GOP field falls short on foreign policy

October 16, 2011


Foreign policy hasn’t played much of a role in the Republican presidential race, and it’s easy to see why.

GOP candidates’ remarks on our role abroad have ranged from the uninformed to the bizarre (with the exception of Jon Huntsman, who served twice as a U.S. ambassador). Front-runner Mitt Romney’s foreign-policy speech last week had a Rip Van Winkle quality to it, as though he’d just awakened after a decade and was unaware of how the world had changed since 9/11.

This is sad, because the country could use a serious national debate over what our global role should be in a time of economic turmoil and scarcity. But Republicans seem far more interested in hammering President Obama’s “weakness” abroad than addressing the real threats to our global standing. Romney may insist that “the 21st century must be an American century,” but repeating that mantra won’t make it so.

Yet Republican wannabes have set forth no realistic roadmap for how America can maintain its role as global leader. Most have stumbled badly when asked foreign-policy questions. Texas Gov. Rick Perry confused India and Pakistan. Former Sen. Rick Santorum opined that we deal with Pakistan by cozying up to ousted Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf — who is now in exile in London and faces arrest if he returns home.

Former pizza king Herman Cain made light of his foreign-policy ignorance with a joke: “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I’m going to say ... I don’t know.” I won’t even start to track Michele Bachmann’s jumbled foreign-policy claims.

Which brings me back to Romney, whose positions reflect the fact that he’s hired on a host of former George W. Bush advisers. He talks of restoring American strength by adding 100,000 U.S. troops and expanding defense spending. Yet he never mentions our budget crisis, although both parties have agreed defense cuts will be required to address it. He never explains how we can afford 100,000 additional soldiers when we’re overburdened with debt.

Nor does he address what kind of strategic force we need to confront the threats of the future, which should determine the size of our forces. We’re unlikely to repeat the kind of ground wars we’ve waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, while drones and special forces are most effective for tracking down terrorists.

Did Romney avoid these issues because he didn’t want to cite Obama’s success in sending special forces to kill Osama bin Laden? Perhaps. But it’s bizarre to pledge a vast increase in military manpower when you don’t say why it is needed.

This lack of seriousness runs through every aspect of Romney’s foreign-policy posture. On Afghanistan, he’s backed off from an earlier pledge to bring troops home soon and now talks of a “full review” of our policy. Do we really have time for — or need — yet another full review? On the Middle East, he ignores failed peace talks but promises to focus aid and diplomatic efforts, even as Republicans slash the State Department budget.

And on Iran, Romney talks tough — saying an Iran with nukes is “unacceptable” — but he doesn’t say how he’d act differently than Obama. Perhaps that’s merciful, because other Republicans (including the normally level-headed Huntsman) are talking of military strikes against Tehran.

Never mind that most serious Iran experts believe a strike would not eliminate Tehran’s nuclear program, but would have huge, negative repercussions. (We should keep this warning in mind as hysteria rises over an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, an allegation that Iran experts find bizarre and contrary to Tehran’s operational style.)

This, in the end, is what disturbs me most about Republican foreign-policy posturing: The GOP seems unable to grasp that the world has changed and that the United States must adapt.

Huntsman does get it. He rightly labels the need to “rebuild America’s core” as America’s No. 1 national security issue: Joblessness (not to mention failing infrastructure and education) undercuts America’s ability to lead.

And he understands the need to “right-size our current foreign entanglements,” including a gradual drawdown from Afghanistan, and more focus on intelligence gathering and special forces to fight terrorists.

In fact, if you read Huntsman’s speech, it doesn’t sound so different from where Obama has arrived through trial and error. I’ve had big gripes with Obama’s foreign policies, but at least he’s trying to grapple with the requirements of new times.

However, Huntsman won’t get the nomination. So we’re left with a GOP pack that insists on American superiority and sabre-rattling while our country is crumbling internally. From such self-delusion, the next American century won’t grow.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her email address is trubin@phillynews.com


Mike Ford 6 years, 8 months ago

Americans are as smart as Peter Griffin when he asks a foreigner to do math for him on Family because Americans don't do math....just like the only two platforms for the GOP on foreign policy are "I don't know and I don't care" and "If you don't behave we will invade and destroy your country and bring you democracy". The latter was a joke stated to my father at a Bonhoeffer theologean conference in Prague in 2008 by a German colleague making light of America's imperialistic sense of democracy. The rest of the world is watching....some americans need to stop providing them with comedy.....

Richard Heckler 6 years, 8 months ago

People keep telling me that Huntsman is the only republican in the GOP field. His rhetoric may lead on to believe such.

The rest are definitely leaning on the RINO side which in reality is the GOP party. Being a republican will not get Huntsman the nod from the party leadership which is tightly controlled by RINO's aka Bush extensive family of politicians. No matter how bizarre Rick Perry comes off I still say he is the choice of the RINO leadership.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 8 months ago

It's very scary to think of Romney hiring former Bush advisors to help him with foreign policy.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 8 months ago

We all need to remember those 80 + year olds, women and men without the choice to ask questions about foreign policy in the 1940s-60s.

We have millions of living breathing historians among us who know what we as a nation did to not only defeat socialist dictatorships and racist imperialistic war loving Japanese but sacrificed post WW2 as well.

Modern finger wagging Germany and France were begging for U.S. intervention then. As were most of our loud demeaning critics.

I do believe it’s time for the U.S. to focus more on domestic issues.

On the other hand I bristle at other nations criticism when sure as God made little green apples another international crisis comes up, those wagging fingers will be making the motion of come and help us. Again.

Thanks to the Greatest Generation. Peace

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

"when sure as God made little green apples another international crisis comes up,"

'Little Green Apples'? -O.C Smith-1968 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z9IaU...

kansanbygrace 6 years, 8 months ago

Wiss, the dictatorships my dad's generation fought against were fascist, not socialist. We did not fight against the socialist republic, we fought WITH them, and then ceded them half of Europe.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago


And, then almost immediately declared them the next enemy, for the cold war.

George Orwell was right.

Mike Ford 6 years, 8 months ago

I pay attention...you don't....I follow world matters.... you don't....I have a world view.... you don't....I must've really got under your skin for walter mitty.....really..... Osama Bin laden gone.....Somalian pirates dealt with....Libya liberated... again....can any of your dimwits identify where the Seychelles or Madagascar is? didn't think so....only thing they're good at....snowing isolationist americans...

Scott Morgan 6 years, 8 months ago

Lip service, none of the problems you mentioned are even close to being solved. tusch, you be counting chickens before they hatch. Will give you credit, you do follow news from round the world.

You're in great company on premature celibrations, remember somebody giving Obama a pease prize after a few days in office. For a man o peace Obama sure uses military force often.

Somalia was at war 100 years ago, and will be 100 years from now. Change a few borders and Africa is in the same shape as when I sucked my first air decades ago. Pretty boring really, for instance instead of South African white death squads, we now have black ones.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

The Republican party has only one goal: To attempt to make sure that Obama is not reelected.

They will say anything in order to reach that goal.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 8 months ago

The Mope in Chief has only one goal: Getting another 4 years in the White House.

He will do or say anything in order to reach that goal.

(from a source)

Paul R Getto 6 years, 8 months ago

"This is sad, because the country could use a serious national debate over what our global role should be in a time of economic turmoil and scarcity." === Great idea. When do we start the debate?

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