A Deficit of Strategic Vision in the Foreign Policy Debate

During last night’s presidential debate on foreign policy, I was most struck by both candidates’ inattention to the importance of employing a coherent national security strategy.

President Obama had no clear strategic vision whatsoever. His discussion of different foreign-policy challenges, it seemed to me, were rushed responses to events dictated by others. He wanted to talk more about the means — specifically, how they must be shrunk to engage in “nation-building” at home (by the way, Obama really wants to engage in state-building; the United States doesn’t need to do any more building of a nation). He wants to cut the military by many hundreds of billions of dollars, but cannot admit that this must result in a narrowing of American capabilities and goals. But simply wanting to cut the means of our foreign policy, without any clear sense of the ends, will ensure that Obama’s foreign policy continues its rushed, improvised, and episodic character.

Romney, by contrast, has more of a strategic vision, but it only revealed itself here and there. It was not just that Romney used the debate to assure voters that he was no warmonger. He used the debate to show that he sat more comfortably in the tradition of American foreign policy that has endured since the end of World War II. Romney wants the United States to play the role that it has in the world since 1945: maintaining a liberal international order, one that has spread free trade and democracy first to Europe and East Asia, and more recently to Latin America and perhaps the Middle East. This American century has produced a stunning era of stability and prosperity for more people than the world has ever known. At times Romney made clear that he wants America’s exceptional role in guaranteeing this world order to continue. And that is why military funding must be restored to its normal levels — not to wage war, but to guarantee the peace that has been so beneficial to the United States and the world.

You can read some more of my thoughts over at The Corner.

  1. liberal jim

    At the end of WW2 the Soviet Union’s goal was world domination.  At the time the US was the only nation capable of resisting and our foreign policy centered around  this evolved.   The USSR has disappeared, but unfortunately the idea that the US should be the world’s policeman has been kept alive by some of the political elites.  The idea that American taxpayers should pay to protect the oil shipments of middle eastern countries who intern form a cartel whose purpose is to gouge the the same American taxpayers is for obviousness reasons  not a popular one.  

    Since the 90′s neither party has had a coherent foreign policy.  The US cannot continue to be the world’s policeman simply because it is too costly to do so.  The average American has come to this conclusion, The liberals are not quite adroit enough to fully take advantage of this yet, but unless the GOP wakes up to the fact their future is a bleak one.

  2. Neolibertarian

    I agree completely…but…

    Talk of “crippling sanctions” on Iran disturbs me. Romney was more vigorous in his insistence that tighter and tighter sanctions on Iran are the only rational course.

    I’m embarrassed for my nation that no viable candidate in 2012, not even in the primaries, had the wherewithal to grasp or speak the truth about economic sanctions. Paul doesn’t count for various obvious reasons.

    Sanctions are economic warfare willingly and knowingly conducted against those who have the least ability to affect change inside their nation; the poor.

    Not only did no American seem to learn the lessons of the 687 Sanctions against Iraq, we haven’t even learned the lessons from the 1973 Oil Embargo against us.

    No one in the United States blamed themselves for the embargo, did they? As many evils as so many were willing to assign Nixon back then, no one seriously blamed him either. No one ever thought America’s irresponsible monetary policies might be to blame.

    No, OPEC would be used by politicians as cause for all of America’s economic woes for the next two decades.

    We need more tools in our toolbox…and candidates who understand that need.

  3. gnarlydad

    Neo… Recognizing the need for new tools does little to describe what those tools might look like, or how they might function. Do you have any ideas?

  4. Karen

    DoD needs to get out of the business of buying healthcare. It’s too expensive and inefficient. I’d estimate between 5-15% of the DoD budget is spent on healthcare for active duty, dependents and retirees and it will only go up. But how do we cover healthcare for these folks? Dump them in Obamacare/HHS? Give them to the VA? Any ideas?

    Secondly, like any agency there is tremendous waste, abuse and inefficiency within DoD. How do you make them more accountable? Or is it just the nature of the beast?

    Thirdly, DoD is the largest agency in the federal government employing the most people. Salaries are expensive. Pay scales are inflated for active duty, public employees and contractors (especially the last two), and there are a lot of people employed by DoD who are screwing over taxpayers. We need to reduce salaries at DoD, not necessarily across the board, but in certain sectors. We need to fire some people. We need to encourage some to leave.

    I don’t know what the savings would be on that, but DoD needs to get real. 

  5. Scott R

    Part of the problem was the hotspot by hotspot format of the debate. Tough to go “big picture” under those circumstances, especially while contending with snarky interruptions from the President.

    Still, one “strategic vision” seems to be paying dividends: Romney was at 38-62 on Intrade pre-debate; this evening he’s at 46-53.

  6. Nick Stuart

    Almost every conservative commentator has a nit to pick.First Romney has to win, THEN nit-picking season starts.

  7. Devereaux

    I would go Liberal Jim one better and say we have not had a cohesive foreign policy for lo these many years.

    ?Just what is our role in the world. I would submit that we are to be an example to the world of what freedom can get you. We have, indeed, been just that from our inception. We have only gotten into the empire business since after the Civil War. We are a real, if unenthusiastic empire. There are real issues out there that call for real strength. But one has to be careful just how one uses that strength.

    Every empire in history found it could not man nor pay for its empire aspirations. Alexander, Genghis Khan, Rome, Britain, and now us – all have the same problem – too many commitments and not enough resources. Perhaps it’s time to rethink our overall position in the world. I am all for punishing our enemies (I would kill ALL the in Benghazi), but nation building or even investment in “democracy” I don’t believe is our cup of tea. And most especially not in the Mideast.

  8. Neolibertarian

    gnarlydad:

    This isn’t really a place to discuss them all meaningfully.

    Let’s first pick up the tools we’ve been discarding since before the Dubya’s administration.

    You know as well as I do what some of them are: for instance, Missile Defense for Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Can’t we revisit the superstore Embassy/Spy Center in Iraq? I thought that was our main goal for post OIF Iraq? We payed the price. Deal’s dead? Who says so?

    America is the first estate, after all.

    Renew the effort to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

    We need Putin to push the reset button–not us.

    As for the Islamic Republic of Iran, well, it would be far better to take MeK off the US terrorist list and/or start supporting the Green Revolutionaries, than make the sanctions any more “crippling.”

    The UN has ended its usefulness. It’s not yet practical to vacate the Charter, but we could build a parallel strategic multi-alliance of free nations. 

    You know, sit back down at the chessboard…rather than, for example, pointlessly starve hapless Iranian citizens who already had the boot on their throats to begin with.

  9. gnarlydad

    Neo…Thanks for answering my question.

    I confess I’m too much a foreign policy neophyte to converse very intelligently on most of your suggestions, though I do agree punishing poor Iranians seems cruel and has not proved an effective deterrent.

    Most of what I know about the Middle East I’ve read on Michael J Totten’s blog, which I highly recommend.