive without really doing anything new.

 Further, he thinks we should make Russia a geopolitical “foe” and pushes a confrontational strategy towards China – a country with one of the largest populations on earth and a key power in Asia and one of our largest trading partners. It is evident he has no real strategy but a proclivity to increase tensions rather than abate them.  

In some cases, his proposals are not that different than Obama’s in dealing with many of these complex issues or countries. When it does diverge, it goes off the rails. Much of his “different” policies would cause more harm and be counterproductive than current approaches. 

All he can often say is he would be “stronger”…..but in what way? That is left to the imagination but voters can doubt there is any reality behind such empty rhetoric and platitudes. When he does not have a script, he often puts his foot in it. 

It is not enough to say that America is exceptional, as if that was a policy prescription. It is not. 

In short, again, there is no “there there” with Romney’s so-called foreign policy positions and speeches.  But there are a lot of dangerous prescriptions for confrontation, antagonism, and blindness to the realities of the 21st Century global landscape and its risks and opportunities.

Maureen Dowd’s “Why not Debtor’s Prison”

Maureen Dowd  had some pithy words about the foreign policies of President Obama and Gov. Romney in her op-ed in the New York Times on September 26th  “Why not Debtor’s Prison,” and made some observations that readers to this blog might find of interest.

I don’t often take long quotes from a journal but this one is too good to not share.  Many newspapers are noting that foreign policy has been playing a greater roll in this campaign than would be normal, especially given the economic situation. But it does need attention and our concern especially if we do not make wise choices.  Our focus on the debates on foreign policy will continue and hope all can see the presidential debate on foreign policy on October 22nd.

“At least the president has a foreign policy. Romney and Paul Ryan haven’t spent time thinking and speaking a lot about foreign policy. They have simply taken the path of least resistance and parroted the views of their neocon advisers. They talk all tough at Iran and Syria and label the president a weak apologist and buildup bogymen and rant about how America must dictate events in the Middle East. That’s not a doctrine; it’s a treacherous neocon echo.

It’s amazing that many of the neocons who were involved in the Iraq debacle are back riding high. (Foreign Policy magazine reports that 17 of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy were in George W. Bush’s administration.) But no one has come along to replace them, or reinstitute some kind of George H.W. Bush-James Baker-Brent Scowcroft realpolitik internationalism.

The neocons are still where the GOP intellectual energy is, and they’re still in the blogosphere hammering candidates who stray from their hawkish orthodoxy. Democrats have claimed the international center once inhabited by Bush senior and his advisers.

On foreign and domestic policy, Republicans have outsourced their brains to right-wing think tanks. It’s one thing for conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks to sit around and theorize about the number of people who are “dependent” on government programs and to deplore the trend, or to strategize on privatizing Medicare. If you’ve got a lot of people on government programs, their response is not to help those people get off the programs; it’s to cut the programs.

The Romney campaign has turned conservative theory into ideology and gone off the cliff with it. If you want to inspire, lead and unite people, it won’t fly to take ideologically driven findings and present them unvarnished to voters.

At the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday, Romney talked about tying foreign aid to “the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise” in the Middle East and other developing countries.

It was a variation on what Romney said on the infamous leaked tape to the fat-cat donors about 47 percent of the country being victims and moochers, promulgating the idea that any aid makes people worse off instead of better off. Next he will want to bring back debtors’ prisons.”

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