In the umpteen debates held thus far, foreign policy hasn’t even been elevated to the status of an afterthought. The only nations that reliably come up are China, which we somehow have to “beat,” and Mexico, which all the candidates except Rick Perry and Ron Paul want to quarantine with an impregnable fence.
Cain said repeatedly that his proposed fence would be electrified. Then he said those remarks were in jest. Then he said the fence might be electrified after all. Sorry for the digression, but I’m just trying to keep up.
What’s no joking matter is that, to the extent that the Republican candidates deal at all with international affairs, it tends to be in a way that’s shockingly vapid and unsophisticated. It is likely that domestic issues, especially the parlous state of the economy, will dominate the election. But it’s also likely that one or more foreign crises will arise between now and Election Day — and that the contrast can only work in President Obama’s favor.
Look at Libya. The GOP contenders have grasped for reasons to grumble about Obama’s decision to enable and join a NATO-led intervention to topple Gaddafi. Some seemed to think that Obama should have been more aggressive; others, such as Michele Bachmann, seemed to think the president shouldn’t have committed U.S. forces at all. Newt Gingrich has boldly taken both positions.
With the rebels’ capture of Sirte, the last pro-Gaddafi stronghold, it appears that Obama’s course of action was prudent, patient and, for Americans, virtually painless. A brutal dictator who was directly responsible for terrorism that killed U.S. citizens has been eliminated without the loss of a single American life. Compare that with the thousands of U.S. deaths it cost to depose another brutal dictator — Saddam Hussein — who had not ordered anti-American terror attacks.
What about Yemen, where a popular uprising has failed to oust a comparably ruthless despot — but one who happens to be an ally in the U.S. war against al-Qaeda? Do any of you Republican candidates know where Yemen is?
Speaking of Yemen, what about Obama’s use of unmanned drones to assassinate an al-Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, who happened to be a U.S. citizen? What about the subsequent killing of Awlaki’s son in the same manner? Aside from Ron Paul, do any of the Republican candidates for president care to examine the many moral and legal questions about using robotic aircraft to execute individuals on foreign soil? Don’t all speak at once.
In Syria, a peaceful pro-democracy movement is being crushed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Thoughts? Anybody? Hello?
The candidates relentlessly maintain their focus on the economy because they believe it is what will decide the election. But just as the Wall Street financial crisis caused markets to tumble around the globe, so is the U.S. economy dependent on what happens in the rest of the world. The biggest threat right now comes from the potential for multiple defaults in Europe. What, if anything, should U.S. policymakers be doing?
One of next month’s debates is supposed to focus on foreign policy. My guess is that we’ll hear variations on the theme “Obama’s doing it all wrong” — with few specifics on how “doing it right” might differ.
Sooner or later, though, events will conspire to present some military or diplomatic question the GOP candidates can’t ignore. Voters will care about the answer, Mr. Cain, even if you don’t.
Gerson: Risky support for Occupy Wall Street
Samuelson: A future of broken promises
Krauthammer: Punch-out in the desert
Meyerson: Feeling okay about the occupiers